He did things that we can't even talk about.
The Romans knew he'd lost his head,
When he filled a vacant senate seat with Mister Ed.
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, him being a Military Brat, his mom liked to dress him up as a soldier. His uncle was the insane pederast Emperor Tiberius, who was even worse than Caligula himself ever was (though he had less of the publicity), while his nephew was the equally infamous Nero. He was elevated to emperor once the doddering freak finally kicked it.note
The first six months of his reign were reportedly an easygoing time for the Romans. Caligula was something of a PR maestro and knew how to put himself over: holding endless games, burning Tiberius' "enemies list", and showering gold coins (actually his inheritance) onto his fans. Later that year he fell seriously ill, the cause of which is still debated. Some suggest herpes or malaria (untreated malarial encephalitis causes extremely high fevers which are noted for causing brain damage in those who survive them) while others suggest lead poisoning.
All of Rome prayed for him to survive. Be careful what you ask forů
Upon recovering, Caligula had permanently lost his hair and apparently his mind. 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, marrying a woman who was 9 months pregnant so he wouldn't have to wait for an heir (whether or not it was his is unclear), using a tax hike upon the birth of his daughter to provide gold for him to roll around in, and wanting to make his favorite horse a consul come from Suetonius, who wrote a biography about him 80 years after his death. And Suetonius was in the employ of an another dynasty of Emperors who had interest in demonizing their predecessors. It's certain that Caligula 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.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Historical-Domain Character: Together with Nero the stock mad Roman Emperor to appear in popular culture.
- 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, at the very least, pretty unstable.note
Appears in the following works:
- The 2011 Avatar Press miniseries Caligula begins with Emperor Caligula and his cronies raping the protagonist's family to death as part of their drunken revelry, then follows the protagonist's infiltration of the Emperor's inner circle in a plot to assassinate him. It turns out that Caligula was possessed by a demon during his high fever.
- He's the subject of the infamously controversial gorn movie Caligula (1979) by Tinto Brass, where he's played by Malcolm McDowell.
- He's portrayed by Jay Robinson (in Large Ham style) in the 1953 film The Robe and its sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators.
- Albert Camus wrote a play about him entitled Caligula.
- Robert Graves in his novel, I, Claudius (closely following Suetonius) portrays him as evil and completely insane.
- He's mentioned in America (The Book), in the section "The 5 Greatest Moments in Negative Advertising", where it's said that he was nearly undone by a smear campaign that depicted him as a "pretty nice guy". He went into "damage control" by publicly sodomizing a puppy.
- The Trials of Apollo: He's the third emperor and one of the Big Bads of the series. He kills Jason Grace. Apollo had met him once as a mortal, and was apparently so terrified of him he didn't return to the Roman Empire for several decades.
- In the TV adaptation I, Claudius he's played by John Hurt. Awesomely.
- In the 1968 mini-series The Caesars (which owes more to Tacitus than Suetonius), he is played by Ralph Bates, who manages to be terrifying without charging into Large Ham territory.
- John Simm played him in a TV miniseries about Nero, and his performance is pretty much a first draft for his portrayal of The Master in Doctor Who.
- A waxdroid of Caligula is one of the leaders of the Villain World waxdroids in the Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown". Much of his onscreen time was of him ordering Rasputin the Mad Monk to give Lister and Cat increasingly bizarre punishments.
- He's played by Justin Timberlake in a Saturday Night Live sketch. A group of Romans come over to his palace and he appears to announce that, "My name is Caligula, and I'm an alcoholic sex addict. But with your help, all of you, I'd like to change that." His guests are not amused to hear that the wild orgy they were anticipating has been replaced with "game night". They try to talk him back into being his usual depraved self.
- John Zorn's "Moonchild: Songs Without Words" (2006) has a track called "Caligula".
- In Assassin's Creed II, it's stated that it was a member of the Assassins that finally put down Caligula.
- Is the star of the [adult swim] online game Viva Caligula! and its sequel, Viva Caligula! in Hell. The goal? Kill 'em All, using various weapons.
- Appears as a summonable Servant in Fate/Grand Order and a member of the Berserker class, and in this universe his insanity was caused by the affections of the moon. He's unbelievably violent and more than a little obsessed with his niece Nero, but in his rare moments of lucidity he shows a surprisingly thoughtful bent and he was a good man before his madness took him.
- Crusader Kings II references one of his exploits with a random event as a ruler with the "Lunatic" trait where you name your horse your chancellor.