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Caligula becomes the third Emperor of Rome

Cuirass bust of Caligula. Marble. 37—41 A.D. Inv. No. 1453. Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Today on March 18th AD 37, the notoriously cruel Caligula was proclaimed the third Emperor of Rome.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, simply known as Caligula, was the great-great grandson of Julius Caesar. He earned the nickname Caligula, meaning “little boot” from his father’s soldiers while accompanying him on military campaigns. He succeeded Tiberius to become the third Emperor of Rome and was a member of the first ruling Claudio-Julian dynasty. Caligula was the son of the popular and successful Roman general, Germanicus. And his mother, Agrippina the Elder, was the granddaughter of the beloved Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. Needless to say, he came from a well-established and reputable family.

Caligula moved in with his great-uncle, Tiberius, after the emperor had his brothers and mother exiled for treason. Tiberius willingly indulged in his great-nephew’s most terrible habits and was said to have ‘nursed a viper in Rome’s bossem’. While Tiberius eventually died at the age of 77, contemporary historians like Tacitus accused his bodyguards of murdering him to fasttrack Caligula's ascension to the throne. Initially the people of Rome celebrated and admired their new emperor. His first seven months were considered “blissful” as he immediately increased army wages and hosted lavish gladiatorial games. It’s estimated over 160,000 animals were sacrificed in his honor. However, Caligula’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

His rule was undoubtedly marked by lust and lunacy. He suffered from constant headaches and aimlessly wandered the royal palace at night dressed as a woman. He even boldly declared himself a living god. In some cases, he ruthlessly killed his political enemies and would force parents to watch the executions. It was also commonly believed Caligula had incestual relationships with his three sisters. Several Roman senators conspired to murder the deranged dictator and had him assassinated by his own guards. The senate tried to temporarily restore the Roman Republic, but failed when Claudius became emperor and resecured the Claudio-Julian dynasty.


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