Top 10 Untold Facts about Roman Emperor Gaius – Caligula

Gaius-Caligula was born to Germanicus and Agrippina the elder on the 31st of August, 21 AD. He was the third Roman Emperor ruling from 37 AD to 41 AD.

He ruled as a wise, kind, and generous ruler during his initial days. But, after a few months of beginning as the Emperor, he changed into a violent person who would enjoy the bloodshed and chaos.

The Romans began fearing him, and his fame in his initial days began fading away. The Roman Empire was turning into an uncomfortable place to live in.

This article includes the top 10 untold facts about the cruel Roman Emperor Gaius-Caligula with some details.

Was Caligula’s mother a tough lady?

Yes, Agrippina the Elder, Caligula’s mother, was a tough as well as courageous woman. She went to the military campaign along with her husband and served there as an adviser. 

Why didn’t Tiberius kill Caligula when he wanted to eradicate Caligula’s family line?

Tiberius killed Caligula’s father, his brothers and exiled his mother to die. Caligula was very young at that time with his sisters. So, Tiberius didn’t feel insecure about young Caligula and spared him.

Why did Tiberius choose Caligula as his heir?

Tiberius had two sons Drusus Julius Caesar and Tiberius. Both died before Tiberius retired from the throne. Germania was also his adopted son, but he had already killed him. So he had no sons left for his heir. As Caligula served him extensively, this way, he chose Caligula as his successor.

What made Caligula obsessed with his favorite horse?

Caligula was passionate about chariot racing, and he would participate in it. He was so obsessed with horses that he would sleep in the stable. Among many horses, Incitatus was his favorite.

Did Caligula wage war against the God of the sea?

One of Caligula’s widespread legends is that he once stood against Neptune, the God of the Sea, in the war. He was forced to desert his intention to invade Britain.
He couldn’t return home without a victory, so he declared war against Neptune. He ordered his soldiers to whip the waves and collect the seashells. 

10. Caligula was a nickname that made the emperor famous

White bust of Roman Emperor Gaius- Caligula
White bust of Roman Emperor Gaius- Caligula
Source: Wikimedia Common

Most people may not know that the Roman emperor who was called Caligula is not his official name. Caligula was a nickname that means “little boots.”

His real name was Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. When his father, Germanicus, was general, he would dress young Gaius in a child-sized soldier’s uniform.

Also, he took his son wherever he went on campaign. There the troops and fellow soldiers called young Gaius Caligula. That’s how he got his nickname. But he hated being called through his nickname.

If we check Caligula’s history, we know that he belongs to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was born on 31 August 12 to Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. 

It’s an exciting fact that Agrippina the Elder was the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Agrippina had six children, and Caligula was the third child and youngest son. 

9.Caligula had an incestuous relationship with his sisters

Drusilla - Sister of Roman Emperor Caligula
Drusilla – Sister of Roman Emperor Caligula
Source: Wikimedia Common

Caligula’s life was full of scandals and controversies. His two contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, portray him as a mad emperor.

They describe him as self-obsessed and short-tempered. He would spend too much money and indulge in sexual activities. He slept with other men’s wives and bragged about it. Also, he killed people for amusement. 

His madness can be observed when he ordered his guards to throw the Roman citizens at the arena to be eaten by beasts. He did this only because there was no prisoner to be used, and he was bored of it. 

Roman historians Suetonius and Cassius also accuse Caliga of sleeping with his three sisters Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla. He also prostituted his sisters to other men. 

Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars,” tells that Caligula was interested in the Egyptian practice of incest. Egyptian royals did this to protect the royal bloodline. 

Caligula also wanted to do the same, so he made an incestuous relationship with his sisters. 

8.Roman emperor Tiberius tried to eradicate Caligula’s family

Roman Emperor Tiberius
Roman Emperor Tiberius
Source: Wikimedia Common

When Agustus died in 14 AD, his adopted son Tiberius ascended the throne. Caligula’s father, Germanicus, was a general who had a good reputation in public. 

Both Germanicus and Tiberius were from the Julio Claudian family dynasty, the first ruling family in Rome. This way, Germanicus was the political rival of Tiberius.

Tiberius also feared that Germanicus could take him down from the throne. So, he conspired with his agent to murder Germanicus. Later, Germanicus died of being poisoned in Syria. 

Caligula’s mother, Agrippina the Elder, then started a feud with Tiberius. She publicly blamed him for her husband’s death. So he imprisoned her and exiled her to a remote island where she starved to death.

Caligula’s elder brother Nero either died of starvation or committed suicide. While Drusus Caesar, another brother, was charged with treason and imprisoned. Later, he also died there.

This way, Caligula was the only surviving son with his three sisters.

7.Caligula had a temple out of his belief that he was a god

The remains of the temple of Castor and Pollux
The remains of the temple of Castor and Pollux
Source: Wikimedia Common

No man could be madder than the one who declared himself a living god. But Caligula was at such a height of madness. He ordered his soldiers to erect a temple dedicated to himself.

He built a big-sized golden statue that would resemble him inside the temple. Each day whatever he wore, he ordered his men to dress the figure in the same clothes.

The wealthiest Roman citizens would come to his temple and make offerings to his statue. They offered peacocks, flamingoes, and many other animals which the emperor admired.

It all started in 40 AD when Caligula began implementing controversial policies. He later mixed his self-made religion into his political role. 

He was a great admirer of gods and demigods such as Mercury, Hercules, Venus, and Apollo. So, he dressed like these gods and began appearing in public. He referred to himself as the God Jupiter.

He separated a place at Miletus in the province of Asia for his worship. Besides, two temples were erected to worship him in Rome. One of the two was the Temple of Castor and Pollux, directly linked to his imperial residence. 

