2,000-year-old Roman artifact accidentally used as a coffee table

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The Roman Empire may have fallen some 1,500 years ago, but the memory of the world kingdom is still alive today.

A priceless Roman mosaic that dates to Emperor Caligula – nearly 2,000 years ago – has been shockingly used as a coffee table in a Manhattan apartment for almost 50 years.

In a segment of the Sunday episode of the CBS program “60 minutes, “Italian marble expert Dario Del Bufalo explained how he found the rare artifact.

Del Bufalo’s 2013 book, “Porphyry,” covered everything about the purple-red igneous rock that Roman emperors used for their art and architecture, and the tome showed the mosaic in question – which also contained green and white marble. – which was used in the flooring on the ships of Caligula.

The antiquity was part of a ship that was submerged in Lake Nemi in Italy during Antiquity and was recovered in the 1930s. The mosaics that remained were kept in a lakeside museum and, in 1944, the Nazis infiltrated Italy and what was left of the ships burned.

When Del Bufalo was signing copies of his New York publication in 2013, he overheard a man and a woman say that she had the 4½ square foot mosaic he mentioned in his book.

“There was a lady with a young man in a strange hat who came to the table,” Del Bufalo told CBS, and it turned out the woman was gallery owner Helen Fioratti. “And he said to her, ‘What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, it’s your mosaic. And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic.’ “

The mosaic is now on display at the Museum of Roman Ships in Nemi, Italy.
Getty Images

Fioratti revealed to New York Times in 2017, she and her husband bought the ancient artifact in the 1960s from an Italian noble family. The piece was shipped to the United States and the two used it as a coffee table in their Park Avenue home.

“It was an innocent purchase,” Fioratti told the outlet at the time. “It was our favorite thing and we had it for 45 years.”

Unfortunately, it has already been suggested that the mosaic had been stolen at one point from a museum, so it was seized in 2017 and returned to Rome and is now on display at the Museum of Roman Ships to Nemi.

mosaic table
The artifact is made of red-violet igneous rock, porphyry, and green and white marble.
Getty Images

“I felt really sorry for her,” Del Bufalo said. “But I couldn’t do anything different, knowing that my museum in Nemi is missing the best part that has survived the centuries, war, a fire, then an Italian art dealer, and could finally return to the museum.

“It’s the only thing I thought I should have done,” he concluded.

Del Bufalo added that he hopes to make a copy of the painting that Fioratti and her husband will keep in their home.

“I think my soul would feel a little better,” he said.


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