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the third in the series of Roman emperors, reigned from A. D. 37 to A. D. 41. His real name was Caius Caesar, and he received that of Caligula in the camp, from caligae, the foot dress of the common soldiers, when he was yet a boy with his father in Germany. As emperor, however, he was always called by his contemporaries Caius, and he regarded the name of Caligula as an insult. (Senec. De Constant. 18.) He was the youngest son of Germanicus, the nephew of Tiberius, by Agrippina, and was born on the 31st ot August, A. D. 12. (Suet. Cal. 8.) The place of his birth was a matter of doubt with the ancients ; according to some, it was Tibur; according to others, Treves on the Moselle; but Suetonius has proved from the public documents of Antium that he was born at that town. His earliest years were spent in the camp of his father in Germany, and he grew up among the soldiers, with whom he became accordingly very popular. (Tac. Annal. 1.41, 69; Suet. Cal. 9; D. C. 57.5.) Caligula also accompanied his father on his Syrian expedition, and after his return first lived with his mother, and, when she was exiled, in the house of Livia Augusta. When the latter died, Caligula, then a youth in his sixteenth year, delivered the funeral oration upon her from the Rostra. After this he lived some years with his grandmother, Antonia. Caligula, like his two elder brothers, Nero and Drusus, was hated by Sejanus, but his favour with Tiberius and his popularity as the son of Germanicus saved him. (D. C. 58.8.)

After the fall of Sejanus in A. D. 32, when Caligula had just attained his twentieth year Tiberius summoned him to come to Capreae. Here the young man concealed so well his feelings at the injuries inflicted upon his mother and brothers, as well as at the wrongs which he himself had suffered, that he did not utter a sound of complaint, and behaved in such a submissive manner, that those who witnessed his conduct declared, that there never was such a cringing slave to so bad a master. (Suet. Cal. 10; Tac. Annal. 6.20.) But his savage and voluptuous character was nevertheless seen through by Tiberius. About the same time he married Junia Claudilla (Claudia), the daughter of M. Silanus, an event which Dio Cassius (58.25) assigns to the year A. D. 35. Soon afterwards he obtained the quaestorship, and on the death of his brother Drusus was made augur in his stead, having been created pontiff two years before. (D. C. 58.8; Suet. (Cal. 12.)

After the death of his wife, in March A. D. 36, Caligula began seriously to think in what manner he might secure the succession to himself, of which Tiberius had held out hopes to him, without however deciding anything. (D. C. 58.23 ; Tac. Annal. 6.45, &c.) In order to ensure his success, he seduced Ennia Naevia, the wife of Macro, who had then the command of the praetorian cohorts. He promised to marry her if He should succeed to the throne, and contrived to gain the consent and co-operation of Macro also, who according to some accounts introduced his wife to the embraces of the voluptuous youth. (Suet. Cal. 12; Tac. Annal. 6.45; D. C. 58.28 ; Philo, Legat. ad Cai. p. 998, ed. Paris, 1640.) Tiberius died in March A. D. 37, and there can be little doubt but that Caligula either caused or accelerated his death. In aftertimes he often boasted of having attempted to murder Tiberius in order to avenge the wrongs which his family had suffered from him. There were reports that Caligula had administered to Tiberius a slow poison, or that he had withheld from him the necessary food during his illness, or lastly, that he had suffoeated him with a pillow. Some again said, that he had been assisted by Macro, while Tacitus (Ann d. 6.50) mentions Macro alone as the guilty person. (Suet. Tib. 73, Cal. 12; D. C. 58.28) When the body of Tiberius was carried from Misenum to Rome, Caligula accompanied it in the dress of a mourner, but he was sainted by the people at Rome with the gretest enthusiasm as the son of Germanicus. Tiberius in his will had apponted his grandson Tiberius as coheir to Caligula, but the senate and the people gave the sovereign power to Caligula alone, in spite of the regulations of Tiberius. (Suet. Cal. 14; D. C. 59.1; comp. J. AJ 18.6.9.) In regard to all other points, however, Caligula carried the will of Tiberius into execution : he paid to the people and the soldiers the sums which the late emperor had bequeathed to them, and even increased these legacies by his own munificence. After having delivered the funeral oration upon Tiberius, he immediately fulfilled the duty of piety towards his mother and his brother : he had their ashes conveyed from Pandataria and the Pontian islands to Rome, and deposited them in the Mausoleum with great solemnity. But notwithstanding the feeling which prompted him to this act, he pardoned all those who had allowed themselves to be used as instruments against the members of his family, and ordered the documents which contained the evidence of their guilt to be burnt in the Forum. Those who had been condemned to imprisonment by Tiberius were released, and those who had been exiled were recalled to their country. He restored to the magistrates their full power of jurisdiction without appeal to his person, and he also endeavoured to revive the old character of the comitia by allowing the people to discuss and decide the matters brought before them, as in former times. Towards foreign princes who had been stripped of their power and their revenues by his predecessor, he behaved with great generosity. Thus Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, who had been put in chains by Tiberius, was released and restored to his kingdom, and Antiochus IV. of Commagene received back his kingdom, which was increased by the maritime district of Cilicia.

