Historical Horrors presents
The maddest Roman of them all?
|There once was a small boy who
liked to march with the soldiers in his father's army. He
acquired a nickname -- 'little boots.' The father died
while his son was young -- and the son took power.
Despite a promising beginning this young man turned into one of the most infamous despots the world has ever known -- CALIGULA!
Reigning from 37 - 41 AD (CE) as Gaius Caesar, he was the nephew of Emperor Tiberius and son of Germanicus and Agrippina. His father died in AD 19 (probably murdered), when Gaius was only 7. Recent studies have shown many world leaders have lost their fathers at an early age, and this somehow pushes them to seek power. Examples include Stalin, Ceasescu and Bill Clinton.
Gaius hated his nickname, and while Emperor would execute anyone caught using it. After his uncle Tiberius was murdered, Caligula's initial reign was considered well and good - especially after what madness had gone before.
However, after an illness that might have been a nervous breakdown seven months into his reign, Caligula began a trail of murder, restoring the dreaded treason trials. In AD 38 he executed Naevius Sutorious Macro, prefect of the Praetorian Guard and the one who had dispatched his uncle.
He showed much affection for his sisters - and allegedly had an affair with his sister Drusilla. After her death in AD 38 he elevated her to godlike status - Diva Drusilla, the first woman to be so honored. It was rumored that he wanted to start a Hellenistic-style monarchy patterned after the Egyptian brother-sister marriages.
In AD October 39 Caligula appeared on the upper Rhine to quell a revolt, executing Drusilla's widower M. Aemilius Lepidus, as well as Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus, commander of the upper Rhine armies.
Caligula quickly spent the treasury funds Tiberius had set up, bankrupting the Empire in record time. To reestablish his funds, Caligula extorted monies from prominent Romans and confiscated their estates. Trouble was brewing on the home front.
In AD 40 he plundered Gaul, marched his troops to the northern shoreline as a prelude to invading Britain, but then ordered his troops to remove their helmets and collect seashells instead - calling them his spoils of "war."
His madness spread to Jerusalem, when he proclaimed himself divine and attempted to erect a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple. This caused open revolt that only ended after Caligula's death.
Now officially a 'god,' Caligula forced payment from the Romans as tribute to his new exalted self, and exercised his "unique" sexual prefences. He was said to have gone through many wives and at one point interrupted the wedding ceremony of another couple, stepping in as the groom himself. One persistent rumour is that he elevated his favorite horse to the status of Senator. Though probably false, it is however a good example of the degree to which people and historians would go to play up the mad side of his nature - to demonize him beyond even his well documented misdeeds.
The Romans soon grew weary of Caligula's demented excesses. In January, 41 AD, after his return to Rome from Gaul, he was stabbed to death at the Palantine Games by Cassius Chaerea (among others), tribune of the Praetorian guard. Gaius Caesar had ruled a scant 4 years.
His wife Caesonia was also stabbed to death and his infant daughter bashed against a wall. There would be no descendants to carry out vendetas in the years to come.
Caligula was succeeded by his uncle Claudius who reigned until AD 54.
Many films have featured Caligula as a character - most notably DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, THE ROBE, CALIGULA (1980), CALIGULA 2/3 (1986). The British television series I, CLAUDIUS featured John Hurt as the mad emperor in all his demented glory. The unfinished feature film of the same name by Josef Von Sternberg also depicted Caligula. The existing footage can be seen in the documentary THE EPIC THAT NEVER WAS.
More information on most of these films can be obtained in the Internet Movie Database: www.imdb.com
By Thom Sciacca