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Emperor of the Roman Empire
Bust of Caligula
Reign 16 March, AD 37 –
24 January, AD 41
Predecessor Tiberius
Successor Claudius
Spouse 1) Junia Claudilla, 33–34
2) Livia Orestilla, 37 or 38
3) Lollia Paulina, 38
4) Milonia Caesonia, ?–41
Julia Drusilla
Tiberius Gemellus (adoptive)
Full name
Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus
(from birth to accession);
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (as emperor)
Father Germanicus
Mother Agrippina the Elder
Born 31 August AD 12
Antium, Roman Empire
Died 24 January 41 (aged 28)
Palatine, Rome, Roman Empire
Burial Rome, Italy

Caligula (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 31 August AD 12 – 24 January AD 41), was the third Roman Emperor. He reigned from AD 37, and was assassinated after less than four years by members of his bodyguard and the Roman Senate. He was popular with the Roman public in his time, but his reign saw the slaughter of many innocent people without fair trials.[1]

Life[change | change source]

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.

When Germanicus died at Antioch in 19 AD, his mother Agrippina the Elder returned to Rome with her six children where she became entangled in a 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, Caligula accepted the invitation to join the emperor on the island of Capri in 31, where Tiberius himself had withdrawn five years earlier. At the death of Tiberius in 37, Caligula succeeded his great-uncle and adoptive grandfather.

There are few surviving sources on Caligula's reign, 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.

Caligula worked to increase the authority of the emperor. He directed much of his attention to ambitious construction projects and luxurious dwellings for himself. However, he started the construction of two new aqueducts in Rome: the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. During his reign, the empire annexed the Kingdom of Mauretania and made it into a province.

In early 41, Caligula was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy involving officers of the Praetorian Guard, as well as members of the Roman Senate and of the imperial court. The conspirators' attempt to use the opportunity to restore the Roman Republic was thwarted, as the same day the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula's uncle Claudius emperor in his place.

Insanity?[change | change source]

Surviving sources present a number of stories about Caligula that illustrate cruelty and insanity. He has been accused of killing for mere amusement,[2] committing incest with his sisters and prostituting them with other men,[3] and turning the palace into a brothel.[4]

He appeared in public dressed as various gods, and demanded to be worshipped as a god.[5] He made his horse, Incitatus, a Senator and citizen of Rome, a consul and a priest.[6]

The history of Caligula's reign is a problem. Only two sources contemporary with Caligula have survived — the works of Philo and Seneca, and they give mostly anecdotes. At one time, there were detailed contemporary histories on Caligula, but they are now lost. Caligula's sister, Agrippina the Younger, wrote an autobiography which certainly included a detailed explanation of Caligula's reign, but it too is lost. No surviving source paints Caligula in a favorable light, but the question of whether or not Caligula was insane remains unanswered.

References[change | change source]

  1. Barrett, Anthony A. 1989. Caligula: the corruption of power. Batsford, London. ISBN 0-7134-5487-3
  2. Seneca the Younger, On Anger III.xviii.1.
  3. Cassius Dio, Roman History LIX.11, LIX.22; Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula 24.
  4. Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula 41.
  5. Cassius Dio, Roman History LIX.26-28.
  6. Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula 55; Cassius Dio, Roman History LIX.14, LIX.28.