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Caligula: A Biography

Aloys Winterling
Deborah Lucas Schneider
Glenn W. Most
Paul Psoinos
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The infamous emperor Caligula ruled Rome from A.D. 37 to 41 as a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. An exceptionally smart and cruelly witty man, Caligula made his contemporaries worship him as a god. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered in gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and committed incest with his sisters. He wanted to make his horse a consul. Torture and executions were the order of the day. Both modern and ancient interpretations have concluded from this alleged evidence that Caligula was insane. But was he? This biography tells a different story of the well-known emperor. In a deft account written for a general audience, Aloys Winterling opens a new perspective on the man and his times. Basing Caligula on a thorough new assessment of the ancient sources, he sets the emperor's story into the context of the political system and the changing relations between the senate and the emperor during Caligula's time and finds a new rationality explaining his notorious brutality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94314-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: A Mad Emperor?
    (pp. 1-8)

    Caligula, the man who was Roman emperor from a.d. 37 to 41, started out as a tyrannical ruler and degenerated into a monster. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered with gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and even committed incest with his own sisters. The chief victims of his senseless cruelty were Roman senators. Torture and executions were the order of the day. He removed two consuls from office because they had forgotten his birthday. He considered himself super-human...

  5. ONE Childhood and Youth
    (pp. 9-51)

    Gaius Caesar Germanicus was born on 31 August in the year a.d. 12 to Germanicus and the elder Agrippina. At the time no one could have foreseen that at the age of only twenty-four this young man, known by then under his nickname, “Caligula,” would become Roman emperor. On 18 March 37, he would become ruler of an empire that spanned virtually the entire known world of antiquity, from Syria to the English Channel, from North Africa to the Danube region, and from Spain to Asia Minor. No one could have anticipated how many intrigues and murders, trials and executions...

  6. TWO Two Years as Princeps
    (pp. 52-89)

    The journey from Misenum to Rome took ten days. As the young emperor, dressed in mourning, accompanied the body of Tiberius, he received striking demonstrations of sympathy from the population. “His progress was marked by altars, victims, and blazing torches, and he was met by a dense and joyful throng, who called him, besides other propitious names, their ‘star,’ their ‘chick,’ their ‘babe,’ and their ‘nursling’ ” (Suet.Cal. 13). Germanicus’s prestige and popularity had survived the reign of Tiberius and were now transferred to his remaining son—in more intense form because the other family members had met such...

  7. THREE The Conflicts Escalate
    (pp. 90-131)

    “As for Gaius, he administered the Empire quite high-mindedly during the first and second years of his reign. By exercising moderation he made great advances in popularity both with the Romans themselves and with their subjects.” With these words Josephus characterizes the period of Caligula’s reign described up to this point (Jos.Ant. 18.256). The emperor stressed his respect for the Senate at the very beginning of 39 by some symbolic acts. When he assumed his second consulship on 1 January and resigned from it after only thirty days, he made a point of taking the oaths on the Rostra...

  8. FOUR Five Months of Monarchy
    (pp. 132-171)

    On his twenty-eighth birthday, 31 August a.d. 40, Caligula reentered Rome after a year’s absence and was greeted with an ovation. We can glean only indirectly what had occurred in the city during the preceding months, after the emperor’s open threats. Those days must have resembled the end of Tiberius’s reign. In his time, denunciations, accusations, trials in the Senate, torture, and executions had been the order of the day. Now the question was: How would the young emperor deal with the senators in Rome, after everything that had happened in the previous year? He had staged a public demonstration...

  9. FIVE Murder on the Palatine
    (pp. 172-186)

    The great failed conspiracies of 39 opened and escalated the conflicts between Caligula and the Roman aristocracy. What they lacked, apparently, were conspirators—or at least no one wanted to admit having taken part in them. Instead, as we have seen, aristocratic historiography was at some pains to suppress all mention of them. For the conspiracy that led to the emperor’s murder, the exact opposite is the case. The sources mention a strikingly large number of aristocrats’ names, and there are even four different possible leaders to choose from. After identifying the core group, Cassius Dio goes on to say,...

  10. CONCLUSION: Inventing the Mad Emperor
    (pp. 187-194)

    “The histories of Tiberius and Caligula, of Claudius and Nero,” writes Tacitus at the start of hisAnnals, “were falsified through cowardice while they flourished, and composed, when they fell, under the influence of still rankling hatreds” (Tac.Ann. 1.1.2). The denunciatory devaluation that followed the emperors’ deaths formed a perfect counterpart to the servile adulation they enjoyed during their lifetimes. But this alone does not mean that the Roman aristocracy was made up of morally inferior people. Or to put it more precisely: Moral categories are unsuitable here—just as in the case of the emperors also—to explain...

  11. Epilogue to the English Edition
    (pp. 195-196)
    Aloys Winterling

    “Mad emperors are an embarrassment to serious historians,” as the ancient historian Catherine Edwards once aptly observed (Classical Review41 [1991]: 407). On the other hand they hold a special fascination for a broader public with an interest in history, as can clearly be seen from the success of popular biographies, historical novels, or spectacular films. The present biography of Caligula takes this as its point of departure and has two aims. The brief life of this emperor is narrated in a form that preserves the tension and drama of events as they unfolded and that is meant to be...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 197-214)
    (pp. 215-218)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 219-229)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)