37 - 41 CE
|The archetype for the Mad Roman Emperor, Caligula is said to have achieved a level of depravity and cruelty that none of his successors could beat (though several tried), and his name has become synonymous with sexual perversion and self-indulgence.|
|About this coin: This would be a remarkably handsome coin, had it not been ravaged by "bronze disease", an attack of chloride ions that can cause a coin to self-destruct in short order if not aggressively dealt with. It's still one of the best portraits of Caligula I've seen.|
Caligula was declared emperor when his reclusive grand-uncle Tiberius died (perhaps with a little help from Caligula's friend, Macro). He ruled for just under four years. Caligula's mother and two brothers had been executed by Tiberius, yet Caligula still managed to gain Tiberius's trust and friendship. It appears that Tiberius, a bitter and reclusive old man, was aware of Caligula's propensities. Upon declaring Caligula his heir, Tiberius is quoted as saying, "I am rearing a viper for the Roman people".
Caligula's real name was Gaius. He earned the nickname, "Caligula" (which roughly translates to "Little Boots") at age 2, when he appeared in front of the army in a miniature version of the full military outfit including army boots, or "caliga". He hated his nickname, and during his reign he punished anyone whom he caught using it.
At first, Caligula's reign was a relief after Tiberius's paranoia. But after an illness that might have been a nervous breakdown, Caligula began a series of murders of his friends and heirs, including Macro, the Praetorian commander who is alleged to have killed Tiberius for him.
He went through wives in a hurry, including one woman who was in the process of marrying another man when Caligula stepped in during the wedding and took her for his own. (He divorced her two months later) He was also accused of an incestuous relationship with his sister, Drusilla, but that may have been an invention by his enemies.
Caligula spent money lavishly on extravaganzas, such as building a two mile road across the surface of the Bay of Naples on top of a continuous line of merchant ships so he could race his chariot across it. Eventually, he exhausted the fortune left to him by Tiberius and began extorting and confiscating property. In this period, several serious murder conspiracies were hatched against him, including one involving two of his sisters (including Agrippina, mother of the future emperor Nero), whom he banished.
His military accomplishments were nonexistent. He personally led and botched a campaign in Germany. Nonetheless, he forced the Senate to award him a "triumph" when he returned to Rome. He was also planning a campaign in Britain, but he wouldn't live long enough to lead it himself, and it would be left to his successor, Claudius, to execute it.
More and more, Caligula began to act as if he believed himself to be a god. He built a temple to himself, and forced the wealthy to pay him large sums of money to be his priests. It's not clear whether he was in earnest or whether this was simply a new way of extorting money from people that tickled his warped sense of humor.
Finally, on 24 January, 41, a wide-ranging assassination plot succeeded. Caligula was stabbed to death as he left the Palatine Games. The only ones who seemed particularly upset by this were the Germans of the Imperial bodyguard, who ran amok, killing many innocent people in their hunt for the assassins.