"Caligulan Politics": The Consistent Agenda of a Mad Emperor
by Jay Key*
Gaius Julius Caesar was responsible for the deaths of much of the population of Gaul and numerous Italians, yet his clearly defined political agenda of transforming the Roman Republic to a purely autocratic dictatorship helped soften the blow of his madness. It is as if generations of historians and people have embraced the shrewd and cunning politician despite the unimaginable bloodshed seen during his rise to an unprecedented power. Tracing his family lineage toward the present, past the beloved princeps Augustus and the demented son of Livia, Tiberius, we see the true offspring of Caesar's wishes -- the Emperor Gaius, known to most as Caligula (meaning "little boots"). History has not been kind to Caligula, and for good reason, due to the lasting volumes of maniacal and savage anecdotes depicting a mad ruler. However, during his first year in office, Caligula was effective and somewhat politically capable to be ruler of the world, and his vicious maneuvers were a necessary part of his political agenda -- to return Rome to Caesar's form of rule.
Despite the estimation on how or why Caligula went mad, it must be assumed he did in some sense of the word. But the time frame of this transformation occurs after a very well-orchestrated succession and implementation of a praise-worthy political game plan. In fact, Caligula's form of politics set a long-lasting precedence of political protocol for Emperors, including his immediate successors Claudius and Nero. The legacy of Caligula is unfairly written, not to the concept of his madness, but to the lack of applause for his political prowess. Aside from his framework to achieve Caesarian autocracy, Caligula used his family's lineage, the faults of Tiberius, the rise of the Praetorian Guard, and general deception of the people to ascend the throne with all hopes of being the next Julius Caesar. For almost one year in A.D. 37, Caligula was on his way to renewing this encompassing form of power with the majority of the people of Rome behind him. This notion of Caligulan Politics worked for Gaius until madness set in, and in many ways, ushered in a new way to perform in the political realm of Rome for years to come.
The three major voices on the life of the Emperor Gaius are Arther Ferrill, J.P.V.D. Balsdon, and Anthony Barrett. All vary on their notions of the overall abilities of Caligula, with Ferrill, the latest historian, taking the popular notion of an entirely mad emperor with little to no positive attributes or accomplishments. Balsdon, in his 1934 Emperor Gaius, takes the opposite approach and gives Caligula a new spin as a politically consistent emperor, no better or worse than his contemporaries, that is portrayed by his successors as "evil" in order to promote their worth. Anthony Barrett, author of 1990's Caligula: The Corruption of Power, stands in the middle, giving Caligula credit for some of his accomplishments, but still supports the madness and political inconsistencies of the young princeps. Ferrill's opinion ignores too much -- including the building projects and early popular support, and fails to acknowledge the political maneuvering of family promotion by the Emperor. This simple act should dispel all myths of an entirely incompetent ruler with no political savvy. Balsdon, like Ferrill, ignores too much as well. Balsdon fails to put a time frame around the politically capable Caligula and the ruthless, mentally-unstable Caligula. Balsdon gives Caligula too much credit throughout the Emperor's entire rule, instead of the first year. Barrett's detailed theory chooses to not give Caligula credit for his cleverness in office, but does recognize his accomplishments and achievements that furthered the greater good of Rome. Caligula, by no means, was a productive ruler for the entirety of his reign, however, his first year showed signs of more than just obvious politics of the time, in fact, his brilliantly orchestrated succession and ensuing blue print of advancing the Augustan model of rule to one that fit his personal needs were historical significant enough to be adopted by Claudius and others to varying degrees.
A brilliant political scheme that yields no results is hardly worth reporting, therefore, it is necessary to note the prosperity of Caligula's first year in office. After the death of Tiberius, Gaius stabilized the Roman economy and the government was becoming seemingly less turbulent. This act had to do more with the plan of succession and manipulation of the Senate by Gaius and Macro. Regardless, even certain senators prospered during the beginning of Caligula's reign. Aside form this, the frontiers were secured and Rome reached a modus viviendi with the Parthians. The popular support of Caligula was very high and the expectations even higher. Past the quirkiness and eccentricities of Gaius that history has recorded and promoted, Gaius had some qualities of a successful politician -- namely, his skill of oration. Gaius was the first Julio-Claudian to embrace the art of oratory to the neglect of more practical studies of young royalty. He was skilled in Greek and Latin oration and never dropped the art even when he moved to Tiberius' palace on Capri. Suetonius, Tacitus, and Josephus all credit the young Gaius with being eloquent in speech.
