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Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (born August 31, 12 in Antium as Gaius Iulius Caesar , † January 24, 41 in Rome ), known posthumously as Caligula , was Roman emperor from 37 to 41 . Caligula's youth were shaped by the intrigues of the ambitious Praetorian prefect Seianus . After a hopeful beginning of government, which was clouded by personal strokes of fate, the emperor increasingly exercised his rule as an autocratic monarch and had numerous senators sentenced to death in high treason trials in arbitrary exhaustion of his official authority. His tyranny ended with his murder by the Praetorian Guard and individual measures to destroy the memory of the emperor.

Since the ancient sources describe Caligula practically unanimously as a mad ruler and numerous scandalous stories entwine around the person of the emperor, he has become the subject of fiction and popular scientific adaptations like hardly any other ruler of the ancient world. However, some contributions from recent research discuss alternative views and thus arrive at a more differentiated presentation.



Germanicus: General of Tiberius and father of Caligula

Born as the son of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder with the name Gaius Iulius Caesar, Caligula was great-grandson of Emperor Augustus through the mother and great -grandson of Augustus' wife Livia through the father (see Julian-Claudian dynasty ). The name Caligula ( Latin : " Little Soldier's Boot ", diminutive of caliga ) is derived from the legionnaires 'nailed soldiers' boots , the caligae , which the Rhine Legions had made for the accompanying son of their Commander-in-Chief Germanicus, and was not in use during their lifetime. His full title at the time of his death was Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex maximus, Tribunicia potestate IV, Consul IV, Imperator, Pater patriae .


Portrait of juvenile Caligula

As a toddler, Caligula accompanied his parents to Germania between 14 and 16 AD, where he became the favorite of the troops, and then to the Orient. When Caligula was seven years old, his father Germanicus died in the year 19 during this trip to the Orient. The governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso , was charged with poisoning him. Caligula's mother returned to Rome with him. The court of Caligula's great uncle Tiberius at that time was shaped by the scheming politics of the powerful Praetorian prefect Seianus , who came up with the plan to enforce his own succession by systematically eliminating the natural heirs of Tiberius. The death of Drusus in the year 23, which Seianus' wife later portrayed as the planned poisoning of her husband, came in very handy for this plan . Seianus denounced Caligula's mother, Agrippina the Elder, with Tiberius with conspiracy accusations, whereupon Agrippina and Caligula's eldest brother Nero Caesar had to go into exile in the year 29, during which both were forced to die. Just a year later, under similar circumstances, the second oldest brother, Drusus Caesar , was thrown into dungeon, where he was killed by deprivation of food. This made Caligula the only surviving heir to the throne.


Custody of the young Caligula had already passed to Livia , the mother of Tiberius and widow of Augustus, in the year 27 . After her death, Caligula was handed over to his grandmother Antonia's care . Probably to protect him as the only remaining male heir of Tiberius from attempted murder, the young Caligula grew up in isolation in the vicinity of his three sisters Agrippina , Drusilla and Iulia Livilla , among whom he developed a special affection for Drusilla. The fact that Tiberius doubted his ability to govern and therefore excluded him from political life is probably a later construction, since the sources otherwise report the general popularity of the young Caligula: caution and intelligence would give the later emperor the time until the execution of Seianus in 31 let them survive, but in later years contributes to a constant fear of supposed or real conspiracies. Presumably motivated by Caligula's close relationship with his sisters, which later led to the propaganda increase of women, the incest of the siblings is reported. For dynastic reasons - children conceiving in close relatives were not unusual in the imperial family - incest cannot be ruled out.

Tiberius called Caligula to his retirement home on Capri in the year 31 . There the young man managed to win the trust of the reigning emperor. Sueton reports that this relationship of trust was based on a shared interest in torture and sexual debauchery. However, this is likely to be at least a tendentious passage from the anecdotal biographer, who ascribes similar reports to other emperors, as well as the traditional rumor that Caligula had suffocated the sick Tiberius with a pillow: Unconfirmed rumors often emerged, particularly when rulers died.

"The emperor"

Taking office

Statue of Tiberius on Capri

With the death of Tiberius on March 16, 37, Caligula's successor was far more certain than that of the successor candidates who changed several times under Augustus. Although Tiberius had made his biological grandson, Caligula's cousin Tiberius Gemellus , a co-heir in his will , the Senate, on the initiative of the Praetorian prefect and successor of Seianus, Macro , declared it invalid. The Praetorian Guard created by Augustus with their prefect traditionally had a close relationship with the emperor and may therefore have hoped to use the young Caligula as a puppet. In any case, she had him proclaimed emperor on March 18th. After a solemn entry into Rome, on March 28, the Senate transferred almost all official functions and privileges that Augustus and Tiberius had enjoyed over time to Caligula. The skipped Tiberius Gemellus was initially compensated with the adoption by Caligula, which could give him hope of participating in the rule and a subsequent successor.

After the restless last years of Tiberius' reign, which were shaped by the attempted coup by Seianus and the subsequent trials, high hopes were associated with Caligula's accession to power, among other things because of the popularity of his father Germanicus, who was considered the desired successor of Augustus.

