Roman Emperors Dir Caligula
An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
Gaius (Caligula) (A.D. 37-41)
Garrett G. Fagan
Gaius's Early Life and Reign
When Tiberius died on 16 March A.D. 37, Gaius was in a perfect position to assume power, despite the obstacle of Tiberius's will, which named him and his cousin Tiberius Gemellus joint heirs. (Gemellus's life was shortened considerably by this bequest, since Gaius ordered him killed within a matter of months.) Backed by the Praetorian Prefect Q. Sutorius Macro, Gaius asserted his dominance. He had Tiberius's will declared null and void on grounds of insanity, accepted the powers of the Principate as conferred by the Senate, and entered Rome on 28 March amid scenes of wild rejoicing. His first acts were generous in spirit: he paid Tiberius's bequests and gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard, the first recorded donativum to troops in imperial history. He honored his father and other dead relatives and publicly destroyed Tiberius's personal papers, which no doubt implicated many of the Roman elite in the destruction of Gaius's immediate family. Finally, he recalled exiles and reimbursed those wronged by the imperial tax system []. His popularity was immense. Yet within four years he lay in a bloody heap in a palace corridor, murdered by officers of the very guard entrusted to protect him. What went wrong?
Conspiracy and Assassination
Balsdon, J.P.V.D. The Emperor Gaius. Oxford, 1934.
________. "The Principates of Tiberius and Gaius." ANRW 2.2 (1975): 86-94.
Barrett, A.A. Caligula: The Corruption of Power. New Haven, 1989.
________. Agrippina. Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire. New Haven, 1996.
Benediktson, D.T. "Caligula's Madness: Madness or Interictal Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?" Classical World 82 (1988-89), 370-5.
Bicknell, P. "The Emperor Gaius' Military Activities in AD 40." Historia 17 (1968): 496-505.
Bilde, P. "The Roman Emperor Gaius (Caligula)'s Attempt to Erect his Statue in the Temple of Jerusalem." STh 32 (1978): 67-93.
Boschung, D. Die Bildnisse des Caligula. Berlin, 1989.
Charlesworth, M.P. "The Tradition About Caligula" Cambridge Historical Journal 4 (1933): 105-119.
Davies, R.W. "The Abortive Invasion of Britain by Gaius." Historia 15 (1966): 124-28.
D'Ecré, F. "La mort de Germanicus et les poisons de Caligula." Janus 56 (1969): 123-48.
Ferrill, A. Caligula, Emperor of Rome. London, 1991.
Gelzer, M. "Iulius Caligula." Real-Enzyclopädie 10.381-423 (1919).
Grant, M. The Roman Emperors. A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Imperial Rome 31 BC - AD 476 (New York, 1985), 25-28.
Hurley, D.W. "Gaius Caligula in the Germanicus Tradition." American Journal of Philology 110 (1989): 316-38.
________. An Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius' Life of C. Caligula. Atlanta, 1993.
Jerome, T.S. "The Historical Tradition About Gaius," in id., Aspects of the Study of Roman History. New York, 1923.
Katz, R.S. "The Illness of Caligula." Classical World 65 (1971-72): 223-5
McGinn, T.A.J. "Caligula's Brothel on the Palatine," EMC 42 (1998): 95-107.
Massaro, V. and I. Montgomery. "Gaius: Mad Bad, Ill or All Three?" Latomus 37 (1978): 894-909
________. "Gaius (Caligula) Doth Murder Sleep." Latomus 38 (1979): 699-700.
Maurer, J. A. A Commentary on C. Suetoni Tranquilli, Vita C. Caligulae Caesaris, Chapters I-XXI. Philadelphia, 1949.
Morgan, M.G. "Caligula's Illness Again." Classical World 66 (1972-73): 327-9
Philips, E.J. "The Emperor Gaius' Abortive Invasion of Britain." Historia 19 (1970): 369-74.
Simpson, C. J. "The 'Conspiracy' of AD 39." In Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History II, edited by C. Deroux, 347-66. Brussels, 1980.
Smallwood, E.M. (ed.). Documents Illustrating the Principates of Gaius, Claudius and Nero. Cambridge. 1967.
Wardle, D. Suetonius' Life of Caligula: A Commentary. Brussels, 1994.
Woods, D. "Caligula's Seashells." Greece and Rome 47 (2000): 80-87.
Wood, S. "Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula." AJA 99 (1995): 457-82.
NOTES[] The main ancient sources for Gaius's reign are: Suet. Gaius; Dio 59; Philo In Flaccum and Legatio ad Gaium; Jos. AJ 19.1-211. Tacitus's account of the reign is lost. However, he makes occasional references to Gaius in the extant portions of his works, as does Seneca. All of these sources have reason to be hostile to Gaius's memory: Seneca's style was roundly abused by the emperor (Suet. Gaius 53.2; Dio 59.19.7-8); Philo and Josephus, as Jews, resented Gaius's blasphemous demands for divinity that almost roused Palestine to rebellion (see above, Gaius and the Empire); and the later sources inherited a tradition about Gaius that can be shown to be biased and exaggerated, cf. Charlesworth, "The Tradition about Gaius." Besides these literary sources, inscriptions and coins also offer some information, see Smallwood, Documents Illustrating.
[] Death of Germanicus and aftermath: Tac. Ann. 2.69-3.19; Gaius with Livia, Antonia, and Tiberius: Tac. Ann. 6.20.1; Suet. Gaius 10.1, 23.2; fate of Agrippina: Tac. Ann. 5.3.2 - 5.5.2, 6.25.1; and of Nero and Drusus Caesar: Tac. Ann. 5.3.2, 6.23.4-5, Suet. Tib. 54, Gaius 7; Gaius's quaestorship: Dio 58.23.1. For the alleged involvement of Gaius in his father's death, see D'Ecré, "La mort de Germanicus."
