Wall in what is probably the Emperor Caligula's garden. Photo Fabio Caricchia

Caligula’s garden unearthed in Rome

By Region Central Italy Culture News

Jubilee 2025 works uncover new surprises in Rome with another significant archaeological find near the Vatican: the ruins of what is probably the Emperor Caligula’s garden.

Italy’s culture ministry announced on Thursday the excavation unearthed a travertine wall and the foundations of a colonnaded portico. These structures are described as the “remains of an interesting garden arrangement” overlooking the right bank of the river Tiber.

The discovery occurred during the pedestrianisation works of Piazza Pia, a €70 million project for the Vatican’s Jubilee Year 2025. This project aims to connect Castel Sant’Angelo with Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Basilica by diverting traffic through an underpass.

Ancient Garden Attributed to Caligula

Among the significant finds was a lead water pipe stamped with the name of its owner, identified as Emperor Caligula, who ruled from 37 to 41 AD. According to the culture ministry, the inscription reads “C(ai) Cæsaris Aug(usti) Germanici,” confirming Caligula, the son of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder, as the owner. This attribution is further supported by ancient literary sources.

Water pipe inscribed as belonging to Emperor Caligula
Pipe inscribed C(ai) Cæsaris Aug(usti) Germanici. Photo Fabio Caricchia

Philo of Alexandria, a first-century Jewish leader, philosopher, and scholar, wrote about Caligula receiving the Alexandrian Jewish delegation in the Horti of Agrippina. This garden overlooked the Tiber and was separated from the river by a monumental portico.

Assassination of Emperor Caligula

Historical Significance and Further Discoveries

Previous excavations in Piazza Pia at the start of the last century revealed other lead pipes inscribed with the name “Iulia Augusta,” presumably Livia Drusilla, the second wife of Augustus and grandmother of Germanicus. The culture ministry suggests that this luxurious residence was likely inherited by Germanicus and subsequently passed to his wife Agrippina the Elder, and then to their son, Emperor Caligula.

The recent discovery was made while relocating the newly-uncovered remains of a fullonica, an ancient Roman laundry, which will eventually be displayed in the nearby grounds of Castel Sant’Angelo.

Despite these significant finds, Rome’s mayor Roberto Gualtieri assured last month that the discovery of the fullonica would not delay the Jubilee project, one of the largest current undertakings in the Italian capital. The project remains on track for its December 2024 completion date.

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