An emperor who stabilizes, secures, and facilitates prosperity should be portrayed in the annals of time as productive and valuable to the advancement of the Roman civilization. It is obvious that the "down time" in Caligula's rule was very hard to bear due to his mental collapse, but why did it take nearly 1900 years for a positive light to be shed on any aspect of Caligula's reign. In short, his own creation of Caligulan Politics destroyed the small remnants of Caligula's achievements and capabilities as an emperor. Just as Caligula instituted the practice of destroying a predecessor's image, so did Claudius. Claudius' campaign to denigrate the name of Caligula, in order, to achieve popular support began immediately in A.D. 41 upon the assassination of Caligula. Claudius leveled the many statues of Gaius throughout Rome. In the foreign sector, Claudius made sure that Caligula's name was defiled to all subordinates of Rome, including the Jews. Jospehus cites a speech given by Claudius in A.D. 41 in his Jewish Antiquities that claims that Caligula humiliated the Jews with his "great stupidity and madness." Cassius Dio reports that all coins with the image of Caligula were melted; however, this seems unlikely because its effects would have caused a disastrous currency shortage. Regardless, Claudius took the necessary steps to portray Caligula as ineffective and essentially evil, so the population of Rome would give the fault to the individual that was emperor and not the existence of the office itself.
Not only did this concept of an immediate "smear campaign" survive, many other tactics in the arsenal of Caligulan Politics were recycled by successors including the killing of heirs (probably made famous by his great-grandmother Livia) and the political manipulation of the Senate via the rise of the Praetorian Guard. The future of Roman rule was dictated more by the blessings of the Praetorians than any other body -- and its rise can be traced back to Caligula, where its roots of unbridled power begin.
Protected by his youth, Gaius avoided the plotting and murderous actions of Tiberius and the sinister Sejanus, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Caligula, from A.D. 27-30, was under the guidance of his great-grandmother Livia and following her death, his grandmother Antonia. In Rome, Sejanus began a mission that saw him eliminate Tiberius' own son, Drusus Julius Caesar, most likely by poison. Sejanus and Drusus' wife Livilla became lovers and, without Tiberius's knowledge, arranged Drusus' murder. Next in the line of succession was Caligula's brother, Nero. Sejanus was able to label Nero and his mother Agrippina as public enemies, where upon they were banished to small islands to the west of Naples. Next in line was the second son of Germanicus and Agrippina, Drusus. Sejanus, using Drusus' wife Aemilia Lepida, brought false charges against him and imprisoned him in a cell beneath the imperial residence on the Palatine Hill.
For whatever reason, the powerful foundation of Sejanus began to decline. A plot against the emperor Tiberius would not have favored Sejanus, but a conspiracy to remove Caligula from the succession line is likely. Some historians believe it was Antonia that warned Tiberius of Sejanus' plans in an effort to protect her grandson. Regardless, in A.D. 31, Tiberius called upon Quintus Naevius Cordus Sutorius Macro to help rid him of Sejanus' rampage. Macro was secretly appointed to replace Sejanus as Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and had an elaborate operation in tact to condemn Sejanus without the chance of a Praetorian uprising. Macro called Sejanus to the Temple of Apollo for a special meeting of the Senate, in which Sejanus believed he would be granted tribunicia potestas. Once inside, Macro ordered the Praetorians back to the barracks. Tiberius then read a letter condemning his former ally Sejanus, and the now-bold Senate condemned him immediately. Sejanus was later strangled in his cell.
Despite Sejanus' downfall, Tiberius still denounced Caligula's mother and brother and kept them in exile, however, he showed no public hatred for Caligula. Caligula, aided by his mother's outright loathing of Tiberius, probably did not support the Emperor. However, Caligula showed his first signs of political skill by keeping these emotions to himself and finding ways to secure his position as successor. Caligula and Macro had no special bond or relationship beyond the fact that Macro realized Caligula was an ideal successor backed by the popularity of his father, Germanicus, and that Caligula knew Macro's military backing was essential to claim the throne. Even Philo states that Macro pushed the image of Caligula to the point where he wanted to voluntarily give up the right to the throne to Tiberius' grandson Gemellus.
