Who was Caligula the Man?


Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus (August 31, AD 12 – January 24, AD 41), also known as Gaius Caesar or Caligula, was the third Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruling from AD 37 to 41. Known for his extremely extravagant, eccentric, and sometimes cruel despotism, he was assassinated in 41 by several of his own guards.

Recent sources say that Caligula probably had encephalitis. Ancient sources, like Suetonius and Cassius Dio, describe Caligula having a “brain fever”. Philo reports it was nothing more than a nervous breakdown, as Caligula was not used to the pressures of constant attention after being out of the public eye for most of his life. Rome waited in horror, praying that their beloved Emperor would recover. He became better, but his reign took a sharp turn. The death of Gemellus and of Silanus, Caligula’s father-in-law, took place right after Caligula recovered.

Was Caligula insane? Many agree that he was, but Philo of Alexandria, author of On the Embassy to Gaius disagrees. The leader of an Embassy sent to Caligula to seek relief from persecution by Alexandrian Greeks, Philo thought that Caligula was just a vicious jokester. He was arrogant, aloof, and a bit cruel, but insane? We may never know for sure.

There are famous stories that he tried to make his beloved stallion, Incitatus, a senator. However, this could have been a political statement that he felt his horse as well qualified for the position as any of the incumbents. Other stories are of incest with his sisters (especially Drusilla), a brothel he set up at the palace including prominent senators and their wives, his campaign in Britain ending with his soldiers collecting seashells as “spoils of the sea” in his battle with the sea god Neptune, wanting to erect a statue of himself in Jerusalem (his good friend Herod Agrippa stopped it), and labeling himself a “god”. Ancient sources classify him as insane and a tyrant. However, modern sources attempt to explain his insanity as the product of a painful childhood or that he was simply misunderstood. Historians tend to agree on one fact: he was extremely unqualified and unprepared to become Emperor.

He only ruled for three years, ten months, and eight days. On January 24, 41 a conspiracy among the Praetorian Guard ended his life. While Caligula was in a corridor alone, he was struck down by one Cassius Chaerea, a colonel of the guard with a distinguished record. He had known Caligula since infancy and had been one of Germanicus’s best officers. Years of abuse from Caligula over his so-called effeminacy finally took their toll. Together with another aggrieved colonel, Cornelius Sabinus, he also killed Caligula’s wife Caesonia and their infant daughter, Julia Drusilla by smashing her head against a wall. After much confusion, his old uncle Claudius was made Emperor by the Praetorian Guard. Caligula was only 28 when he died. (via Wikipedia)

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