6 March 37 - 24 January 41




All the enormities of Caligula, the successor of Tiberius, were concealed in the beginning of his reign. In less than eight months, every appearance of moderation and clemency vanished; while furious passions, unexampled avarice, and capricious cruelty, began to take their turn in his mind.

His pride first began by assuming the title of ruler, which was usually granted only to kings. He would also have taken the crown and diadem, had he not been advised that he was already superior to all the monarchs of the world. Not long after, he assumed divine honors, and gave himself the name of such divinities as he thought most agreeable to his nature. For this purpose he caused the heads of the statues of Jupiter, and some other gods, to be struck off, and his own to be put in their places.

He frequently seated himself between Castor and Pollux, and ordered that all who came to their temples to worship, should pay their adorations only to him. Such was his extravagant inconsistency that he changed his divinity as often as he changed his clothes, being at one time a male deity, at another time a female; sometimes Jupiter or Mars; and not unfrequently Venus or Diana. He even built and dedicated a temple to his own divinity in which his statue of gold was every day dressed in similar robes to those which he wore, and was worshipped by crowds of adorers.

His priests were numerous : the sacrifices made to him were of the most exquisite delicacies that could be procured, and the dignity of the priesthood was sought by the most opulent men of the city. He admitted his wife and his horse to that honor; and to give a finishing stroke to his absurdities, he became a priest to himself. His method of assuming the manners of a deity was not less ridiculous : he often went out in the full moon, and courted it in the style of a lover. He employed many inventions to imitate thunder, and would frequently defy Jupiter, crying out with a speech of Homer, Conquer me, or I will conquer you. He used to pretend to converse in whispers with the statue of Jupiter, and usually seemed angry at its replies, threatening to send it packing into Greece.

Of all his vices, his prodigality was the most remarkable, and that which in some measure gave rise to the rest.

He contrived new ways of bathing, by which the richest oils and most precious perfumes were exhausted with the utmost profusion. He found out dishes of immense value, and even had jewels dissolved among his sauces. He some times had pure gold presented before his guests instead of meat.

The expensive manner in which he maintained his horse, will give some idea of his domestic economy. He built it a stable of marble, and a manger of ivory. Whenever this animal, which he called Incitatus, was to run, he placed sentinels near his stable the night preceding, to prevent its slumbers from being broken. He appointed it a house, furniture, and a kitchen, in order to treat all its visitors with proper respect.

The emperor sometimes invited Incitatus to his own table, presented him with gilt oats, and wine in a golden cup. He often swore by the safety of his horse; and it is said he would have appointed him to the consulship, had not his death prevented. He slew many of the senate, and afterwards cited them to appear, as if they had killed themselves. He cast great numbers of old and infirm men and poor decrepid housekeepers, to wild beasts, to free the state from such unserviceable citizens. He usually fed his wild beasts with the bodies he condemned, and every tenth day sent off numbers of them to be thus devoured, which he jocosely called clearing his accounts. One of those who was thus exposed, crying out that he was innocent, Caligula ordered his tongue to be cut out, and then thrown into the amphitheatre.

He took delight in killing men by slow tortures; being always present at such executions, directing the duration of the punishment, and mitigating the tortures merely to prolong them. He valued himself for his unrelenting temper and inflexible severity, while presiding at an execution. At one time beingincensed with the citizens of Rome, he wished that all the Roman people had but one neck, that he might despatch them at a blow.

24 January 41

The death of Caligula

The insupportable and capricious cruelties of Caligula produced many secret conspiracies against him; but these were for a while deferred, on accout of his intended expedition against the Germans and Britons, which he undertook in the third year of his reign A. D. 41.

For this expedition he caused numerous levies to be made in all parts of the empire, and talked with so much resolution that it was universally believed he would conquer all before him.

Instead of conquering Britain, he only gave refuge to one of its banished princes. Instead of conquering Germany, he only led his army to the sea, in Batavia. There, disposing his engines and warlike machines with great solemnity, and drawing up his men in order for battle, he went on board his galley, with which, coasting along, he commanded his trumpets to sound, and the signal to be given, as if for engagement; upon which his men, having had previous orders, immediately fell to gathering the shells that lay upon the shore into their helmets, terming them the spoils of the conquered ocean, worthy of the palace and the capitol.

Cassius Chaerea, tribune of the praetorian bands, was the person who at last freed the world of the tyrannical Caligula. Besides the motives he had in common with other men, he had received repeated insults from Caligula, who took all occasions of turning him to ridicule, and accusing him of cowardice, merely because he had an effeminate voice. Whenever Chaerea came to demand the watchword from the emperor, according to custom, he always gave him, either Venus, Adonis, or some such, implying effeminacy and softness.

Chaerea secretly imparted his design to several senators and knights, whom he knew to have received personal injuries from Caligula. While these were deliberating upon the most certain and speedy method of destroying the tyrant, an unexpected incident gave new strength to the conspiracy. Pompedius, a senator of distinction, having been accused before the emperor, of speaking of him with disrespect, the informer cited one Quintilia, an actress to confirm his accusation. Quintilia, was possessed with a degree of fortitude not often found even in the other sex. She denied the fact with obstinacy; and being put to the torture at the informer's request, she bore the severest torments, with unshaken constancy. In this manner she suffered, until all her limbs were dislocated.

After several deliberations with the conspirators, it was resolved to atlack him during the continuance of the Palatine , games which lasted four days. The three first days passed without affording any opportunity. Chaerea began to apprehend that deferring the time of conspiracy might be the means of divulging it; he even dreaded that the honor of killing the tyrant might fall to the lot of some other person; wherefore he resolved to defer it only to the day following; when Caligula should pass through a private gallery to his bath.

The conspirators waited with extreme anxiety. While Chaerea was hesitating what to do, Asprenus, one of the conspirators, persuaded Caligula to go to the bath, and take some refreshment. The emperor rising up, the conspirators used every precaution to keep off the throng, and endeavored to surround him; upon entering a gallery that led to the bath, Chaerea, first struck him to the ground, crying out, Tyrant, think upon this. Immediately the other conspirators rushed in; and while the emperor continued to resist, crying out that he was not dead yet, they despatched him with thirty wounds.

Such was the merited death of Caius Caligula, in the twenty ninth year of his age, after a short reign of a little more than three years.

Page précédente                                                                         haut de page                                                                         Page suivante