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Emperor Caligula
Is this the face of a monster?note .

'"'Ita feri ut se mori sentiat."'' ("Strike so that he feels he is dying.")

The infamous Roman emperor, reigned between AD 37 and AD 41. His actual name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus; Caligula is a nickname, meaning "little boot", that he got in his childhood, because he liked to dress up as a soldier. The popular image about him is of an insane tyrant. It's hard to find out how much of this is true, since hardly any contemporary sources survived about him. The outrageous tales about him committing incest with his sisters, sending his army against the sea and having them collect shells as booty, and wanting to make his favorite horse a consul come from Suetonius, who wrote a biography about him 80 years after his death (and was in the employ of an another dynasty of Emperors who had interest in demonizing their predecessors). It's certain that he wanted to increase his authority, which made him unpopular with the Senate. There were several conspiracies against him, and he was eventually stabbed to death by his own bodyguards.

Is the trope namer for The Caligula and Caligula's Horse. His life was the source material for the infamously controversial film Caligula starring Malcolm McDowell in the title role.

Tropes associated with him:

  • A God Am I: Reportedly, he referred to himself as a god, and had the people worship him. Also promoted beloved sister Drusilla to godhood. Most emperors were deified after death, so this alone wasn't unusual, but he was the first to want this while he was still alive. Indeed, as we know from Philo's Embassy to Gaius, one of the only contemporary sources on him, he ordered that a statue of him be installed in the Jerusalem Temple.
  • Asshole Victim
  • Ax-Crazy: Regardless of how exaggerated this is, there's a reason why he's the trope name of The Caligula. It was bad enough for his bodyguards to kill him.
  • Big Fancy House: To the point of trying to incorporate temples into it.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Eventually his guards snapped and killed his entire family. His successor, his uncle Claudius, was spared because they thought he was too stupid to be a danger. They fell for it.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: He was accused of this with all three sisters. Drusilla was said to be his favorite.
  • Carpet of Virility: Suetonius claimed that Caligula was so self-conscious of his exuberant body hair that he made it a crime to mention the word "goat" in his presence.
  • Circus of Fear: Literally what growing up in Caligula's life meant. Uncle Tiberius took him to be raised on a private land of his own, surrounded by carnival dressed type freaks, and surrounded by sexual depravity. Tiberius was also a pedophile, and thus several hellish years of this likely led to what Caligula would become.
  • Conspicuous Consumption
  • Cool Boat: His massive pleasure boats. Jeweled sterns, onboard baths, and even fruit trees and vines.
  • Daddy's Little Villain and Enfante Terrible: According to Suetonius, when he heard that his daughter Julia attacked her playmates and tried to scratch their eyes out, he bragged that there was no dispute of who her father was. This portrayal of Julia may have been exaggerated to justify her murder after Caligula's assassination. (And it's next to no excuse to beat a 2-year-old girl to death)
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: A favored execution method.
  • Defiant to the End: As he was being murdered by his own soldiers, Caligula reportedly exclaimed: Vivo! (I live!)
  • Depraved Bisexual, The Casanova, and Creepy Crossdresser: More or less standard Roman invective, but Throw It In.
  • Dirty Coward: His conduct during his only military campaign is best described as this trope mixed with sheer insanity.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Reportedly, he disliked his nickname.
  • Evil Nephew: He is often portrayed as this due to his treatment of his Uncle Claudius, which provides the page quote. Caligula is also accused of being responsible for the death of his Great-Uncle Tiberius, the previous Emperor.
    • Tiberius was an Evil Uncle (well, Evil Great-Uncle) to Caligula in turn: an almost-universally disliked leader with a reputation for paranoia and depravity who most likely was the one responsible for the death of Caligula's father. When Tiberius died and the rumors flew that it was Caligula who did him in, no one doubted it. Or much cared, really. Depending on what source you read, the common citizen's reaction to his death ranged from "It's about bloody time" to outright dancing in the streets; he was hated that much. And if Caligula, son of the much-beloved and mourned Germanicus and next in line for the throne, was the one who did it, so much the better! It's not like Caligula's rule could be much worse, right?
  • Evil Redhead: According to recent archaeology.
  • Fear of Thunder: To the point of hiding under the bed during particularly strong storms.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: "Caligula" translates as "Little Boot", or "Bootsie". Kneel Before Bootsie, plebians!note .
  • Forced Prize Fight: He forced a man who had vowed to fight as a gladiator if the emperor recovered from a serious illness to fulfill his vow. It took a lot of begging to convince Caligula to let him go after winning.
  • For the Evulz
  • Freudian Excuse: Given the lack of reliable historical sources, there's a lot of speculation as to what exactly made Caligula as crazy as he was. If sources are to be believed, his personality changed very suddenly, going from Troubled, but Cute to Ax-Crazy after surviving a bout of a serious, unspecified illness. Theories as to what actually happened to him range from a stroke, to brain damage brought on by lead poisoning, to syphilis or some other sexually-transmitted disease.
    • Another possibility is that he believed that he'd been poisoned, kicking off a cycle of escalating suspicion and hostility between him and his former friends and allies. This could have pushed him to the point of mental breakdown, with or without actual brain damage to aggravate the situation.
    • Going further back into his personal history, several of Caligula's close relatives were executed or imprisoned for life by Tiberius, after which he spent years as Tiberius' "guest" (i.e. prisoner) before succeeding to the throne. It's hardly surprising that his psyche was a bit prone to warping.