It is evident that Tiberius did not want Caligula to succeed him; in fact, his alliance with Sejanus would support the idea that Tiberius wanted to strengthen the claim of Gemellus. However, it was obvious that the people of Rome and the Armies would back the son of the beloved Germanicus and relative of Augustus rather than the natural grandson of the unpopular emperor. Tiberius never plotted against Caligula though, probably persuaded and constantly assured by Macro. But in A.D. 35, Tiberius appointed both Caligula and Gemellus as joint-heirs, augmenting the confusion of the situation. Tiberius's reasoning is irrelevant, because the chance of Gemellus to leap-frog Caligula in the succession line was remote at best. In March of A.D. 37, Tiberius would fall ill and die. Suetonius and Dio point to Caligula's poisoning or suffocation of Tiberius, Tacitus' claims the Emperor died at the hands of Macro, and Seneca ignores all the conspiracies and states it was a natural death. Regardless, upon his death, an immediate succession plan began to unfold spear-headed by Macro. The Senate declared the will of Tiberius' invalid, thus, the title of joint-heir was lifted, and Gaius became Emperor of Rome.
One of the first acts of Caligula as Emperor was to begin a campaign to promote his difference from the stingy and much despised Tiberius. To begin this quest of separation, Caligula did not even attend the hearings regarding the deification of Tiberius. Most likely, Caligula did propose the honor as a formality, but there was no effort made to pursue it. The deification of Tiberius might have given Gaius the image of supporting the unpopular decisions made by Tiberius. The next logical step was to address the legality of Tiberius' will that named both Gemellus and Caligula joint-heirs to his estates. Macro consulted many of the top legal minds in Rome and both the options of declaring Gemellus' joint claim or the entire will null and void were faulty. The will only stated the two as heirs to Tiberius' estate and claimed no political appointment. Caligula and Macro, finally, pursued the option of declaring that Tiberius was mentally unstable when the will was created, and the entire will was annulled. The duo pursued this route because they felt confident about achieving the Augustan precedence of consensus -- the choice of the Roman people and Senate (as well as the Army).
Apart from Caligula's half-hearted efforts to deify Tiberius and the outright promotion of Tiberius' insanity through the nullification of his will, Caligula also rescinded many of Tiberius's acts as Emperor. One notable instance occurred when Caligula recalled Suillius Rufus. Rufus was a quaestor in Syria, and Tiberius banished him, probably, for being the personal friend of Germanicus. Another act of Gaius' that denounced Tiberius was the failure to mention his name on the urn inscriptions of his brother Nero. Nero is referred to as the son of Germanicus and great-grandson of Augustus, but his relationship to Tiberius is left off, most likely, to limit public disapproval.
Arguably the most productive tactic implemented by Caligula was the skilled use of his family lineage to achieve popular support. This was important in his immediate rise to power upon Tiberius's death, as well as the following year's political agenda. Contrary to Tiberius's unfavorable background and status as an adopted son of Augustus, Caligula presented Rome with a natural link to the hero Germanicus (his father), the well-known Marc Antony (his great-grandfather), and the most beloved icon in all of Rome -- Augustus (his great-grandfather). Gaius promoted this famed lineage through a series of speeches, promotions, and coinage, which gave Rome a feeling of stability and hope that it had not seen during Tiberius's reign.
When Tiberius died, crowds of Romans filled the streets to toss the hated Emperor's
body into the Tiber, however, Caligula demanded a decent funeral. This was not only a brilliant political move in the art of showing compassion, but, it gave him a stage to promote his divine pedigree and revered oration skills. The funeral of Tiberius was less a memorial to the late son of Livia, and more a memorial to Augustus and Germanicus delivered by a tear-filled eulogy from an amazing speaker. Caligula followed this act with a compassionate act of family remembrance. He traveled to Potnia and Pandateria, the two cities where his mother Agrippina and his brother Nero had died. Caligula managed to bring back the urns containing their ashes, a difficult task no doubt, due to the manner and which the remains had been scattered and buried. He used a bout with stormy weather as a way to enhance his sense of devotion to his famous family. He finally returned to Ostia and marched the remains to the Mausoleum of Augustus to rest near the remains of his father, Germanicus. Seventeen years earlier, Agrippina had done the same thing with her husband's urn, and Caligula copied the act of choosing to carry the ashes during the day when the crowds are most populous. This choice helped promote Caligula's love of his fallen mother and sibling to the widest possible audience.
