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Emperor of Rome 37 - 41 AD

Caligula is remembered as a vicious and cruel despot, a sadist and a megalomaniac - and those were his good points! 

Gaius Caesar, grew up in a military camp where his father's soldiers nicknamed him Caligula ("Little Boots") after the child-size military boots he wore. His father Germanicus was a great Roman General and the adopted son of the Emperor Tiberius. Germanicus became so popular with the Roman pubic because of his military victories that Tiberius was jealous and had him killed. Later Caligula's mother Agrippina, and his brothers were killed by Tiberius as well. 

Caligula -- Emperor of Rome 37 - 41 AD

Caligula was spared, and came to live with Tiberius on the island of Capri. Eventually Caligula managed to gain the confidence of Tiberius so that when Tiberius died, he named Caligula and his grandson Gemellus joint heirs to the throne. Caligula had no interest in sharing power, so he managed to get the Roman Senate to declare Tiberius' will invalid and to choose him as emperor. 

For the first six months he was a good ruler, but that all changed when he became ill with what was described at the time as a "brain fever." After his illness, Caligula became a vicious tyrant. Historians believe that he probably went insane. He banished or murdered most of his relatives and had people tortured and killed while he dined. He declared himself a god and had temples erected and sacrifices offered to himself. He even had his horse, Incitatus, made a Senator.

He was hated and despised by the Roman Senate because he conducted treason trials in which many senators, both guilty and innocent, were condemned to death. One unlucky official was flogged with chains before Caligula for several days, and was finally put out of his misery only because Caligula was offended by the smell of the gangrene that developed because of his injuries.

Caligula quickly emptied the Roman treasury with his lavish lifestyle, building projects and the games he staged for the citizens of Rome. In order to refill it, he introduced many new taxes. He also began to acquire the property of many of the wealthy citizens of Rome, by forcing them to bequeath to him all of their property and then having them killed.

Roman Caligula coin

Caligula was married four times and cheated openly on all of his wives - with both men and women. He even committed incest with his own three sisters. Whenever Caligula kissed the neck of his wife or mistress, he used to say: "This lovely neck will be chopped as soon as I say so."

Caligula decided to proclaim his mastery of the sea by building a three-mile long bridge on top of hundreds of boats that went across the Bay of Naples. He then crossed the bridge by chariot, and claimed that he had ridden across the waters like the god Neptune.

He planned to invade Britain, and so marched his troops to the northern shoreline of Gaul, but instead of crossing the channel he ordered his men to collect seashells, which he called the spoils of the sea. The he returned in triumphantly to Rome expecting to be welcomed as a hero.

The Roman people finally had enough, and were ready to give "Little Boots" the boot. Caligula and his fourth wife were killed by the officers of his guard, who also smashed his infant daughter's head against a wall. He was succeeded as emperor by his uncle Claudius.


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