15. The Rise of Little Boots
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (12 – 41 AD) was one of Rome’s most depraved emperors. He earned the nickname by which he is better known to history, Caligula (“little boots”), because of the miniature legionary outfits he wore as a child while he accompanied 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 in his own right, who spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace in Capri.
Tiberius did surface on occasion to order the execution of relatives accused of treason. They included Caligula’s mother and two brothers. He had probably poisoned Caligula’s father as well. A great natural actor, Caligula hid any resentment felt towards his uncle. He thus survived the bitter Tiberius, who named him heir and quipped: “I am rearing a viper for the Roman people“. Life with Tiberius left its mark on Caligula. Once freed of the ever-present threat of execution by his paranoid uncle, the combination of sudden freedom and sudden unlimited power went to his head. He cut loose and spent lavishly to gratify all his hedonistic whims.