Much modern scholarship has focused on trying to understand the darker underbelly of Roman culture, such as why there was so much lead poisoning and how it contributed to the fall of the greatest empire in history. One particular aspect of Roman history that is interesting to some historians is how incest and inbreeding may have generated insanity among the emperors. Moreover, perhaps no emperor is more famous for madness than Nero, the man who fiddled while Rome burned and was accused of having sex with his own mother.
The Roman royals often intermarried for the same reasons as later European royal families: to keep wealth and prestige within the family and reduce contention over who should be heir to the throne. Nero was the son of a niece and her uncle, Agrippina and Claudius, who may have had an inbred pedigree going back generations. Agrippina agreed to marry him to strengthen her son’s claim to the throne, something that ultimately proved to be a somewhat dangerous thing for the citizens of Rome. Not only had lead poisoning severely depleted his mental faculties, but his inbreeding may have assumed that he didn’t have many faculties to begin with.
16. Caligula’s Bloodthirst Was Likely Fueled By Inbreeding
Nero may be the most infamous of all Roman emperors, but he was not the only one to have a family tree that grew straight up. Caligula (also known as Gaius Caesar), who has been accused by many of engaging in incestuous relations with his sisters (something that he may or may not have done), descended from a pedigree of biological relatives marrying each other to keep money, power, and the bloodline intact. His reign was defined by both lust and lunacy.
His father, Germanicus, was beloved by the Roman people, and, believing Caligula would possess the same characteristics, they were more than happy to coronate him as the new emperor. However, after an illness six months into his reign, he proved that he was not the same person as his father. Caligula forced parents to watch the tortures and executions of their children. Claiming to be a god, he had a bridge built between the Temple of Zeus and his own palace so that he could more easily convene with the deity. He was assassinated by his unhappy public when, after a sports event, guardsmen stabbed him 30 times.
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