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The Emperor Caligula



I. Overview of his life

II. His villainous acts

III. The reasons for his insanity



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 forgotten.

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.

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