The claim that Caligula drank “pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar” is especially suspect because it is a standard canard that the Romans often told about anyone they didn’t like. It is only in around the late fourth century AD that the sources start referring to Caligula by the name Caligula. Of these he is believed to have violated Drusilla when he was still a minor, and even to have been caught lying with her by his grandmother Antonia, at whose house they were brought up in company. Caligula appears as a character in the bestselling novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves, which was published in 1934. Caligula is best known to the general public as an insane, sexually depraved emperor who thought he was a living god, murdered a little boy for coughing too much, had sex with all three of his sisters, murdered his sister who was pregnant with his child and ate the fetus, turn In sharp contrast to I, Claudius, this film quickly won a reputation as one of the worst films ever made. Immediately after this declaration, some senators can be heard muttering that Caligula is crazy, but he declares that he awaits “the unanimous decision of the Senate.” At first, no one says anything, but Caligula starts shouting “Aye!” so the senators start shouting “Aye!” as well. Later, though, when Caligula is no longer present, Claudius is shown laughing with his friends, declaring that Caligula is insane and that, soon, his reign will be over and the Romans will restore the republic. Ancient Roman writers often focus on profligate spending as an indication that a ruler is foolish and morally degenerate. The ancient Roman historical sources record that Caligula was assassinated by members of a conspiracy led by a man named Cassius Chaerea on 24 January 41 AD while he was passing through a narrow covered passage. He blew his predecessor Tiberius’s fortunes in just over a year, which led to a debt crisis in AD 39. At this point, Longinus, Caligula’s advisor, suddenly exclaims “He’s mad!”—as though this is something he has just realized. All we really have to support this story is Suetonius’s word, which, frankly, isn’t worth a whole lot, especially since Suetonius seems unsure about the story’s veracity himself. Six ancient Romans wrote about Caligula’s life, and every one of them agreed that he was completely off his rocker. He was famous with his sexual perversity, extravagance, sadism and cruelty. They even draw explicit comparisons to the murder of Julius Caesar. The first interpretation is that Caligula really did shower attention on his horse and talk about making him consul, but it was all an elaborate mockery of the Senate. Nonetheless, all the ancient sources written within three centuries after Caligula’s death unanimously refer to him as “Gaius.” This is the name that Philon uses, the name that Seneca uses, the name that the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder (lived c. 23 – 79 AD) uses, the name that Suetonius uses, and so on. ABOVE: Promotional image for Netflix’s 2019 docudrama series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor. Stabbed to death by the Praetorian Guard in A.D. 41 Caligula is today remembered as one of the most horrible Roman emperors of all time.. Furthermore, even if Caligula really did do these things, this wouldn’t necessarily make him insane, since a person does not have to be insane to be a pimp. ABOVE: Photograph of a Roman marble sculpture in the British Museum depicting a nude young man riding on horseback, widely suspected to represent the notorious emperor Caligula on his horse Incitatus. Gemellus], who had assumed the toga virilis, had been given the title of Princeps Iuventutis, and finally had been adopted into his family. Even if the story is true, there are still a couple different ways we can interpret it that don’t entail Caligula being completely bonkers. This strategy ultimately didn’t pan out the way Caligula probably wanted it to, but it was well conceived nonetheless. The idea behind it may have been that, because they had made him feel foolish on his campaign, he would make them feel foolish as well. Further evidence of the high esteem with which Caligula’s sisters were held during his reign comes from the fact that there are a large number of surviving portrait heads representing them. Essentially, Suetonius is recycling an age-old folktale about profligacy and turning it into a story about Caligula. Thus, when Suetonius talks about Caligula wasting money, the point is to convey that he was a bad emperor. The Jewish Middle Platonist philosopher Philon of Alexandria (lived c. 20 BC – c. 50 AD) gives a first-hand account of his experience with Caligula in his Embassy to Gaius. While the degree of insanity is debatable given that the primary source detailing Caligula is from Suetonius, the fact that Caligula was truly insane cannot be debated. Instead, the sources indicate that she died of a natural illness and that Caligula was genuinely devastated by her death. ), ABOVE: Screenshot from the 1979 film Caligula of Caligula (played by Malcolm McDowell) with his sister Drusilla (played by Teresa Ann Savoy). His reign is remembered, on the whole, as disastrous and many believe that Caligula was insane. One theory suggests epilepsy as the main cause of his headaches and that he was perhaps deathly afraid of impending seizures. In Roman Britain: Ruling Britannia from our 2005 archive, Miles Russell draws on recent archaeological discoveries to reassess the Roman invasion of Britain and reveal another little known fact about Caligula. position as Pharaohs had to be validated through their wives’ royal blood according to Egyptian custom. “traditionnally thought to be a Seleucid prince, maybe Attalus II of Pergamon”. In the show, Agrippina is supposed to lure Caligula into a bedroom so that the other conspirators can murder him, but, instead, she double crosses them, alerting Caligula to the conspiracy and leading him in with a troop of armed guards. Even Livia was not deified until the reign of Caligula’s successor Claudius. The reason why Caligula had him killed was not because he couldn’t get the sound of him coughing out of his head, but rather because he suspected that he had been plotting to usurp his power. He came to power when he was just 24 and was given unlimited power. The only reason why the supposed conspiracy occupies such a pride of place in the Netflix series is because the makers of the series are desperate to spice things up with a little intrigue. The account is far from flattering. The Roman historian Kassios Dion (lived c. 155 – c. 235 AD) records in his Roman History 59.8, as translated by Earnest Cary for the Loeb Classical Library: “After this he [i.e. Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window), Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window). Thus, in the series, Claudius is not only portrayed as the real mastermind behind Caligula’s murder, but as being present at the scene of the crime itself. Caligula’s notoriety as an unhinged, bloodthirsty Roman emperor may not tell the whole story. He was so beside himself with grief that suddenly fleeing the city by night and traversing Campania, he went to Syracuse and hurriedly returned from there without cutting his hair or shaving his beard. Its notoriety, however, only contributed to Caligula’s reputation for depravity and insanity. Some sources of popular misconceptions about Caligula. Then he sent his pages about the fora and basilicas, to invite young men and old to enjoy themselves, lending money on interest to those who came and having clerks openly take down their names, as contributors to Caesar’s revenues.”. Hard drinking, luxurious feeding and appetites still unsatisfied when the cavities were stuffed full, hot baths, ill-timed, and acting as emetics, followed at once by renewed toping and gormandizing in its train, lasciviousness venting itself on boys and women, and everything else that can destroy soul and body and the bonds in both which keep them together, joined in the assault. But was Caligula really insane? The ancient sources do record that Caligula did fall seriously ill early in his reign and that there were fears that he might die, but none of them say anything at all about him falling into a coma (let alone one lasting for three months), nor do any of them say anything about the illness causing him to go insane. He even scattered large sums of money among the commons from the roof of the basilica Julia for several days in succession.”. Nonetheless, we should take all these descriptions with a grain of salt, since all of these sources are biased and it is common for people to describe political leaders they don’t like as insane, even though those leaders rarely ever meet the clinical definition of insanity. Mr.McDaniel, Synopsis. He writes, in Rolfe’s translation: “To leave no kind of plunder untried, he opened a brothel in his palace, setting apart a number of rooms and furnishing them to suit the grandeur of the place, where matrons and freeborn youths should stand exposed. Many of his monuments were destroyed in the aftermath of his assassination and his remains were lost. Probably the most famous story about Caligula is the one about how he supposedly made his horse Incitatus a senator. Required fields are marked *. "Historians have some fragmented records of Caligula’s by his contemporaries such as the orator Seneca , Pliny the Elder and Philo of Alexandria . Another version of the story is told by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History 9.58, but this time the pearl-dissolver is none other than the famous Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator of Egypt. In the same way that some people today lavish attention on their dogs, it is easy to see how Caligula might lavish attention on his horse. View all posts by Spencer Alexander McDaniel. ABOVE: Screenshot of Agrippina, Julia Livilla, and Aemilus Lepidus coming up with the so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers,” as portrayed in the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor. (Incidentally, the notorious later emperor Elagabalus, whom I wrote about in this article from November 2019, wasn’t generally known by the name Elagabalus during his lifetime either; instead, he was known as Avitus or Marcus Antoninus.). Facts about Caligula 6: the ambitious projects. Willy-nilly, he has to see everything that happens in heaven; for he is the superintendent of the Appian road, by which you know both the divine Augustus and Tiberius Caesar went to join the gods.”, “If you ask this man he will tell you privately; in presence of more than one he’ll never speak a word. I’ve already mentioned that Caligula and his three sisters were all direct descendants of Augustus. This is basically all the information we find about the so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers” in the ancient sources. Though his early reign is considered brilliant, Caligula is mostly remembered for his despotic rule, insanity, perversion and acts of extreme cruelty; making him among the iconic ‘bad guys’ in the annals of history. Some say that Caligula was insane, but historians have also theorized that Caligula may have suffered from epilepsy and lived with a constant fear of having seizures. One aspect of Caligula that modern portrayals have especially focused on as a sign of his alleged insanity is his claim that he was a living god. For them, a conspiracy and an assassination isn’t enough; Claudius has to be in on it all too. An equally bizarre take on Caligula’s divinity appears in the 1979 film Caligula, which contains a scene in which Caligula appears before the Senate to make the following declaration: “I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night sky! Deifying female members of the imperial family was extremely unusual in Caligula’s time. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula waking up from his implausible three-month-long coma in the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor. If Caligula did indeed have sexual relations with his sisters, this still would not prove that he was insane because there are perfectly rational reasons why he might have done this. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula (played by Malcolm McDowell) shouting “Aye!” to his proposition of his own divinity from the 1979 film Caligula. Seneca is probably exaggerating a bit here, but he’s probably not lying through his teeth; Caligula probably was a very brutal ruler. This is a story that is actually found in some ancient sources. Unfortunately, virtually all our surviving ancient sources about Caligula were written by elite Roman men, who despised him and saw him as the prototype of a “bad emperor.” We don’t know very much about what the common people thought of him. Selecting the top five worst Roman emperors of all time isn't a difficult task, thanks to myriad Roman historians, historical fiction, documentaries, and even movies and television programs, all of which illustrate the moral excesses of many of the rulers of Rome and its colonies. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula’s soldiers pouring out the “loot from old Neptune” in the 1976 television series I, Claudius. Throughout the rest of the episode, Caligula is portrayed as calling himself “Zeus” and Drusilla “Hera.” He starts dressing up as Zeus and he renovates the palace to make it look more like Mount Olympos. Gaius (Caligula) (ruled AD 37–41) Gaius (‘Caligula, or ‘little bootee’ – a childhood nickname given him by his father’s troops) is best known for a series of eccentric actions, such as declaring war on the sea and proclaiming himself a god. Graves revels retelling in the same sorts of bizarre and horrifying stories told by Suetonius, often exaggerating these stories to make Caligula seem even more insane. Philon asserts in his Embassy to Gaius, chapter thirteen, that Caligula gave in to “madness and frenzy” and that he was “utterly insane.” Seneca exclaims with regard to Caligula in his On Anger 1.20, “How great was his madness!” Suetonius claims in his Life of Caligula, chapter fifty, “He was sound neither of body nor mind.”. Most of them are definitely or probably false; others are based on historical facts but have been greatly misrepresented. It’s possible that he may have joked about making his horse consul, with the implication that the people who actually were serving as consuls were so terrible that even a horse could do the job better than them. Caligula’s adopted son and presumed heir for the first part of his reign was Tiberius Gemellus. It’s possible he may have really done it, but it’s also possible that it is simply a rumor invented by some senator who was annoyed that Caligula was showering extraordinary honors on his sisters while holding the Senate in the uttermost contempt. Then Caligula starts baaing like a sheep, leading all the senators to start baaing like sheep as well. Afterwards, when she was the wife of Lucius Cassius Longinus, an ex-consul, he took her from him and openly treated her as his lawful wife; and when ill, he made her heir to his property and the throne.”, “When she died, he appointed a season of public mourning, during which it was a capital offence to laugh, bathe, or dine in company with one’s parents, wife, or children. If he had been there when Caligula was murdered, it’s hard to see how he could have possibly kept his image so clean. Did Cleopatra Really Dissolve a Pearl in Vinegar. Caligula, born Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus in 31 AD, was the Emperor of Rome between 37 and 41 AD. Caligula: Mad, bad, and maybe a little misunderstood. ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a bronze Hellenistic Greek statue of a nude king or general, bearing a scepter. For the emperor, a man of the highest possible office, to literally act as a pimp would have been the utmost scandal. Caligula was born on August 31, 12, in Antium, Italy. It’s almost certainly true that Caligula was a profligate spender, but the extent of his profligacy as reported by Suetonius is probably greatly exaggerated. As Peter Gainsford argues in this blog post titled “What did Caligula think of his nickname?” the name that Caligula most likely preferred to be called by was actually Germanicus. After all, there are plenty of surviving sculptures of other imperial women, such as Livia (the wife of the emperor Augustus and mother of the emperor Tiberius) and Julia the Elder (Augustus’s daughter and Caligula’s maternal grandmother). They could also be vindictive, cruel and insane. Basically all we really know about the supposed plot is that Agrippina, Julia Livilla, and Aemilius Lepidus were accused of adultery and conspiracy, Lepidus was executed, and the emperor’s sisters were sent into exile. Caligula is best known to the general public as an insane, sexually depraved emperor who thought he was a living god, murdered a little boy for coughing too much, had sex with all three of his sisters, murdered his sister who was pregnant with his child and ate the fetus, turned his palace into a brothel, drank expensive pearls dissolved in vinegar, made his horse a senator, and waged war against Neptune to collect seashells as “loot.”. Caligula and Agrippina have sex for months, but she fails to become pregnant, so Caligula seduces first Drusilla and then Julia Livilla. Unfortunately, because the series is presented as a docudrama rather than a straight drama, many viewers have been misled to believe that everything depicted in it is historically true. ABOVE: The Romans in their Decadence, painted in 1847 by the French Neoclassical painter Thomas Couture, The so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers”. Self-restraint is rewarded by strength and health, incontinence by infirmity and sickness bordering on death.”. Ancient authors record that, after he became emperor, Gaius absolutely detested it whenever anyone called him by the nickname Caligula or by his personal name Gaius. Suetonius spends a lot of time in his Life of Caligula ranting about the emperor’s profligacy. “bronze Hellenistic Greek statue of a nude king or general, bearing a scepter”… The earliest surviving source that specifically claims these things is Suetonius’s Life of Caligula. Notably, there is concrete archaeological evidence that Caligula did exalt his sisters to an unusual extent. In I, Claudius, episode nine (“Zeus, by Jove!”), Caligula is portrayed as impregnating Drusilla. Ancient authors most likely started doing this to belittle him by calling him a childish nickname that they knew he hated. Against all odds, Caligula finally wakes up, but, as a result of his illness, he swiftly transforms into a depraved psychopath. It is also worth noting that Caligula wasn’t just stabbed once by a single soldier; the ancient sources record that he was stabbed repeatedly by several different conspirators. For instance, Suetonius really does claim that Caligula had sex with his sisters, that he talked about making his horse a consul, and that he made war on the sea and collected seashells as loot. He was tyrannical, possibly insane, and had tendencies towards debauchery and even the merciless taking of life. Caligula was assassinated on January 24th, AD 41. In 1979 the film “Caligula,” directed by Tinto Brass and starring Malcolm McDowell, shocked the world with its explicit portrayal of the emperor’s cruel and salacious escapades. The