Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: 5 Things You Should Know About Caligula
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: 5 Things You Should Know About Caligula

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: 5 Things You Should Know About Caligula

Patrick Lynch - December 22, 2016

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: 5 Things You Should Know About Caligula
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4 – He Didn’t Just Commit Murder & Incest

Caligula is usually remembered solely for his insanity, and it is often assumed that Rome became weaker under his inept rule. However, the Emperor did at least make an attempt at expanding the empire which goes against the suggestion that he treated the office as a ‘part-time job.’ In 40 AD, he made a move on Mauretania which was one of Rome’s client kingdoms. He invited its leader, Ptolemy, to Rome only to have him executed. Caligula annexed the kingdom and divided it into two provinces; Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana.

Ancient historians disagree on whether it was the mad emperor who divided the kingdom. Pliny suggests it was the work of Caligula, but Cassius Dio claims a rebellion took place in 42 AD and division occurred after this point. Perhaps Caligula wanted to divide Mauretania, but the uprising prevented him from doing so. Dio wrote a full chapter on Caligula in the kingdom of Mauretania, but it was lost. As a result, details of the campaign are unclear.

Interestingly, Caligula set the wheels in motion for the conquest of Britain. He sent troops to the English Channel in what may have been a scouting mission. Alternatively, the Romans may have traveled that far to accept the surrender of Adminius, a British chieftain. Whatever the reason, Caligula never got around to invading Britain as he was murdered soon after.

The aborted attempt to invade Britain also contains yet another tale of Caligula’s madness that may be untrue. He apparently told his soldiers to collect seashells as ‘spoils of the sea.’ Again, this would be the sign of a madman. However, the word for seashells ‘musculi’ was also military slang for engineer’s huts. Caligula was a child of the military, so it is entirely possible that he was referring to huts and not seashells.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: 5 Things You Should Know About Caligula
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5 – He Finally Went Completely Crazy

While tales of Caligula’s insanity and tyranny might be exaggerated for effect by Suetonius, Cassius Dio, and others, there is no question that he became a bloodthirsty monarch once the illness took hold. The emperor spiraled out of control at an alarming rate. First of all, he had his close friend Macro executed before killing Gemellus after announcing the boy as his heir.

Caligula became even more unhinged upon the death of his sister Drusilla. From that point onwards, he saw no value in human life and viewed other people as nothing but playthings for his personal amusement. He glorified in building up consuls before publically humiliating them. The Emperor saw fit to rape the wives and daughters of senators and, once he had defiled these unfortunate women, he would allegedly speak to their husbands/fathers about how the lady performed in bed. Caligula also liked to humiliate senators by forcing them to run for miles in front of his chariot.

The emperor caused outrage in Rome in 40 AD when he demanded that the Senate declare him as a deity while he was still alive. By now, the senators were terrified of Caligula and complied. Upon announcing his self-deification, he started building temples and statues in his honor. The emperor infuriated the Jewish population of Rome by ordering a statue of himself to be built in the Temple of Jerusalem and announcing that the Jews would have to worship him. Fortunately, Caligula was assassinated before the project could be carried out.

Pretty much everyone in Rome was fed up by Caligula in 41 AD. He was wildly unpredictable, undermined the Senate, and increased taxation on the people. The emperor was spending money faster than he could make it and the vast treasury left by Tiberius was empty. Finally, a plot was hatched to murder the emperor. Sources claim that three men were responsible for the plan but in reality, a number of members of the Praetorian Guard, equestrian order and the Senate knew.

There were several failed conspiracies against Caligula until one succeeded in January 41 AD. The murder was carried out by members of the Praetorian Guard and led by Cassius Chaerea. He had personal reasons for killing the emperor; Caligula had humiliated Chaerea by saying he was effeminate and called him names such as Venus. The group of assassins confronted the emperor when he was instructing a dance troupe set to perform at the games held for the Divine Augustus.

There are similarities with the murder of Julius Caesar. Both conspiracies were carried out by men named Cassius, both men were called Gaius Julius Caesar, and both were stabbed 30+ times. Caligula’s wife and daughter were brutally murdered, and Claudius became emperor. One of his first acts was to order the execution of Chaerea and the other conspirators.