12 of History's Most Bizarre Rulers
12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers

Khalid Elhassan - November 7, 2017

From King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia who collected giants to staff his favorite regiment the way little girls collected dolls, breeding them with giantesses in the hope of producing a super race of giants, to Christian VII of Denmark, who could not stop masturbating and had a habit of slapping foreign dignitaries at state dinners, history is rife with eccentric, weird, bizarre, or outright crazy rulers.

Erratic behavior is one thing when exhibited by a private citizen. But in a ruler, with the power and resources of a state at his or her beck and call, such traits are something else entirely, carrying not only a potential for farcical or hilarious outcomes but also the potential for disaster and catastrophe.

Today, the odds of catastrophic results stemming from rulers’ craziness are significantly lessened, although not anywhere close to eliminated, due to the spread of democracy and the attendant checks and balances, as well as the necessary diffusion of power throughout complex government machinery even in non-democratic states, which act as de facto checks in their own rights. But throughout most of human history, rulers routinely came to power simply by winning the lottery of birth, and checks and balances on their whims were few and far in between.

Following are twelve of history’s more bizarre rulers:

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Muammar Qaddafi’s fashion style. Mickey Boston Corner

Muammar Qaddafi

Muammar al Qaddafi (1942 – 2011), self-declared “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamihirya” of Libya, was an army colonel who overthrew the Libyan monarchy in a 1969 military coup to become that country’s dictator until his overthrow and death in a popular uprising in 2011.

Called the “the mad dog of the Middle East” by Ronald Reagan, just before sending jets to bomb him, Qaddafi’s 42 year reign was marked by dramatic twists and turns, morphing from socialism to Islamic fundamentalism, from sponsorship of terrorism to avid cooperation in the Global War on Terror, and starting off as an Arab nationalist only to end up reviling Arabs and turning to African nationalism instead.

Qaddafi saw himself as a messiah, and modeling himself on Chairman Mao, he published The Little Green Book, containing a political philosophy labeled The Third International Theory – a mix of direct democracy, Arab and African nationalism, and Islamic socialism – as an alternative to capitalism and communism, which was required reading for Libyans and which formed the theoretical basis of his government. In reality, Libya was a kleptocratic dictatorship, governed on the basis of nepotism to enrich Qaddafi’s family and his tribe, with a grossly mismanaged economy that survived solely due to an abundance of oil and gas.

A creepy womanizer, he had a habit of hitting on female reporters, often meeting them for interviews in bathrobes or in his underwear. He became obsessed with former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, referring to her as his “darling black African woman“, and showered her during a visit to Tripoli with $212,000 worth of gifts, including a lute and a locket with his picture inside.

He also saw himself as a fashion icon, and to that end cultivated an odd collection of ensembles and sartorial choices that made him modern history’s most bizarrely dressed ruler. Changing in and out of silly uniforms multiple times a day, he was the closest real-life depiction of a James Bond villain. The cartoonish villain look was further enhanced by his all-virgin female bodyguard, officially named the “Revolutionary Nuns”, but known more commonly as the Amazonian Guard.

Beneath the buffoonish look and cuckoo philosophy, however, was a brutal dictator whose regime engaged in repression, torture, murder, and sundry human rights violations. Among his vices was the habit of ordering women kidnapped off the street – including teenaged girls – and taken to one of his many palaces, including at least one who was kept imprisoned in his basement for six years, during which he forced her to watch pornography while snorting cocaine with him, and repeatedly raped her, urinated on her, and subjected her to sundry perversions. He was finally overthrown in a revolt in 2011 and captured by rebels, who tortured and likely sodomized him before killing him.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Wikimedia

Jean-Bedel Bokassa

Jean-Bedel Bokassa, self-proclaimed Bokassa the First (1921 – 1996) was a military dictator of the Central African Republic from 1966 to 1979, who declared the small landlocked country an empire, and himself Bokassa I, Emperor of the Central African Empire. His years in power were marked by terror, corruption, and increasingly bizarre behavior.

