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" (or less literally "Bootsy"), that he got in his childhood, because, him being a Military Brat, his mom liked to dress him up as a soldier. His great-uncle was Emperor Tiberius, while his nephew was the equally infamous Nero. Caligula was elevated to emperor once Tiberius died in AD 37.
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.
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 himnote come from Suetonius, who wrote a biography about Caligula 80 years after his death at the behest of another dynasty of Emperors who had interest in demonizing their predecessors.note
What is certain that Caligula wanted to increase his authority, which made him unpopular with the Senate note , and that he engaged in some rather extravagant and occasionally questionable public and personal construction projects at a time when Rome experienced both an economic downturn and a brief faminenote .
Said construction projects are a prime example of Caligula's complicated legacy: on the one hand, he enacted public works like improvements to several harbors during the famine (allowing increased food imports), expanding and upgrading the empire's road system, and initiating the construction of two new major aquaducts. On the other hand, he constructed of a pair of massive ships on a sacred lake- the smaller one a floating temple to Diananote , the larger one lavishly equipped as a party barge (for purely ceremonial purposes related to the temple, of course).
There were several conspiracies against him, and he was eventually stabbed to death by his own bodyguards, who also killed his wife and infant daughter. He would be succeeded by his uncle Claudius, who ruled Rome from AD 41 to 54 before being succeeded by Nero.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Rarely will he be called "Emperor Gaius" in fiction or non-fiction.
- Historical Domain Character: Together with Nero and to a lesser extent, Commodus, the stock evil 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:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "The Origin" claims that Caligula was a vampire who eventually became Jack the Ripper.
- 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.
- The Shazam! villain Ibac derives his superpowers from four ruthless historical figures, with Caligula providing his cruelty and the latter "c" in his name.
- Simon Dark: The "familiar" Gaius Publius was once a gladiator who earned Caligula's ire by refusing to kill a defeated opponent. Caligula gave Gaius to a sorcerer who proceeded to transform him into an inhuman monster intended to be an unquestioning slave, but Gaius retained his mind and independence.
- 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.
- The History Bites episode "Caligula is Croaked" focuses on his psychopathy, assassination, and subsequent replacement by Claudius.
- Horrible Histories: Caligula is portrayed by Simon Farnaby, who makes him out to be Laughably Evil.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: In "The God You Know", Caligula is portrayed as an immature, cruel, and murderous tyrant who hears voices and achieves godhood by stealing Aphrodite's divinity. Xena, in disguise, seduces him, then faces him in a chariot race and beats him. She then reveals her true identity and beats him up due to his lack of skill with his powers. Xena bluffs that she still has the power to kill gods, and he decides to kill himself by falling on a sword rather than be killed by her. His ghost has a cameo in "You Are There", where he's waiting to be ferried across the River Styx by Charon, but he's so obnoxious that Charon throws him into the river.
- The third season of Netflix's docu-drama series Roman Empire is devoted to him, with Ido Drent in the title role. The series narrative suggests his late life negative reputation is not only due to his illness, but was also to an extent jumpstarted by being fostered and becoming a house guest/hostage of his predecessor uncle Tiberius, who also fell into his own depravities.
- John Zorn's "Moonchild: Songs Without Words" (2006) has a track called "Caligula".
- Albert Camus wrote a play about him entitled 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.
- Referenced by Nero in Fate/EXTRA, who reminisces about him being a delightful uncle who would play with her and tell her stories when she was a child. Hakuno thinks to themself that Nero is probably deliberately choosing to remember Caligula as he was before he went insane.
- 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.