Caligula Essay

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Gaius (Caligula) (A.D. 37-41)
Garrett G. Fagan
Pennsylvania State University

A Bust of theEmperor Caligula
Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (b. A.D. 12, d. A.D. 41, emperor A.D. 37-41) represents a turning point in the early history of the Principate. Unfortunately, his is the most poorly documented reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The literary sources for these four years are meager, frequently anecdotal, and universally hostile.[[1]] As a result, not only are many of the events of the reign unclear, but Gaius himself appears more as a caricature than a real person, a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes. Although some
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During his reign, Mauretania was annexed and reorganized into two provinces, Herod Agrippa was appointed to a kingdom in Palestine, and severe riots took place in Alexandria between Jews and Greeks. These events are largely overlooked in the sources, since they offer slim pickings for sensational stories of madness. [[8]] Two other episodes, however, garner greater attention: Gaius's military activities on the northern frontier, and his vehement demand for divine honors. His military activities are portrayed as ludicrous, with Gauls dressed up as Germans at his triumph and Roman troops ordered to collect sea-shells as "spoils of the sea." Modern scholars have attempted to make sense of these events in various ways. The most reasonable suggestion is that Gaius went north to earn military glory and discovered there a nascent conspiracy under the commander of the Upper German legions, Cn. Lentulus Gaetulicus. The subsequent events are shrouded in uncertainty, but it is known that Gaetulicus and Gaius's brother-in-law, M. Aemilius Lepidus, were executed and Gaius's two surviving sisters, implicated in the plot, suffered exile. [[9]] Gaius's enthusiasm for divine honors for himself and his favorite sister, Drusilla (who died suddenly in A.D. 38 and was deified), is presented in the sources as another clear sign of his madness, but it may be no more than the young autocrat tactlessly pushing the limits of the