Thursday, July 18, 2013
It was believed that Germanicus was the heir to the throne that Augustus preferred though, since he was too young, Augustus adopted Tiberius with the understanding that Tiberius would adopt Germanicus as his heir. Not long after becoming emperor, however, Germanicus died and Tiberius took care to keep Caligula isolated and under his control. He spent many years in what can be described as rather comfortable imprisonment and isolation with only the company of his sisters Agrippina the Younger, Julia Livilla and Drusilla. In time, Caligula would have incestuous relations with all three of them but mostly a long standing affair with his most beloved sister Drusilla. In fact, many believe that his sister Drusilla was the only person Caligula ever truly loved in his life. With this background, Emperor Tiberius summoned Caligula to the island of Capri where Tiberius spent the last ten years of his life and where he was rumored to have become quite nasty and certainly very paranoid. His condition may be explained by the absence of those who had previously moderated him such as his best friend Nerva and his brother Drusus. He wanted Caligula near him both because he feared him desiring to assume the purple early and to prevent anyone else from influencing his adopted grandson and heir.
Today, looking back, we often wonder how anyone could have actually looked forward to the reign of Caligula; but of course, we have the benefit of hindsight. To the general public of the Roman Empire he seemed like a perfectly normal young man. Many saw him in a sympathetic light because of the death of the death of the rest of his family. Tiberius was unpopular (rather unjustly so) and by then was 78 years old and preparing to die. Hoping that his favored grandson Gemellus might succeed him eventually he named him his heir alongside Caligula in his will. Poor, young Gemellus was likely doomed at any rate but this order certainly sealed his fate. The hour of destiny for Caligula came on March 16, 37 AD when the Emperor Tiberius died. Many believed that Caligula had a hand in his passing though the deed was probably done by Naevius Sutorius Macro, the Prefect of Praetorian Guard who allegedly smothered Tiberius to hasten the accession of Caligula. If reports are true and Macro did murder Tiberius, it did nothing to diminish the popularity of Caligula who the people cheered for ending the life of the man they viewed as a tyrant. With the backing of Macro and the Praetorian Guard Caligula was immediately declared heir to Tiberius and Gemellus was cast aside on the grounds that the late Caesar had been insane when he included Gemellus in his will. That may have been true but it was certainly not the legitimate reason Gemellus was cast aside in favor of Caligula.
Nonetheless, the reign of Caligula Caesar was off to a glorious start. The empire was wealthy and at peace, their seemed to be a forgive and forget air about the city and a general feeling that the days of fear and repression were over and a new period of prosperity and kindness at the hands of their handsome, young and generous Caesar lay ahead. And, indeed it was so for the first half year more or less of the reign of Caligula. The people loved him wildly and, indeed, he was to remain very popular amongst the common people of Rome throughout all but the very end of his rather short reign. Caligula, it is often forgotten, was very politically astute and he knew that public image was important; at least as important if not more so than the support of the elite senatorial class. He did his best to appear as the ideal ruler, giving generously to those who had been taxed into poverty, expelling sexual criminals, setting aside the air of fear and paranoia that had preceded him and trying to maintain a closeness with the people through imperial pageantry and ceremony. Free elections were revived to give the people more say in government and gladiatorial games were held regularly to keep them entertained. In short, he did everything that a good Roman emperor was expected to do in order to be popular with the people.
Caligula was certainly enjoying himself as emperor. He had survived, he had beaten the odds, he was popular, his throne was secure and he was enjoying the favors of his sister Drusilla whom he totally adored as well as others such as his ongoing mistress Ennia. He adored Drusilla as he adored no other and would have liked nothing better than to marry her. In his increasingly egocentric way he viewed his sister, a blood relative, as being the only person worthy to be his wife and give him children. Obviously impossible and illegal Drusilla herself tried to discourage him as much as she did love him and there is little dispute that she did. Caligula felt safe with Drusilla and she was possibly the only consistent, moderating influence he ever had on his life. However, the blissful days of his early months on the throne came to an end in October of 37 AD. Most likely as a result of his constant swimming, drunkenness and debauchery Caligula fell extremely ill. It was so severe that he thought he would die and the Roman public was overcome with grief and fear that their beloved, young champion might be taken from them so soon.
