Caligula —Madness of Rome’s worst Emperor

It was midafternoon on the 22nd Jan, 41 AD in the morning that Emperor Caligula had been to the theater but he had a bit of hangover so he decided to skip lunch to freshen up with a quick bath on his own, down a back alley in palace compound when he was jumped by a group of soldiers. The first blow to his neck did not kill him but the next 30 or so did. The rumor is that at the time of Caligula’s assassination he was just 28 years old and had been in power for less than 4 yrs. This was cemented as an extraordinary moment in Roman history!

Caligula was Rome’s 3rd emperor who has come to stand for corruption, horror, and excess of imperial Rome psychopathic rule. He is said to have ruled by the sword, to have made his horse into a consul, and have insisted to be worshipped as a living God.

One of Caligula’s favorite sayings was to let them hate as long as they fear me.

He was on the throne for just 4 years which might seem a lot but he that has left us with little physical evidence. The first clear sight we have of Caligula in any historical record was when he was a long way from Rome, about the age of 2 Caligula spent his childhood on the road with his mother and father (one of Rome’s most charismatic general).

His father was Germanicus the blue-eyed prince of the imperial family and the nephew of the emperor Tiberius. His mother was Agri Pina. Granddaughter of the first emperor Augustus.

He was born Gaius Caesar Germanicus a name he inherited from his mother meaning something like thrasher of the Germans.

When Caligula was just 7, Germanicus suddenly died on the mission to Syria, poisoned he claimed from his deathbed, by the Roman governor. The death of Germanicus was the start of an increasingly bitter feud between Caligula’s mother Agri pina and the palace. Convinced that Agri pina and her sons were plotting against the emperor, Tiberius banished her to the remote island. Shortly after Tiberius summoned young Caligula to the island of Capri. This was the seat of Tiberius power away from Rome. He ruled the empire by proxy from a whole suite of imperial villas built high into the cliffs. This was where Tiberius kept Caligula by his side and Caligula was groomed to be emperor and learned to start building an empire.

While Caligula was living in luxury, his mother Agri pina was beaten up so much she lost her sight in one eye and starved to death not only that but his brothers also came to a violent end. One by one Caligula had lost his father, mother, and his 2 older brothers. He and his sisters were the only ones in the family left.

It is a chilling reminder that in Rome the close you are to power the harder it is to survive. One theory says that Caligula smothered or have Tiberius smothered via guard to take on the power. Caligula was groomed since childhood to be an emperor, he had the support of the army, born as royal and great-grandson of Augustus, which meant he had the most right to land a direct claim on the throne. 2 days after Tiberius death on the 18th March 37 AD, senate declares Caligula’s as Rome’s 3rd emperor. He could now triumphantly be the ruler of the known world. At the time he was 24yrs old.

After becoming the emperor, Caligula brought the ashes of his dead mother back to Rome, buried them with his own hands in the mausoleum which was built by Augustus. There he set up a gravestone with the inscription about his mother’s bloodline, in a way indirectly letting the world know through his manifesto of his claim right for the throne and who was now in charge.

He also circulated money with his portrait on the coins which was said that he showered down on the people. One of the ways that emperors could get their slogans across Europe was to put it on the coins so you literally carried around the imperial propaganda in the pocket. In the 1870s excavators dug up an astonishing find in one of the imperial pleasure gardens that used to be of Caligula’s. Hundreds of precious stones, rubies, crystals embedded in amazing frames of silver and gold were found. No one could quite work out what it was, one idea was that they come across as it was part of the throne but it was just too much so another idea was that it could be embedded in palace walls to look dazzling in sunlight in the day and maybe be tacky at night.

Another great story relayed by historians about Caligula was how guests would go to dinner with Caligula and they would look at the fantastic spread of all the wonderful food until they spot that it is all made of gold…

Ever since his ascension to the throne, his extended family and his opponents were constantly conspiring to have him removed. On one hand, was his family who wanted to replace him with one of their own, on the other hand, were the people who believed that Rome should return to being a republic to be run by the senate. His brother-in-law Amelius was executed for plotting against him and his wife, Caligula’s sister as well as the other sister were exiled.

This was believed to be the turning point in his life from the golden boy to the maniacal monster. There are stories about the moment when he started to lose his grip on power when the madness defined Caligula. One story suggests that Caligula loved his horse so much that he used to fed him a diet of oats and gold and planned to make him Rome’s consul to show his ministers how useless they were in their jobs. Over time he turned his palace into a brothel, he loved to dress up in women’s clothing, had male partners, and perversion was practiced in excess. He was known to be openly involved with little boys, virgins, even his favorite sister Drusilla.

He would go out with wives of guests during palace events, he would sit on his couch as people would file past him with their wives and he would eye their wives like hunting for slaves in slave market but what was his most damning mistake was to present himself as both emperor and God. He said to have insisted on being worshipped as God in his own life and to make matters worse he transformed the most symbolic space in Rome, people’s forum as his own stage to be worshipped. He would sit between the statues of gods to be worshipped.

It was his madness and severe inability to run an empire that led to his eventual downfall. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus died at the age of 28. On January 24, 41, Caligula was killed in the theater corridor after the Palatine Games celebrations. He was hit over thirty times with swords. He was then tossed into a shallow grave — before his wife and daughter were treated to the same fate. The Roman throne transferred to his uncle, the brother of Germanicus, Claudius.

After his assassination before his body went cold, the new regime condemned him as a tyrant. His uncle took over all the building projects and inscribed his name over them. Some of his coins were defaced, his initials symbolically scratched out and in many of his status, his head was either destroyed or replaced with his uncle’s face which symbolically suggests that in a way new emperor is only the old emperor with a different face.



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