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    The Emperor Caligula

    37- 41


    Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born August 31, 12 CE to Germanicus Caesar and Agrippina. Caligula, which means little boot, was a nickname given to him by his father's soldiers, while he grew up on the Rhine frontier. The emperor Tiberius eventually adopted Caligula making him along with his own son, Tiberius Germellus, heirs to the throne of Rome. However, the senate and the populace chose to have Caligula as sole ruler after Tiberius died. The problem with this selection is that Tiberius gave very little governmental responsibility to Caligula. In fact, Tiberius did not trust Caligula in Rome, because insurrection or he feared for Caligula's life, and kept him on the island of Capri. Caligula, consequently, had no magisterial command, army command, or any training which normal noble children had. He was completely unprepared to be emperor.

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    Despite the fact he lacked formal training, Caligula began his reign seen as a great man compared to the reign of Tiberius. When he entered Rome on March 28, 37 CE, the populace flocked to him. He began his reign by following the common practice of putting his family in places of power. He brought back his mother and brothers from exile. He adopted Tiberius Germellus making him heir to emperor. He made his uncle, Claudius, a colleague for consulting. Finally on July 1, he made his sisters Vestal Virgins.

    His national policy promoted a return to Augustian ideals. He agreed to co-operate with the Senate, i.e. he asked their permission to exceed the number of legal gladiators. He denounced Tiberius' rule, which the people loved for Tiberius had been a miser when it came to investing in the city. He allowed exiles to come home, along with all the actors. Caligula also punished all the informers and sycophants that Tiberius had used to convict and destroy people. In his greatest move, he promised that elections would return to the people and that there would be no unpopular taxes. However, this return to Augustinian ideals lasted only six months.

    Six months into his reign, Caligula, became deathly ill, yet he recovered, much to the dismay of the Romans. After his recovery Caligula was intoxicated with power to the point where he beheaded his adoptive son and drove his proxy to suicide. His sister, Drusilla, was the only person that could control him, but the despair of the Romans she died. His power led to extravagant celebrations that depleted the treasuries of Rome. This required him to find ways to earn money: extortion taxes on everything including prostitution, and he made it a capital crime not to bequeath everything to him.

    Caligula's power soon led him to think himself as a God. This led him to kill anyone that he thought surpassed him in something. He also eliminated the senatorial power, armies, and lives, because he saw the Senate as having more power than he did. Because of his claim to a deity, two temples were built for him in 40 AD. He built a floating bridge across the Bay of Baiae and road back and forth on it wearing the armor of Alexander the Great. Declaring himself a deity caused major backlash in Judea, because the Jewish law said that they could only worship their God. His refusal to revoke the decree that the nations worship him caused a revolution in Judea. Caligula's hubris is finally what destroyed him, because he insulted the Roman military commanders, especially Cassius Chaerea, who plotted against and murdered him on January 24, 41 at the Palatine Games.

    It is very difficult to get a clear representation of who Caligula was, because most of the historians of his day despised him. There is a dispute of whether he made his horse a senator, but most historians view this as anti-Caligula propaganda. Historians also say that Caligula led an army through Gaul only to pick up seashells at the English Channel. However, if this were true, then the soldiers would have surely revolted. What is certain is that many Romans despised Caligula and he was not quite right in the head.


    Bunson, M., Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, Facts on File, Inc., New York, 1994, pp. 166-167

    Charlesworth, M. P., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 10, Cambridge University Press, 1963, pp. 653-667

    Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 2, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Chicago, 1992, pp. 744-745

    Edited, Researched and Written by:
    John Lommel
    November 25, 1997

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