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Caligula

Caligula

Born: August 31, 12 C. E.
Antium, Italy
Died: January 24, 41 c.e.
Rome, Italy

Italian emperor

Caligula (1241 C. E.) was the third emperor of Rome. During his short reign, Caligula emerged as one of the most dominant leaders of Rome's early emperors. But his insanity, coupled with his power as Emperor of Rome, would secure him a most unusual legacy.

Early life

Caligula was born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus in Antium (modern Anzio) on August 31, 12 c.e. His mother, Agrippina, was the granddaughter of Emperor Augustus (63 b.c.e.14 C. E.). Caligula's father, Germanicus, was Emperor Tiberius's (42 b.c.e.37 b.c.e.) nephew, adopted son, and heir who would inherit his father's throne. Gaius was brought up among the soldiers his father commanded on the Rhine, a river in central Europe. His mother dressed the young boy in the uniform of a Roman soldier, and for this reason the soldiers called him Caligula ("Little Boots"), the name by which he is commonly known.

In 41 c.e. Augustus died, leaving Tiberius to inherit the role of emperor. Tiberius hesitated at naming a successor. Although Caligula's father was the best candidate, Tiberius was jealous of him and kept Germanicus away from Rome for several years. In 19 c.e. Germanicus died under mysterious circumstances. His death was mourned throughout the empire, because he was, by all accounts, an honorable and courageous man. After his father's death Caligula lived in Rome, first with his mother, then with Livia (Augustus's wife), and then with his grandmother. Finally, in 32 c.e., he joined Tiberius in his retirement on the island of Capri.

By this time Tiberius had groomed his two sons, Nero and Drusus, to succeed him as emperor. But by 33 c.e., Nero and Drusus had died, leaving Caligula next in line to succeed Tiberius. Caligula held public office in 31 and 33 c.e. but, apart from that brief experience, had no other training for political life. Caligula's experience at Tiberius's court seems largely to have been in the art of hiding what his biographer Suetonius (c. 69122 C. E.) called his "natural cruelty and viciousness."

Emperor Caligula

Tiberius died in 37 c.e., and in March Caligula took the throne as emperor. During the first months of his reign he dissolved the legacies Tiberius and Livia left to the Roman people. The new emperor was generous. He freed political prisoners and established popular and splendid games and chariot races. He was respectful to the Senate and adopted his cousin Tiberius Gemellus as his son and heir. Caligula also recalled political exiles, or people who had been forced to leave Rome during the reigns of previous emperors.

But by the spring of 38 c.e. the character of Caligula's rule changed drastically. An illness late in 37 c.e. seemed to have seriously affected his mind. Suetonius claims that, after the illness, Caligula submitted completely to the role of Oriental despot, or absolute ruler. He soon regarded himself as a god. Personal altars to himself were built all over his empire.

In all things he became irrational and cruel. He murdered, among others, Tiberius Gemellus, humiliated the Senate, and spent money recklessly. He revived treason trials so that he could confiscate the property of the convicted. Caligula's behavior included building a bridge that crossed between his palace and nearby temples so he could communicate with the gods. Also, he appointed his favorite horse as high priest. Caligula spent the winter of 39 and 40 c.e. in Gaul and on the Rhine and planned to invade Germany or Britain. His plans aroused some patriotic support, but the project was soon abandoned.

After his return to Rome, Caligula lived in constant fear of an assassination (an organized murder). His fear was realized when a tribune, or group of Roman officials, of the Praetorian Guards murdered him on Jan. 24, 41 c.e. His fourth wife and his daughter, who was his only child, were murdered at the same time.

For More Information

Balsdon, J. P. V. D. The Emperor Gaius (Caligula). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Barrett, Anthony. Caligula: The Corruption of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Ferrill, Arther. Caligula: Emperor of Rome. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

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Caligula

Caligula

Caligula (12-41) was the third emperor of Rome. At best, he was one of the most autocratic of Rome's early emperors; at worst, one of the most deranged.

Caligula was born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus in Antium (modern Anzio) on Aug. 31, A.D. 12. His mother, Agrippina, was Emperor Augustus's granddaughter, and his father, Germanicus, was Emperor Tiberius's nephew, adopted son, and heir. Gaius was brought up among the soldiers his father commanded on the Rhine. His mother dressed him in the uniform of a Roman legionnaire, and for this reason the soldiers called him Caligula ("Little Boots"), the name by which he is commonly known.

