Caligula Biography, Life, Interesting Facts. Soldiers in those days wore a kind of leather boot known as a caliga. “traditionnally thought to be a Seleucid prince, maybe Attalus II of Pergamon”. Their alleged divinity was part of what gave them legitimacy. 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. Caligula appears as a character in the bestselling novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves, which was published in 1934. 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. Although prostitution was legal in the Roman Empire, prostitutes and pimps alike were widely looked down upon as lower-class scum. The only way modern coma patients are able to survive for months or even years is because modern hospitals use feeding tubes. ABOVE: Promotional image for Netflix’s 2019 docudrama series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor. 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. I would call him a ΔΟΡΥΦΟΡΟΣ/doryphoros i.e. He even scattered large sums of money among the commons from the roof of the basilica Julia for several days in succession.”. 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). Many of his monuments were destroyed in the aftermath of his assassination and his remains were lost. Coma patients generally lack a swallow reflex, meaning they cannot swallow food or drink. 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. He was tyrannical, possibly insane, and had tendencies towards debauchery and even the merciless taking of life. 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. No, the Black Death Did Not Cause the Renaissance. 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. 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. 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. 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. Naturally, though, this has not stopped popular culture from inventing all kinds of stories about the alleged relationships between him and his sisters. 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. 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. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula waking up from his implausible three-month-long coma in the Netflix series Roman Empire: Caligula: The Mad Emperor. ABOVE: Title screen from the 1976 BBC drama series I, Claudius. Afterwards, the assassins murdered his wife Milonia Caesonia and their one-year-old daughter Julia Drusilla. matriarchy with the male members slowly enlarging their influence © Copyright 2020 History Today Ltd. Company no. 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. I think the cause may be that Egypt might have been ruled originally as a 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. In sharp contrast to I, Claudius, this film quickly won a reputation as one of the worst films ever made. In fairness, though, most of the most famous stories I’ve investigated in this article actually are in the sources. Where Does the Idea of a “Saint” Come From? Caligula: Mad, bad, and maybe a little misunderstood. (You may be sensing a bit of a theme here. 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. 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. Agrippina and Julia Livilla] he did not love with so great affection, nor honour so highly, but often prostituted them to his favourites; so that he was the readier at the trial of Aemilius Lepidus to condemn them, as adulteresses and privy to the conspiracies against him; and he not only made public letters in the handwriting of all of them, procured by fraud and seduction, but also dedicated to Mars the Avenger, with an explanatory inscription, three swords designed to take his life.”. What less people know is that Seneca also describes Alexander the Great in the same fashion . 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. Your email address will not be published. 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 was born on August 31, 12, in Antium, Italy. Emperor Caligula was one of the most insane men in history, and if he were around today, he would be greatly feared. 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. Caligula is famously alleged to have had sex with all three of his own sisters and to have treated his sister Drusilla as his wife. It is entirely possible that this whole account about Caligula planning to make his horse a consul is fabricated. One of the Roman Empire’s most notorious characters was its third emperor, Caligula. Caligula became Emperor of Rome at the age of 24, and although his reign started off strong, he fell into a coma. 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. Most of them are definitely or probably false; others are based on historical facts but have been greatly misrepresented. 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. Suetonius may have reported real information alongside the slander that was rampant throughout Caligula’s tenure. ABOVE: Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, painted in 1867 by the Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Putting all of these stories aside, the contemporary sources do unambiguously claim that Caligula was insane. Caligula awarding himself the same status in Rome was only insane in the sense that it was a political gambit certain to fail. Then he falls into a coma, which lasts for an unspecified amount of time. Caligula’s notoriety as an unhinged, bloodthirsty Roman emperor may not tell the whole story. 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. He was the son of Roman general Germanicus and Augustus‘ granddaughter Agrippina the Elder. 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. (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.) In the midst of all the baaing, Caligula leaps into the air and shouts that the period of mourning is now over. 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. 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.”. ABOVE: Screenshot of Caligula’s soldiers pouring out the “loot from old Neptune” in the 1976 television series I, Claudius. His uncle Claudius regards this whole situation as a disgrace, so Caligula forces him to collect money at the door. 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. It is only in around the late fourth century AD that the sources start referring to Caligula by the name Caligula. 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. 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. Wow, most of these things I remember getting presented even in history class as fact. In I, Claudius, episode nine (“Zeus, by Jove!”), Caligula is portrayed as impregnating Drusilla. This merely proves that Caligula was not very attuned to the political climate in which he lived—not that he was insane. His reign is remembered, on the whole, as disastrous and many believe that Caligula was insane. 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. 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.. 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. Your email address will not be published. that led to a civil war. Not only is it not found in any of the ancient sources, but it is not even found in the original 1934 novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves that the series is based on. Suetonius writes in chapter 24, as translated by R. C. Rolfe: “He lived in habitual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above. When Does United States History Really Begin? 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. 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. What made Caligula one of the most infamous emperors in the history of ancient Rome? 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. ), ABOVE: Screenshot from the 1979 film Caligula of Caligula (played by Malcolm McDowell) with his sister Drusilla (played by Teresa Ann Savoy). For them, a conspiracy and an assassination isn’t enough; Claudius has to be in on it all too. Suetonius spends a lot of time in his Life of Caligula ranting about the emperor’s profligacy. This certainly never happened and there are no surviving ancient sources that say he actually did this. His biographies read like modern gossip tabloids. View all posts by Spencer Alexander McDaniel. 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. ABOVE: Page from a ninth-century AD Latin manuscript of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis Claudii. He had no previous administrative experience. 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? Caligula. 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. 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. Divine kings were normal throughout the Hellenistic world. 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.”. Afterwards, he becomes increasingly paranoid, believing that the child developing in her womb will overthrow him and become the new king of the gods. 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. Caligula] fell sick, but instead of dying himself he caused the death of Tiberius [i.e. He also declares that his sister Drusilla has become a goddess. Required fields are marked *. 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. This is basically all the information we find about the so-called “Plot of the Three Daggers” in the ancient sources. The problem here is that Suetonius is a relatively late, generally unreliable source. Thus, when Suetonius talks about Caligula wasting money, the point is to convey that he was a bad emperor. The exact same story is told about both Cleopatra and Caligula and, in all likelihood, never happened with either of them. Perhaps most disappointingly, the bikini-clad dance routine from I, Claudius is pure fantasy. 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. Zeus himself famous had sex with his sister Demeter and married his sister Hera. Then, only a few months into his reign, he suddenly and inexplicably falls into a three-month-long coma. He blew his predecessor Tiberius’s fortunes in just over a year, which led to a debt crisis in AD 39. Caligula (Gaius Julius Augustus Germanicus) was Roman emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. But Gemellus was Caligula’s adopted son, which casts his murder in an especially sinister light. At this point, Longinus, Caligula’s advisor, suddenly exclaims “He’s mad!”—as though this is something he has just realized. 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. 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. 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. It is probably true that Caligula was something of a sadist. 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.