Caligula also began to assign honors to his numerous family members. His grandmother Antonia was given the title of Augusta, as Livia had been given, although sources indicate she declined it during her lifetime. An even more remarkable move was made to promote Claudius. Claudius was Caligula's uncle and was a bumbling fool by most accounts, and an embarrassment to the dynasty. However, Caligula saw that his public image of devotion to his family was more warming than keeping his uncle out of the public eye. Gaius elevated Claudius to consul and senator at the age of forty-six, and gave him the distinction of presiding over the games in the Emperor's absence. This decision turned out to be a very popular one in the eyes of the Roman people. Aside from the honors bestowed upon his grandmother and uncle, Caligula elevated the name of his father as well. The most notable decree was the renaming of the month of September to Germanicus. This was done in tradition with the renaming of the months to "August" (from Sextilis) to honor the month of Augustus's first consulate and "July" (from Quinctilis) to honor the birth month of Julius Caesar. There is, however, no proof that the name was used by the people. Although celebration of deceased members of the imperial family was a regular staple in imperial Rome, this is the first scenario where members that were condemned by the Senate under a past ruler were memorialized in such high esteem. Historian Arther Ferrill claims this marked the period when "the intricacies of dynastic politics were beginning to unfold." This idea helps augment the support that this form of Caligulan Politics was not only a consistent and productive set of tactics, but in fact, helped shape future political schemes in imperial Rome.
The largest degree of recognition was designated for Caligula's three sisters -- Drusilla, Livilla, and Agrippina. The three were made honorary Vestal Virgins, an unprecedented act up to this time, yet the designation of "honorary" allowed them to continue their free-wheeling sexual deviance. The sisters were also allowed to watch the games from the imperial seats. Suetonius noted that Gaius added to their promotion by mentioning them in the oaths taken to the Emperor: "I shall not hold myself or my children dearer than I do Gaius and his sisters." Consuls, also, began their motions in the Senate with "Favor and good luck to Gaius and his sisters."
A fragment of the Arval Acta, from A.D. 38, refers to the consecration of the divae Drusillae or the divine Drusilla, and a Greek inscription found in Mytilene refers to Drusilla as "The New Aphrodite". Gaius' promotion of his sisters might have begun as a political move, but his well-documented fascination with them helped fuel his image of madness rather than cunning. In fact, their unrivaled elevation helped build an image of an entire family line that was divine and worthy of producing rulers.
Caligula's ancestral link to Augustus was a key element in the propaganda to legitimize his rule. With Gemellus still alive, it was a very unstable notion to present Caligula as the only natural heir, despite the consensus of the people. Caligula engaged in numerous acts to promote this relationship including rites carried out to commemorate the Augustus' founding of the Ara Pacis in 13 B.C. The most noteworthy act was Caligula's dedication of the Temple of Divus Augustus -- an event that lasted two days, the latter being Gaius' own birthday. The temple was ordered to be built in A.D. 14 after Augustus' death, and the construction was completed during the reign of Tiberius. Tiberius' left the temple undedicated, leaving Caligula another stage to brilliantly promote his heritage via a spectacular ceremony. The dedication included the sacrifice of four hundred bears, four hundred lions, and a two-day horse race.
One avenue Caligula utilized in the practice of showing his family devotion and praise of his honored name was through the Empire's coinage. Caligula's attempt to forge an image of a tightly-knit pseudo-divine family was best seen in his commemoration of his father, mother, sisters, and brothers on coins. Despite Suetonius' claims, coins of Gaius' reign even include his mother as part of the "Marci filia" line from Marcus Agrippa. This was somewhat of a surprising tactic since the Marci line was of plebeian descent, and it would remind the people of Caligula with a notably less divine heritage. The maneuver, if of any value, might show an inclination of sanity in Caligula, for the popular depictions of Caligula present a ruler that is crazed about his own divination. The mentioning of such a link would not have been disastrous, but the proposed egomaniac that is presented by the ancient historians and Ferrill would never have allowed this. His sisters were depicted on a dramatic sestertius from the first year of his reign. On the coin, they stand next to each other depicted Securitas (security), Concordia (peace), and Fortuna (prosperity). The coin was only minted during Caligula's first year and was most likely part of his shrewd political scheme to emphasize the imperial family. Most myths of this being a sentimental or personal act have been discredited due to the short tenure of the coin itself.
