Unusual 'Coffee Table' Is a Mosaic From One of Caligula's Party Ships

While visiting Italy in the 1960s, antiquities dealer Helen Fioratti and her Italian journalist husband acquired a souvenir: a red-and-green inlaid marble mosaic, which the couple purchased from Italian aristocrats and later re-purposed as a coffee table. But when Italian police came knocking on their apartment door in New York City decades later, the two learned that their “table” was actually a fragment of one of the Roman Emperor Caligula's pleasure ships, according to NBC News.

A mosaic tile that once adorned a pleasure barge owned by the Roman emperor Caligula.
A mosaic tile that once adorned a pleasure barge owned by the Roman emperor Caligula.
Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Caligula—who came to power in 37 CE and was assassinated just four years later—was a sadistic leader whose cruelty was perhaps only matched by his excess. The empire wasted taxpayer money on lavish construction projects. He's said to have drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and provided his horse with a marble stall and ivory manger.

When he wasn't conducting shameless affairs with allies' wives or making politicians run for miles in front of his chariots, Caligula enjoyed pleasure cruises on Lake Nemi, a small crater lake located about 15 miles southeast of Rome. The emperor is said to have owned three lavish vessels, which he used to host raucous parties. The barges were made of wood and decorated with gold, marble, ivory, and, yes, mosaic floors. 

At least two of these cumbersome boats sank, and they were excavated between 1928 and 1932 under the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, according to The Daily Beast. These artifacts were displayed in a museum, which was used as a bomb shelter during World War II. Many of their mosaic tiles were destroyed—but against all odds, a floor fragment from the ships ultimately ended up across the world in Fioratti's living room.

It's unclear how, exactly, the Italian military police's Art Recovery Unit and New York's district attorney office learned of Fioratti's mosaic. (She thinks they may have spotted it in a magazine photo shoot of her apartment.) Authorities seized the artifact and returned it to Italy in a repatriation ceremony on October 19, along with a host of other recovered stolen Italian artifacts.

Fioratti—who claims that she legally purchased the mosaic for thousands of dollars—won't face any criminal charges, although she told NBC she's sad to see the relic go.

[h/t NBC News]

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

If you spend the bulk of your free time playing video games and want to elevate your hobby into a career, you can take advantage of the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, which is currently on sale for just $49. You can jump into your education as a beginner, or at any other skill level, to learn what you need to know about game development, design, coding, and artistry skills.

Gaming is a competitive industry, and understanding just programming or just artistry isn’t enough to land a job. The School of Game Design’s lifetime membership is set up to educate you in both fields so your resume and work can stand out.

The lifetime membership that’s currently discounted is intended to allow you to learn at your own pace so you don’t burn out, which would be pretty difficult to do because the lessons have you building advanced games in just your first few hours of learning. The remote classes will train you with step-by-step, hands-on projects that more than 50,000 other students around the world can vouch for.

Once you’ve nailed the basics, the lifetime membership provides unlimited access to thousands of dollars' worth of royalty-free game art and textures to use in your 2D or 3D designs. Support from instructors and professionals with over 16 years of game industry experience will guide you from start to finish, where you’ll be equipped to land a job doing something you truly love.

Earn money doing what you love with an education from the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, currently discounted at $49.

 

School of Game Design: Lifetime Membership - $49

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Explore Two of Pompeii’s Excavated Homes in This Virtual Tour

A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
Ivan Romano/Getty Images

It’s been nearly 2000 years since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius decimated Pompeii in 79 C.E., and archaeologists are still uncovering secrets about life in the ancient Roman city. As Smithsonian reports, they’ve recently excavated two homes in Regio V, a 54-acre area just north of the Pompeii Archaeological Park—and you can see the findings for yourself in a virtual tour published by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.

The 7.5-minute video comprises drone footage of the houses and surrounding ruins, along with commentary by park director Massimo Osanna that explains what exactly you’re looking at and what types of people once lived there. Osanna’s commentary is in Italian, but you can read the English translation here.

The homes, both modest private residences that probably housed middle-class families, border the Vicolo dei Balconi, or “Alley of the Balconies.” The first is fittingly named “House With the Garden” because excavators discovered that one of its larger rooms was, in fact, a garden. Excavators pinpointed the outlines of flowerbeds and even made casts of plant roots, which paleobotanists will use to try to identify what grew there. In addition to the garden and vibrant paintings that feature classic ancient deities like Venus, Adonis, and Hercules, “House With the Garden” also preserved the remains of its occupants: 11 victims, mostly women and children, who likely took shelter within the home while the men searched for a means of escape.

Across the street is “House of Orion,” named for two mosaics that depict the story of Orion, a huntsman in Greek mythology whom the gods transformed into the constellation that bears his name today.

“The owner of the house must have been greatly attracted to this myth, considering it features in two different rooms in which two different scenes of the myth are depicted,” Osanna says. “It is a small house which has proved to be an extraordinary treasure chest of art."

To see what Pompeian houses would’ve looked like before Mount Vesuvius had its fiery fit, check out this 3D reconstruction.

[h/t Smithsonian]