story first appears in Horace’s Satires 2.3.239–42, in which the person who dissolves and drinks the expensive pearls is the unnamed son of the famous orator Aesopus. Julius Caesar had been declared a god shortly after his death, leading his grandnephew and heir Augustus to claim the title of divi filius, meaning “son of a god.” After his death, Augustus was likewise declared a god. Notice that, in Suetonius’s version, making his horse consul is only something that Caligula talked about doing, not something he ever actually did. At the time, Caligula’s father Germanicus was a popular commander with a noble reputation in the Roman Empire. Your email address will not be published. As I’ve noted a few times already, one of the best-attested facts about Caligula’s reign is that he held the Senate in total disdain. There probably is at least some truth to Caligula’s sordid reputation. However, people are still questionable whether it is true or not. He also had five siblings that lived to see adulthood: Agrippina the Younger, Drusus Caesar, Julia Drusilla, Julia Livilla and … ABOVE: The Banquet of Cleopatra, painted in 1653 by the Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens. Many historians have doubted the validity of the wildest claims about his life, and believe he may have done many of these acts just to anger the senate. Divine kings were normal throughout the Hellenistic world. The only reason why Caligula murders her and devours her fetus in the show is because the writers of the show wanted to show the sheer extent of Caligula’s alleged insanity. In the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor, Caligula is portrayed as unwilling to engage in incest until his sister Agrippina actually comes to him in his bedchamber and seduces him, telling him that she will bear him a son who will serve as his heir. This drama, however, exaggerates the extent of Caligula’s alleged insanity even further than Graves’s original novel. He reputedly slept with his sisters and wanted to appoint his horse a consul. Dion was writing around a hundred years after Suetonius, however, and most likely used Suetonius’s Life of Caligula as a source, so he probably can’t be considered an independent witness. There is no evidence that this ever happened. Caligula is best known to the general public as an insane, sexually depraved emperor who thought he was a living god, murdered a little boy for coughing too much, had sex with all three of his sisters, murdered his sister who was pregnant with his child and ate the fetus, turned his palace into a brothel, drank expensive pearls dissolved in vinegar, made his horse a senator, and waged war against … In the very first section of the work, Seneca sarcastically remarks that the events he is about to describe may sound incredible, but you have to believe him because he heard it all from the same man who testified to the Senate that he had seen Drusilla ascending into heaven as a goddess. In I, Claudius, episode nine (“Zeus, by Jove!”), Gemellus is portrayed as a young child with a cough and Caligula is portrayed as having him murdered because he can’t get the sound of him coughing out of his head. Surviving coins minted during Caligula’s reign depict his face on the obverse and his three sisters on the reverse, clearly labeled with their own names. Upon waking from his coma, his personality completely changed and he became an unhinged lunatic. Philon of Alexandria records in his Embassy to Gaius that Caligula overtly tried to portray himself to the public as a god and that he even ordered for a colossal statue of himself to be erected in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem. Afterwards, the assassins murdered his wife Milonia Caesonia and their one-year-old daughter Julia Drusilla. Enter your email address to subscribe to Tales of Times Forgotten and receive notifications of new posts by email. Caligula was murdered, aged 28, just four years into his reign, in an underground corridor in the imperial palace in a conspiracy that is believed to have involved the army, the court and the senate. In 1976, Graves’s novel was adapted into an award-winning BBC drama, also titled I, Claudius, which is generally regarded as one of the best television shows ever made and is considered the direct precursor to modern shows like Rome and Game of Thrones. All of this is completely made up. What made Caligula one of the most infamous emperors in the history of ancient Rome? In the 1976 BBC television series I, Claudius, episode nine (“Zeus, by Jove!”), Caligula is portrayed as suffering from frequent headaches and hearing a strange galloping in his ears. Jan Bartek - AncientPages.com - Archaeologists have found the remains of Emperor Caligula’s luxury home and exotic garden. Caligula. The emperors of Rome could be wise, just and kind. But Gemellus was Caligula’s adopted son, which casts his murder in an especially sinister light. Caligula was the representative of the first ruling family of ancient Roman Empire, known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Did Medieval Christians Really Crucify Heretics? In claiming to be a living god, Caligula was really just trying to apply the Hellenistic model of divine kingship to the Roman Empire. All three of Caligula’s sisters were direct descendants of the emperor Augustus; none of his official wives shared this quality. There is nothing in any of the ancient sources to indicate that Drusilla was murdered. Finally, the real Gemellus wasn’t beheaded, but rather forced to commit suicide. Even though it wasn’t his actual name, I do think the name Caligula is useful for historical purposes because it is unique and can only refer to one specific individual. He is now famous for being one of the most insane emperors of all time. We’ll start out with the fact that his real name was not Caligula, nor was he generally known by the name Caligula while he was emperor. Excavations on the site began last week. Notice that Suetonius seems to doubt that there was ever a conspiracy among Caligula’s sisters at all and instead seems to believe that Caligula just made the whole thing up as an excuse to send his sisters into exile. When Does United States History Really Begin? Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Suetonius does, however, claim that Caligula lavished an unusual amount of attention on Incitatus and that he was alleged to have talked about making him a consul. The complaint made against the lad was that he had prayed and expected that Gaius would die; and he destroyed many others, too, on this same charge.”