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The Emperor Gaius, also known as, Caligula

Updated on October 17, 2011

Evidence suggests that the Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known as "little boot", or Caligula, was born on the last day of August in AD 12 to Agrippina, the granddaughter of the great Emperor Augustus, and Germanicus. His surname, Caligula, was given by the Roman legions to the boy who, in his youth, dressed only as a soldier.

Texts produced by Caligula's contemporaries, including those of the philosopher Seneca, depict the Roman Emperor, who rose to power at the mere age of twenty-four, as a crazed and cruel dictator. He showed "...what the greatest vices could affect when found in the highest station."(Holland 27) Still, prior to ascending to the throne and even for a while thereafter, Gaius was popular amongst the Romans, revered by both soldier and layman.

While his reign was not heavily documented, several of his actions, whether factual or rumored, have retained unparalleled notoriety throughout the historical record. These instances are as follows:

  • Caligula is said to have had numberless sexual exploits, perhaps even with each of his three sisters.
  • The historian Suetonias claims the Emperor's prized horse, Incitatus, to have been attended by eighteen servants, housed in marble stables, and granted the title of Roman Consul.
  • His extravagance caused the empire to become bankrupt, after which Caligula manipulated law and politics to re-fill Rome's coffers. His eagerness to spend money although had a limit: believing meat to be too expensive for his menagerie of exotic animals, he simply fed the contained creatures with meat procured from the bones of Rome's criminals.
  • Caligula is known to have placed himself on even-footing with other gods and demanded honor accordingly from his citizenry.

Having ruled only four years, the Emperor was stabbed to death by members of the Praetorian Guard in AD 41.

Behind Madness, There is Reason

It has recently been suggested that Caligula's mental deterioration, a detriment experienced by many other Emperors as well, was perhaps due to lead poisoning. This element was contained anywhere from dinner wear to water transportation systems and could therefore have adversely affected the royal family, who had constant access to "clean water" and sumptuous lead vessels.

Contemporary descriptions on the overall health of the first few generations of Roman Emperors only strengthen the premise of lead poisoning. A history of pallid color (commented upon by Suetonias multiple time), sterility (Caligula himself had only one child, yet four wives), tremors (Claudius, Caligula's uncle, had a severe stammer), hypomania (severe mood swings were recorded for both Caligula, and his grandson, Nero) , and other afflictions (Germanicus often had sever stomach cramps), reflect modern symptoms of this condition and could therefore readily offer an explanation as to the eccentric behavior of this line of rulers.

A Further Glance at Caligula

Additional Readings


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    • Lilith Eden profile image

      Lilith Eden 6 years ago from Memphis, TN

      I couldn't agree with you more, Seeker.

      There is so much unexplained human phenomena that may have been due to nothing more than a missing chromosome or some other type of mutation.

      The historical depth of disease is also of keen interest to me. Was cancer ever non-existent, for instance? Did arthritis develop alongside tool use? These are things that I wish to know more about.

      Thank you for reading!


    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      A fascinating hub on this most fascinating of Roman Emperors. It's interesting that there is so much research going on today, to find causes for the behaviour of people in history. It is now theorised that for example, Henry VIII, notorious for some of his cruel acts, only changed to this negative personality after a head injury during a joust. I think it may well be the case that, eventually, much of our known history may have to be re-written in the light of medical and forensic investigations.

      Voted up!

    • Lilith Eden profile image

      Lilith Eden 6 years ago from Memphis, TN


      Considering the non-existence of CSI and the buffer provided by political or financial power, persons in the right offices and governmental positions would never be confronted for a heinous crime such as murder.

      Punishment for crimes as these were often dealt according to class. Take a look at Hammurabi's first codex on law for more information if your interested. While this body of legalities pre-dates Rome by quite some time, the civilizations of Antiquity modeled their own justice system in accordance to Hammurabi's.


    • Craig Suits profile image

      Craig Suits 6 years ago from Florida

      Hiya Kiddo...

      Neat Hub. Informative as usual. Love the video. Can you imagine living in those days. Being in combat, in the army seems like it was the safest of jobs.

      We could use that system today. Don't like a senator, get a few of the boys together and cap the sucker.

      It looks to me now that you mention it that lead poisoning could very well have been the reason why so many of the royals were a little nuts.

      A serious question:

      What was the law back then. Was murder excusable as long as there were three or four senators taking part? Seems that way. Lots of people got wasted back then but you never hear of any prosecution of the perpetrators.