Rome’s craziest emperor, Caligula (12 – 41 AD) got an early start in perversion and sexual deviancy, and learned from a master. Having been raised by his uncle, the Roman emperor Tiberius – a seedy creep with his own entry in this list – he was no stranger to perverse ways. Tiberius spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace, emerging on occasion to order the execution of enemies, real or imagined. They included Caligula’s mother and two brothers, whom Tiberius accused of plotting against him. He also probably had Caligula’s father poisoned.
Caligula concealed whatever resentment he might have harbored against his homicidal uncle, and succeeded Tiberius to the throne. Once freed of the ever-present threat of execution, Caligula let down his hair and cut loose in an orgy of extravagant spending and hedonistic living, as the sudden freedom and unlimited power warped his mind. To show what he thought of a soothsayer’s prediction years earlier that Caligula had as much chance of becoming emperor as he did of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae, Caligula had a bridge built across the bay, then rode his horse across it while clad in the armor of Alexander the Great.
As to deviancy, among the sundry depravities attributed to Caligula, sex with his sisters was just a start – as contemporaries put it: “He lived in habitual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above“. At dinner parties, he was in the habit of ordering the wives of guests to accompany him to his bedroom, and after having sex with them, would return to the party and rate their performance, berating the cuckolded husbands if their wives had been lacking.
To show his contempt for the senatorial class and their sensibilities – and to humiliate Rome’s patricians – he turned the imperial palace into a brothel, in which he compelled the wives of leading Roman senators and other high-ranking dignitaries to serve as prostitutes. To further show his contempt for the senatorial class and the Roman Republic for which they pined, Caligula had his favorite horse made consul – the Republic’s highest magistracy.
There were many other instances of unhinged behavior, such as the time he started giggling uncontrollably at a party, and when asked why, replied that he thought it was hilarious that with just a signal, he could have anybody present executed on the spot. On another occasion, at an arena, he was informed that there were no more criminals to throw to the beasts, so Caligula ordered a section of the stands thrown to the wild animals.
He went on to declare himself a god and had the heads removed from the statues of various deities, replacing them with his own. He also once declared war on the sea god Neptune, marched his legions to the sea, and had them collect seashells to show the deity who was boss. Eventually, the weirdness got too much, and his Praetorian Guard murdered him in 41 AD.