Caligula: The Madness of a Goat
Many studies have been made on the emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or ?Caligula.? He was professed to be the maddest, and cruelest of all Roman emperors. As emperor, Caligula put the imperial treasury in severe debt, performed acts of insanity, and committed scandalous sexual acts. The ludicrous deeds he participated in, and carried out left the Roman Empire in infamy.
During the reign of Tiberius, the captain of his bodyguards Sejanus began a campaign of extreme and devious means. He desired the Roman throne and so, started to eliminate his competition. The first to go was Drusus, Tiberius?s heir. Sejanus then took out other key contenders for the throne including Germanicus Caesar, his wife Agrippina the Elder, and three of his four sons. The sole survivor was Gaius Caesar, more famously (or infamously) known as Caligula.
Caligula grew up in a military camp. His name stemmed from the soldiers nickname, ?Little Boots? for the ?child size military boots he always wore.? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). Being so close to the throne required that he spend his adolescence in Capri with the aging emperor, Tiberius. Though he attempted to ?play the part of a dutiful and upright young man, he could not fool Tiberius? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). The emperor frequently called him a ?serpent? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He is
?Tiberius tried to draw him out by telling him things which might make him betray resentment, but he never gave him a cause for suspicion. Caligula appeared to remember nothing of his family?s fate? (Lissner 92). He was frowned upon though by the emperor for his visits to disreputable taverns and brothels. ?Tiberius commented that ?Gaius has survived to the detriment of myself and everyone else?? (Lissner 92). Tiberius was ill. It is believed that Caligula was poisoning him all along, but that has been disputed. At one point in his illness he collapsed into a coma on March 16, 37 AD.
The word ?Tiberius is dead,? was passed from mouth to mouth. Caligula had just begun to accept congratulations when word came that Tiberius wasn?t dead. Having just seen his dearest wish fulfilled, he would now have to go on waiting for the death of a man who simply refused to die. He ordered heavy rugs to be thrown over Tiberius, and the old man died of suffocation (Lissner 91).
Tiberius had left Caligula and his grandson Tiberius Gemellus joint heirs in his will. As Gemellus was but a young man, Caligula adopted him. ?He gave him the title Prince of the Youth, and sixth months later, had him carry out his own death sentence? (Lissner 93). Allegedly this was demanded after Gemellus ?drank cough medicine which Caligula mistook for an antidote to poison. When accused, the youth replied ?Antidote- how could one take an antidote against Caesar? ? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome)?
The beginning of Caligula?s reign was mild and beloved. When he fell ill, ?anxious crowds besieged the place and some swore that they would fight like gladiators if the gods would allow him to recover; others even carried placards volunteering to die instead of him? (Gaius Caligula). ?He was a clement ruler for the first sixth months? (Caligula),
The sexual crimes Caligula participated in rocked the foundation of Rome, and destroyed any pretense of imperial advocated morals that the empire may have harbored. To begin with, he committed incest of immeasurable degree. ?He was caught in bed with his sister Drusilla before he had even come of age? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). She was forced to live with him when he took the throne and act as his wife. The ?extravagant affection for his sisters is shown in his intent to establish a Hellenistic-type monarchy after the brother-sister marriages of the Ptolemies of Egypt? (Caligula). The sisters ?Drusilla, Agrippina the Younger, and Julia Livilla, by order of their brother, were protected in such a way that each of the Senate swore to give up their lives for them.? (Tiberius 1). When Drusilla died, ?Caligula decreed months of mourning, and he even arranged her admittance into the Pantheon, the national temple of Rome where only Julius Caesar and Augustus were represented as gods. Caligula did not stop at incest, he engaged in sexual relations with ?men like the pantomime actor Mnester, Valerius Catullus and Marcus Lepidus, Drusilla?s husband. After Drusilla?s death, he had Lepidus murdered.? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He had an affair with his chamberlain Macro?s wife, and then accused him of being her pimp and ordered him to commit suicide? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). ?He twice abducted the brides of Roman noblemen? (Lissner 95). This occurred at the actual wedding. ?He opened a brothel in his place where Roman matrons, their daughters and freeborn youths could be hired for money? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). His fourth wife was Milonia Caesonia. She was already pregnant when he married her. Caligula ?occasionally exhibited her naked to his friends? (Lissner 95). He would send
for woman of rank and Rome and ?debauched them and then left them like fruit he had
tasted and thrown away? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He kept mistresses of all types around the palace, and would always kiss their or his wife?s neck and murmur, ?This lovely head will fall too as soon as I give the order? (Lissner 96).