His life at court went from bad to worse. He had the boy Gemellus put to death even though he had gone through the formality of adopting him as his heir. In his drive to have an heir Caligula realized he would have to be married and much as he might wish to marry his sister Drusilla, that was simply out of the question. He married and divorced three Roman noblewomen in quick succession before becoming infatuated with Milonia Caesonia, a notorious prostitute and the illegitimate daughter of another prostitute. She was, reputedly, no great beauty and she already had three daughters of her own but her moral laxity and bedroom antics impressed Caligula at several of his notorious parties and orgies and he would have no other. Many Roman nobles were outraged that the Emperor would marry a woman who was not only a commoner, but illegitimate and a prostitute. Caligula had his mind made up though and the marriage went through. Caligula delighted in shocking Rome with his personal whore and would have her parade around naked in front of his soldiers and pick out favorites for herself. He promised that he would make her empress but only if she gave him a son and heir.
Caligula also seemed to have a rather unnatural attachment to his favorite horse Incitatus. In another humiliation for the upper class he would order the senators to hail his horse as they would a superior. He built a palace for his horse with a marble stable and a gold manger and lavished all sorts of jewels and fine garments on the animal. Most famously he once threatened to make Incitatus a Consul of Rome, however, this was not actually a serious suggestion but just another way Caligula had to humiliate the senators and denigrate them by suggesting that even his horse could do their job. This was nothing compared to his most degenerate act of defiance toward the senate. Due to his extravagance the rich treasury left behind by Tiberius was soon exhausted and in order to make money Caligula opened an imperial brothel in his palace and forced the wives of the Roman senators to employ themselves there. Were not the upper classes in utter fear for their lives this would never have worked but Caligula made it so and anyone with enough money could come to the palace and enjoy a few minutes with the wife of a Roman senator. He also levied taxes on marriage, prostitution, use of the courts and other things which began to erode his popularity among the common people of Rome.
By this time most people had little doubt that Caligula, the Emperor of Rome, the commander of all the Roman legions and absolute ruler of virtually the entire known world was completely insane. His orgies and debauchery became notorious and his cruelty and executions of so many nobles had the upper echelons of Roman society quaking with fear and close to their breaking point. The reign of Caligula was no longer the open and tolerant style he had started with but he had now surpassed even his feared predecessor with his tortures and the numbers of those executed for treason; real or imagined. Caligula once famously remarked that he wished all the Roman people had one neck so he could cut off all the heads with one blow. When told that he was becoming hated by his own people who had once loved him, Caligula replied, "Let them hate me, so long as they fear me". And, that they certainly did. He enriched himself by confiscating the property of anyone arrested for treason and when in need of funds he might charge any wealthy Roman with treason. He even made it law that all those who died had to leave something for him in their will. Obviously, this situation could not go on forever and many men in high places began plotting against Caligula so that his reign of terror might come to an end.
The Praetorian Guard then elevated Caligula's uncle Claudius as the next Emperor of Rome as he was literally the only male member of the imperial family left alive at this point. He had been overlooked for so long because most everyone considered him a simple idiot, yet, he soon became Claudius Caesar and was a quite successful Roman emperor. As for Caligula, the Romans did their best to eradicate his memory from all public view. His statues were defaced or destroyed completely and many materials from his reign were destroyed. The nightmare was over and everyone wanted to forget as quickly and as completely as possible. Yet, in spite of the concerted effort to erase Caligula from public memory, his story remains infamous to this very day. Try as they might the world has never forgotten the bloody, perverse reign of the Emperor known as Little Boots nor is it very likely to. His misdeeds are world famous, yet he was still popular among some of the common people even at the time of his death. He is known for his madness, excess and insanity yet he was also known to be very persuasive, logical and even quite eloquent at times. More is unknown about him that what is known and that also adds to the interest there has always been concerning Caligula. Was his story a case of absolute power corrupting absolutely or was he driven insane by the deaths of so many of his loved ones? We will never know these answers but if anything is certain it is that the world will never forget the bizarre and depraved life of Gaius Caligula.