He was a captain in the French colonial when Central Africa gained its independence from France, and the country’s new president, a distant cousin, invited Bokassa to head its armed forces. He accepted, and a few years later, staged a coup and seized power, declaring himself president. A worshipper of Napoleon Bonaparte, he emulated his example be crowning himself Emperor of Central Africa and bankrupted his impoverished country with a lavish coronation that cost about 80 million dollars, with a diamond-encrusted crown that cost 20 million.

His rule was marked by a reign of terror in which Bokassa personally supervised the judicial beating of criminal suspects, decreeing that thieves were to lose an ear for the first two offenses, and a hand for the third. He also oversaw the torture of suspected political opponents, then fed their corpses to crocodiles and lions he kept in a private zoo. There were also widespread accusations of cannibalism, triggered by photographs in Paris-Match magazine which showed a fridge containing the bodies of children.

Among the sundry atrocities committed during his reign, the most infamous was the arrest of hundreds of schoolchildren in 1979 for refusing to buy school uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. Bokassa personally supervised the murder of over 100 of them by his imperial guard. That was a final straw, and soon thereafter, French paratroopers deposed Bokassa.

He went into exile in France, but within a few years managed to waste the millions he had embezzled and was reduced to penury – which hit the news when one of his children was arrested for shoplifting food. He returned to Central Africa in 1986, where he was tried and convicted of murder and treason, and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, however, and in 1993 he was released, living another three years before dying in 1996.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Idi Amin. Quora

Idi Amin

Idi Amin Dada (circa 1925 – 2003) was a Ugandan military officer who seized power in a 1971 coup, and ruled Uganda as dictator until 1979. His regime was known for repression, ethnic persecutions, human rights abuses, economic mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism. But what sets him apart from other brutal and incompetent kleptocrats, and earns him a place on this list, was his sheer bizarreness.

He was commander of the Ugandan army when he got wind that he was about to be arrested for theft, so he overthrew the government and declared himself president. His behavior was odd from the start, and grew increasingly more erratic and unpredictable with time. He started off as a conservative, and was initially supported by the West and Israel, only to end up an ardent supporter of Libya’s Qaddafi and the PLO. He ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s ethnically Asian citizens and residents, seized their and Europeans’ businesses and enterprises, which formed the economy’s backbone, and handed them to relatives and supporters who promptly drove them into the ground.

After the UK severed diplomatic relations, he declared that he had defeated Britain and awarded himself a CBE (“Conqueror of the British Empire”) medal, and also conferred upon himself a VC, or Victorious Cross, a copy of the British medal. Among the titles he bestowed upon himself were “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular“. He also declared himself King of Scotland.

His personal life was no less bizarre. A polygamist, he married at least 6 women, at least one of whom he murdered and dismembered. In 1975, a 19-year-old go-go dancer caught his eye, so he had her boyfriend beheaded and married her in a lavish wedding that cost about 10 million dollars, at a time when much of Uganda was hungry and malnutrition was widespread.

Estimates of his victims range from 100,000 to half a million. A boneheaded attempt to seize a province of neighboring Tanzania led to a war which Amin swiftly lost, and he was forced to flee in 1979, first to Libya, and then to Saudi Arabia, whose royal family gave him asylum, refused to honor requests for his extradition, and paid him generous subsidies until his death in 2003.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Farouk I of Egypt. Al Arabiya

Farouk I

King Farouk I (1920 – 1965) was Egypt’s king from 1936 until his overthrow in a military coup in 1952. His years in power were marked by endemic corruption, incompetent governance, and bizarre conduct on the part of the king, who among other things was a kleptomaniac who could not resist stealing things and picking people’s pockets.

He was popular early in his reign when he ascended the throne as a slim and handsome young man. He quickly squandered the goodwill with his incompetent governance, and ruined his good looks with gluttony that saw him balloon to 300 pounds, making him an object of derision, oft-described as a “stomach with a head”. His lavish lifestyle during the hardships of WWII further eroded his public standing.

Farouk took pickpocketing lessons, and among his victims was Winston Churchill, whom the Egyptian king invited to a dinner during WWII. At the meal, Churchill discovered that his pocket watch – a prized family heirloom that had been a gift from Queen Anne to his ancestor John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough – had gone missing. After an outcry and search, Farouk, who had been seated next to Churchill, sheepishly turned it in, claiming to have “found” it.

