Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, was the third Roman Emperor who reigned for a short period of 4 years from 37 AD to 41 AD. Though his early reign is considered brilliant, Caligula is mostly remembered for his despotic rule, insanity, perversion and acts of extreme cruelty; making him among the iconic ‘bad guys’ in the annals of history. There are numerous accounts of Caligula’s scandalous life and insanity. Some of the accounts regarding him are grotesque while others are outright ludicrous. Here are 10 anecdotes on the madness of Caligula. However many of them are disputed by certain historians who believe that his misdeeds are exaggerated.
#1 It was a capital offense to mention a goat in his presence
Caligula was tall, slim, and pale with sunken eyes and thinning hair. While his head was bald, his body was extremely hairy, and as a result, he was often the subject of jokes. Some compared his appearance to a goat. This had made him conscious of his looks and he ordered men with thicker hair to shave their heads. Mentioning a goat in his presence was made a capital crime by him, punishable by being beaten with an iron stick. Also, according to his biographer Cassius Dio, Caligula donned strange clothing, women’s shoes and various other accessories and wigs.
#2 Lavished excess attention upon his horse Incitatus
Though known for his harsh behavior, Caligula lavished great attention on his horse. This horse named Incitatus was given its own house, a marble house; and an ivory manger. Although challenged by some it is said that Caligula was considering to appoint the horse to the position of consul, one of the highest political positions in Rome.
#3 Had incestuous relations with his sisters
As a teenager, Caligula used to live with his great-grandmother, Livia (Augustus’s wife). During this period, he is believed to have developed incestuous relation with his sister, Julia Drusilla. He always showed extravagant affection for his sisters, especially for Drusilla. On her death in 38 AD, she was consecrated Diva Drusilla, the first woman to be honored so in Rome. He ordered her statue to be placed in the temple of Venus; the goddess of love.
#4 He built a bridge to defy a prophesy
Thrasyllus of Mendes was an astrologer and personnel friend of the second roman emperor Tiberius. He had once predicted that Caligula had “no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae” indicating the impossibility of such a thing to ever happen. Perhaps in defiance of the prophesy, Caligula ordered the construction of a temporary floating bridge using ships as pontoons. This bridge extended over two miles connecting the resort at Baiae to the neighboring port. The inspiration behind the bridge may have been the Persian King Xerxes I who had built a pontoon bridge for his army for crossing the Hellespont. It is said that Caligula used to ride the bridge on his horse wearing the breastplate of Alexander. Some historians claim that the dearth of ships during this insane project brought a brief famine in Rome while others challenge the existence of the bridge in the first place.
#5 Had no consideration for rank or allies
Caligula made the high ranking senators run for miles in front of his chariot. He had sexual relations with the wives of his allies. Ancient historians note that Caligula began seizing the states of many people in power by falsely accusing, fining and even killing them. He even executed Sutorius Macro, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, to whose support he owed his accession. He accused Macro of prostituting his wife to him.
#6 Killed a gladiator in a mock fight
Caligula had a keen interest in gladiators. Once fighting one of the gladiators with wooden swords, the gladiator deliberately fell, perhaps to honor the young emperor. Caligula pounced on him and killed him with a real dagger.
#7 Poisoned his rivals horses
Caligula lavished vast amounts of money in sports and games. He built a race track for himself and poisoned the horses of his rival.
#8 Had pleasure trips on Lake Nemi
Two massive pleasure barges, furnished with marble decor, plumbing, mosaic floors and statues were discovered from Lake Nemi in the 1930s, one bearing the inscription “Property of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.“. These ships, which were used as elaborate floating palaces, were among the largest vessels built in ancient Rome.
#9 Paraded his wife naked
After the death of his first wife, Caligula snatched his second wife from her wedding to another man. His third wife was a married woman whose husband was forced to give her to the emperor. His fourth wife Milonia Caesonia maintained his interest. She was promiscuous and vivacious and he paraded her naked in front of his friends. She bore him his only child Drusilla, named after his sister.
#10 Liked to drink dissolved pearls
Guests to his dinner parties were presented with food made of gold and he drank pearls dissolved in vinegar.