12 AD – 41 AD
The Third Roman Emperorby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
For over four long centuries, the world struggled under the harsh rule of Roman emperors who held the lives of millions of people in their selfish hands. They could either choose to crush their subordinates or if they had some human pity left in them, would let them live. Wishing us salvation, many times God allows bad things to happen to us. So all the tyrants that ruled Rome were sent by God for the peoples’ own benefit. One of the toughest times the world experienced was during the third Roman emperor and the third member of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, or simply Caligula. An example of a figure which did not lack any characteristic of a real tyrant, for “he possessed elements of madness, cruelty, viciousness, extravagance, and megalomania.”(1) Reigning less time than almost any other Roman emperor, he became infamous for his butchering of peoples’ throats.
Gaius was born on August 31, AD 12 into a family of nine children. His father, Germanicus served as a general in the Roman Empire and from his early years, the future emperor was accustomed to an immediate fulfillment of all his wishes and desires by his father’s soldiers. There he acquired the nickname “Caligula” which is derived from the Latin word caliga, meaning soldier’s boot.(2) He came to hate that name afterwards as well as his real name, Gaius, nevertheless, history remembers him as Caligula.
Because of his father being beloved by everyone for his wisdom and kindness, Tiberius, the emperor of that time, decided to adopt him as his son and heir. But after Germanicus’ tragic death which came as a severe blow not only to his relatives but to the whole Roman empire, all the wonderful expectations which Tiberius had set for him crumbled. As the mob entertained a thought of the son of this illustrious father someday coming to power, Tiberius, knowing the young man quite well, foretold the disasters that would follow by saying that “to allow Gaius to live would prove the ruin of himself and of all men, and that he was rearing a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world.”(3)
In March AD 37, when Caligula was barely 25, Tiberius suddenly fell into a coma. Many think it was only a rumor spread by Caligula, who, thirsty with desire to get to the thrown, actually poisoned the poor man. As these tragic news spread, people started pouring into the palace to congratulate the new emperor, but at that point, the late emperor started to revive. Trying to secure his place and name, Caligula sent his chamberlain to smother the old man in his bed.(4) Afterwards, the new ruler burned all papers contradicting his omnipotent and rightful rule including Tiberius’ will which proclaimed two emperors after his death; Caligula and his cuisine, Tiberius Gemellus.(5) These scenes lay the foundation for the cursed reign of Caligula. Unfortunately though, the faithful Romans did not even have an idea of what other scenes awaited them in the future because they revered Caligula almost as a god who came down to save them.
In AD 39, Nero was two years old his mother was banished to the Rontian
Islands by the Emperor Caligula,
At first, their hopes were not deceived, for Caligula began his rule by honoring “his father and other dead relatives”(6) like Agrippina, his mother, and brother whom Tiberius banished during his reign. He returned everyone exiled during that period. Caligula also built “useful things like aqueducts and town walls, leisure facilities such as amphitheatres,”(7) (Peter Jones) and canals. All these deeds and more, acquired Caligula such fame as no other emperor had succeeded in gaining. He was considered an angel in a body whose only role on earth was to bring happiness. This great love for him was best illustrated in the way people acted when they learned that their adored father had an attack of epilepsy some months after his coronation. The whole empire mourned, and grief struck people constantly prayed and burned sacrifices in all temples. Many even swore that if their cherished Caesar would live then they would give up themselves as thanks to the gods. Again, they exaggerated his good characteristics.
According to Halsall, one cannot be so blind as to see what a good emperor Caligula was and overlook what a great a career he made as a monster. Something shifted in him during his sickness and instead of the mild Gaius who fell ill, there was the wanton devil and raging atheist who recovered. As soon as Caligula felt better, he immediately gave out an order to fulfill the wish of those who swore to sacrifice themselves for their emperor. So hundreds of victims were brought onto the arena and given up into the claws and teeth of wild beasts as well as other horrible tortures Caligula had invented for them. After this point no one was sure of his life. Even the women whom Caligula loved would always hear his whisper, “Off comes this beautiful head whenever I give the word,”(8) (Halsall) and everyone knew that he did fulfill all his promises.
As time went by, Caligula’s madness progressed and the mere name of an earthly emperor did not suite him anymore. He thought himself higher and to show that he was indeed not of this world, the insane ruler put statues of himself in many temples including the Temple at Jerusalem, saying that even Jews had to worship him. He even went so far as to build a bridge from his palace to a near-by temple of Jupiter where he sometimes appeared as Jupiter himself.
Always being a little restless, Caligula now totally turned himself over to the power of Satan and became paranoid about getting assassinated (9), and even though he was a man “who so utterly despised the gods,”(10) he became afraid of their wrath. This is where God understood that nothing could save this hopeless sinner and so sent him on a slide to hell. Caligula could feel that his end was near, and while he waited, his guards were devising a plan of attack . . . The praetorian guards (which were actually there to protect him) as well as the rest of the world could not bear it any longer. After planning many conspiracies, the day finally came when God decided to free the humans of this terrible beast. On January 24 AD 41, two of Caligula’s most hated and feared guards (11) caught him alone in a hallway as he was walking towards his palace theatre. They stabbed him to death and yelled the words that had murdered hundreds of souls before: “Strike so that he may feel that he is dying!”(12).Then they also killed his wife, Caesonia, and their young daughter (13). After having done this frightful deed, they felt themselves free and childishly joyful for the first time in three long years. Happily, their next emperor was a hundreds times better than Caligula; he was an exception in the line of Roman Emperors.
(1) Spielvogel, Jackson J. “Western Civilization.” Thomson Learning, Inc. Pennsylvania, 2003.
(2) “Caligula.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula> (20 September 2005).
(3), (8), (10), (11), (12) Halsall, Paul. “De Vita Caesarum: Gaius Caligula.” Ancient History Sourcebook. October 1998. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/suetonius-caligula.html > (20 September 2005).
(4) Bros. Joan N. W. “Gaius Caligula of Rome.” The Mad Monarchs Series. 2000. <http://www.xs4all.nl/~kvenjb/madmonarchs/caligula/caligula_bio.htm> (21 September 2005).
(5), (6) Fagan, Garrett G. “Gaius (Caligula) (AD 37-41).” De Imperatoribus Romanis. 28 October 2004. <http://www.roman-emperors.org/gaius.htm > (20 September 2005).
(7) Jones, Peter. “Caligula, Emperor of Rome.” Infotrac College Edition. <http://infotrac-college.thomsonlearning.com/itw/infomark/25/859/71182309w5/purl=rc1_WAD_0_A107491451&dyn=6!xrn_2_0_A107491451?sw_aep=olr_wad > (20 September 2005).
(9), (13) McManus, Barbara F. “Caligula:Historical Background.” June 1999. <http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/caligula.html > (20 September 2005).
Liberati, Anna Maria. “Ancient Rome, History of a Civilization that Ruled the World.” White Star S.r.l. Italy, 1996.