Mad, evil, and bloodthirsty. These are a few epithets attributed to men traditionally considered the worst Roman emperors. Ironically, these miscreants are among the best-known Roman rulers for all the wrong reasons. The list of their misdeeds is vast, from flinging people off cliffs to naming a horse a consul to playing an instrument while Rome burned. Do you know who the mad Roman Emperor was?
Caligula is one of the most insane Roman emperors. His name was given to him as a child by his father’s soldiers during a campaign in Germania. The name translates to “little boots” in Latin and refers to the child-sized military gear he would wear.
The Young Emperor Caligula
Caligula was only 25 years old when he seized power in 37 AD. His succession was initially welcomed in Rome; he announced political reforms and recalled all exiles. A severe illness, however, unhinged Caligula in October of 37, leading him to spend the rest of his reign exploring the worst aspects of his nature.
Caligula lavished funds on construction projects ranging from the practical aqueducts and harbors to the cultural, theaters and temples to the bizarre requisitioning of hundreds of Roman merchant ships to construct a 2-mile floating bridge across the Bay of Bauli so he could spend two days galloping back and forth across it. In 39 and 40, he led military campaigns to the Rhine and the English Channel, where he preferred theatrical displays over battles, ordering his troops to plunder the sea by collecting shells in their helmets.
His relationships with other people were also tumultuous. Suetonius, his biographer, quotes him as saying, Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody. He tortured high-ranking senators by making them run for miles in front of his chariot. He was rumored to have incestuous relationships with his sisters and had brazen affairs with the wives of his allies. (Source: History Extra)
Why was He Called the Mad Emperor Caligula?
There is no shortage of victims for Caligula’s murderous side. While Suetonius claims the emperor slaughtered people by the dozen, he is strangely reticent about naming them. Other writers, such as Appian and Plutarch, meticulously document the senators killed in Sulla’s and the Triumvirs’ much bloodier purges.
Because there isn’t enough room to refute every allegation of Caligula’s insanity, two examples will have to suffice. Philo’s account of a meeting with Caligula is the first. He and a group of ambassadors had traveled from Egypt to express their displeasure with the provincial governor. Still, Caligula was inspecting some mansions he had ordered, so the unfortunate ambassadors had to chase him from room to room. Finally, Caligula directed that the frantic delegation present their case.
Second, we are told that early in his reign, Caligula felt compelled to visit the army in Germany and dashed to the border without making the usual preparations. When he arrived, he decided to assassinate the army commander and several soldiers. In reality, that commander was a shady general Tiberius had sent to Rome earlier. Knowing he would be executed upon arrival, the general replied that if he came, he would bring his army; he then remained in Germany. Caligula’s unexpected arrival caught him off guard, and he was executed before rallying allies, whom Caligula later purged. The move was audacious, ruthless, and decisive, but not insane. (Source: History Extra)
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