Gaius effectively used coins and the mints of Rome to promote his family and heritage, but he was even more efficient in the use of these items to promote the most important character in the line at the time -- himself. Gaius began this campaign by moving the imperial mint from Lyons to Rome in order to be in conjunction with the production of the Senatorial mint. Once in Rome, the mint engaged in a new tradition of using coins to promote the image of the emperor as head of the imperial house. Caligula wanted to be seen as Caligula and not as the princeps, and the Roman state was an expression of his existence. During this time, images or messages portraying the empire's prosperity and peace were replaced with images of Caligula. This act cannot be used to endorse the madness theories, but rather as a cunning move on Gaius' part. The success of the empire did not wane in the eyes of the people as much as the quality of their government and namely the princeps. Caligula knew he must present himself as Rome in order to achieve his Caesarian autocracy as well as overcome the damage left by Tiberius' image. The results of Caligula's promotion of his lineage and family devotion met with unprecedented favor, and a period of Roman euphoria encompassed all during A.D. 37. The switch from the endorsement of the Roman Empire to a centralized figure helped push Caligula's desired path to autocracy. These steps help present the mind of a capable, if not devious, politician, rather than an insane power-hungry maniac. These moves had a reason: a move toward Caesar's form of rule; and they had success: the favorable opinions of the people toward Caligula in the first year of his reign.
If his multi-faceted promotion of his Augustan lineage was not a victory worthy of defining his political career, Caligula's manipulation of the Senate via Macro and the Praetorian Guard could very well be his lasting legacy. Granted, the overall impact had a lot to do with the behind-the-scenes orchestrations of Macro, but Gaius' role should not be underestimated. In fact, it was Gaius, at a young age, who realized the need for Macro's assistance in his succession due to the volatile and turbulent winds of the imperial family and their image. This act alone proves Gaius' political competence and ability to recognize future trends and possible dangers. Many sources claim that Gaius detested Macro and considered him an inferior, yet he realized the need for such an ally. Regardless of Gaius' abilities, Macro was a crucial, if not utterly necessary, part to Caligula's succession. Macro's scheme was nothing short of a brilliantly-staged affair, and despite the turmoil and controversy surrounding the dying months of Tiberius' tenure, Caligula ascended the throne of Rome with much ease. Macro's advice began by urging Caligula to move quickly to seize the power of Emperor.
Because of his haste to ascend the throne, the constitutional details of Caligula's claim were not known or understood throughout the Empire. Fifty-two days after the death of Tiberius, Caligula took a very misleading oath and claimed the title of Imperator instead of Augustus. On March 28 of A.D. 37, the Senate voted full power to Caligula, allowing him to gain in one single moment all the powers that Augustus achieved in his entire lifetime. The succession went smooth for numerous reasons, most having to do with the use of the Praetorians. While Tiberius was on his deathbed, Macro had sent Praetorian agents to provincial governors and legions in order to immediately claim Caligula as emperor upon the death of Tiberius. Macro administered the oath of allegiance to the troops and fleet in the Bay of Naples on the day of Tiberius' death -- insuring Caligula's ascension. The Senate met days later and Macro read the late Emperor's will, and the Senate was force to nullify the joint-heirships of Caligula and Gemellus. Macro's aid to Caligula reached far past the succession. He attempted to soften the image of the future emperor and encourage him to stray from undignified actions such as public dancing.
The main target of Caligula's support was the Praetorian Guard. His alliance with Macro assured, to some degree, the Guard's backing. However, Caligula did not stop there in his indulgence of the Praetorians. Tiberius' will had ordered 1,000 sesterces for each member of the Guard, but Caligula doubled this amount to win additional favor. The importance of the Praetorian support was a common staple in the naming of emperors following Caligula. His uncle, Claudius, was named emperor based on the Praetorian Guard's appointment in A.D. 41 and a sum of 15,000 sesterces. Even as far down the imperial line as the emperor Nerva and the Barrack Emperors, the pacification of the Guard was the only way to claim the title of Emperor. This precedence began with Caligula as an offspring of his alliance with Macro and his use of them to counter and silence the Senate, and became another lasting legacy of Caligulan Politics that continued to shape Roman government years after the assassination of Gaius.
