A Conversation for Gaius Caligula - Roman Emperor (12 - 41 AD)

Caligula's sanity?

Post 1

growinglittledragon

Hi,

First of all, I really enjoyed your series of articles. I happen to be rereading Robert Graves’ books at the moment (also a big fan of the TV series) so it was nice to have this handy summary of the rather complicated events involved.

Regarding the question of Caligula’s sanity – much as I really like John Hurt’s depiction of him, I recall seeing a documentary by Tony Robinson a while ago (may have been called ‘Tony Robinson’s Romans,’ though I forget) in which he presents a pretty persuasive argument that Caligula may not have been quite so whacked out as he is usually depicted. So far as I remember, some of the main points were as follows:

Caligula felt very insecure (poor lamb!) and feared being overthrown. Thus, his self-declaration as a god was really a political act – ie he desired acknowledgement of the legitimacy of his absolute power. After all, Augustus had been declared a god after his death, and the Egyptian Pharaohs had enjoyed the same untouchable status whilst alive (and also married their sisters – maybe a kind of Richard Dawkins-selfish gene thing?), so Caligula wanted the same for himself. Similarly, his appointment of Incitatus to the Senate could be seen as a deliberate (and, I think, rather humorous) way of humiliating the senators – effectively to say, ‘My horse could do a better job than you lot.’

Even his ‘war against Neptune’ apparently has a rational explanation. He fully intended to invade Britain but, realising that his legions would revolt when on the point of crossing the channel, ordered them instead to gather sea shells etc. as loot with which to parade through Rome. In other words, again he wanted to humiliate them for their cowardice and implicit lack of loyalty (ok, this may not have been such a good idea, but at least there was a reason for it).

As for the general debauchery – well, he was a young bloke suddenly made ruler of the known world. Maybe it’s not surprising he acted like Led Zeppelin in a hotel room (wouldn’t you?) and, in this respect, may not have been much worse than several other Emperors who haven’t had such a bad write up in the history books.

But as I said, cool articles!

Best wishes,

Phil


Caligula's sanity?

Post 2

echomikeromeo

Thanks for reading!smiley - biggrin

This is the case I present in the entry, though in a somewhat abbreviated form. I believe the general consensus is that Caligula's contemporaries regarded him as completely bonkers, while modern historians take a more lenient view.


Caligula's sanity?

Post 3

Fufidius

Take all this with a grain of salt, as I'm not sure where I remember all this from:

I believe the straw that broke the Praetorian Gaurd's back was when Caligula killed his pregnant (by him) sister & their child in accordance with the whole prophecy thing about Zeus' son killing him (or rather, to prevent that from happening to him).

Also, didn't he stand on the roof of the basilica and toss gold coins into the street to watch fights break out?

And, finally, I remember something about him punishing people who called him Caligula and people who called him Caius equally...?

Yep, I think I'll vote for bonkers.smiley - smiley


Caligula's sanity?

Post 4

echomikeromeo

I think I remember some of that from I, Claudius - which, I'm sad to say, was my first source for Roman history.smiley - winkeye (It's what put me on to the Julio-Claudian Emperors.)


Caligula's sanity?

Post 5

Fufidius

smiley - biro*ha-ha! I just watched the first episode, but didn't get any further. I'd watch more of them if it was more Roman. What is this 'we're-too-wimpy-to-wear-togas' business.
But hey, what got me interested in history was Age of Empires...




*couldn't remember the smiley for laughing, but too addicted to smileys not to have anything! smiley - lurk


Caligula's sanity?

Post 6

Fufidius

Ah, < laugh >. Yes, that was a hard one. smiley - laugh


Caligula's sanity?

Post 7

echomikeromeo

The Romans didn't wear togas all the time. Only for important state occasions, I think.smiley - laugh


Caligula's sanity?

Post 8

Fufidius

The toga was becoming very unpopular by this time, but I believe Augustus was very pro-toga and passed a law requiring male citizens to wear a toga in the forum (I should probably double-check that, though). Surely he would have worn one, and I would think that his court would as well, rather than those weird brightly coloured things that look like sports uniforms.smiley - laugh


Caligula's sanity?

Post 9

Elentari

I think senators wore togas as a sign of status. Not sure whether that was every day though.


Caligula's sanity?

Post 10

echomikeromeo

That's more or less what I've learned as well, Elentari.


Caligula's sanity?

Post 11

Fufidius

I looked it up in a book: the toga had become very unpopular in the Rome of Augustus' time. Augustus did indeed pass a law requiring the toga to be worn in the forum.
there we go, it's legit now.
And I'd tell you the name of the book, but I found it in my Latin classroom and didn't write it down.smiley - tongueout


Caligula's sanity?

Post 12

echomikeromeo

Well there you are then.smiley - smiley


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