Murder and Terror
However, most of Caligula’s post-illness behavior was anything but funny. He gained a reputation for immorality, violence- and extreme cruelty. The least of his crimes was incest with all three of his sisters. When his favorite, Drusilla died, Caligula was reputedly inconsolable. He was so crazed with grief that after her death, he made it a capital offense to laugh, bath or publicly dine while the mourning period lasted. He even declared Drusilla a goddess- an unprecedented honor for a woman and had her name added to imperial oaths.
Whether or not this incest was consensual or a matter of survival is unknown. However, Caligula was undoubtedly a sexual predator. It became a favorite custom of his to have female dinner guests paraded before him so that he could choose a sexual companion for later in the evening. When he was a guest at the wedding of Gaius Piso and Livia Orestila, he took a fancy to the bride. “Hands off my wife,” Caligula suddenly declared in the middle of the wedding feast. He forced Orestila to accompany him home and ‘married’ her- only to divorce her two days later.
When he was not forcing noble women to sleep with him, Caligula was forcing them to sell themselves to other men. As the imperial coffers rapidly drained due to his lavish spending, Caligula had to find new ways of raising funds. One idea was to open the palace as a brothel. All the married noblewomen of Rome- and quite a few young boys were required to serve in this imperial whorehouse. The customers were citizens that Caligula had rounded up off Rome’s streets.
The nobles put up with this indignity and abuse because far worse awaited anyone who displeased the emperor. For Caligula would have men tortured and executed on the merest whim. His first murders occurred in the immediate aftermath of his illness when in May 38AD he had the praetorian prefect, Macro and his young cousin, Gemellus executed on trumped-up charges. Macro had reputedly helped Caligula in his rise to power by murdering Tiberius. Gemellus, although only a boy was a potential threat to Caligula as he was Tiberius’s grandson and had been Caligula’s co-heir.
The deaths of Gemellus and Macro suggest Caligula suffered from a certain amount of paranoia. However, he instigated plenty of other deaths from sheer cruelty. Caligula had revived the treason trials of Tiberius’s reign as another way of raising much-needed cash. Those found guilty had their estates confiscated. However, if they did not kill themselves or die in prison, they could look forward to public execution. For Caligula was fond of fighting the condemned as gladiators.
Caligula added to his enjoyment of these spectacles by forcing the condemned’s families to watch. The emperor even sent a litter to convey one ailing father to his son’s execution. Another, who asked permission to close his eyes rather than watch, died with his son. Caligula even invited the father of one of his victim’s to dinner- on the day of his son’s execution. The bereaved parent was forced to sit and laugh at the emperor’s jokes for the whole evening – or die himself.