A Remnant from Caligula’s Ship, Once a Coffee Table, Heads Home

“It was an innocent purchase,” Ms. Fioratti said in an interview. “It was our favorite thing and we had it for 45 years.”


The piece of Caligula’s ship, on display at the Consulate General of Italy in Manhattan.

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Ms. Fioratti, who owns L’Antiquaire and the Connoisseur, a noted gallery for antiques from Europe on East 73rd Street, said she did not intend to fight the seizure because of the expense and time it would take. Still, she said she believes she has a legitimate claim to ownership. “They ought to give me the legion of honor for not fighting it,” she said.

No charges had been filed against her on Thursday, though the search warrant said investigators were looking for evidence to support a charge of possession of stolen property.

The square piece of marble flooring — which features a complex geometric pattern made of pieces of green and red porphyry, serpentine and molded glass — dates back to Caligula’s reign, 37-41 A.D., and came from one of three enormous ships that he had built at Lake Nemi, a circular volcanic lake where there was once a temple to Diana, the goddess of the hunt.

Scholars have debated for years whether the barges were purely pleasure craft or might have been floating temples to the goddess. What is certain is they amounted to a haven for the emperor.

“They functioned as artificial floating islands, where the emperor could retreat, being completely separated from the world,” Francesco De Angelis, a professor of art history and archaeology, at Columbia University, said in an email.

After Caligula was assassinated, the ships were sunk, and remained underwater for centuries, despite efforts by divers over the years to retrieve their treasures. Mussolini began draining the lake in 1929 and by 1932, two of the ships had been located and hauled ashore. In 1936, the Fascist…

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