The First Two Years (A.D. 37-38)

Portrait bust made of marble with remains of paint. Next to it is a plaster replica attempting to reconstruct the ancient polychromy . Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek , Copenhagen

In the first months of his reign, Caligula made himself popular with the ruling groups: He decided to cut taxes, suspended the high treason trials that had escalated under Tiberius and allowed the senators who had already been sentenced to be exiled to return. With the expulsion of a group of pleasure boys he distanced himself from Tiberius, who is said to have used their services. He gave the Praetorian Guard a gift of money for the first time when he took office and thus bought the favor of this elite troop, which served as the imperial bodyguard. The temple of the deified Augustus was symbolically inaugurated at the beginning of his reign to express his descent and solidarity with the first emperor. However, these measures brought Caligula to the brink of ruin. The elaborate chariot races , animal hunts and gladiator fights organized by Caligula were also costly , which became more cruel during his reign and in doing so suited the taste of the time: In antiquity, as far as is known, bloody gladiator fights were at least not criticized for a long time. Many of the emperor's atrocities have been passed down in connection with games or public spectacles.

Possibly from overexertion, Caligula suffered from a serious illness after 6 months of reign. Suetonius expressed its consequences in the following words: So far from the emperor, now we have to report about the monster . This periodization is based on a common narrative pattern of ancient biography , which endeavored to divide a person's life into categories as possible. In fact, the first high treason trials began in the time after Caligula's recovery: the emperor left his former co-heir and adoptive son Tiberius Gemellus, his father-in-law Silanus , the father of his first wife Iunia Claudilla , who died in childbirth already 36 or 37 , and the influential Praetorian prefect Macro under the Arrest and force suicide on charges of conspiracy. Caligula had thus secured his rule and protected it against influence.

Foreign policy

Ptolemy of Mauretania

Caligula's short reign saw only comparatively small military enterprises, the chronology of which is largely unclear. In the autumn of 39 he crossed the Alps with an army in order to continue in the tradition of his ancestors the expansion into Germania and Britain, which was regarded as not yet completed . His ambitions in Germania, however, were not crowned with success: the emperor was unable to record significant territorial gains after the troops had withdrawn, nor did the provisional military territories of the Upper and Lower Germanic armies receive the status of a province with the necessary infrastructure before 85 AD . In connection with the British campaign, the sources only report that the emperor's actions were largely grotesque. So he had sea shells collected on the beaches of the English Channel , which, as exotic prey, were supposed to suggest the success of the operation. Plans for an elaborate triumph, in which specially recruited Gallic gladiators with red-dyed hair were to be listed as Germanic prisoners of war, were not realized on this scale. The coinage of the Caligula emphasizes the military greatness of the emperor and is thus in contradiction to literary tradition.

Outside of military leadership positions, Caligula's policies were more successful. He succeeded in 37 placing Herod Agrippa I , a friend of Rome, who grew up in the vicinity of the imperial family, as King of Judea and expanding his territory two years later. In addition, under unknown circumstances in 40, Caligula had Ptolemy , king of Mauretania , first invited to Rome, then murdered and his territory annexed. The sources report the feelings of envy of Caligula, which the impressive appearance of the king in the amphitheater triggered. However, political motives for the assassination, which contributed to the expansion of the empire, can be assumed.

Art theft

Porta Maggiore with the aqueduct of Claudius started by Caligula

Caligula has also gone down in history as a lover and robber of non-Italian art treasures, preferably from the opulent inventory of Greek temples . So he wanted to have the Zeus statue of Phidias , a world wonder of antiquity, brought to Rome. Since the advancement of the expansion and administrative division of the empire into provinces, art theft by governors and administrative officials was not uncommon, which is reflected in the numerous evidence of related charges, which probably do not express the actual extent by far. Since Caligula only stayed in the east of the empire for a short time, the initiative to steal art in individual cases may have been with the responsible governor rather than the emperor. Caligula will at least not have prevented these abuses, since it was precisely in his interest to decorate his rule with Hellenistic symbols. As an eyewitness, Philon of Alexandria reports on the luxurious furnishings of the emperor's private apartments with works of art from all over the world.

Construction activities

Caligula's generous use of money was reflected in sometimes spectacular building projects: Archaeologically verifiable are a lighthouse near Boulogne in northern France, the reconstruction of the palace of Polycrates in Samos , the start of construction of two urban Roman aqueducts , repairs to the city wall and temples in Syracuse, and a bath in Bologna . There is literary evidence of ambitious projects to build a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth , road links across the Alps, the expansion of the port of Rhegium and the two so-called Nemi ships , two huge ships that were used for both cultic purposes and for the emperor's private use served. The ships were identified with two shipwrecks discovered in Lake Nemi as early as 1446 and recovered by archaeologists in 1929–31 based on clear inscriptions. In 1944, however, they were destroyed in a fire in the museum specially built for them.

In Rome, a circus was built on the slopes of the Vatican Hill , the theater of Pompey was renovated, an elaborate amphitheater made of wooden beams was erected, the state prison ( Carcer Tullianus ), which served to execute political opponents, was expanded, and the emperor's private chambers and pleasure gardens were luxuriously decorated ( the so-called gardens of the imperial mother). A ship bridge over five kilometers long across the Bay of Naples between Puteoli and Baiae is described as particularly spectacular and a sign of the emperor's vanity . Archaeological remains of buildings on the Caligula residence were found in 2003 on the site of the Roman Forum .


