The Emperor Caligula
Caligula was the third emperor of Rome. He is known for his cruel and
perhaps insane actions. He expanded on the previous emperor Tiberius'
corruption of power. He was wasteful and thought of himself as a god. His
reign was harsh with all suffering, but those around him were treated the
worst. His acts of cruelty can be compared to those of Hitler and Lenin.
He is actually rather like them; his deeds are infamous and will not be
Overview of his life
He was born on August the 31st , 12 C.E. named Gaius Caesar Augustus
Germanicus. As a young child he toured with his parents on war campaigns.
He was nicknamed "Caligula" for the child sized military boots he wore.
When he was seven his father died and relations between his mother and his
grand-uncle, emperor Tiberius deteriorated. In 27 C.E. he was sent to live
with his great-grandmother. Two years later, after her death, he was sent
to live with his other grandmother. In 31 C.E., he was called to Tiberius'
villa in Capri, where he remained until his ascension. In 33 C.E. his mother
was killed. His remaining brothers were also killed about this time. In
March of 37, Tiberius fell into a coma and Caligula and his cousin were named
joint heirs to the throne. However, the Senate and the Roman people wanted
Caligula to be the sole emperor, so Caligula had Tiberius' will declared null
and void on grounds of insanity. It is said that the emperor woke from his
coma, but was smothered by Caligula's chamberlain, Macro.
The first months of Caligula's reign were mild. His first acts were
to pay Tiberius' bequests and gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard. He
publicly honored his father and brothers. He recalled exiles and publicly
destroyed Tiberius' private papers; which could have implemented many in the
deaths revolving around his ascension. His popularity was immense.
Four years later he was found dead, murdered by members of his own guard.
His villainous acts
Caligula was a twisted man. Some of the laws he made were harmless, some of
his actions cruel and inhuman. He was very sensitive about his baldness. He
made it a capital crime to look down upon him from high places as he walked
by. Often those who did were ordered to shave their hair. He made it a
capital crime not to bequeath everything to the emperor. He greatly enjoyed
torture and desired to have executions drawn out. He had the supervisor of
games and beast-fights flogged with chains for days and was only killed when
Caligula was offended by the smell of gangrene on his brain. Often when
their weren't enough prisoners to be killed in the arena he would have
spectators dragged from the benches. Caligula was a promiscuous man. He
would sleep with women of rank and publicly and graphically discuss his
bedfellows. He had four wives in three years because he grew tired of them.
He even opened a brothel in his own palace. He was caught in bed with his
sister, Drusilla, as a prepubescent. Eventually he committed incest with all
three of his sisters. When his sister Drusilla became pregnant he
disemboweled her to remove the unborn child from her womb. When Drusilla died
he had her deified. He, also, thought of himself as a god. In fact he
demanded that he be worshipped as one. He compared himself to Jupiter and
female goddesses such as Juno, Diana, and Venus. He set up a special temple
in his honor where a life size gold statue of him was dressed in fine silks.
It is reported that he rode over a bridge of boats across the Bay of Naples
of his horse wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. He declared
that he was like the god Neptune, for he had ridden across the waters. He
was indeed a man of excess. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and like
rolling in piles of gold. He gave his favorite horse jeweled necklaces,
built it a stable out of marble complete with it's own staff of servants,
made it a consul, and even planned to make it a Senator.
The reasons for his insanity
Caligula's behavior, a splitting of emotions and thoughts, is nowadays
diagnosed as schizophrenia. The absolute power that Caligula enjoyed
strengthened and developed the worst features of his character. His
grandmother, Antonia, and his favorite sister, Drusilla, who could both have
had a restraining influence on him, died during the first year of his reign.
In his youth - as a favorite of the soldiers - he must have been thoroughly
spoilt. The near-extinction of his family and the subsequent fear for his own
life during his adolescent years will surely have marked his personality.
However, Caligula's madness could have been organically influenced, because
it was said to have become apparent after a serious illness which he had
suffered in October 37. If this disease was encephalitis, then it could very
likely have been a contributory factor to the bizarre features of his
behavior, for encephalitis can cause a marked character change and give rise
to impulsive, aggressive and intemperate activity, similar in its symptoms to
those of schizophrenia. In addition, Caligula had inherited epilepsy. Some
forms of epilepsy have symptoms similar to those of both schizophrenia and
the post-encephalitic syndrome. At times, because of sudden faintness,
Caligula was sometimes hardly able to move his limbs, to stand up, to collect
his thoughts or to hold up his head. He suffered severely from sleeplessness,
never sleeping for more than three hours a night and even for that length
of time he did not sleep quietly; he was terrified by strange manifestations.
Caligula was killed by members of his own guard for basically personal
reasons. The men who killed him sought revenge for the wrongs Caligula had
caused to them. This is not surprising, only that he reigned for so long.
He abused his power and shows the darker side of human nature. His reign of
terror was so severe that the Roman people could not actually believe he was
dead. His actions are incomprehendable for most, but can serve to show the danger
of unfettered power.
Back to main page
The content of this page was written by Adrian.