The Reign of Caligula


How do those writing about Caligula view him? One who asks this question may get the answer that Caligula was a very dark, insane being who reigned for far too long. One might also go into detail on how he would kill in torturous ways because it was fun, or the idea that Caligula was setting up the empire to have a line of insane rulers. After encountering both of these statements, I decided to see for myself if they were true.

I am interested in learning this about Caligula due to a First Year Experience course on Empires. Although Caligula’s status as an anomaly warrants his inclusion in general histories, I still found his reign as emperor to be very interesting.

Caligula’s real name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus. The soldiers he would talk to had nicknamed him Caligula, which means little boots. Towards the beginning of his reign Caligula’s appearance had shifted due to illness. “Caligula was very tall, with spindly legs and a thin neck. His eyes and temples were sunken and his forehead broad and glowering. His hair was thin and he was bald on top, though he had a hairy body.” A documentary devoted to Caligula states that he started to show signs of mental illness at this point.

In the process of exploring Caligula in a mental state, I wanted to ultimately find out why most books on the Roman Empire do not mention Caligula and the reasons behind it. I found that most biographers who wrote about Caligula do not go into detail on how he reigned and that those who made documentaries cover every little detail. Both historians, however, do believe that Caligula was one of the most important. Franco Cavazzi states “Caligula drew the imperial signet ring from his finger and was greeted as emperor by the crowd,” some argue in the documentary that Caligula should not have been seen as emperor. Although Caligula was not supposed to be empire, he was said to be by the senate in Rome.

Dr. Barbara Levick agrees that he was the perfect house guest when he was brought to Capri, but only because he knew he was with the man who killed the rest of his family and had to be content to hide his emotions. She goes on to explain how dysfunctional the family is, details that Kelly does not chronicle in his book The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Detail on his family is left out of the biography by Franco Cavazzi as well. Dr. Levick would argue that Caligula is a valuable piece of the history that is behind the rise and downfall of the Roman Empire.

Franco Cavazzi agrees that Caligula does make up an important part in history, but argues that it was not quite four years that he was Empire. Most of the historians speaking in the documentary would argue this because Caligula’s reign was one of the worst in history due to his killing for fun. The historians believe that the little details about Caligula’s reign is why he does not appear in general books about the Empire. They agree that Caligula was by far too insane and disgusting to be limited to a brief reference in a general book and needs to be elaborated on. Cavazzi states “rumors of disloyalty began to reach an ever more deranged emperor,” most of the historians on the documentary do back this by explaining how he lied to get three people out of his way by having them commit suicide. This information can make some realize why Kelly did not speak of Caligula in his short introduction. Based on what the documentary has stated and the words of Cavazzi, Caligula would need a whole chapter just to himself. Kelly covers the empire who reigned before Caligula. This empire is the main reason Caligula decided to reign the way he did. Caligula was said to intervene during gladiator shows and according to Kelly the shows were “a way of life for Romans” (79).  Caligula was said to have committed many crimes during his reign but they were only okay for him to commit. Others who committed a crime during his reign were tortured for days until their death. Family members in some cases were even forced to watch. If such details were added to general books about the Roman Empire, they might be deemed as an improper idle in schools. The History of the Roman Empire would be shorter if we completely wiped out the existence of Caligula and those who followed after his reign. Most historians say that Caligula led there to be more empires that thought they should rule like he did during those almost four years.

Caligula is not mentioned in general books on the Roman Empire because of the nature of his reign. Most biographers and historians find his ways to be dark, insane, and very cruel to any who crossed his path. Caligula found the way he ruled as something fun to do with his life. Although he was arrested and sentenced to death, it did not deter others from following in his foot-steps. Some even say it was like a competition to see who could rule in more cruel way then Caligula did. The way he killed for fun, help gladiators cheat in the games, and even force some people to commit a crime for the thrill of killing them as a consequence he was said to be the worst way an emperor had ruled the Romans. The Roman Empire lasted for years after this due to short reigns by those who thought they should be like the Great Roman Emperor Caligula. Eventfully, the reigns seemed to have changed, but all Emperors kept in mind what Caligula’s legacy lives in the statues created in his favor, in the emperors who reigned like him, and in certain ways that people were murdered.



Works Cited

Cavazzi, Franco. Caligula. Web. 17 Feb 2014

Documentaryaddicts.The Most Evil Men and Women in History. Web. 16 Feb 2014

Kelly,Christopher. The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction. New York. Oxford. 2006. Print.


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