A stroke of fate struck the emperor on June 10, 38 with the death of his favorite sister Drusilla, for whom he decided to honor honors that were only customary in Rome for male rulers. Soon after the death, Caligula married the elegant Roman Livia Orestilla ; Caligula had her marriage to Gaius Calpurnius Piso annulled during the ceremony, only to marry her on the same day. The divorce took place just a few days later. He later exiled Livia because he suspected her of having re-established relationships with Piso. His third wife was Lollia Paulina , who was also married (to Publius Memmius Regulus ) and from whom he separated again after a short time. In her fourth marriage, Caligula was married to Milonia Caesonia , with whom he is said to have started an affair in late 39 or early 40. Since this had a morally questionable reputation, the Roman public should not have been very pleased with the marriage. Only one month after the wedding - according to Suetonius even on the day of the wedding - Milonia gave birth to a daughter who was named Iulia Drusilla after Caligula's deceased sister.

"The monster"


After only four years of reign, Caligula found death at the hands of the Praetorian Guard. The initiator was her officer Cassius Chaerea , whereby the conspiracy was organized by part of the senatorial class and other influential personalities at the imperial court. Ancient portrayals of death are usually strongly stylized: According to ancient reports, the assassination took place in the underground corridor of a theater, with Caligula being slaughtered in the manner of a ritual sacrifice in order to repay the personality cult of Caligula in a symbolic role reversal.

Caligula's assassination came after he had snubbed the Senate by demonstratively exhausting the Principate's constitutional possibilities . Flavius ​​Josephus gives the most detailed account of the reasons and the exact course of the conspiracy, but little can be said for sure about the chronology of the preceding events, since the depiction of Suetonius for this period was disordered, that of Cassius Dio is partially lost and the parts that have been preserved is not free of contradictions. According to his testimony, Caligula's radical change of government began with a speech given to the Senate in 39. The verbatim rendering of this speech is most likely an unhistorical embodiment of the historian, but a change that occurred this year is also suggested by other sources.


Aureus of Caligula, on the back Caligula's father Germanicus

The main reason for the conspiracy was Caligula's rampant use of force, especially against senators : the emperor had the high treason trials, which were temporarily suspended after the death of Tiberius, resumed on a large scale around the middle of the reign. At least 36 cases of sometimes cruel executions or other severe punishments such as exile are documented in literature, stating their names, whereby these victims were usually members of the upper class, sometimes soldiers or stage actors. In some cases, Caligula tortured senators who were fundamentally immune from torture. However, the high treason laws offered a certain legal leeway for this. Suetonius mentions the murder of exiles without, however, citing specific cases. Caligula may have perceived an exaggerated threat potential through his youthful experiences. The initial trials also increased the real risk of an assassination attempt.

The emperor is therefore assigned the motto oderint, dum metuant (in English: Let them hate me as long as they fear me ), which goes back to a quotation from a tragedy by Lucius Accius . This reflects the political style of autocratic rule, which combats resistance through violence, instead of trying to reduce such a risk through consensus building or at least its demonstrative display. In a similar way Caligula is said to have said: “ If only the people of Rome had only one neck! [... so that I can strangle it all at once] ”. Verbatim quotations in ancient literature are, however, questionable in their historicity; they served to express the character of a person pointedly.

Executions of senators are described almost without exception as arbitrary acts by the emperor, who acted either out of a sadistic lust for murder or in response to minor offenses (such as criticism of the emperor's clothing). The same applies to cruel killings, especially in the environment of the non-aristocratic imperial court, in which the emperor cynically expressed his claim to total discretion. Deviating from this, it can be assumed from the general direction of government that Caligula was ultimately more or less about a systematic disempowerment of the Senate by eliminating some senators and intimidating the others. This assumption is supported by the irregularities of his government, which are discussed below.

There are also traditional reports of forced prostitution and rape on the part of the emperor, to which members of the upper class fell victim. In research, however, some reports about Caligula (and other emperors) are questioned in their historicity and assigned to the area of ​​the tyrant topic, since comparable reports are conspicuously repeated in other negatively rated rulers of Roman and pre-Roman antiquity. Unconfirmed rumors as well as literary adaptations, e.g. B. in the context of tragedies or references to typologically comparable rulers often find their way into the literature as historical reports. Some historians provide information in methodical sections that fictional elements are legitimate for expressly characterizing a person. However, it is seldom possible to decide with absolute certainty what to include in this area, so that a number of historical problems arise in the case of Caligula.

Caligula and the Senate

With demonstrative gestures of humiliation, which are often reminiscent of court ceremonies of oriental despots , Caligula aimed at a political elimination of the high class. When appointing offices, the emperor deliberately ignored undesired applicants and thereby made himself unpopular. The sources report among the countless extravagances of the emperor that he wanted to tease his favorite horse Incitatus with the consulate. Should Caligula actually have expressed himself in this direction, it was probably with the intention of demonstrating to the Senate his sole decision-making power and his omnipotence, also over the Senate aristocracy.

