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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"note  (or less literally "Bootsy"), that he got in his childhood, because, being a Military Brat, his mom liked to dress him up as a soldier. His father was the general Germanicus, whose personal charisma and general ability to win the loyalties of civilians and soldiers (despite a complicated military command record) made him the de facto imperial heir. Caligula's great-uncle was Emperor Tiberius, while his nephew was the equally infamous Nero. After Germanicus died in Roman Syria, it was suspected he had been poisoned, either by a jealous Tiberius, the Governor of Syria Gaius Calpurnius Piso, or both men working in conjunction (it's now generally assumed he died of malaria). Though Tiberius pleaded innocence (and some of Germanicus' final words were "tell Tiberius to avenge my death"), Caligula's mom, Agrippina, believed the Emperor had killed her husband and launched a campaign of PR terror against him. In the ensuing mess, Caligula's mother and two brothers were imprisoned and/or exiled. Caligula himself, wanting to stay out of the mess, spent the remainder of his youth with Tiberius in his island fortress on Capri, where he'd placed himself into self-imposed exile to get away from the machinations of Rome. Depending on who's telling the story, Caligula either grew up watching Tiberius engage in all sorts of debaucheries and horrors that went on to shape him, or just watching his great uncle sink deeper into alcoholism. Whatever the case, 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, publicly 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...

Upon recovering, Caligula had permanently lost his hair and apparently his mind. Though the popular image of him is as an insane tyrant, he may have just been comically inept at running a government, suffered a nervous breakdown, or some combination of the three. It's hard to find out how much is true, since few contemporary sources survived about him. The outrageous tales about himnote  come from Suetonius, a notorious gossip who also published books on the most famous prostitutes in Rome and whose biography about Caligula came out 80 years after the emperor's death at the behest of another dynasty of Emperors who had interest in demonizing their predecessors.note  A true contemporary chronicler was Seneca, only he was hardly an objective source either given that Caligula hated him and almost executed him at one point.note  Seneca's account is much less bizarre, although he still pictures Caligula as someone terribly unfit for his position who had completely let the power go to his head. A second contemporary, the Jewish writer Philo, also met Caligula personally, in his case to try and negotiate an end to Caligula's attempt to install idols in the temple in Israel, and his depiction falls in line with Seneca's in depicting Caligula not so much insane but an utter Jerkass unfit to rule. Cassius Dio, another later writer, falls in between Suetonius and Seneca/Philo, depicting a Caligula who's a touch tyrannical but generally just too incompetent for a job like his.

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). The fact that these projects sent the fabulously wealthy Caligula from Riches to Rags and he was on the verge of tanking the Roman economy were probably the real final straw in folks deciding there was a need for a regime change.

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.

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:

  • Fluffy the Terrible: One of the most infamous rulers in history is almost always called a name that translates as "Bootsy".
  • 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, utterly incompetent.note 
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Rarely will he be called "Emperor Gaius" in fiction or non-fiction.

Appears in the following works:

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    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 

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


    Video Games 
  • 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 them all, using various weapons.
  • Nasuverse:
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • The Unbiased History of Rome had Caligula portrayed in a manner consistent to contemporary history for the first few months, but then after falling ill, the portrayal turned from him claiming to be a god to going through a divination process and actually becoming one. Among other infamous antics that got portrayed as "cladly", the infamous "War Against Neptune" had him go on a god-to-god fight as a result of the sea god standing in the way of invading Britain, then put him on a chokehold while ordering his legions to collect their bounty of seashells. When he got assassinated, he ascended out of disgust.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation