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Useful Notes / Caligula

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"Caligula was no boy scout,
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.

"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, 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.

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 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:

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    Comic Books 
  • 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.


  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 

  • John Zorn's "Moonchild: Songs Without Words" (2006) has a track called "Caligula".

    Video Games 

    Western Animation