Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus (a.k.a. ‘Caligula’) A.D. 12-41
Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, popularly known as ‘Caligula’ — which basically means ‘booties’– was possibly one of the most ridiculous rulers of ancient history. As the 3rd Emporer of Rome, he soon became the stuff of myths and legends. The legends are due to six main writers of Caligula’s reign, but all their accounts were written well after his death. Their names were Seneca the Younger, Philo of Alexandria, Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio.
Falling terribly ill 7 months into his reign, Caligula emerged as the tyrannical maniac we all know and love today. Although many stories of his rule are often dismissed as far-fetched myths, it is still fun to have a bit of a laugh at his expense. Let’s explore 4 of the most popular stories of his megalomaniac ways.
- Beloved Incitatus— The legend goes that Caligula owned a horse that he loved so very much that he had a marble stall fashioned for him, complete with an ivory manger and a jeweled collar. There are also written stories that the horse was fed oats mixed with flakes of gold. It is said that Caligula tried to appoint his beloved Incitatus as an official consul, but failed due to his assassination. Is any of this true? Well, we’re not entirely sure, but it sure is funny to imagine a horse as a consul. I have a feeling that he was not in favor of anything, and always voted ‘naaaay’.
- Dress-up– When Caligula came into power, he inherited a very large sum of money. Within 4 or so years, the money was basically all gone. (Most likely due to that marble horse palace mentioned earlier.) Caligula loved to throw lavish parties to show off his wealth. He invited all of Rome– peasants and aristocrats alike. During these parties, Caligula apparently liked to dress up as famous rulers and even gods. Legend says he actually invaded the tomb of Alexander the Great and stole his breastplate and paraded around his lavish parties dressed up as the famous ruler. Caligula also made appearances as Hercules, Jupiter (the Roman father of the gods), Apollo (the sun god) and even Venus, who was the goddess of sexual desire. So, Caligula enjoyed cross-dressing as Roman goddesses, which really isn’t surprising given our next bit of hilarious information:
- Sister Dearest– Rumour has it that Caligula fancied not just one, but several of his sisters. Are the accounts true? Partly. While Caligula most-likely didn’t sleep with all his sisters, there is narrative accounts of him sleeping with at least one of them. There are also written accounts of homosexuality and partaking in the company of prostitutes. He would also scope out women– married or not– at his lavish parties, bed them, and then openly discuss their sexual pros and cons. If the women was particularly terrible, he would sign as her husband and have her divorced.
- Caligula vs. Poseidon– Yes, you read that right. Caligula believed himself to be on the exact same level as the gods, and as such, he decided he needed to go to war with them. The most popular story of his god-fighting ways was when he told his army that he wanted to fight Poseidon, the god of the sea. Imagine the reactions of the soldiers when being told they were to march to the sea and begin throwing spears at the water. When the army returned with chests full of worthless seashells as booty, Caligula determined he was the victor and then declared himself as a god.
So there you have it. Caligula in all his insane glory. Are these accounts true? I really don’t think we’ll ever know. Some of these accounts were written as much as 60 years after Caligula’s death. It is also said that most people weren’t very fond of Caligula (hmm, can’t imagine why…) and so the accounts were greatly exaggerated to insult him. It’s also possible that the writers were just too stuck in the mud to enjoy Caligula’s eccentric ideas of fun. Apparently all his odd behaviours didn’t sit well with his bodyguards, because in the end they decided to assassinate him. Either way, Caligula’s life offers us a very hilarious bite of history.