Early in WWII, he had repeated nightmares in which he was chased by a ravenous lion. Frazzled from loss of sleep, he consulted the rector of Cario’s ancient Al Azhar University, who advised him “you will not rest until you have shot a lion“. So Farouk went to the zoo and shot two lions in their cages. By 1952, the corruption and maladministration had completely eroded his standing, and he was overthrown in a coup.

Hastily fleeing Egypt, he left most of his possessions behind. The new government auctioned his belongings, and it was discovered that he had accumulated the world’s then largest collection of pornography. He settled first in Monaco, then in Rome, where he literally ate himself to death, collapsing at a restaurant dinner table after a heavy meal in 1965.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle. Wikimedia

Ludwig II of Bavaria

Ludwig II, better known as “Mad King Ludwig” (1845 – 1886) was Bavaria’s king from 1864 until his death in 1886. A generous benefactor of the arts, he was an admirer and patron of the composer Richard Wagner, and during his reign, he devoted himself to artistic and architectural projects, including opulent fairy tale castles whose construction he lavishly funded to the point of bankrupting himself.

After Bavaria joined the German Empire in 1871, Ludwig withdrew from governance, and concerning himself only intermittently with affairs of state, went into a morbid seclusion and devoted himself to his true passion: the arts. He worshipped the theater and the opera, especially the works of Richard Wagner, whose lifelong patron he became.

He also developed a mania for extravagant building projects in the Bavarian mountains. He started with the Linderhoff Palace, patterned on the Trianon palace and built between 1869 to 1878. Simultaneously, he started construction of his most famous project, Neuschwanstein, a fairy tale castle precariously situated on a crag and decorated with scenes from Wagner’s operas, built from 1869 to 1886, and which inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. As that one was being built, he started an even more ambitious project in 1878, the Herrenchiemsee Palace, a copy of Versailles. It was never completed, because the Mad King went bankrupt.

Between the abandonment of his official duties, profligate spending, and withdrawal into the life of a recluse among other odd behavior, Ludwig’s ministers finally had enough, and in 1886 he was declared insane by a panel of doctors and sent to a remote palace by a psychiatrist. Three days later, he drowned himself in a lake, and took his psychiatrist with him. Today, the Mad King’s architectural and artistic legacy include many of Bavaria’s biggest tourist attractions.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Sultan Ibrahim. Quora

Sultan Ibrahim

Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648), also known as Ibrahim the Mad, ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1640 to 1648. When his older brother Murad IV ascended the throne, he had the then-8 year old Ibrahim confined to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Harem in where possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest, under surveillance by palace guards and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots.

While in the Cage, Ibrahim’s brother, the Sultan Murad, executed his other brothers, one by one, until Ibrahim was the only one left, quaking in fear that he might be next. He remained in confinement until he was suddenly dragged out of the Cage to ascend the throne following his brother’s death in 1640. He refused at first, and rushed back into the Cage to barricade himself inside, suspecting it was a cruel trick to entrap him into saying or doing something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous. Only after his brother’s dead body was brought to the door for him to examine, and the intercession of his mother “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, was Ibrahim convinced to accept the throne.

By then, however, the years of isolation in the Harem, and the constant terror that he might get executed at any moment had unhinged Ibrahim and left him unfit to rule. Already known to be mentally unstable, his condition was worsened by depression over the death of his brother the Sultan, whom he apparently loved in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.

An early worrying sign was the new Sultan’s feeding of fish in the palace pool with coins instead of food. As it became clear that Ibrahim was crazy, his mother assumed ruled in his stead, encouraging him to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his nearly 300 concubines – both to keep him out of her hair and out of trouble, and to father male heirs since, by then, he was the last surviving male of the Ottoman dynasty.

For years, Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish, fathering 3 future Sultans and a number of daughters. As a contemporary put it “In the palace gardens he frequently assembled all the virgins, made them strip themselves naked, and neighing like a stallion ran amongst them and as it were ravished one or the other”. Until he woke up one morning, and in a fit of madness ordered his entire Harem tied in weighted sacks and drowned in the Bosporus.