Caligula was represented on coins together with his sisters.

Caligula was close to an oriental understanding of rule, which included a demonstratively extravagant way of life as well as the worship in the state cult during his lifetime, not only after his death (although in the west of the empire there is no evidence today in the form of temples, inscriptions or coins that Clearly associate Caligula with personal devotion; see also Caesaropapism ). The public display of his attachment to his sisters and especially to Drusilla could be inspired by Egyptian siblings. Such a style of rule, to which Gaius Julius Caesar and especially Marcus Antonius felt connected, was always suspicious of the Roman upper class. The emperor expressed this understanding of rule by replacing images of gods with his own portrait or that of relatives, as well as with Hellenistic clothing styles. As far as reasons for executions are mentioned, these are mostly related to a criticism of this view of rule. There are also tendencies towards an Alexander imitation .

As in the case of Antony, the sources tell of the emperor's plans to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Alexandria , which would have resulted in the final disempowerment of the Senate. This may reflect considerations on a radical reform of the empire, based on the knowledge that an empire the size of the Roman Empire could no longer be administered with the staff of a central Italian city, but only with the help of a developed bureaucracy and hierarchy as in Hellenistic-Ptolemaic Egypt. Caligula may have hoped, bypassing the senatorial class, to increasingly base his government on parts of the knightly class , which was to be restructured on the one hand by demotions and on the other hand by the promotion of loyal members and made lawful to the emperor .

Groups outside the upper class

Metropolitan mass events like here in the Marcellus Theater often served as a means of communication between the emperor and the people.

The tyranny of Caligula extended primarily to the Senate, which therefore hated him. Since after Caligula's death there were largely no reactions against the assassins, the emperor seems to have become partially unpopular with other groups that legitimized rule, such as the army or the city-Roman citizens , despite the generosity of his first months in office. Sometimes drastic tax increases as a result of the increased expenditure could have been a reason for this. Caligula also took unusual measures, such as public funding and taxation of prostitution . The minimum price that was required for a hug had to be paid for each visit to the brothel. This tax remained as one of the few measures after the death of the emperor and was only abolished in Christian times.

There are reports of arbitrary acts and acts of violence against the urban Roman population at games, which are usually used as a public platform for claims e.g. B. served after grain donations and thus as starting points for popular uprisings possessed potential danger. Flavius ​​Josephus also speaks of the fact that Caligula remained popular with parts of the population who were interested in elaborate games until his death, as well as with the part of the army that received their wages on time. Other sources also indicate the relative popularity of the emperor with the people in Rome and Italy , but probably not in the provinces of the Greek East, where Caligula had made himself unpopular through art theft and temple looting: the emperor's name was erased in inscriptions, presumably as a result of locally limited reactions after Caligula's death are only recorded in the east of the empire (see below).


While hardly any systematic information has survived about Caligula's policy and his assessment in the provinces, there are reports of Caligula's interventions in centers of Jewish faith mainly based on the representations of Flavius ​​Josephus and Philo of Alexandria . However, these allow only very limited conclusions to be drawn about the assessments of the emperor in other population groups, since Jewish monotheism was incompatible with the Hellenistic worship of the Greek population, which was forced by Caligula, and who lived together with the Jews in a very small area. In this respect, Caligula contributed, among other causes, to the later dramatic development, the destruction of the temple by Titus and the final diaspora under Hadrian .

Temple of Jerusalem, model in the Orientalis Museum Park ( Berg en Dal )

Alexandria had been multicultural since Hellenism and had a strong Jewish minority alongside Hellenized Egyptians and Greeks. Religious disputes occurred repeatedly. During the presence of Herod Agrippa I , hatreds of the Greek population intensified , which led to a local pogrom . The Roman governor Aulus Avillius Flaccus had already unilaterally ordered sanctions against the Jewish population and now blamed them for the incidents, with the result that the Jews were forcibly relocated to separate homes within the city. It is the first historically documented Jewish ghetto . These conditions gave rise to an embassy trip in which Philon took part and which he describes in detail. Even before the audience with Caligula, who had transferred the legation consisting of Greeks and Jews, shocking news arrived from Jerusalem in 1940 that the emperor had commissioned the conversion of the Jewish temple into a center of the imperial cult . The talks ended with no results.

Caligula's attempt to enforce the imperial cult by force was in retaliation for attacks by Jews against Greeks practicing the imperial cult in Judea . It caused further unrest in Antioch , the administrative seat of Syria , whose governor Publius Petronius was entrusted with the creation and installation of an imperial statue in the Temple of Jerusalem, but delayed this out of consideration for the mobilized Jewish population. The following events can alternatively be reconstructed in such a way that Caligula either refrained from his original order at the intercession of Herod Agrippa or insisted on his decision and sent Petronius the request to commit suicide, which, however, only reached the recipient after the news of Caligula's death. As a result of the events, the news of Caligula's death was received with joy by the Jewish population of the Empire, and the resulting tightening of tension had to be appeased by Claudius .