On the first of July A. D. 37, Caligula entered upon his first consulship together with Claudius, his father's brother, and held the office for two months. Soon after this he was seized by a serious illness in consequence of his irregular mode of living. He was, indeed, restored to health, but from that moment appeared an altered man. Hitherto the joy of the people at his accession seemed to be perfectly justified by the justice and moderation he shewed during the first months of his reign, but from henceforward he appears more like a diabolical than a human being--he acts completely like a madman. A kind of savageness and gross voluptuousness had always been prominent features in his character, but still we are not justified in supposing, as many do, that he merely threw off the mask which had hitherto concealed his real disposition ; it is much more probable that his illness destroyed his mental powers, and thus let loose all the veiled passions of his soul, to which he now yielded without exercising any control over them. Immediately after his recovery he ordered Tiberius, the grandson of his predecessor, whom he had raised before to the rank of princeps jurentutis, to be put to death on the pretext of his having wished the emperor not to recover from his illness; and those of his friends who had vowed their lives for his recovery, were now compelled to carry their vow into effect by putting an end to their existence. He also commanded several members of his own family, and among them his grandmother Antonia, Macro, and his wife Ennia Naevia, to make away with themselves. His thirst for blood seemed to increase with the number of his victims, and murdering soon ceased to be the consequence of his hatred; it became a matter of pleasure and amusement with him. Once during a public fight of wild beasts in the Circus, when there were no more criminals to enter the arena, he ordered persons to be taken at random from among the spectators, and to be thrown before the wild beasts, but that they might not be able to cry out or curse their destroyer, he ordered their tongues to be cut out. Often when he was taking his meals, he would order men to be tortured to death before his eyes, that he might have the pleasure of witnessing their agony. Once when, during a horse-race, the people were more favourably disposed to one of his competitors than to himself, he is said to have exclaimed, "Would that the whole Roman people had only one head."

But his cruelty was not greater than his voluptuousness and obscenity. He carried on an incestuous intercourse with his own sisters, and when Drusilla, the second of them, died, he raved like a madman with grief, and commanded her to be worshipped as a divinity. No Roman lady was safe from his attacks, and his marriages were as disgracefully contracted as they were ignominiously dissolved. The only woman that exercised a lasting influence over him was Caesonia. A point which still more sliews the disordered state of his brain is, that in his self-veneration he went so far as to consider himself a god: he would appear in public sometimes in the attire of Bacchus, Apollo, or Jupiter, and even of Venus and Diana; he would frequently place himself in the temple of Castor and Pollux, between the statues of these divinities, and order the people who entered the temple to worship him. He even built a temple to himself as Jupiter Latiaris, and appointed priests to attend to his worship and offer sacrifices to him. This temple contained his statue in gold, of the size of life, and his statue was dressed precisely as he was. The wealthiest Romans were appointed his priests, but they had to purchase the honour with immense sums of money. He sometimes officiated as his own priest, making his horse Incitatus, which he afterwards raised to the consulshsip, his colleague. No one but a complete madman would have been guilty of things like these.