After the Praetorian Guard was secured in his camp, Gaius had to appease the Senate. He promised to treat the Senate with a respect that was lacking under Tiberius and attacked the former emperor's actions. At his first senate meeting, in true Augustan pageantry, he claimed himself as being under the Senate's guardianship and offered to share his power with them. He promised that he and the Senate would work together to achieve common goals, and amidst the fresh change, the Senate might have been naÃ¯ve enough to accept the young ruler's words as possible. This might also have to do with the Senate's belief that they could manipulate the immature leader that represented a desired older nobility in his lineage. However, this never came to fruition because of his cunning displays of political ability and Macro's ever-present guidance. Using money in Tiberius' will, Caligula also issued bonuses in pay to many Senators. Caligula took a political move from the arsenal of Tiberius as well, in that he made the Senators attend the special presentation of the payment to the Praetorian Guard. This action was used to awe the Senators and emphasize that the real power resided with the emperor and his deep financial abilities.
Macro's plan to secure Gaius' claim extended beyond the Senate and the Praetorian Guard. He knew the legions and provincial governors needed to accept the young prince as emperor. The armies were very supportive because of Gaius' link to their fabled leader Germanicus. The provincial governors were addressed by Praetorian agents, sent by Macro, even before Tiberius' death. A message from Cyzicus in A.D. 37 showed the unparalleled excitement possessed by the provinces: "that kings, too, the bodyguards of the empire, should with their own rays join in the illumination, so that the greatness of [Caligula's] immortality might be all the more hallowedâ€¦[kings] should pray for the eternal endurance of Gaius Caesar." With the Praetorian Guard, Senate, legions, and provincial governments behind him, the plan that Macro and Gaius had arranged was accomplished. This elaborate undertaking could not have been possible by ruler of political inconsistencies, in fact, it was as methodical of a show as ever seen in Roman politics.
Gaius had garnered the support of the essential elements of Roman government and military, however, he still had to gain the support of the people throughout the empire. His steps taken to promote his lineage did a lot towards achieving wide-scale approval, but other endeavors were implemented to assure this relationship. One profound impact came from Caligula's use of the imperial funds. Be it games or bonuses or building projects, Gaius managed to use all the money in the empire, but this practice, in itself, was a political message to further his image from the stingy greed of Tiberius. The ceremony surrounding the dedication of the Temple of Divus Augustus lasted two days and included a horse race and numerous sacrifices. However, public games were not used merely for dedications under Gaius. Gaius' plan included to fund the games to a lavish degree in an effort to rid his name from the public discontent surrounding Tiberius' thoughts on games. Caligula, in his unstable years, became excessive -- adding to his surviving unpopular image. Augustus had regulated the games in his reign, but Tiberius added even more strict requirements to the spectacles. He did not allow new games to be created in his honor, restricted the funds allowed to be spent on public displays, and even banished senators and equestrians that took part in the games. Tiberius viewed them as immoral and as events that attracted a bad crowd to Rome. The reversal of policy by Caligula in A.D. 37 did attract a large wave of popular support for the Emperor, but obsession ruined this new political avenue to control masses. Caligula could not control his love of the games and theatre, and his personal and sexual relationships with famous actors such as Mnester and Apelles even infringed into matters of the state. Had Caligula been able to control his obsession, a clear political goal would have been accomplished and the masses would have continued to rally around the Emperor.
Alongside his policies pertaining to games and theatre, Caligula lifted the bans on many pieces of work. He removed the tight-knit censorship policies of Tiberius, and this could very well have been to aid the people's idea that they had their own choices. Caligula also paid out large amounts of money to the people, nearly 200,000 Romans received gifts or bonuses in the first days of the reign of Gaius. In a shrewd maneuver to counterbalance his lavish spending with a needed sense of financial responsibility, Caligula published the financial accounts of the states for all Romans to inspect. This not only gave Gaius a medium to show his capability of balancing his spending with the needs of the state (a practice he ultimately failed at after his first year), but he helped further his ties to his lineage by re-implementing one of Augustus' policies discontinued by Tiberius.
Tiberius took charge of building projects under Augustus and the steep decline in building pursuits from 4 B.C. until Tiberius' death shows his lack of dedication to these programs. In fact, Tiberius horded his money so much, that he ran a surplus of over 110 million sesterces per year throughout his reign -- leaving Caligula almost 2.7 billion sesterces upon his death. Immediately, Caligula started the construction of two aqueducts upon his rise to the throne. In fact, it was Caligula's revitalization of public building that last throughout the years. Carefully-planned building endeavors were essential in garnering public support for an emperor, and this political device was put into action by Gaius' need to win over the people by giving them new building and continuing the separation of his image and that of his uncle's.