. ABOVE: Screenshot from the I, Claudius episode “Zeus, by Jove!” of Claudius and Caligula being presented with the severed head of Gemellus. Perhaps most disappointingly, the bikini-clad dance routine from I, Claudius is pure fantasy. Also, since many honours had been voted earlier to his sisters manifestly on his act, he forbade the awarding of other distinctions to any of his relatives.”. The story about Caligula allegedly planning to make Incitatus a consul also appears in Kassios Dion’s Roman History 59.14.7. Caligula had other family members killed as well: his father-in-law Silanus ostensibly for refusing to go to sea with him but really on suspicion of conspiracy, and his brother-in-law (and cousin and, some say, lover) Lepidus for conspiracy. This is the most detailed description of Caligula’s illness we have. Indeed, I think I myself have described Donald Trump as insane more than once, but yet I don’t think he would meet the clinical definition of insanity and I don’t think Caligula would either. Then, only a few months into his reign, he suddenly and inexplicably falls into a three-month-long coma. In the 1976 television series I, Claudius, episode nine (“Zeus, by Jove!”), when Caligula awakens from his coma, he immediately demands to see his uncle Claudius, threatening to kill him if he doesn’t come. Furthermore, not only is the whole thing about the three-month-long coma not in the ancient sources, but I genuinely don’t think it would be possible for a person in the ancient world to survive in a complete coma for three months. When Claudius comes in, Caligula tells him that he has undergone a “metamorphosis” and that he has miraculously transformed into a living god. He blew his predecessor Tiberius’s fortunes in just over a year, which led to a debt crisis in AD 39. For since the day when he took oath in the Senate that he had seen Drusilla going up to heaven and in return for such good news nobody believed him, he has declared in so many words that he’ll not testify about anything, not even if he should see a man murdered in the middle of the Forum. Drusilla’s posthumous deification is also referenced by Seneca in his Apocolocyntosis Claudii or The Gourdification of Claudius, a satirical work making fun of the emperor Claudius and the Roman tradition of posthumously deifying emperors. He also declares that his sister Drusilla has become a goddess. His parents were Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. Bust of Caligula’s Parents – Germanicus (left) and Agrippina the Elder #2 Roman Emperor Tiberius conspired to eradicate his family. Statues of imperial women simply aren’t very unusual. The kings of the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BC until 30 BC, had been known for marrying their own sisters to keep their bloodlines pure. Emperor Caligula was one of the most insane men in history, and if he were around today, he would be greatly feared. In chapter 37, he famously writes: “In reckless extravagance he outdid the prodigals of all times in ingenuity, inventing a new sort of baths and unnatural varieties of food and feasts; for he would bathe in hot or cold perfumed oils, drink pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar, and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold, declaring that a man ought either to be frugal or Caesar. The fact that Caligula had Drusilla deified does not prove that he had sex with her, but it does demonstrate the extent of his attachment to her. He took the name Germanicus from his father, a popular general who had won many great victories in Germania and posthumously been awarded the title Germanicus. Philon came to the emperor as a member of a group of Jewish ambassadors; he claims that the emperor persistently belittled and insulted them and refused to listen to their concerns. Retelling Obscure Stories from the Distant Past. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (lived c. 4 BC – 65 AD) describes Caligula’s sadism in his treatise On Anger, which he probably wrote in around 45 AD, only a few years after the end of Caligula’s reign. ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a Roman marble portrait bust of the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, who portrays Caligula in his writings as a sadistic tyrant. They left stories about him that are so ridiculous that some people now insist that … In historical reality, Gemellus was not a small child, but rather a young man who was around nineteen years old at the time of his death. Afterwards, he becomes increasingly paranoid, believing that the child developing in her womb will overthrow him and become the new king of the gods. (Image: PLRANG ART Artur Furmanek/Shutterstock) More recently, the Netflix series Roman Empire has become another major source of misconceptions about Caligula. this blog post titled “What did Caligula think of his nickname?”, as translated by Earnest Cary for the Loeb Classical Library, a Roman marble sculpture in the British Museum, View all posts by Spencer Alexander McDaniel. But unfortunately, most of the Caligula legend has come to us from one historian, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus who lived a century after Caligula. There is very little evidence to support the idea that Claudius had anything to do with Caligula’s assassination. resulting in this compromise. There are no earlier sources that explicitly claim Caligula had sex with his sisters, but there is some earlier evidence that scholars have interpreted as possibly supporting Suetonius’s account of Caligula’s incest. In fairness, though, most of the most famous stories I’ve investigated in this article actually are in the sources. