Caligula Haiku

If one considers

The senators of today,

Horse not a bad pick.

Today on Ehler’s Choice Week, we’ve got Emperor Caligula. (So chosen by my brother that’s most likely to know what to do in the presence of a camel.)

A note before I begin: contemporary sources chronicling ancient Rome are spotty as all fuck. It’s not that people didn’t write history books in those days – they did! Like gangbusters! But a lot of those books are as gone from this Earth as ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’. What this means for Caligula is that our sources for his reign amount to, like, four, with authors either having a demonstrable bone to pick or writing decades after the fact. So what I’m about to recount is a cobbled affair that’s probably not 100% accurate. Good? Good.

Caligula, the middle of the five Julio-Claudian emperors, was born in 12 AD. His mom was Agrippina the Elder, granddaughter of Augustus, and his dad was the popular general and all-around great guy Germanicus. Caligula’s name was actually Gaius Julius Caesar, the soldiers gave him the name he’s known by as he used to tromp around in a wee uniform when he was a tot and it was adorable. (Caligula = Little Boots)

The big problem in young Caligula’s life was his uncle, Emperor Tiberius. First, he (probably) offed Germanicus via poison in 19 AD. Then in 29 AD, Agrippina fell afoul of him, leading to imprisonment and banishment for her and her children – Nero had two older brothers living then, but they soon died of starvation, one after eating the stuffing of his mattress. Caligula, his mother, and his three younger sisters all had to watch their asses lest they wound up the same way.

In 31 AD, Caligula got sent to hang out with his dear uncle on Capri, where (if Suetonius was correct) sick shit was going on, with boys that were on the wrong side of puberty. This was not a happy time for him, but he really got to exercise his acting talents, successfully convincing Tiberius that yes, he was his loyal servant, honestly, no hard feelings, fingers crossed. All while resisting the urge to stab the fucker! In fact, he conned him so well that Tiberius made him co-heir with his own grandson.

Then Tiberius died in 37 AD. Caligula saw his opening, ditched the T’s grandson, and became emperor himself. And for half a year, by all accounts, it went pretty good! The people were happy, the army was happy, and all were well entertained to boot. But in the October of that year, Caligula fell seriously ill. He recovered, but something changed in him, and not for the better.

First up, he executed Gemellus, his former co-heir, followed by his own brother-in-law and father-in-law. He kept his uncle Claudius alive to serve as a subject of mockery. He might have committed incest with his sister Julia Drusilla, although that ended with her death in an epidemic. He exiled his other sisters. Then he decided oh, hey, people should recognize his divinity before he died, which was not the done thing for emperors at the time. (Let’s put statues of us in synagogues while we’re at it! That’ll go well.)

In terms of public policy, he did reverse Tiberius’ policy of not revealing the details of public spending. And he did bring back democratic elections. And while Suetonius reports of huge financial problems during this time, other evidence indicates that Caligula’s government was solvent. He also had a penchant for big construction projects, including a giant floating bridge that he proceeded to ride across on his horse as a big ‘fuck you’ to Tiberius’ ghost. (T’s soothsayer had predicted that Caligula had no more chance of becoming emperor than riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae, see.)

The above does not mitigate the following (if true): prostituting his sisters, throwing huge chunks of the audience into the wild animal-filled arena area of the coliseum because he was bored, and making his horse a senator. (Although I stand by my belief that the horse would’ve made a better senator than many these days – looking at you, Lindsey Graham.)

In any case, Caligula pissed off the senate and the Praetorian Guard. The latter took the initiative by stabbing the emperor thirty times in 42 AD, then offing his wife and two-year old daughter. Then a faction of the Praetorian Guard found Claudius hiding in a closet and decided to make him emperor.

This should give you a perspective on the relative normalcy of your own family.

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