Caligula

CALIGULA kə lĭg’ yə lə. Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, nicknamed Caligula (Little Boots) by the soldiers of the Rhine, was born to Germanicus and Agrippina in a.d. 12. After his father’s death in 19 and his mother’s arrest in 29, he lived with the aging Tiberius. After the death of his elder brother Drusus in 33, Gaius was named co-heir with Drusus’ son, Tiberius Gemullus, who was seven years his junior. On Tiberius’ death in 37, Gaius was acclaimed emperor, thanks to the support of Macro, prefect of the praetorian troops. The Senate invalidated Tiberius’ will. In the first year of his principate Gaius was seriously ill, and on his recovery manifested those symptoms of sadistic madness and irresponsible folly for which he is chiefly remembered. He executed Macro and Tiberius Gemellus, and generally acted with petulant autocracy.

Gaius’ assassination in 41 ended a period of odious cruelty and dangerous tyranny, one effect of which would have been to anticipate the Jewish rebellion by thirty years. Gaius had given the order to set up his statue in the Jerusalem Holy of Holies. It was only the brave temporizing of the legate of Syria, and Gaius’ death, which averted disaster. Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish scholar, headed an embassy to Gaius in 39 or 40, and his vivid account sheds lurid light on the horrors of the young madman’s brief principate.

Bibliography

Suetonius. Gaius Caligula Dio Cassius, 59; Josephus, Anotations XVIII. vi. 8ff.; ii. 5; Philo, Legatio ad Gaium; CAH, X, 635-666.