He had a fetish for fat women, and one time he got turned on by a cow’s vagina, so he ordered copies made of gold and sent them around the empire, with inquiries to find a woman similarly endowed. A 350 pound woman with matching parts was found in Armenia, and taken to his Harem, she became one of his favorite concubines. He also had a fetish for fur, decorating his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture with it. He also stuffed his pillows with it, and preferred to have sex on sable furs.

When he saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, he asked for her hand in marriage. Aware of Ibrahim’s depravities, he urged his daughter to decline. When she did, Ibrahim ordered her kidnapped and carried to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before sending her back to her father.

Eventually, he exiled his mother and assumed personal control of the government. The results were disastrous: after ordering the execution of his most capable ministers, he spent profligately until he emptied the treasury, even as he got himself into a series of wars and managed them poorly. By 1647, between heavy taxes to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and for the bungled wars, and with a Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles that brought the Ottoman capital to the brink of starvation, discontent boiled over.

In 1648, the population revolted, urged on by religious scholars, and were joined by the army. An angry mob seized Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier and tore him to pieces, and the Sultan was deposed in favor of his 6 year old son. A fatwa was then issued for Ibrahim’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation on August 18, 1648.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Ivan the Terrible grieving over the son whom he slew in a fit of anger. Wikimedia

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrible (1530 – 1584), was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547, after which he declared himself “Tsar of all the Russias”, which became the title of Russian monarchs from then on. He created a centralized government and was a grand conqueror who finally overthrew the last remnants of Mongol subjugation beneath which Russia had groaned for centuries, subjugating the neighboring nomadic Khanates and greatly expanding Russia’s borders. On the other hand, he was an insanely cruel despot who subjected his people to a decades-long reign of terror.

Ivan ascended the throne at age 3, and Russia was governed by his mother as regent in his name. However, she died when he was 7, and a power struggle erupted between competing boyars, or Russian nobles, in which the child Ivan was left defenseless, exploited and tormented by boyars who mistreated and abused him in his own palace. That made him bitter, bitterness gave way to insanity, and before long, he was venting his frustrations by torturing small animals.

By the time he took personal control of the government, Ivan was a paranoid, resentful, and angry young man who distrusted people in general, and detested the boyar class in particular. To that end, he instituted a system known as the oprichnina in the 1560s that amounted to a reign of terror which augured the absolute monarchy that was to be Russia’s hallmark for centuries to come. With a special police force, the Oprichniki, he kicked off a wave of persecutions that targeted the boyars and spread from there in ever greater ripples that soon covered all his lands.

His most infamous act of cruelty occurred in Novgorod. In 1570, when that city defied him, he marched on it in the dead of winter, and after seizing it went on an orgy of violent depravity. He started off with the clergy, whom he rounded up and ordered flogged from dawn until dusk, for days on end, until they each paid a 20 ruble fine. Hundreds died, and afterward, he ordered the survivors executed. The population fared no better: he ordered the torture of leading citizens along with their families. Men were executed, and women and children were bound and thrown into a nearby river, where they were trapped under the ice as soldiers patrolled the area on foot, wielding hooks and spears to push down any who surfaced. By the time Ivan was finally sated, over 60,000 had perished.

Even his family was not spared his fits of uncontrollable rage. In 1581, he assaulted his pregnant daughter-in-law when he saw her wearing clothes that he deemed too revealing, causing her to miscarry. When his son and heir angrily berated him for attacking his wife, Ivan the Terrible smashed his head in with his scepter, causing a fatal wound from which he died a few days later. He followed him 3 years later, dying from a stroke while playing chess.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Zhengde Emperor. China Today

Zhengde Emperor

The Zhengde Emperor (1491 – 1521) ascended the Chinese Ming Dynasty throne at age 14 in 1505 and reigned until 1521. He was uninterested in governing his empire and disregarded state affairs, abandoning himself instead to an extravagant and profligate lifestyle, marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices that set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s downfall.

As soon as he ascended the throne, the 14-year-old emperor entrusted governance to trusted eunuchs and devoted himself to pleasure seeking. With governance left entirely in their hands, palace eunuchs became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold, while taxes soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials.

In the meantime, the young emperor adamantly took to learning foreign languages and traveling incognito – although most of the time it was obvious just who he was. He was into make believe in a big way, creating an alter ego for himself, a generalissimo Zhu Zhu, upon whom he lavished praise and rewards. He also built a city block within the imperial palace so he could pretend to be a shopkeeper.

