Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus reigned as emperor of the Roman Empire from 37-41 A.D.
His reign represented a major turning point in the early history of the Principate. Unfortunately,
there is very little information on the reign of Gaius(otherwise known as Caligula) but the
information we do have provides clear evidence of the animosity his people felt towards him. As
a result of Caligula’s “capricious cruelty” and “harebrained schemes”, the Roman people were
unwilling to worship him as the god he insisted he was. In fact, just after 3 years and 10 months
of ruling the empire, he was assasinated by the very people that was paid to protect him.
At the time that Tiberius past away Caligula was in a perfect position to assume power. however,
Tiberius’s will named him and his cousin, Tiberius Gemellus joint heirs to the throne. Caligula
forcibly got Tiberius’s will declared null and void on the grounds of insanity. Furthermore, he
ordered the murder of his cousin Tiberius to get him out of the way.
The Senate declared caligula emperor on March 28 and he returned to Rome to find people
rejoicing his first actsas emperor. They were quite generous in spirit and helped him obtain much
lyalty among his people. He gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard, recalled exiles, and
reimbursed those wrongedby the imperial tax system. As one historian put it, “at this point in
time, Caligula’s popularity was immense. Yet within just 4 years he would be lying i n a bloody
heap, murdered by officers of the very guard entrusted to protect him.” The question remain of
whatever went wrong?
Soon after, Caligula took ill and from that time on, he never really seemed the same. Caligula
ordered anyone just suspected of treason or disloyalty be put to death. The accused were refused
a trial; these actions angered the courts and they soon alienated Caligula. His military activities
are portrayed as ludricrous, having Gauls dress up as Germans at his victory and Roman troops
ordered to collect sea shells.
When Caligula returned to Rome, his extravagant games and events emptied the treasury. In
order to make up for the loss, he employed radical methods in order to raise funds. He taxed
everything, including prostitution. To raise the money to continue his extravagant spending, he
ordered the Romans to name him in their wills. It became a capital crime not to leave all your
belongings to Caligula.
Even though he was married, Caligula took on many lovers, both male and female. This shocked
ordinary Romans who believed strongly in the sacredness of marriage and family. Another insult
to Rome, Caligula demanded to be worshiped as a living god. He ordered statues of himself to be
put up and replace those of Jupiter in the temples.
Considering all these abuses it is not surprising to learn that there were many attempts to
assasinate Caligula. Not until 41 A.D. did one of these plots succeed. High ranking members of
the Praetorian Guard, who were supposed to protect the emperor, cornered Caligula in a palace
corridor and stabbed him to death. Whatever the cause, Caligula’s rule became a disgrace to the
Roman people and to the empire as a whole.