The ludicrous acts of state that Caligula engaged in were great. ?He made the most respected senators trot along beside his chariot in their togas or wait behind his couch at table, dressed in linen aprons like slaves? (Lissner 95). He murdered or ordered suicide upon all who defied him, or those he suspected of disloyalty. He demanded to be worshipped as a god. ?He gave his horse, Incitatus, jeweled necklaces, a marble stable with a staff of servants for itself and made it a priest of his temple and proposed to make it a senator? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). His temple was extremely costly. He had priests and life-sized golden image. ?He had it dressed everyday in clothes identical with those Caligula happened to wear? (Gaius Caligula). ?Caligula had sacrifices offered to himself? (Caligula), and ?he claimed fellowship with gods as his equals, identifying himself in particular with Jupiter? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He built a bridge of boats of the Bay of Naples. ?He crossed them on horseback, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. Thus, he claimed that, like the god Neptune, he had ridden across the waters? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He ordered the takeover of Britain. ?He deployed them in battle order, then having forgotten to provide the necessary transport for the crossing, he ordered them to collect sea shells. Since only a few ships were available, Caligula took a pleasure cruise and ordered the generals to withdraw? (Lissner
97). Tiberius, however incompetent he had been, had been a frugal emperor. Caligula?s
extravagance left the empire in terribly deep debt. ?He introduced all possible forms of taxation and rich people who had involuntarily willed him their restates were murdered? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). ?He proclaimed himself the ?heir? to the richest men in the land? (Lissner 97). Yes, the man was quite insane. On one occasion ?he summoned three ex-consuls to his palace at midnight. He told the men to take their places on stage. He performed a dance for them, and then disappeared, leaving them frightened out of their wits? (Lissner 92). At one point, he closed the granaries and then declared the country to be in a state of famine. He loved to play gruesome practical jokes. He played an especially cruel on the officials responsible for organizing the festival in remembrance of the battle of Actium. ?He made an announcement: If the celebrations took place it would be an insult to the vanquished Antony and the official?s heads would roll. But if the celebrations did not take place it would be an affront to Augustus? memory and the officials would still forfeit their lands? (Lissner 96). He could have easily carried it out too, being not only of the Augustan line, but also having the blood of Antony in him.
He was a sadistic ruler. He took great pleasure in the pain of others. ?He once asked the actor Apelles whether Jupiter or Caligula was greater. When Apelles hesitated, Caligula had him cut to pieces with the whip, praising his voice as he pled for mercy, remarking on the melodiousness of his groans? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). Caligula was just naturally brutal and cruel. ?He frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself? (Gaius Caligula). The forms
beasts. Others were confined in narrow cages, where they had to crouch on all fours like animas, or were sawn in half? (Gaius Caligula). ?He had his quaestor flogged, commanding that his clothes be ripped off and laid beneath the soldiers? feet beforehand to give them a better foothold when plying their whips? (Lissner 95). Caligula had a ?supervisor of games and beast-fights flogged with chains before him for days on end, and was not put to death until Caligula was offended by the smell of gangrene in his brain? (Gaius ?Caligula of Rome). For his own pleasure, he would have old men battle against terrifying beasts, and if the slaughter of the games were ended early due to lack of gladiators, he would throw spectators to the creatures. ?He was said to murmur ?I am settling my accounts? when writing death warrants? (Lissner 95-96). He also was fond of moaning ? ?Oh that the Roman people had but a single neck? ? (Lissner 96).
Caligula was not a handsome man in any regard. His body was tall, spindly and pale. He was nearly bald on the top of his head, but his body was covered in hair. ?He was especially sensitive to any mention of ?goats? in his presences and such whisperings could prove fatal? (Lissner 97). ?Sometimes he had those with a fine head of hair to be shaved? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He had mad light in his deep-set eyes. ?He tried to enhance the natural ferociousness of his ugly features by making frightful grimaces and contorting his face in front of the mirror? (Lissner 97).
The death of Caligula, after three years of his mad reign, were all that saved the empire from complete ruin. On January 24, 41 AD, Cassius Chaerea led a conspiracy that
resulted in the emperor?s assassination. Caligula was convinced to take a walk under the
covered walkway. His two colonels then leaped out and stabbed him. His body took thirty sword wounds before the conspirators ended their barrage on him. One of the colonels was Sabinus, whose wife was one of the noblewoman debauched and publicly humiliated by him. Not content to merely end his reign, the conspirators murdered his wife and young daughter who had taken after him so much that despite her lineage he had adopted and proclaimed his own. The soldiers however spared his uncle Claudius, one of Caligula?s few surviving relatives (he had murdered most of the others), who was cowering behind curtains and draperies when the assassination took place. So pleased were they with the timid old man, they proclaimed him the new emperor.
Caligula was indeed insane. Strangely, ?his real nature was only gradually revealed? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He suffered from severe epilepsy. ?His behavior, a splitting of emotions and thoughts, is nowadays diagnosed as schizophrenia? (Gaius ?Caligula of Rome). It is also believed that the illness he suffered at the beginning of his reign contributed to his madness. ?If the disease was encephalitis, in could have contributed because it can cause a marked character change and give rise to impulsive, aggressive, and intemperate active similar to those of schizophrenia? (Gaius ?Caligula? of Rome). He was spoiled as a child by the soldiers in his father?s camp. ?Germanicus?s army staged a revolt, and as a result, he ordered his wife and little Caligula to withdraw form the camps. Overcome with grief and repentance at the situation they had brought about, the soldiers begged Germanicus to make his wife and child return? (Tiberius 1).
While in Tiberius? home, Caligula was constantly under suspicion, and was therefore
always in danger of being murdered. Since his families near extinction had come about through Tiberius, he was very cautious of his own life. These, coupled with the death of his one saving influence, his grandmother, could have contributed to his insanity.
The madness of Caligula not only affected those close to him, friends, relatives, and associates, but it affected the entire Roman Empire. He sent Rome spiraling into debt, played at murdering citizens of all kinds, and debauching the woman. Caligula performed ridiculous acts of state, and gruesome examples of cruelty. He delighted in torturing those beneath him and would often justify himself by saying, ?Let them hate me as long as they fear me!? In Machiavelli?s The Prince, the question arises whether it is better to be loved or feared. It is a shame that Caligula could not have read it. He would have learned that every malicious deed he performed, he was signing his own death warrant, and no one would mourn him when he was gone.