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A brief biography of caligula the mad roman emperor

And we have the gossipy historian Suetonius to thank for that Caligula: Alamy By Allan Massie 4: Uphill work, you may say. After all, what most people know, or think they know, about him is that he was one of the mad Roman emperors, the chap who made his horse a consul, imposed a reign of terror on Rome, and was assassinated after only four years. Mad, bad and altogether horrible, you see.

Actually, a lot of the evidence is pretty shaky. All the best stories are to be found in the brief biography by Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars. For another, he was a terrible, if delicious, gossip, unable to resist a good story.

He reputedly set his legionaries to collecting seashells when he called it off — clear evidence of absurdity, if not lunacy, yes?

That was the story that went round Roman dinner tables. I have a particular interest in Caligula because I wrote a novel about him. They adored him, and he was always popular with the soldiers.

Gaius Caligula of Rome

The story of Germanicus offers the first key to Gaius. When he died of a mysterious illness, Agrippina insisted that he had been poisoned and held Tiberius responsible. She aired this belief widely.

  1. Her children, as they grew up, became objects of suspicion. He may have suffered from epilepsy.
  2. Alamy By Allan Massie 4. When he died of a mysterious illness, Agrippina insisted that he had been poisoned and held Tiberius responsible.
  3. She aired this belief widely. When the old man died, Gaius became emperor.
  4. More mysterious was his planned expedition against Britain in 40 AD.

Her children, as they grew up, became objects of suspicion. Whether she plotted against Tiberius is unknown, but she was accused of this, possibly framed by Sejanus, the Praetorian prefect. She was exiled, her two elder sons arrested; both died in prison. She took him to Capri where the aged Tiberius lived in retirement, scandalously, according to gossip retailed by Suetonius. When the old man died, Gaius became emperor. The Roman people had hated Tiberius; they gave Gaius a wonderful reception.

Caligula: Mad, bad, and maybe a little misunderstood

The Senate was perhaps more doubtful, some still hankering, impossibly, for the Republic. Gaius began well, with an amnesty for exiles and promises to reform the procedure for treason trials. He was intelligent but wayward, and power soon went to his head — he was only 24. His sense of humour was Quilpish.