Caligula Succeeds Tiberius As The Third Emperor of Rome

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

Today on March 18, 37 CE, Caligula succeeded Tiberius to become the third Emperor of Rome—kickstarting one of the most tumultuous periods in Roman history.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known simply 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 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 fast track Caligula's ascension to the throne. Initially the people of Rome celebrated and admired their new emperor. His first seven months were regarded as blissful—he immediately increased army wages and hosted lavish gladiatorial games. It's estimated that over 160,000 animals were sacrificed in his honor. Despite initial popularity, the new emperor's mental condition began to deteriorate rapidly.

The reign of Caligula 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 that he had incestual relationships with his three sisters. Several Roman senators conspired to murder the deranged dictator. On January 24, 41 CE, praetorian guards betray their emperor by assassinating Caligula in the corridors beneath the imperial palace. The Senate tried to restore the Roman Republic but failed when Claudius eventually secured the throne, restoring the Claudio-Julian dynasty.

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