Caligula as a precedent

The brief principate of Caligula pointed out the dangers that arose from the vague position of the emperor within the fundamentally continuing constitution of the Roman Republic . Today it is widely assumed that Caligula had received a similar bundle of powers of attorney when he took office, as has been handed down in inscriptions for Vespasian ( Lex de imperio Vespasiani ). Some researchers see this as the practical transfer of complete discretion. At least in elections, the emperor did not have to take the Senate into account; the republican constitution, however, provided for the principle of collegiality, which was at least upheld for propaganda purposes under Augustus and in the early days of Tiberius. The high treason law ( Lex maiestatis ), which dates from the Republican era, was fuzzy and allowed arbitrary trials and convictions, as well as torture and executions, regardless of status limits. Since Caligula made ruthless use of this in the last two years of his reign, the autocracy exercised in this way could only be ended by death and Damnatio memoriae (“damnation of memory”). The example of Caligula therefore pointed to later imperial rule: the emperor's performative ritualization of a consensus with the senate aristocracy was a prerequisite for its appreciation in the senatorial Roman historiography (and the reception of later centuries based largely on this). Nevertheless, Caligula was not an isolated case in the Roman Empire .

Historical problems

Actions after Caligula's death

Commodus in particular was considered the second Caligula: historical coincidence or similarity of tradition?

After an emperor was murdered, his memory was often wiped out. Even after the death of Tiberius, statues of the emperor were knocked over and the desecration of the corpse demanded. After Caligula's death, the Senate even discussed the collective condemnation of all predecessors and the restoration of the republic , which, however, would not have been enforceable through the Senate alone. Caligula's successor Claudius finally had all government measures of his predecessor declared invalid, with consideration for the Senate, writings about his government destroyed, statues destroyed and coins with the portrait of Caligula withdrawn from circulation. Individual archaeological evidence of the deletion of emperors' names or the mutilation of statues, especially in the provinces, could, however, be caused by spontaneous, not publicly ordered individual actions. A damnatio memoriae des Caligula can therefore not be proven, and Claudius may not have wanted to set a precedent in view of the murder of his nephew.

These processes could have influenced the literary representation: Since the account of Tacitus is lost for the reign of Caligula, the emperor's biographer Suetonius is the main literary source alongside the much later Cassius Dio and Flavius ​​Josephus . About the first third of the Caligula-Vita des Suetonius, which predominantly depicts the emperor's youth and the beginning of the reign, refers to positive or neutral assessments or to facts that can be verified outside of the literature (political offices, buildings). From the second half of the government only such information has survived mainly that reports on the emperor's misdeeds. Suetonius represents the senatorial view of history, so his presentation allows only conclusions to be drawn about the relationship between Caligula and the Senate and says little about the evaluation of Caligula among other ruling groups. The biography clearly bears traits of the ideology of the adoptive emperors who wanted to distance themselves from the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty with the exception of Augustus. As the imperial archivist, the biographer had access to documents from Caligula's government, but he hardly gives any information about the origin, historicity or tendency of a source. From today's perspective, some arguments seem irrelevant. Many descriptions of the Suetonius, especially those that deal with arbitrary acts of violence against senators, are confirmed by Josephus, who wrote during the time of the Flavians .


The ancient sources often and practically unanimously describe the rule of Caligula or the person himself as "insane". It is questionable, however, whether this designation is regularly a psychopathological category in the modern sense: Perhaps the most authentic testimony of Philo of Alexandria about his legation trip describes the emperor as arrogant and cynical, but not as psychotic. Nonetheless, the same author contains the first indications of the emperor's madness. Seneca narrates pictures of cruel tortures and executions of the emperor , mainly during his exile , which Caligula was partly responsible for , describing him as a sadist . Seneca also defines the concept of madness as the degeneration of a tyrant , without mentioning Caligula by name. Flavius ​​Josephus uses the term insanity to characterize the emperor several times, but it is not possible to differentiate precisely whether he is alluding to an actual psychological disorder or whether he is rather pejorating the arbitrary actions of the emperor . Suetonius, who follows the tradition of ancient biography to construct the character of a person from their rule, describes Caligula half a century later explicitly as insane by combining his representation with pathological abnormalities of Caligula. Later sources argue similarly (Cassius Dio; Eutropius , Breviarium ab urbe condita 7,12).

The theory of the madness of Caesars , which was groundbreaking for artistic adaptations of the tyrant material , was first presented in an essay by Ludwig Quidde published in 1894 : Caligula had become megalomaniac and mentally ill during his reign , which was a result of the practically incestuous family policy of the Julian-Claudian imperial family. Although ancient authors also speak of degeneration , a genetic cause is completely unknown to them: Roman society invoked the concept of mos maiorum (the customs of ancestors), which automatically transferred the merits of a respected line of ancestors to descendants. Quidde was thus inspired by scientific progress and, last but not least, by the Darwinian approach of his time. The essay was also intended as an indirect criticism of Wilhelm II .