  • General Failure: To an absurd extent. While his strategy itself is believed to be well thought-out, his insanity prevented him from carrying it out. He ended up declaring war on a Celtic sea god and taking seashells as prisoners of war.
  • Generation Xerox: It's worth note that both him and Julius Caesar were killed in extremely similar ways. It's also worth note that he spent quite a bit of time with Tiberius, who (probably) killed his father to gain power. Guess what Boots here did to dear old Uncle Ty.
  • Genre Blind: Do not insult your guards and sleep with their wives. Also, do not walk alone down a dark tunnel while everyone else is occupied.
  • Greed: He was infamous for his avarice.
  • Groin Attack: Favorite target of Roman assassins, it seems. Domitian was also stabbed there.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: There has been much scholarly debate on just how many of his evil deeds are real. Although it was common for writers to slander previous rulers, most historians still think that he was pretty unstable.
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Love Potion: Caligula may have been driven (more) insane by an aphrodisiac given by his wife Caesonia.
  • Military Brat: As a child.
  • Money Fetish: Always avaricious, he eventually started piling up coins to walk on them or to wallow in.
  • My Sister Is Off Limits: Terribly averted. He was more than happy to let his friends see his sisters... when he wasn't with them.
  • Narcissist
  • Nightmare Fuel: Exaggerated or not, this was one guy you did not want to meet in a back alley.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: As mentioned in the page summary, he was officially named Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. The use of his nickname wasn't so widespread in the Ancient Roman era; Suetonius and Tacitus both refer to him as "Emperor Gaius".
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: Unconventionally cruelly done to a Roman knight who had done something to displease him: the knight was dispatched with a message to Ptolemy of Mauritania. The message read, " Do neither good nor ill to the man I have sent."
  • Prematurely Bald: He started losing his hair at young age.
  • Prince Charming: Based on his father Germanicus' reputation, the Romans thought he would be one after Tiberius' purges. And he almost was, for a little while.
  • Psychopathic Manchild
  • The Purge, by means of Kangaroo Courts: Coupled with his utter contempt for the senatorial order, a big part of why he got such a horrendous write-up from Roman historians.
  • Royally Screwed Up: He and his nephew Nero were only the two most outstanding members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The Claudian gens in particular had a reputation for self-serving cruelty that stretched back to the early days of the Roman Republic: one notable member of a parallel branch, Appius Claudius Crassus, led a famously sneaky and cruel attempt to establish a tyranny in Rome in the 5th century BCE (the episode of the Decemviri). In fact, the dynasty could be said to have only three more-or-less stable members: Caesar, Augustus and Claudius, and even those three were probably Affably Evil at best. All others were, according to sources, all sorts of whackos, Nero and Caligula being just most spectacular.
  • Start of Darkness: Most likely began with the death of his father Germanicus under, ahem, mysterious circumstances. Seven-year-old Gaius was then bounced around from relative to relative until finally coming to live with his Evil Uncle Tiberius, who may have been the one who had the more popular Germanicus killed so that he could not conspire against him. Tiberius was also rumored to be just as twisted as Caligula turned out to be, if not just a little smarter about keeping his craziness out of the public eye. Fourteen years later, Tiberius, in turn, dies under "mysterious circumstances," and Caligula takes the throne. Nobody bats an eye over the subsequent rumors.
  • Stealth Insult: Some people have interpreted making his horse a senator as this.
  • Streisand Effect: In one of his moral treatises, Seneca speaks of a house on the coast that was propierty of Caligula, which was destroyed by that emperor, because his mother was detained there as a prisoner by the former emperor Tiberius. Seneca related that when strangers saw the house they didn’t pay any attention to it, but since Caligula left only ruins, all were interested to know its history.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Some accounts claim that this trope was literal and that Caligula had this habit of insulting members of his own Praetorian Guard and forcing himself on some of their wives. Turns out, that's not such a smart thing to do to the people tasked with keeping you alive.
  • Tragic Villain : His entire family was murdered when he was just a child, and he was forced to live under the care of the person who was responsible for these murders. These incidents must have traumatized him really bad, and made him what he was in his later life.
  • Traumatic Haircut: He started losing his hair at a young age, which the Romans culturally regarded as a deformity, but most balding Romans went with wigs (his own great-uncle Gaius was notable for mostly leaving it alone). Caligula, on the other hand, would go around having men with the audacity to have thick heads of hair in his presence arrested and shaven bald in public.
  • The Tyson Zone: He was near its center.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: He was the beloved mascot for Germanicus's soldiers. His mother even made him a little uniform. A few tragic deaths later…well...
  • Villainous Glutton: Again, standard Roman invective, but there's probably something to it.
    • The Alcoholic: Caligula reportedly drank an unnecessarily large amount of wine, and this was by Roman standards. It didn't help that the wine was sweetened with defrutum, which was made in a lead bowl. Arguably, this is what drove him insane.
  • Warrior Prince: He tried to be this.
  • Written by the Winners: Caligula was not a winner, all historical records about him were all written by his enemies, leading modern day historians to question their reliability.


In fiction:


Emperor AugustusUsefulNotes/ItalyThe Travels of Marco Polo
Emperor AugustusAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainEmulation

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