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula (played by John Hurt) with his horse Incitatus from the 1976 television series I, Claudius. Thus, it seems that everything Suetonius says about Caligula’s relationship with his sisters is confirmed by earlier sources—except for his claim that Caligula was having sex with them. This certainly never happened and there are no surviving ancient sources that say he actually did this. Suetonius also claims that Caligula pimped his own sisters Agrippina and Julia Livilla, but, once again, there is no earlier evidence to substantiate this and it seems like the sort of thing a disgruntled senator would make up to discredit the emperor. Caligula came from that type of family and was born destined for leadership within Rome. As long as you are reviewing literature about Caligula, you might want to check out Camus’s play. He had exchanged the recent more homely and, therefore, healthier way of life which he had followed while Tiberius was alive, for one of extravagance. Have a nice day ! If there is any truth to the story, it is possible that Caligula may have intended this as a humiliating punishment for his soldiers, who, according to Suetonius himself, had just been on the brink of mutiny. ABOVE: Title screen from the 1976 BBC drama series I, Claudius. Once again, though, the fact that Caligula commissioned sculptures of his sisters doesn’t prove that he was having sex with them. 1556332. After only four years, he was assassinated by members of his bodyguard and the Roman Senate.During his reign, many innocent people were killed without fair trials. And in that same Wikimedia page the legend describes him as : As we have already seen, the contemporary ancient sources are unambiguous about the fact that Caligula sought to portray himself as a deity. Many ancient Romans were happy when he was gone, and he was considered a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. In the Greek east, rulers were almost routinely deified, and the divine status of the Egyptian pharaohs had been adopted by their Macedonian successors. In other words, his nickname literally means “Little Boots.”, ABOVE: Photograph of an actual ancient Roman caliga dated to the first century BC or first century AD that was discovered at the site of Qasr Ibrim in Egypt, ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a man wearing a modern reproduction of an ancient Roman caliga. It is possible that Caligula may have simply been trying to do the same thing that the Ptolemies had done before him. The man was arrested near Lake Nemi, South of Rome, where Caligula had a villa as a well as a floating temple and floating palace. Caligula’s fourth wife Caesonia was stabbed to death, her baby daughter’s skull smashed against a wall. Suetonius writes in his Life of Caligula 55, as translated by Rolfe: “He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighbourhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus from being disturbed. Then he falls into a coma, which lasts for an unspecified amount of time. © Copyright 2020 History Today Ltd. Company no. The exact same story is told about both Cleopatra and Caligula and, in all likelihood, never happened with either of them. Caligula then double crosses Agrippina by having her exiled along with the other conspirators. For centuries before Caligula, Hellenistic Greek rulers in the eastern Mediterranean had claimed that they were divine. If one of Caligula’s sisters bore him a son, that son would be the child of not one but two descendants of Augustus, which would make the child’s bloodline very secure indeed. It’s a fitting name. It is unclear why the Praetorian Guard declared Claudius emperor, but it is possible that they may have believed that he was feeble-minded and that he would be easy to control. ABOVE: Page from a ninth-century AD Latin manuscript of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis Claudii. My main area of study is ancient Greece, but I also write about other areas of history as well. Philon describes at length how Caligula made public appearances dressed as demigods, including Herakles, the Dioskouroi, and Dionysos and how he eventually began dressing himself as full deities such as Hermes, Apollon, and Ares. His reign is remembered, on the whole, as disastrous and many believe that Caligula was insane. And he never afterwards took oath about matters of the highest moment, even before the assembly of the people or in the presence of the soldiers, except by the godhead of Drusilla.”. As usual, though, the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor is absolutely desperate for something juicier. Caligula, considered by many to be a mad and unpredictable tyrant, is also known for transferring the last legion under a senatorial proconsul to an imperial legate, completing the emperor ’s monopoly of army command. By emphasizing the importance of the Augustan bloodline, Caligula may have been trying to reinforce his own legitimacy as emperor. Well you have to study more. This leaves the question of Caligula’s alleged incest open for debate. The problem is that the sources can sometimes be unreliable and not everything that is in them is automatically true. ABOVE: Screenshot from the I, Claudius episode “Hail Who?” of Caligula (played by John Hurt) performing his dance dressed Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Regardless of whether or not he was involved, though, he was certainly not standing there when Caligula was actually murdered. In each iteration of the story, all that changes is the person who is doing the pearl-dissolving. Portrait types have been identified for all three of Caligula’s sisters, including Drusilla (who died early in his reign) and Julia Livilla (who was murdered shortly after his reign ended). Caligula was many things—including a jerk, a narcissist, a sadist, and a tyrant—but he probably wasn’t really insane. Doing historiography is especially difficult when it comes to Caligula, since he began to be mythologized while he was alive and this mythologization has only proliferated over the course of the past two thousand years since his death. There are no sources earlier than Suetonius that mention anything about this alleged incident and it is entirely possible that Suetonius may have just made it up. The problem here is that Suetonius is a relatively late, generally unreliable source. This is the name that is most prominent on Caligula’s coins and the name that Caligula gave to the month of September when he renamed it after himself. Caligula] fell sick, but instead of dying himself he caused the death of Tiberius [i.e. The second interpretation is that Caligula really did lavish attention on Incitatus, but that he didn’t really have plans to make him a consul. Even with all that, he was popular with the Roman public in his time. (You may be sensing a bit of a theme here. Where Does the Idea of a “Saint” Come From? This portrayal is based on what Suetonius says in his Life of Caligula, chapter 41. Although I have taken the form of Caius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and, therefore, I am… a god.”