According to today's understanding, allegedly irrational actions (e.g. the planned transport of Incitatus, measures during and after the Germania and Britain campaign), as well as Caligula's self-portrayal as a living god, can be considered an indication of a psychopathological disorder. This personal veneration is, however, in continuity with the imperial cult of Augustus. Augustus had avoided being personally worshiped as a god in the city of Rome during his lifetime, but not in the east of the empire, where there had been a ruler cult since Hellenism. The successors in the imperial office or other high-ranking persons at the imperial court also cultivated various degrees of the ruler's cult. A personality cult was generally accepted in pagan antiquity. Therefore only authors with a monotheistic faith (Philo, Flavius ​​Josephus) conclude from this that the emperor is mad. Especially in recent research, a psychopathological disorder is sometimes doubted or the question is not even discussed because it is viewed as not historically relevant or inadmissible.

The mausoleum of Augustus is an expression of the posthumous veneration of the first emperor.

Aloys Winterling (2003) in particular vehemently questions Caligula's mental illness: The emperor was a cynical power man who, in the course of his reign, abandoned the concept of "ambiguous communication" introduced by Augustus vis-à-vis the Senate. The consequences resulting from this, the breadth of which is difficult to understand today, have contributed to the image of the irrationally acting emperor, especially in modern reception: If you vow to give your life for the emperor's recovery, the recovered Caligula demanded keeping the vow. Decisive for the formation of legends in antiquity are the reasons for self-protection of the Senate, which invented the charge of mental illness in order to historically justify the humiliation suffered but ultimately accepted by the autocratic emperor. After all, it was the Senate which at that time had at least formally approved a transfer of power without precedent on a voluntary basis and which therefore had to explain after the consensual murder. This is reflected in the development of literary tradition, in which the verdict of insanity in the sense of a mental disorder is gradually developed.

Explaining the legend of the "insane" emperor from the communication between the emperor and the senate is, on the one hand, conclusive because for Caligula the question of succession was largely certain for the first time as a child. He therefore did not need to legitimize the principate with the same consensus rituals as the Senate was used to under Augustus and in the early days of Tiberius. The aristocracy also needed an explanation for the degeneration of the descendants of the popular Germanicus, without questioning the legitimizing concept of the inheritance of merits. Whether Caligula, on the other hand, developed pathological traits of megalomania precisely because of this immense power is ultimately a speculative question. It cannot be reliably decided to what extent descriptions of Caligula's illness of the year 37/38 and other descriptions of health problems (e.g. sleep disorders) are the product of ancient polemics or, if these are historically accurate, indicate a psychotic disorder.


The condemnation of at least the second half of Caligula's reign as cruel tyranny is unanimous in the ancient sources, including those from later times. No counter-notification has been received, and there is no reason to believe that Tacitus should have taken an alternative view to Caligula in the lost passage.

In modern research, due to the problematic tradition, comparatively few monographic studies were written on Caligula until the 1980s. Despite the possibly one-sided tradition, Caligula is regarded as a politically unconceptional, arbitrary tyrant whose government remained without negative consequences only because of the internal stability of the empire. The last three larger Caligula biographies reflect the breadth of today's doctrine: Arther Ferrill (1991) describes the image of the insane and irrationally cruel tyrant presented in the sources as historical, Anthony A. Barrett (1989) extensively discusses alternatives to the traditional representation, Aloys Winterling (2003) rehabilitated the Kaiser insofar as he made his government understandable from the contemporary framework. The last two papers mentioned have been widely received in research and, due to the exemplary presentation, have been received largely positively. With this, however, no revision of the traditional view of history has taken place in the sense that the rule of Caligula could be interpreted as successful in any way or as groundbreaking for later developments.

Caligula reception

The image of the cruel tyrant handed down in the ancient sources as well as Quidde's image of madness among emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty determine the numerous popular scientific, fictional and literary representations of Caligula, which make use of the abundant anecdotal material on the person of the emperor, and to that extent not can be regarded as historically poorly researched, but sometimes place less value on reservations critical of the source in order to increase effectiveness.

In 1938, Albert Camus , who was only 25 years old, wrote the drama Caligula, alluding to the totalitarian regimes of his time . Historically, it begins after the death of Drusilla and the associated crisis of the emperor, who recognizes the meaninglessness of life and thus symbolizes Camus' philosophical conception of existentialism . The German composer Detlev Glanert wrote an opera based freely on Camus' drama, which premiered on October 7, 2006 at the Frankfurt Opera.

Tinto Brass shot the scandalous film Caligula (German subtitle Rise and Fall of a Tyrant ) in 1979 , the script came from Gore Vidal . Malcolm McDowell gave the emperor, Peter O'Toole the Tiberius. The original film adaptation was followed by other productions that used the historical material as a facade for sex and violence orgies.

The musical Caligula: An Ancient Glam Epic premiered on Broadway as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2004 . The production, which also addresses the scandal stories about the emperor, became a crowd favorite and received mostly positive reviews in the press. A politically colored single was used to mobilize voters in the upcoming presidential election.


Literary sources

Image sources

  • Dietrich Boschung : The portraits of Caligula (= The Roman image of the ruler I 4). Gebr. Mann, Berlin 1989. ISBN 3-7861-1524-9 .
  • Eric R. Varner (Ed.): From Caligula to Constantine. Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture . Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta Georgia 2001. ISBN 1-928917-01-1 .



