1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gaius Caesar

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GAIUS CAESAR (A.D. 12–41), surnamed Caligula, Roman emperor from 37–41, youngest son of Germanicus and Agrippina the elder, was born on the 31st of August A.D. 12. He was brought up in his father’s camp on the Rhine among the soldiers, and received the name Caligula from the caligae, or foot-soldiers’ boots, which he used to wear. He also accompanied his father to Syria, and after his death returned to Rome. In 32 he was summoned by Tiberius to Capreae, and by skilful flattery managed to escape the fate of his relatives. After the murder of Tiberius by Naevius Sertorius Macro, the prefect of the praetorian guards, which was probably due to his instigation, Caligula ascended the throne amid the rejoicings of the people. The senate conferred the imperial power upon him alone, although Tiberius Gemellus, the grandson of the previous emperor, had been designated as his co-heir. He entered on his first consulship in July 37. For the first eight months of his reign he did not disappoint the popular expectation; but after his recovery from a severe illness his true character showed itself. His extravagance, cruelty and profligacy can hardly be explained except on the assumption that he was out of his mind. According to Pelham, much of his conduct was due to the atmosphere in which he was brought up, and the ideas of sovereignty instilled into him, which led him to pose as a monarch of the Graeco-oriental type. To fill his exhausted treasury he put to death his wealthy subjects and confiscated their property; even the poor fell victims to his thirst for blood. He bestowed the priesthood and a consulship upon his horse Incitatus, and demanded that sacrifice should be offered to himself. He openly declared that he wished the whole Roman people had only one head, that he might cut it off at a single stroke. In 39 he set out with an army to Gaul, nominally to punish the Germans for having invaded Roman territory, but in reality to get money by plunder and confiscation. Before leaving, he led his troops to the coast opposite Britain, and ordered them to pick up shells on the seashore, to be dedicated to the gods at Rome as the spoils of ocean. On his return he entered Rome with an ovation (a minor form of triumph), temples were built, statues erected in his honour, and a special priesthood instituted to attend to his worship. The people were ground down by new forms of taxation and every kind of extortion, but on the whole Rome was free from internal disturbances during his reign; some insignificant conspiracies were discovered and rendered abortive. A personal insult to Cassius Chaerea, tribune of a praetorian cohort, led to Caligula’s assassination on the 24th of January 41.

See Suetonius, Caligula; Tacitus, Annals, vi. 20 ff.; Dio Cassius lix.; see also S. Baring Gould, The Tragedy of the Caesars (3rd ed., 1892)l H. F. Pelham in Quarterly Review (April, 1905); H. Willrich, Beiträge zur alten Geschichte (1903); H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit, i. pt. 1; J. B. Bury, Student’s Hist. of the Roman Empire (1893); Merivale, History of the Romans under under the Empire, ch. 48; H. Furneaux’s Annals of Tacitus, ii. (introduction). Mention may also be made of the famous pamphlet by L. Quidde, Caligula. Eine Studie über römischen Cäsarenwahnsinn and an anonymous supplement, Ist Caligula mit unserer Zeit vergleichbar ? (both 1894); and a reply, Fin-de-Siècle-Geschichtsschreibung, by G. Sommerfeldt (1895).