Uncontrolled spending was not the only way to win the people's favor, in fact, one of the boldest endeavors of Gaius was the adoption of the former joint-heir Tiberius Gemellus. Gaius forged a popular image with the compassionate way in which he treated the former competitor for the throne. Gaius went as far as naming Gemellus the Princeps Iuventutis ("Prince of Youth"), an honor Augustus bestowed upon his grandchildren Gaius and Lucius. By doing this, Caligula had seemingly named Gemellus the heir to the throne -- an overly-gracious, yet potentially-deadly move. The political undertones of this plan became apparent, because Caligula never allowed Gemellus to rally support in an attempt to usurp the crown. After his "sickness" set in, Caligula had Gemellus executed on the grounds of praying for the Emperor's death. Is this a clear example of a good political maneuver? Gaining the image of compassion was as beneficial as it was risky. Gemellus was only one death away from ruling the world, but Gaius probably knew that his increased support would allow for a disguised execution of Gemellus -- achieving a political goal as well as sacrificing little in the way of opinion. The fact that after his sickness set in, Caligula immediately killed Gemellus, probably, shows us that the plan was drawn up during the first year. Gaius used his cover of popularity, highlighted by his unprecedented compassion towards his potential usurper Gemellus, in order to dispose of the competition. Caligula effectively killed two birds with one stone. In fact, Ferrill notes that his popularity was so great after his first year that the people were very prepared to make excuses for the young ruler and his involvement in the death of Gemellus.
Caligula also grew his image of forgiveness in his first year with a clearly designed scheme to deceive the people for personal gain. The most embraced of all Caligula's endeavors might have been the removal of the maeistas (treason trials) -- the chief cause of fear and resentment under the rule of Tiberius. The maeistas began in 100 B.C. but were transformed under Sulla and Julius Caesar. Finally, Augustus replaced them with an Augustan Lex Julia, and the new laws served a double function. First, the law protected the state against rebellious magistrates and persons including acts of verbal abuse and slander. Secondly, it covered the crime of lese majeste -- attacks against the princeps, both real and imagined. These crimes were treated as infractions on the security of the state. Augustus used these laws very little, however, Tiberius abused them to control personal and political rivalries. Tiberius also implemented the death penalty, as well as banishment and property confiscation, as punishment. The public, for the most part, thought that Caligula's own mother and brother fell victim to Tiberius' abuse of these laws, adding fuel to the fire of popular resentment and fear regarding the aging Emperor. Caligula, in an effort to show no ill will towards those that were accused to making attacks against his family, burned the papers and letters relating to all maeistas cases in a public show in the forum. Dio claims, as much of the evidence supports, that Caligula burned only copies, so that despite winning popular support, he still possessed these documents for future use. He utilized theatrics again to appease the masses, yet still remaining in control of his political agenda. This act may not have been entirely Caligulan, in fact, Augustus may have done an similar practice with Antony's papers following Actium in 31 B.C. Augustus' display was not as visible as Gaius' endeavor, and in fact, Claudius planned a more methodical display early in his reign.
Barrett and Ferrill believe these signs of political savvy are either products of Macro's intense involvement, thus the decrease after Macro's death, or strokes of luck by a young Emperor in a situation that could only get better. Regardless, the first year was one of prosperity and popular optimism. However, some sources paint a picture filled with flaws in this first year and discredit many of these notions of political stability and consistency. First, many would argue that his use of the games to appease the masses was a mistake due to the inevitable outcome of aiding his addiction to gambling and overly lavish pursuits. Despite being a shrewd and risky move, it probably was not sound judgment that prevailed when Caligula enriched the treasury by gambling its funds on the dice game alea. This is not to say that his use of the public games was a direct precursor to this decision, but the continued revitalization of gaming during this first period of his reign gave the Emperor ample opportunity to engage in such endeavors.