The sums of money which he squandered almost surpass belief. During the first year of his reign he nearly drained the treasury, although Tiberius had left in it the sum of 720 millions of sesterces. One specimen may serve to shew in what senseless manner he spent the money. That he might be able to boast of having marched over the sea as over dry land, he ordered a bridge of boats to be constructed across the channel between Baiae and Puteoli, a distance of three Roman miles and six hundred paces. After it was covered with earth and houses built upon it, he rode across it in triumph, and gave a splendid banquet on the middle of the bridge. In order to amuse himself on this occasion in his usual way, he ordered numbers of the spectators whom he had invited to be thrown into the sea. As the regular revenues of the state were insufficient to supply him with the means of such mad extravagance, he had recourse to robberies, public sales of his estates, unheard-of taxes, and every species of extortion that could be devised. In order that no means of getting money might remain untried, he established a public brothel in his own palace, and sent out his servants to invite men of all class to avail themselves of it. On the birth of his daughter by Caesonia, lie regularly acted the part of a beggar in order to obtain money to rear her. He also made known that he would receive presents on new year's day, and on the first of January he posted himself in the vestibule of his palace, to accept the presents that were brought him by crowds of people. Things like these gradually engendered in him a love of money itself without any view to the ends it is to serve, and he is said to have sometimes taken a delight in rolling himself in heaps of gold. After Italy and Rome were exhausted by his extortions, his love of money and his avarice compelled him to seek other resources. He turned his eyes to Gaul, and under the pretence of a war against the Germans, he marched, in A. D. 40, with an army to Gaul to extort money from the wealthy inhabitants of that country. Executions were as frequent here as they had been before in Italy. Lentulus Gaetulicus and Aemilius Lepidus were accused of having formed a conspiracy and were put to death, and the two sisters of Caligula were sent into exile as guilty of adultery and accomplices of the conspiracy. Ptolemaeus, the son of king Juba, was exiled merely on account of his riches, and was afterwards put to death. It would be endless and disgusting to record here all the acts of cruelty, insanity, and avarice, of which his whole reign, with the exception of the first few months, forms one uninterrupted succession. He concluded his predatory campaign in Gaul by leading his army to the coast of the ocean, as if he would cross over to Britain; he drew them up in battle array, and then gave them the signal--to collect shells, which he called the spoils of conquered Ocean. After this he returned to Rome, where he acted with still greater cruelty than before, because lie thought the honours which the senate conferred upon him too insignificant and too human for a god like him. Several conspiracies were formed against him, but were discovered, until at length Cassius Chaerea, tribune of a praetorian cohort, Cornelius Sabinus, and others, entered into one which was crowned with success. Four months after his return from Gaul, on the 24th of January A. D. 41, Caligula was murdered by Chaerea near the theatre, or according to others, in his own palace while he was hearing some boys rehearse the part they were to perform in the theatre. His wife and daughter were likewise put to death. His body was secretly conveyed by his friends to the horti Lamiani, halt burnt, and covered over with a light turf. Subsequently, however, his sisters, after their return from exile, ordered the body to be taken out, and had it completely burnt and buried. (Sueton. Caligula; Dio Cass. lib. lix.; J. AJ 19.1; Aurel. Vict. De Caes. 3; Zonar. 10.6.)

In the coin annexed the obverse represents the head of Caligula, with the inscription C. CAESAR AVG. GERM. P. M. TR. POT., and the reverse that of Augustus, with the inscription DIVVS AVG. PATER PATRIAE.


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  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18.6.9
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 19.1
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 14
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 8
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 9
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 10
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 12
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 73
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