. To put Caligula’s blue-chip birth lineage into perspective for the times, imagine a Reagan/Kennedy marriage where the couple’s child grows up to be the President of the United States. But was Tiberius' successor really insane or did he simply struggle to deal with the unlimited power that he received at such a young age? Gaius Caesar, nicknamed Caligula or "Little Boot," was born on August 31, in 12 A.D. (As we shall see in a moment, Caligula did deify Drusilla, but only after her death.) Suetonius’s claim that Caligula turned a portion of the palace into a brothel, however, is not supported by any earlier sources and it represents exactly the sort of story some senator might have made up just to show how depraved the emperor was. This is why, for the rest of this article, I will be calling the emperor in question “Caligula,” even though he was certainly not known by this name while he was emperor. In the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor, episode two (“A New Hope”), Caligula is portrayed as initially a good emperor. I am obsessed with the ancient world and I write about it constantly. Seneca writes in his treatise De Constantia Sapientis, which he wrote in around 55 AD, not long after Caligula’s death, as translated by Aubrey Stewart: “The same Gaius construed everything as an insult (since those who are most eager to offer affronts are least able to endure them). This theory was supported by the fact that Caligula was known to speak to the moon (it was once believed that epilepsy was caused by the effects of the moon). In Graves’s original novel, Claudius merely says that he suspects that Drusilla was murdered by Caligula. As we shall soon see, many of the events portrayed in the series are completely made up. Things get even nuttier in episode ten (“Hail Who?”), in which Caligula actually performs a whole dance routine dressed as Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, wearing tons of makeup, a wig, and a gold bikini. Caligula (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 31 August 12 – 24 January 41), was the third Roman Emperor.He reigned from AD 37. I think the cause may be that Egypt might have been ruled originally as a Dion writes, as translated by Earnest Cary: “One of the horses, which he named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer.”. Some historians have posited that Caligula was simply insane, but do not pinpoint any specific condition. In fact, this scenario actually seems to contradict what Suetonius himself says in his Life of Caligula, since he makes it sound as though Drusilla was the first of Caligula’s sisters that he ever had sex with, not the second. You claim to be a history guru. All he says is that Caligula was very sick, that the sickness was brought on by an unhealthy hedonistic lifestyle, and that there were fears that Caligula might die. However, Caligula made the news just last week (see Tom Kington’s article in the Guardian): Italian police announced that they believed to have discovered the emperor’s tomb when they arrested a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the emperor. Philo, author of Legatio ad Caium ("embassy to Caius") and leader of a delegation sent to Caligula to seek relief from persecution by Alexandrian Greeks, claimed that the emperor was no more than a vicious jokester. Caligula’s full name before he became emperor was Gaius Julius Caesar (which is, incidentally, the exact same full name as the more famous Gaius Julius Caesar who conquered Gaul and was assassinated on 15 March 44 BC). Indeed, Suetonius does give a rational explanation for why Caligula supposedly openly his brothel; according to Suetonius he did it because he was desperate for money to fund his outlandish lifestyle. No, Transgender People Are Not a Sign of Cultural Collapse, No, History Doesn’t Need to be “Mathematized”. The question of whether or not Caligula was insane remains unanswered. I am Spencer Alexander McDaniel. Meanwhile, the Romans themselves had a longstanding tradition of posthumously deifying great leaders. Thus, at the end of the episode, he murders Drusilla, cuts open her womb, and devours the unborn child. That’s it. Notice that Philon says nothing about any kind of headaches, nothing about the duration of the illness, nothing about any kind of coma, and nothing about the illness making him go insane. Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, was the third Roman Emperor who reigned for a short period of 4 years from 37 AD to 41 AD. quite lately Gaius Caesar flogged and tortured Sextus Papinius, whose father was a consular, Betilienas Bassus, his own quaestor, and several others, both senators and knights, on the same day, not to carry out any judicial inquiry, but merely to amuse himself.”, “Indeed, so impatient was he of any delay in receiving the pleasure which his monstrous cruelty never delayed in asking, that when walking with some ladies and senators in his mother’s gardens, along the walk between the colonnade and the river, he struck off some of their heads by lamplight.”. He had no previous administrative experience. One the most influential ancient sources about Caligula is a biography of him written by the Roman author Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (lived c. 69 – after c. 122 AD), who worked as a secretary to the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Suetonius describes the entire alleged plot in just one sentence in his Life of Caligula, chapter 24: “The rest of his sisters [i.e. The Ptolemaic dynasty needed and wanting to pose as a continuing He’s the one Roman emperor historians are fairly sure was certifiably insane. In the midst of all the baaing, Caligula leaps into the air and shouts that the period of mourning is now over. Caligula had been emperor for less than four years. As for the rest of your, as usual very good, post it is yet another example of why one should not take Holywood too seriously gor historical accuracy. Exaggerated and colorful stories have piled on top of exaggerated and colorful stories and, as a result, Caligula seems to have grown even more insane with each passing generation. Sean Hannity Still Doesn’t Know Latin—But Does He Read My Blog? To celebrate this man’s death he gave the soldiers money, as though he had defeated some enemies, and sent three daggers to Mars Ultor in Rome.”, “He deported his sisters to the Pontian Islands because of their relations with Lepidus, having first accused them in a communication to the senate of many impious and immoral actions. Naturally, though, this has not stopped popular culture from