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Did Caligula Actually Make His Steed A Consul?

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We've all heard the story of that mad Roman Emperor Caligula making his horse a Roman Consul, Ancient Origins, however, questions whether that may really have been the case or was Caligula's words actually taken out of context and re-purposed.


While the ancient evidence mentions a plan for making Incitatus consul, the repeated retelling of the story over centuries (in particular, as a snide way to suggest that a politician might be out of his or her depth) means we often forget that Caligula’s horse never actually sat in the senate at all.

The story therefore probably owes its origin to an off-hand remark made by Caligula that he would make Incitatus a consul (though he never followed through with it).

One of the most popular theories is that the emperor was criticising the consuls: they were such “asses” that he might as well include his horse in this elite group.

A joke by Caligula the comedian has been interpreted as historical fact.

What are your thoughts on this.  We all know how words and their meanings can be misconstrued in our own times.  I make a comparison to this with the story of King Arthur whereby I made mention (obviously not on this site but elsewhere) of how an oral tradition was extended and added to each time it came into contact with other culture (thus giving us the story and legends as we know them today).  Could the same be said for the story of Caligula's Senatorial Equine - a case of Chinese whispers or of a good story getting in the way of the facts?.

Edited by Melisende

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We are told the story. We have no proof either way.

Personally I don't give it any thought. If anything, the story shows us how little we really know.


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No, he didn't. Caligula was not impressed with the performance of the Senate, any more than they were impressed with his antics. So, having lost his temper, Caligula told senators how useless they were. Effectively he was saying "My horse could do a better job than you lot and if you don't watch it, I'll make him Consul!". Like many such events in the lives of powerful characters, those who overheard it drew other conclusions or added emphasis in spreading the story.

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