Just down the hallway from the RedState Department of History, and around a corner where nobody can see, is the Department’s lesser-known cousin.
The RedState Department of Ancient History sits in a corner with a nice view of the courtyard which is especially pretty in autumn, but it has an inferiority complex.
“Why can’t we ever be the star?” they asked this week, and the brass agreed. So this week, our entry comes from the Way, Way, Wayback Machine.
On this date in 37 AD, the Roman Senate did something that just about everyone would later agree was a bad, bad thing.
Prior to that time, Tiberius was the Emperor of Rome. One of the Empire’s most famous generals, the last six years of his rule were the classic stuff of ancient Rome — murder, debauchery, denunciation, torture and execution. He was presented with evidence of the murder of his son Drusus and to put it mildly, was not a happy general.
But as he neared death, Tiberius became more concerned with who would succeed him. The person he chose was officially named Gaius Caesar, but who was commonly known by the nickname Roman soldiers gave him on campaign when he was a company mascot — “Little Boots”, or Caligula.
Before his death, Tiberius had willed Caligula and his cousin Gemellus as co-heirs. But on this date in 37 AD, the Senate overrode the will of Tiberius and named Caligula Emperor of Rome at the age of 24. This was thanks at least in part to intercession from Caligula’s ally, named Marco.
Tiberius knew what he was getting Rome into — he himself said, while caring for the young Caligula, that he was raising a “viper of Rome.”
Let’s just say Caligula didn’t handle power well. As a gesture of thanks, Caligula had Marco and Gemellus both put to death within a year of assuming power.
Yet, for the first six months of his reign, Caligula was said to have been kind, wise and just. After that, however, things became dramatically different. His name became synonymous forever after with bad government, debauchery, and all the sorts of things Tiberius had seen during the end of his reign but which were lost to history.
Why did this happen? Sometime during the year 37, Caligula reportedly became ill, with an ailment some modern historians describe as akin to epilepsy. Whatever it was, to say it changed him would be an understatement. It had a dramatic effect:
“He literally wallowed in luxury, allegedly rolling around in piles of money and drinking precious pearls dissolved in vinegar. He continued his childhood games of dress-up, donning strange clothing, women’s shoes and lavish accessories and wigs—eager, according to his biographer Cassius Dio, “to appear to be anything rather than a human being and an emperor.”
Caligula had a special relationship with his horse, named Incitatus. While it is in fact true that Caligula tried to have his horse named a consul of Rome, what some don’t know is that he also had his horse named as a priest.
Of whom, you might ask? Three guesses.
Caligula liked to, quite literally, ‘play god’. He had a view of his own power which Romans as a whole didn’t share, preferring to make power more of a personal exercise rather than serving a god-king. That said, he was also insecure — stories say he was so hairy he made it a capital offense to mention a goat in his presence.
No one really knows whether most of the stories about Caligula are actually true. Biographers who lived years after the fact wrote the stories of his alleged debauchery — but at the time, it was not at all unusual for historians to exaggerate the vices of those who had been poor governors – which at this time was practically everyone.
One thing couldn’t be denied, though — Caligula spent money a lot faster than Rome could generate it. Only four years into his reign, he was assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard, who named Claudius Tiberius Caesar Augustus Germanicus — otherwise known as “Claudius”, of Robert Graves’ book fame — as the new Emperor.
Happy Monday and enjoy today’s open thread!