inventing all kinds of stories about the alleged relationships between him and his sisters. Caligula was depicted as an insane tyrant after he became an emperor later in his life. They didn’t have those in the ancient world, which means, if Caligula really had fallen into a complete coma, he would have most likely died of dehydration or starvation after about a week or two at most. His biographies read like modern gossip tabloids. matriarchy with the male members slowly enlarging their influence ABOVE: Screenshot from the I, Claudius episode “Zeus, By Jove!” of Caligula (played by John Hurt), dressed as Zeus, coming out of the room with blood all over his lips after eating Drusilla’s fetus. We can’t definitively say that Caligula did not turn the palace into a brothel and pimp his sisters to wealthy men, but it is probably a good idea to be skeptical of such stories. For instance, a dedication from the site of Caere dated to Caligula’s reign that is now on display in the Vatican Museums bears a Latin inscription that would have originally read “DIVAE DRVSILLAE SORORI CAII CAESARIS AVGVSTI GERMANICI,” which means “To the Divine Drusilla, sister of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.”, ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of an inscription from the site of Caere on display in the Vatican Museums bearing the dedication, “To the Divine Drusilla, sister of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus”. The third season of the show, which became available for streaming on 5 April 2019, is subtitled Caligula: The Mad Emperor and is nominally about the reign of Caligula. From Caligula to the lesser known but no less notorious Elagabalus, these emperors have left their mark on history. In other words, if Caligula really did have sex with his sisters, then it might not have been an act of depraved insanity, but rather a political maneuver that just didn’t work out the way he planned it to. (As I discuss in this article from January 2020, Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last ruler of this dynasty, was the product of literally centuries of incest.) When a soldier presents the emperor with Gemellus’s severed head, he declares, “I’ve cured his cough.”. Coma patients generally lack a swallow reflex, meaning they cannot swallow food or drink. Since Gaius wore little versions of these boots, the soldiers nicknamed him Caligula, which is a diminutive form of the word caliga. In the video devoted to Caligula from his ‘Emperors of Rome’ series, Adrian Murdoch suggests that the young emperor was corrupted by this absolute power which he had never been taught to manage. ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of an ancient Roman marble portrait head of the emperor Elagabalus, who was not generally known as Elagabalus during his reign. The doctor who is caring for him tells Macro, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, that he is probably going to die. Caligula (Gaius Julius Augustus Germanicus) was Roman emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. In 1979, the notorious pornographic film Caligula, starring Malcolm McDowell as the titular character, was released. One of the Roman Empire’s most notorious characters was its third emperor, Caligula. It is entirely possible that this whole account about Caligula planning to make his horse a consul is fabricated. It is entirely possible that the real reason why Caligula honored his sisters so highly is simply because he wanted to emphasize the importance of the Augustan bloodline. Then soldiers come out and start whipping all the senators, just as the black curtains of mourning come falling down from the ceiling on everybody’s heads. spear bearer, that sceptre is much too long and his posture not correct… The way this is presented makes it seem like something that we know really happened and that is recorded in the ancient sources. Even in Caligula’s time, it was not unprecedented. Soon, people discovered just how cruel (and possibly insane) he was. Yeah, the issue is they acted like these stories were all categorically true. line of the Pharaohs and married within their families because their He describes how this was seen as shocking and sacrilegious. Antium is now known as Anzio. Although prostitution was legal in the Roman Empire, prostitutes and pimps alike were widely looked down upon as lower-class scum. Caligula Biography, Life, Interesting Facts. The surviving contemporary accounts of his reign unanimously portray him as a cruel tyrant. How Historically Accurate Is Netflix’s ‘Barbarians’? The problem is that the Romans weren’t ready for that yet, so it backfired on him politically. Police believe that the marble statue came from the emperor’s tomb. Unfortunately, virtually everything the show says about the so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers” is completely made up. Wow, most of these things I remember getting presented even in history class as fact. At the time of his accession as emperor, Caligula was greeted with enthusiasm. ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a Roman sesterius minted c. 38 AD depicting Caligula’s head on the obverse and his three sisters—Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla on the reverse. In I, Claudius, episode ten (“Hail Who?”), Caligula turns the imperial palace into a brothel, where he pimps the wives of wealthy senators to the highest bidders. As a child, Gaius was brought up among the soldiers and he wore a smaller version of the outfits they wore. Honestly, a name like “Little Boots” is probably better suited for a housecat than a sadistic tyrant. Of course, the fact that Caligula honored his sisters on coins doesn’t prove he was having sex with them. What I have heard from him, then, I state positively and plainly, so help him!”. I named my tuxedo cat with white socks Caligula. The last part of the third episode of Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor focuses extensively on the so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers,” which it turns into a elaborate conspiracy by Agrippina, Julia Livilla, and Aemilus Lepidus to murder Caligula and seize the throne. It was rumoured that he planned to appoint his horse consul before he died. In order for him to survive longer than that, he would have to either wake up every week or so before falling back into the coma or somehow still be able to swallow food and water while in the coma. 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