[] Early reign and first acts: Suet. Gaius 13-16; Philo Leg. 8-13; Dio 59.2-3. Macro's full name: Smallwood, Documents Illustrating, no. 254. Date of Gaius's arrival in Rome: Acta Fratrum Arvalium (Smallwood, Documents Illustrating, no. 3.15-17). Gemellus: Suet. Gaius 14.1, 15.2, 23.3; Dio 59.1.2-3, 59.8.1-2; Philo Leg. 23-31.
[] Seneca, without explanation, believes he went mad (Brev. 18.5-6; Helv. 10.4; Tranqu. 14.5; Ben. 7.11.2). Josephus also thinks that Gaius went mad but alludes to a love-potion administered by his wife Caesonia as the cause (AJ 19.193), apparently after two years of good rule (AJ 18.256). Philo blames an illness in the fall of A.D. 37 (Leg. 14-22). Suetonius mentions simply a "brain sickness" (valitudo mentis; Gaius 51.1). Dio thinks that faults of character led to a deterioration in his behavior (59.3-4). Surviving references suggest that Tacitus thought Gaius at least of troubled and impulsive mind, which is not the same thing as crazed (Agr. 13.2; Ann. 6.20.1, 6.45.5, 13.3.6; Hist. 4.48.2).
[] Incest: Suet. Gaius 24.1; Dio 59.3.6; Jos. AJ 19.204. Military campaigns: Tac. Hist. 4.15.3, Germania 37.5, Suet. Gaius 43-46, Dio 59.21.1-3. Bridge at Baiae: Suet. Gaius 19; Dio 59.17; Jos. AJ 19.5-6. Horse as consul: Suet. Gaius 55.3; Dio 59.14.7; His alleged setting up of a brothel in the palace may contain a kernel of truth, even if the story is much embellished, see T.A.J. McGinn, "Caligula's Brothel on the Palatine," EMC 42 (1998): 95-107.
[] Alcoholism: Jerome, "Historical Tradition"; hyperthyroidism/thyrotoxicos: Katz, "Illness of Caligula"; mania: Massaro and Montgomery, "Gaius: Mad, Bad, Ill or All Three" and "Gaius (Caligula) Doth Murder Sleep"; epilepsy: Benediktson, "Caligula's Madness." Morgan ("Caligula's Illness Again") makes some astute observations on the weakness of the medical approach as a whole. He points out that the ancient concept of physiognomy -- that people's characters are manifest in their appearance -- makes any diagnosis highly suspect. In fact, all such medical explanations are doomed to failure. The sources simply cannot be trusted, and diagnosing a patient 2,000 years dead is, at best, a stretch. Balsdon (The Emperor Gaius) argued that Gaius was misunderstood and attempted to offer rational explanations for all of his apparently deranged antics. A useful summary and critique of "madness" theories is to be found in Barrett, Caligula, 213-41. For a recent acceptance of the madness thesis, cf. Ferrill, Caligula, Emperor of Rome.
[] Mauretania: Dio 59.25.1; see also Barrett, Caligula, 115-20. Agrippa: Jos. AJ 18.228-37; Phil Leg. 324-26; see also E. M. Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule (Leiden, 1976), 187-200. Alexandrian riots: Philo Flacc and Leg.
[] Fake Germans in triumph: Suet. Gaius 47. Military campaigns: see above, note . For modern rationalizations of these campaigns, cf., e.g., Bicknell, "Military Activities"; Davies, "Abortive Invasion"; Philips, "Abortive Invasion"; Barrett, Caligula, 125-39, and Woods, "Caligula's Seashells.". Execution of Gaetulicus and exile of sisters: the Gaetulicus affair is ably assessed in Barrett, Caligula, 91-113, and id. Agrippina, 60-70; for a contrasting view, see Simpson, "The 'Conspiracy' of AD 39."
[] The Jerusalem affair is described most fully by Josephus (AJ 18.261-309; BJ 2.184-203) and Philo (Leg. 188, 198-348). Thorough modern assessments can be found in Barrett, Caligula, 188-91, cf. 140-53 (on Gaius's demand for divine honours, which Barrett argues are exaggerated by the sources); Bilde "Statue in the Temple"; and Smallwood, Jews (above, note ), 174-80. Drusilla: Suet. Gaius 24.2-3; Dio 59.11; Smallwood, Documents Illustrating, nos 5.12-15, 11, 128, 401.12; Wood, "Diva Drusilla."
[] The named Praetorian conspirators include three tribunes -- Cassius Chaerea (Suet. Gaius 56.2; Dio 59.29.1; Sen. Const. 18.3; Jos. AJ 19.18, 21, 28-37); Cornelius Sabinus (Suet. Gaius 58.2; Dio 59.29.1; Jos. AJ 19.46, 48, 261); Papinius (Jos. AJ 19.37) -- and the Prefect M. Arrecinus Clemens (Jos. AJ 19.37-46). Senators associated with the plot are M. Annius Vinicianus (Jos. AJ 19.18, 20, 49-51), M. Valerius Asiaticus (Tac. Ann. 11.1.2), Cluvius Rufus and L. Nonius Asprenas (Jos. AJ 19.91-92, 98). Gaius's freedman Callistus is also a named participant (Tac. Ann. 11.29.1; Dio 29.29.1; Jos. AJ 19.63-69).
[] The possible involvement of Claudius in the plot is assessed by B. Levick, Claudius (New Haven, 1990), 33-39. The fullest account of the assassination is that of Josephus (AJ 19.70-113), with more summary accounts found in Suetonius (Gaius 58) and the epitome of Dio (59.29.5-7).
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