Caligula appeared there on many occasions to show him as a god before citizens. He had replaced many heads of gods’ statues with his own in Rome. 

6.Caligula executed those who uttered the word “goat” around him

Depiction of Roman Emperor Caligula
Depiction of Roman Emperor Caligula
Source: Wikimedia Common

Caligula was famous for humiliating his people and didn’t miss a single chance. Once, he replaced all Consuls without the approval of the Senate to mock the Senators. But when people talked about him, he killed them if he didn’t like it.

He wasn’t a muscular but thin creature. After he fell ill, he grew skinnier and was like a skeleton. People mocked him, calling him “goat.” But when he learned people were referring him to a goat, he instantly executed them.

So, people would feel unsafe around Caligula. Nobody knew who would be killed next for his fun.

5.Caligula’s extravagance led Rome to the crisis

Gaius Caligula's denarius
Gaius Caligula’s denarius
Source: Wikimedia Common

After the death of Tiberius, Caligula became the new or third Roman emperor on 16 March 37. It was before his 25th birthday. 

In his early reign of six months, he did many good deeds, such as reforming the imperial tax system and banishing sexual deviants. But later, he also lavished the imperial treasury too much in his short reign. 

He had built the two massive ships for his pleasure at the state’s expense. His antique yachts were constructed with marble floors and plumbing.

He also hosted many extravagant sport and cultural events for which lots of money would be spent. He spent large sums in constructing the temples dedicated to him.

Besides, Caligula ordered his soldiers to construct a vast floating bridge. He wanted to ride his favorite horse over this bridge and wear the breastplate of Alexander the Great.

He constructed this bridge to defy a prophecy that the emperor couldn’t ride a horse across the Bay of Baiae. 

He also built two massive aqueducts, “Aqua Claudia” and “Anio Novus,” to make citizens happy. Several stadiums and arenas were also built.

According to Suetonius, Caligula spent 2.7 billion sesterces in his first year of reign doing all his generosity. The expenditure increased further, and the financial crisis appeared in 38 AD.

4.Caligula murdered his family members and exiled many others

Emperor Caligula depositing his mother's ashes
Emperor Caligula depositing his mother’s ashes
Source: Wikimedia Common

People describe Caligula as cruel and oppressive, but many people don’t know how it started. It all began with the emperor being seriously ill in 37 AD. 

He turned out to be bitter, resentful, and mad after the recovery. He believed that his family members, political rivals, and close relatives were involved in poisoning him. 

He then started assassinating his people. The first victim was his cousin and the adopted son of Tiberius, Gemellus. Some historians also claim that he poisoned his grandmother Antonia. 

He also ordered the execution of his father-in-law Marcus Junius Silanus and his brother-in-law Marcus Lepidus. He didn’t even spare his three loving sisters. He exiled them. 

M. Aemilius Lepidus, Drusilla’s widower, also was executed. This way, he almost eradicated his family line.

3.Caligula had four wives who lived shortly with him

Milonia Caesonia - Fourth and the last wife of Caligula
Milonia Caesonia – Fourth and the last wife of Caligula
Source: Wikimedia Common

Roman Polygamy was common during that time and Caligula marrying four women wasn’t a big issue. But why did he end up marrying all those four women? A question arises. 

Between 31 AD and 33 AD, he married Junia Claudilla, the niece of Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius himself arranged the couple’s marriage. It was a period when Caligula wasn’t the emperor. 

But his first wife, Junia, died while giving birth to a baby girl who also didn’t survive. Then, Caligula married Livia Orestilla, who was already married to Gaius Calpurnius Piso.

Piso was forced to annul his marriage at the event of his wedding celebration. And Caligula received Livia as his second wife. But the next day, he divorced her. 

He banished her and her first husband and began a search for a third wife. He again remarried a woman who was already married. Lollia Paulina was his third wife who was married to Publius Memmius Regulus earlier.

But Caligula divorced her after six months because she was infertile. His fourth wife was Milonia Caesonia, who was also already married and had three daughters. But her husband was not certain. 

Historians guess that he might be Instanius Rufus. Anyway, Milonia somewhat controlled Caligula and bore him a daughter, Julia Drusilla. But Milonia died along with Caligula because of a conspiracy against him. 

2.Caligula had a horse named Incitatus, whom he loved

Roman Emperor Caligula with his favorite horse
Roman Emperor Caligula with his favorite horse

Caligula had a horse named Incitatus, whom he loved dearly. He had built a house made out of marble for his horse. 

Incitatus would eat the barley sprinkled with gold on an ivory manger. Caligula also provided his horse with the title of consul to mock his senators. But before he could see his friend enjoying the title, he died. 

1.Caligula was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated

Copy of Polychromy of the Roman Emperor Caligula
Copy of Polychromy of the Roman Emperor Caligula

Caligula grew cruel and unjust and presented himself harshly to the Senate, nobility, and equestrian order. This attitude led his rivals to conduct a conspiracy against him.

Cassius Chaerea was one of his strong rivals, and he led the officers within the Praetorian Guard. He planned the plot with his three men, and two of them were Marcus Vinicius and Lucius Annius Vinicianus.

During the ongoing conspiracy, Caligula departed for Alexandria to be worshipped as a living god. After his return from Goul, Chaerea and his men murdered him at the Palatine Games. 

Caligula was stabbed more than 30 times and became the first emperor to be assassinated in Roman history. He was only 29, and his reign ended in 41 AD. 

Along with his death, his fourth wife Caesonia and his daughter were also killed.

Conclusion

Though Caligula spent his childhood in hardship, he didn’t learn the lesson. Instead, he grew into an inhuman, mad, and irresponsible emperor. 

I was shocked when I learned that Caligula was the first Roman emperor who was assassinated through conspiracy. What part of this piece startled you much after reading it? Comment your thoughts below. 

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