In A.D. 19 Germanicus died. His death was mourned throughout the empire because he was, by all accounts, an honorable and courageous man. After his father's death Caligula lived in Rome, first with his mother, then with Livia (Augustus's wife), and then with his grandmother. Finally, in 32, he joined Tiberius in his retirement on Capri.

By 33 those people with prior claims to the imperial position, including Caligula's brother Drusus, had died, and Caligula was next in line to succeed Tiberius. Caligula held public office in 31 and 33 but, apart from that brief experience, had no other training for political life. His experience at Tiberius's court seems largely to have been in the art of dissembling—hiding what his biographer Suetonius calls Caligula's "natural cruelty and viciousness."

Tiberius died in 37, and Caligula was acclaimed emperor in March. During the first months of his reign he distributed the legacies left by Tiberius and Livia to the Roman people, and after the austerity which Tiberius had practiced the games and chariot races Caligula held were welcomed. He was respectful to the Senate, adopted his cousin Tiberius Gemellus as his son and heir, and recalled political exiles who had been banished during the reigns of his predecessors.

But by the spring of 38 the character of Caligula's rule changed drastically. An illness late in 37 seems to have seriously affected his mind. Suetonius claims that, after the illness, Caligula succumbed completely to the role of Oriental despot. In all things he became arbitrary and cruel. He murdered, among others, Tiberius Gemellus, humiliated the Senate, and spent money recklessly. He revived treason trials so that he could confiscate the property of the convicted. Caligula's extravagances included building a temple to himself in Rome and appointing his favorite horse as high priest.

Caligula spent the winter of 39/40 in Gaul and on the Rhine and planned to invade Germany or Britain. His plans aroused some patriotic fervor, but the project was abandoned.

After his return to Rome, Caligula lived in constant fear and real danger of assassination. He was murdered by a tribune of the Praetorian Guards on Jan. 24, 41. His fourth wife and his daughter, who was his only child, were murdered at the same time.

Further Reading

The principal ancient source is the biography of Caligula in Suetonius's The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. The best full-length modern treatment is J. P. V. D. Balsdon, The Emperor Gaius (Caligula) (1934), which contains an extremely useful bibliography. The ways in which the Augustan system was changed are discussed in Mason Hammond, The Augustan Principate in Theory and Practice during the Julio-Claudian Period (1933; enlarged ed. 1968).

Additional Sources

Balsdon, J. P. V. D. (John Percy Vyvian Dacre), 1901-, The Emperor Gaius (Caligula), Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Barrett, Anthony, Caligula: the corruption of power, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Ferrill, Arther., Caligula: emperor of Rome, London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Hurley, Donna W., An historical and historiographical commentary on Suetonius' Life of C. Caligula, Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1993.

Josephus, Flavius, Death of an emperor, Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1991.

Nony, D. (Daniel), Caligula, Paris: Fayard, 1986. □

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Caligula

Caligula (kəlĬg´yŏŏlə), AD 12–AD 41, Roman emperor (AD 37–AD 41); son of Germanicus Caesar and Agrippina the Elder. His real name was Caius Caesar Germanicus. As a small child, he wore military boots, whence his nickname [caligula=little boot]. On the death of Tiberius the army helped make Caligula emperor. Shortly afterward he became severely ill; his subsequent strange and cruel actions led to the wide belief that he was thereafter insane. A more recent, alternative hypothesis blames his behavior on a desire to humiliate and destroy Rome's aristocracy. In any case, Caligula earned a reputation for ruthless and cruel autocracy, and torture and execution became the order of the day. He was responsible for serious disturbances among the Jews, and he nearly caused a rebellion in Palestine by attempting to erect a statue of himself in their temple. He was assassinated by a tribune of the Praetorian Guard and succeeded by Claudius I.

See biographies by J. P. V. D. Balsdon (1934) and A. Winterling (2011); A. A. Barrett, Caligula: The Corruption of Power (1996).

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Caligula

Caligula (ad 12–41), Roman emperor 37–41, born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus. He gained the nickname Caligula (‘little boot’) as an infant on account of the miniature military boots he wore. His brief reign, which began when he succeeded Tiberius and ended with his assassination, became notorious for its tyrannical excesses.

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Caligula

Caligula (ad 12–41) ( Gaius Caesar) Roman emperor (37–41). Son of Germanicus Caesar, he became emperor after the death of Tiberius. He was highly autocratic, made his horse a consul to mock the Senate, and was said to be insane. He was murdered by an officer of the Praetorian Guard and succeeded by his uncle, Claudius I.

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Caligula

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