Special studies

  • Tobias Arand: Caligula. In: Michael Sommer (ed.): Political murders. From ancient times to the present. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-534-18518-8 , pp. 64–72.
  • Katherine Blouin: Le conflit judéo-alexandrin de 38–41. L'identité juive à l'épreuve. Paris et al. 2005.
  • P. Bricknell: The Emperor Gaius' military activities in AD 40. In: Historia . Vol. 17, 1968, pp. 496-505.
  • RW Davies: The 'abortive' invasion of britain by Gaius. In: Historia. Vol. 15, 1966, pp. 124-128.
  • Maria H. Dettenhofer : Gaius' popular arbitrary rule. In: Latomus . Revue d'études latines. Vol. 61, 2002, pp. 643-665.
  • Donna W. Hurley: An Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius' Life of C. Caligula. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1993, ISBN 1-55540-881-8 .
  • RS Katz: The Illness of Caligula. In: Classical World. Vol. 65, 1972, pp. 223-225.
  • Fleur Kemmers : Caligula on the lower Rhine. Coin finds from the Roman fort of Albaniana (The Netherlands). In: Revue belge de numismatique et sigillographie. Vol. 150, 2004, ISSN  0774-5885 , pp. 15-50.
  • M. Kleijwegt: Gaius 'triumph' at Baiae. In: Mnemosyne . Vol. 57, 1996, pp. 652-671.
  • Yann Rivière: Les Délateurs sous l'Empire Romain. Rome 2002, ISBN 2-7283-0559-5 .
  • Dirk Rohmann : Violence and political change in the 1st century AD (= Munich studies on the old world. Vol. 1). Utz, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-8316-0608-0 .
  • Steven H. Rutledge: Imperial Inquisitions. Prosecutors and Informants from Tiberius to Domitian. Routledge, London et al. 2001, ISBN 0-415-23700-9 .
  • CJ Simpson: The conspiracy of AD 39 (= Studies of Latin Literature and Roman History. Vol. 2). Latomus, Brussels 1980, pp. 347-366.
  • CJ Simpson: The cult of the Emperor Gaius. In: Latomus. Revue d'études latines. Vol. 40, 1981, pp. 489-511.
  • D. Wardle: Suetonius' Life of Caligula. A commentary. Collection Latomus, Bruxelles 1994, ISBN 2-87031-165-6 .
  • D. Wardle: When did Caligula die? In: Acta Classica. Vol. 34, 1991, pp. 158-165.
  • D. Wardle: Caligula and the client kings. In: Classical Quarterly. Vol. 42, 1992, pp. 437-443.
  • D. Wardle: Caligula and his wives. In: Latomus. Revue d'etudes latines. Vol. 57, 1998, pp. 109-126.
  • Katharina Weil: Caligula. In: Peter von Möllendorff , Annette Simonis, Linda Simonis (ed.): Historical figures of antiquity. Reception in literature, art and music (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 8). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02468-8 , Sp. 229-240.
  • Zvi Yavetz : Caligula. Imperial Madness and modern Historiography. In: Klio . Vol. 79, pp. 105-129.

Fiction representations

  • Siegfried Obermeier : Caligula. The cruel god. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1993.
  • Josef Toman : Tiberius and Caligula. Langen Müller, Munich 1982.