Less innocent and harmful was his habit of taking his companions on thrill raids, bursting into the homes of wealthy citizens, violently seizing and kidnapping their daughters, and holding them for ransom. Officials who criticized the emperor’s erratic and irresponsible behavior were arrested, tortured, and executed by the hundreds.

He eventually drowned in 1521, when his pleasure barge capsized, finally bringing his reign to a merciful end. Although he left the scene, the damage he left behind proved permanent: during the years of his reign, without oversight from the throne, palace eunuchs achieved such power within the government’s structure that subsequent emperors were unable to dislodge them.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Charles VI of France. History Things

Charles VI

The reign of French king Charles VI (1368 – 1422) started off auspiciously, and he was known as “Charles the Well-Loved”. However, that had more to do with the fact that he ascended the throne at age 11, and his kingdom was governed by regents. That all changed after he came of age and took personal charge of France at age 21. By the time he died over four decades later, he had earned the nickname by which he is best known to history: “Charles the Mad”.

His first bout of insanity struck in 1392, when the 24 year old king set out on a military expedition to punish a vassal who had attempted to assassinate a royal friend. Charles acted weird from the campaign’s start, and was in such a fever to get at the offender that his speech often became incoherent while urging preparations sped up, and once on the road, the army’s slow progress drove him into a frenzy.

En route, a crazy leper by the roadside started yelling at the king to halt and turn back because he had been betrayed, and after getting shooed, kept following the king, shouting his warnings. While that was going on, a drowsy page dropped a lance, which clanged off somebody’s helmet. Something about the noise made Charles snap, and drawing his sword, he charged at his retinue and started hacking and stabbing them. By the time he was restrained, he had killed at least four knights and men at arms.

The following year, he got amnesia and forgot his own name and that he was king, and failed to recognize his wife. Between 1395-1396, he went imagined that he was Saint George. He recognized his companions and officials, but for some reason could not recognize his wife and children. Then again, at least as far as his wife, he might have simply tired of her, and was crazy like a fox in pretending not to recognize her.

Another manifestation of his insanity took the form of imagining that he was made of glass, growing extremely frightened of shattering if he fell or was jostled, and attempting to avert the danger by inserting iron rods in his clothes. At other times, he would run wildly at top speed, on the streets or in the halls of his palace. It got so bad, that to keep him inside his Parisian residence, its entrances were bricked up. The unfortunate king kept slipping in and out of insanity until his death in 1422.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Elagabalus. Rome 101

Elagabalus

Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, better known to history as Elagabalus (203 – 222), was Roman emperor from 218 until his death. His eastern religious practices, which would have been highly unusual in contemporary Rome if performed by a private citizen, were bizarre and shocked Roman sensibilities when carried out by an emperor.

As a youth, he had served as a priest of the Syrian sun god Elagabalus, and after ascending the throne as a teenager after his grandmother intrigued to have him succeed his cousin, the assassinated emperor Caracalla, he took the deity’s name as his own and brought its worship to Rome, where he built it a lavish temple. There, before the eyes of astonished senators, high ranking dignitaries, and the public, he danced around the deity’s altar to the sound of cymbals and drums.

He further offended sensibilities by attempting to unify the Roman pantheon with his religion, with Elagabalus as supreme god, above Jupiter. To that end, he had the most sacred relics of the Roman religion transferred to his new temple. Additionally, he ordered that other religions, including Jews and the nascent Christians, transfer their rites to Elagabalus’ temple.

He might also have been the most flamboyantly homosexual ruler in history, who openly went about in women’s clothing and publicly fawned upon male lovers, whom he elevated to high positions, such as a charioteer whom he sought to declare Caesar, and an athlete given a powerful position at court. He also reportedly prostituted himself in the imperial palace.

While homosexual practices were not unusual – respected emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian had male sexual partners, and Hadrian created a religious cult for a youthful lover who had accidentally drowned – Elagabalus was the passive, or receptive partner. That and the effeminacy, especially from an emperor, made him an object of contempt, which led to his assassination in 222.

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Nero. Wikimedia

Nero

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 – 68 AD) ruled from 54 to 68 and was the final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Dominated by his mother early in his rule, he decided to murder her, resorting to elaborate means to make it look accidental, such as a roof designed to collapse and crush her, and a pleasure barge designed to sink. She survived the collapsing roof and swam from the sinking barge to shore. Exasperated, he sent his henchmen to club her to death with oars.

Once freed of his mother, and with the resources of an empire at his disposal, he gave free rein to his impulses. Fancying himself a musician, he took to giving long concerts, singing while playing a lyre. Few dared show boredom, and writers record instances of women faking labor in order to leave, and men faking heart attacks or death so they could get carried out.

One of his childhood dreams was to become an Olympics champion, so he had the games delayed for two years until he could visit Greece and participate. Competing in chariot racing, he failed to complete the course when his chariot crashed, but the judges, equal parts fearful and sycophantic, awarded him the victor’s wreath on the grounds that he would have won but for the crash. They also awarded him victor’s wreaths for every event in which he competed, for events in which he did not compete, and for events that were not part of the Olympic competition, such as singing and lyre playing.

He emptied the treasury with lavish spending, while neglecting the government and entrusting its daily conduct to a corrupt entourage who drove it into the ground. By 68 AD, discontent reached the breaking point, and generals and provincial governors across the empire rebelled, while in Rome, the Senate officially declared Nero a public enemy and his Praetorian Guard abandoned him. Fleeing Rome, he toyed with throwing himself upon the mercy of the public and begging its forgiveness, playing them the lyre to “soften their hearts”. He was dissuaded when it was pointed out that he would likely be torn apart if sighted in public.

While mulling alternatives, news came that he had been declared a public enemy by the Senate, had been sentenced to be beaten to death publicly, and that soldiers were on the way to arrest him. Out of options, Nero decided to end his life. Unable to do it himself, he had a freedman stab him with a sword, sobbing his last words: “Oh, what an artist dies in me!

12 of History’s Most Bizarre Rulers
Cuirass bust of Caligula. Ancient Rome

Caligula

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (12 – 41 AD) earned the nickname Caligula (“little boots” in Latin) by which he is better known to history from Roman legionaries because of the miniature legionary outfits he wore in camp as a child while accompanying his father on military campaigns. He grew to become emperor of Rome from 37 to 41 AD and is probably the gold standard for crazy rulers.

He was raised by his uncle, the Roman emperor Tiberius, a paranoid odd fish who spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace in Capri, surfacing on occasion to order the execution of relatives accused of treason, including Caligula’s mother and two brothers, and had likely been behind the poisoning of Caligula’s father as well.

A great natural actor, Caligula hid any resentment felt towards his uncle and survived the bitter Tiberius, who named him heir, quipping “I am rearing a viper for the Roman people“. The years of repressed living left their mark, and once freed of the ever-present threat of execution by his paranoid relative, Caligula cut loose in an orgy of lavish spending and hedonistic living, as the combination of sudden freedom and sudden unlimited power went to his head.

He kicked off the weirdness early, when, to demonstrate his contempt for a soothsayer’s prediction that he had no more chance of becoming emperor than riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae, Caligula ordered a 2 mile bridge built across the bay, then rode his horse across it while wearing the breastplate and armor of Alexander the Great.

He once started cackling uncontrollably at a party, and when asked what was funny, replied that he found it hilarious that with a mere gesture of his finger, he could have anybody present beheaded right then and there. On another occasion, displeased by an unruly crowd at the Circus Maximus, he pointed out a section to his guards and ordered them to execute everybody “from baldhead to baldhead”, gesturing at two bald people. On yet another occasion, bored at an arena when told that there were no more criminals to throw to the beasts, he ordered a section of the crowd thrown to the wild animals.

Among the litany of sexual depravities attributed to him, incest with his sisters was the least of it. At dinner parties, he would frequently “request” that a guest’s wife accompany him to his bedroom, and after bedding her, return to the party to rate the quality of her performance, berating the cuckolded husband if Caligula thought she was lacking.

He also turned the imperial palace into a brothel, in which he forced 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 beloved horse made consul – the Republic’s highest magistracy.

He would go 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 and unpredictability got too much, and his Praetorian Guard, fearing that he might turn on them, murdered him in 41 AD.

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