Monday, February 21, 2011

Emperor of Sex and Murder: Caligula

Gaius Julius Cae­sar Augus­tus Ger­man­i­cus (more pop­u­larly known as Caligula), was the third Roman Emperor, reign­ing from 16 March 37 until his assas­si­na­tion on 24 Jan­u­ary 41. Caligula was a mem­ber of the house of rulers con­ven­tion­ally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty.Caligula’s father, Ger­man­i­cus, the nephew and adopted son of emperor Tiberius, was a very suc­cess­ful gen­eral and one of Rome’s most beloved pub­lic fig­ures. The young Gaius earned his nick­name Caligula (the diminu­tive form of caliga) mean­ing “lit­tle [soldier’s] boot”, while accom­pa­ny­ing his father on mil­i­tary cam­paigns in Ger­ma­nia. When Ger­man­i­cus died in Anti­och in AD 19, his mother Agrip­pina the Elder returned to Rome with her six chil­dren, where she became entan­gled in an increas­ingly bit­ter feud with Tiberius. This con­flict even­tu­ally led to the destruc­tion of her fam­ily, with Caligula as the sole male sur­vivor. Unscathed by the deadly intrigues, and seem­ingly unmoved by the fate of his clos­est rel­a­tives, Caligula accepted the invi­ta­tion to accom­pany the emperor on the island of Capri in AD31, where Tiberius him­self had with­drawn in AD 26. At the death of Tiberius, on 16 March AD 37, Caligula suc­ceeded his great-uncle and adop­tive grandfather.
There are few sur­viv­ing sources on Caligula’s reign, and although he is described as a noble and mod­er­ate ruler dur­ing the first two years of his rule, after this the sources focus upon his cru­elty, extrav­a­gance, and sex­ual per­ver­sity, pre­sent­ing him as an insane tyrant.
Sur­viv­ing sources present a num­ber of sto­ries about Caligula that illus­trate cru­elty and insan­ity. The con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous sources, Philo of Alexan­dria and Seneca the Younger, describe an insane emperor who was self-absorbed, angry, killed on a whim, and who indulged in too much spend­ing and sex. He is accused of sleep­ing with other men’s wives and brag­ging about it, killing for mere amuse­ment, pur­posely wast­ing money on his bridge, caus­ing star­va­tion, and want­ing a statue of him­self erected in the Tem­ple of Jerusalem for his worship.
While repeat­ing the ear­lier sto­ries, the later sources of Sue­to­nius and Cas­sius Dio add addi­tional tales of insan­ity. They accuse Caligula of incest with his sis­ters, Agrip­pina, Drusilla and Julia Livilla, and say he pros­ti­tuted them to other men. They state he sent troops on illog­i­cal mil­i­tary exer­cises. They also allege he turned the palace into a brothel. Per­haps most famously, they say that Caligula tried to make his horse, Inci­ta­tus, a con­sul and a priest.

More on Caligula:



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