Caligula placed a lot of power in the Praetorian Guard during his succession and securing of the throne. This did assure his title and remove any chance for Gemellus to usurp his power, but this could also be seen as showcasing his inability to see the future consequences of his actions. As the Empire moved on, the Praetorian influence was a necessity in achieving rule. Caligula's uncle Claudius was appointed emperor upon Caligula's assassination by the Praetorian Guard, namely because of his promise to increase their pay. Caligula also expanded the urban cohorts in Rome to help reduce violence within the city, however, they joined the Praetorians as major players in politics for years to come. In A.D. 69, both the Praetorians and urban cohorts helped remove Otho from the throne in favor of Vitellius -- an occurrence aided by Caligula's promotion of the two entities thirty years earlier.
Ferrill claims that Caligula was never fit to rule the world and his mental stability would never allow him to fully achieve these practices he set in motion. This places Caligula in a tough situation historically, where if he made any decision it would be looked at as politically inept. It is true that many of his ideas were overturned by himself after his sickness or disease set in, including his return to maeistas (many of unusual nature), his forced suicides of Macro and Gemellus, and numerous other horrific acts that overrode his popular image. His illness was the culprit that ruined all the potential in a successful run in office, if the definition of successful contains accomplishing his personal objective to return to a Caesarian autocracy.
Gaius used shrewd tactics to secure a questioned throne and eliminate all challengers without a civil war. He used cunning and planning to avoid the conflicts that befell upon Caesar and Pompey or Augustus and Antony. This, in itself, shows his capabilities. Caligula realized the lack of popularity of Tiberius and used this fact to increase his own popularity by denouncing Tiberius' rule and taking an opposite position on public games, spending, building projects, and maeistas. Caligula knew his family ties to Augustus and Germanicus placed him as the people's favorite to succeed, and he built upon this optimism by establishing honors and tributes to his family members. The rise of the Praetorian Guard was a growing movement that Caligula recognized and used it to ascend to throne, beginning a trend that would define the following years of imperial Rome. His accomplishments in foreign policy with the Parthians and border security, his publishing of the state's finances, and his achievement of political stability for A.D. 37 show the workings of a capable mind. In A.D. 41, Caligula was assassinated and his uncle Claudius took the title of Emperor. He immediately invoked the practices of Caligula by denouncing his unpopular predecessor, and followed this action with numerous imitations of Caligulan Politics. Whether it was sickness or illness or self-consumption that ruined the mind, and subsequently the rule, of Caligula, the legacy of Caligula is defined by that. Anecdotes of his madness, such as executing a merchant for selling hot water after the death of his sister, the potential promotion of his horse Incitatus to the position of consul, his countless acts of sexual deviance involving prominent wives and male actors, or his killing for man that offered his own life in order to spare the ailing Emperor (a backfired attempt of getting on the emperor's good side), have riddled the popular notion of Caligula. Anecdotes of his political consistency and cunning planning should supersede these horrid, but true, claims in the same way they have for Julius Caesar. Caligula's hunger for power was on the same level as Caesar, yet his actions to achieve these goals have been overlooked by history.
BIBLIOGRAPHY / WORKS REFERENCED
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ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
- Africa, Thomas W. "Urban Violence in Imperial Rome." Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer 1971): 3-21.
- Allen, Walter Jr. "The Political Atmosphere of the Reign of Tiberius." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 72 (1941): 1-25.
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- Balsdon, J.P.V.D. "The Successors of Augustus." Greece & Rome, Vol. 2, No. 6 (May 1933): 161-169.
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- Keaveney, Arthur, and John A. Madden. "The Crimen Maiestatis under Caligula: The Evidence of Cassius Dio." The Classic Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 48, No. 1 (1998): 316-320.
- Parker, Enid Rifner. "The Education of Heirs in the Julio-Claudian Family." The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 67, No. 1 (1946): 29-50.
- Purcell, Nicholas. "Literate Games: Roman Urban Society and the Game of Alea." Past and Present, No. 147 (May 1995): 3-37.
- Shotter, David. "Roman Historians and Roman Coinage." Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 25, No. 2 (October 1978): 156-168.
- Stewart, Zelph. "Sejanus, Gaetulicus, and Seneca." The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 74, No. 1 (1953): 70-85.
- Sutherland, C.H.V. "The Personality of the Mints Under the Julio-Claudian Emperors." The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 68, No. 1 (1947): 47-63.
- Thornton, M.K., and R.L. Thornton. "The Financial Crisis of A.D. 33: A Keynesian Depression?" The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 50, No. 3 (September 1990): 655-662.