Caligula’s cruel treatment of the Roman elite meant he was never going to have a good posthumous reputation. Probably through crippling insecurity, he used every opportunity to flex his political muscle and abuse his power over the senatorial class. Inviting them to banquets, he would take their wives to bed only to bring them back afterwards and publically assess their performance. When sycophants suggested they worship him as a god, he delightedly accepted, having them set up a cult to his own godhead.
In 41 AD those around him finally had enough, assassinating the emperor, his wife, and his infant child on his way from the theatre. The assassination caused pandemonium. Caligula’s German bodyguards rushed around in a rage, murdering anyone they came across. The senate called a meeting in which they flirted with the idea of doing away with emperors for good and returning to a republic. But while the senators debated what to do, a sympathetic praetorian guard found Caligula’s uncle Claudius hiding behind a curtain in the palace and brought him to the praetorian camp where he was duly declared emperor.
Claudius wouldn’t allow the Senate to formally condemn Caligula. But this didn’t mean attacks on his memory—and that of his family—wasn’t severe. Rather than being interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus, he was buried in an unmarked grave to prevent anyone forming a cult around him. The senate ordered that all bronze aes coins bearing Caligula’s image be melted down while many other types were scratched, clipped, or defaced. Claudius also had his and his wife’s names stripped of all their imperial titles in the Fasti (political calendars) and had all images of them either destroyed or removed from public sight and put into storage, including artworks, portraits, and sculptures.
Many statues were re-carved to resemble Rome’s first emperor, Caligula’s great-grandfather, Augustus. Others were taken away and later transformed into statues of Emperor Claudius. Ironically, statues of disgraced emperors like Caligula tend to have survived better than those of good emperors. This is because they were often stored away, and so were kept in a better state of preservation, than those of the good emperors which, being out in public, have long been exposed to the elements and weather damaged. But while some of his statues may have survived more or less intact, the same cannot be said for his notorious reputation.