Web links

Commons : Caligula  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Cf. Tacitus, Annalen 4,11.
  2. In older research, it is true that Seneca's 7th letter of the epistulae morales was cited as counter-evidence. However, modern representations do not see this as a fundamental criticism of the violence at gladiatorial games. The literature is numerous. Particularly close to the topic of the assessment of violence by authors: M. Wistrand: Entertainment and Violence in Ancient Rome. The Attitudes of Roman Writers of the first Century AD Göteborg 1992.
  3. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 22.1
  4. ^ S. Brackmann: The military self-portrayal of Caligula. The evidence of the coins in contradiction to ancient historiography . In: Gymnasium . No. 112, 2005, pp. 375-383. For alternative views on Caligula's campaign in Britain, see JGF Hind: Caligula and the Spoils of Ocean: a Rush in the Far North-West? . In: Britannia. A Journal of Romano-British and Kindred Studies . No. 34, 2003, pp. 272-274; D. Woods: Did Caligula Plan to bridge the English Channel? . In: The Ancient World No. 33, 2002, pp. 157-170.
  5. Numerous literature on the topic; see Jens-Uwe Krause et al. (Ed.): Bibliography on Roman social history . Vol. 2, Stuttgart 1998, pp. 555-557, sv Repetunden.
  6. Suetonius, Caligula 19
  7. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 25.1
  8. Cassius Dio 59, 23, 7-8
  9. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 25.1
  10. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 56-58 ; Ios. ant. Iud. 19.105-113; Cassius Dio 59,29,5-7. See John Scheid : La mort du tyran: chronique de quelques morts programmés In: Du châtiment dans la cité. Supplices corporels et peine de mort dans le monde antique. Table ronde Rome 9–11 November 1982, Collection de l'École française de Rome 79 . Rome, Paris 1984, pp. 177-193.
  11. Cassius Dio 59: 16: 1-7
  12. Barret, 1989, 242f
  13. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 28
  14. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 30.1
  15. Seneca: ira 3,19,2; Suetone: Caligula 30.2 ; Cassius Dio 59,13,6)
  16. cf. especially Thucydides 1.22
  17. Numerous literature on fictional elements in historiography. A compilation and discussion by M. Zimmermann: Kaiser and event. Studies on the historical work of Herodian . Munich 1999, pp. 9-13. Still useful introduction to the Hellenistic tyrant topic by Helmut Berve: The tyranny among the Greeks . Munich 1967, esp. P. 490 ff. And note, p. 737-753. Detailed overview of tyrant motifs in Roman emperors: T. Arand: The shameful end. The death of the bad emperor and its literary design in Roman historiography . Frankfurt a. M. 2002, pp. 73-102.
  18. Cf. Egon Flaig: Challenging the Kaiser. Usurpation in the Roman Empire . Frankfurt a. M., New York 1992, pp. 38-93.
  19. Representation from a Jewish perspective in Philon, In Flaccum (especially 5 (25) ff.)
  20. ^ Philon, De legatione ad Gaium
  21. See Peter A. Brunt: Lex de imperio Vespasiani. In: Journal of Roman Studies . Vol. 67, 1977, pp. 95–116, whose fundamental contribution to the constitution of the principle is now largely undisputed as the transfer of powers handed down for Vespasian was already carried out by predecessors, but not in the question of whether this actually allowed the full leeway Discretion has been transferred.
  22. ^ Suetonius Caligula 60; Suetonius: Claudius 11.3; Cassius Dio 60.3.4-5.1; 60,8,6; 59,30,1a; 60,22,3; Deletion of the emperor's name in the following inscriptions: ILS 194; 205; 5674; 5948 6396; IGR 1.1057; 4,146; 4.1721. The Lex de imperio Vespasiani does not mention Caligula.
  23. Suetonius Caligula 25.4 reports on the daughter of Caligula with his second wife Caesonia. Since this was unfaithful, Suetonius discusses the probability of Caligula's paternity. He comes to the conclusion that Caligula must have fathered the daughter, as his cruel character was passed on to the daughter, who used to scratch out the eyes of her playmates. Caligula himself was convinced of paternity and therefore named his daughter after her favorite sister Drusilla. Suetonius: Caligula 49.3 reports a general fish death in the Tiber soon after the death of Caligula. Suetonius concludes from this that Caligula stored a large box of poison in his apartments, which Claudius emptied into the Tiber after taking over the government. The amount of poison should have been sufficient to poison the entire senatorial class. Suetonius then mentions an alleged document from the private apartments of Caligula, which listed the names of senators under a painted sword or dagger.
  24. Philon, De legatione ad Gaium , 11 (76); 13 (93)
  25. Seneca ira 3: 18-19
  26. Seneca clem . 1.25
  27. Cf. Aloys Winterling: Caligula - A Biography . Munich 2003, pp. 175-180. Ios. ant. iud. 19,2,4 reports, however, of a rumor according to which Caligula was driven insane by a love potion of his wife Milonia Caesonia. The rumor also knows Suetonius: Caligula 50.2
  28. ^ Suetonius: Caligula 50 f.
  29. For the term, see S. Bartsch: Actors in the Audience. Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian . Cambridge 1994.
  30. See last J. Kurz: sv Caesarenwahnsinn . In: Ancient Medicine. A lexicon (edited by K.-H. Leven). Munich 2005, pp. 184-185; C.-R. Prüll: sv Caligula . In: ibid., Pp. 185–186. Further studies on the question of the historicity of madness in Garrett G. Fagan , note 7.
  31. Cf. Tacitus: Annalen 6,54
  32. Older monographs: GJD Aalders: Caligula, zoon van Germanicus . Assen 1959; R. Auguet: Caligula ou le pouvoir à vingt ans . Paris 1975; C. Dumont: C. César, empereur epileptique. Quelques aspects d'une conquest . Diss. Liège 1964; RA Kroll: The Ruler Cult under Caligula . Diss. Case Western Reserve 1932; A. Passerini: Caligola e Claudio . Rome 1941; H. Sachs: Caligula . Berlin 1930; L. Venturini: Caligola . Milan 1906.
  33. Modern standard representations of the early imperial era in German-language specialist literature, for example: Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire . 6th edition, Munich 2009; Heinz Bellen: Fundamentals of Roman history . Vol. 2: The Imperial Era: From Augustus to Diocletian . Darmstadt 1998.
  34. Reviews of Winterling: H-Soz-u-Kult review by Udo Hartmann , sehepunkte review by Christian Witschel , Bryn Mawr Classical Review December 2006 by Donna W. Hurley ; Review of Barrett: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 01/02/01 by Arther Ferrill .
  35. The list of novels about Caligula gives an overview .
  36. (program announcement) .
  37. Scientific review with M. Janka: Caligula as a film star in Gore Vidal's Caligula (1980): A serious contribution to Suetonius reception? . In: Martin Korenjak , K. Töchterle (Hrsg.): Pontes II. Antike im Film ( Comparanda. Literary studies on antiquity and modernity . Volume 4). Innsbruck 2002, pp. 186-200.
predecessor Office successor
Tiberius Roman Emperor
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on November 30, 2006 in this version .