ACTA ACCLA, September 2007
GAIUS CAESAR - CALIGULA
Lived 12 - 41 CE
Emperor 37 - 41 CE
Text by Paul Ranc
Related to everyone in the imperial family, thus destined to rule the Roman Empire. Perhaps that was the problem!
Few of Rome's emperors enjoy as foul a reputation as Gaius, who is generally known by the nickname Caligula, meaning "little boots", which he received from his father's soldiers while he was still an amiable child. He grew to despise the nickname almost as much as everyone grew to despise him.
Photograph by Barry Rightman
There is little need to revisit the list of his debaucheries, and acts of depravity: the belief he was god; his incest with his sisters; the horse that became senator, etc., we need only note that his behavior was a special blend of intellect and insanity, and that he has few peers beyond Nero, Commodus and Elagabalus.
The Roman world sighed with welcome relief when this monster was killed in early 41. For a biased/amusing view of him, check out Robert Graves' "I Claudius" or the TV series.
His appeal as a literary subject need not surprise: tyrants, and crazy autocrats pushed to extremes fascinate throughout the ages. Thus the first emperor/monster legend was created. He is the classical example of "absolute power corrupts absolutely"
Fortunately his coins are very interesting: i.e. the first portrait sestertii, and his political quadrans. Also his family is honored on the coins, giving us the an intimate view of the Roman concept of pietas.
A moral fable or an insane autocrat? The truth lies somewhere in between.
SUGGESTED WEB RESOURCES ON CALIGULA