Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Octavia

What Made Caligula Crazy?

Recommended Posts

Caligula wasn't crazy. I agree he wasn't especially well adjusted as an individual, but then the Romans were often colourful characters. What we can easily observe is his immaturity. He takes nothing seriously except his own importance and safety. He plays games with people, he acts out roles, such as general, auctioneer, gladiator, statesman, and so on. However his sense of humour is black, and as a cruel personality, almost like a child torturing ants, he is callous to lesser individuals. In fact his sense of humour did nothing for his survival chances. Cassius Chaerea, the Praetorian Prefect at the time, was a war hero from the conflicts in Germania. Unfortunately, Chaerea also had a soft voice, and Caligula teased him mercilessly about his manhood. Right up until Chaerea - alongside other conspirators - stabbed him in a tunnel leading to the theatre.

There a re a number of anecdotes that seem to portray him as a nutter. Making his horse Incitatus a senator? He threatened to, on the grounds that the Senate were useless and his horse could do a better job, but anti-Caligulan propaganda and misinterpretation by witrnesses gave birth to the stories of his madness. Did he want to be worshipped as a god? Apparently, but then, this was considered normal for rulers in Egypt and it is no surprise he considered moving his capital to Alexandria (Egypt was also forbidden for Senators by Augustan rules thus he would rule as a god-king with no interference from those pesky layabouts in the Senate). His booty gathered at the expense of Neptune? Caligula had raised three legions to invade Britain, his attempt at military credibility, which like everything else he could not take seriously, staging fun and games along the way to the continental coast, where his troops, fearful of what lay ahead, mutinied on the beach and refused to embark. Caligula shamed them by ordering them to collect seashells - if Neptune was his enemy, then his booty will be from him, and presented the collection in Rome in order that the legions would be humiliated but of course the whole point was lost.

There's a great deal of speculation about all sorts of weird and wonderful ailments he suffered during his famous bout of illness but really that's like trying to diagnose disease from a story. Can you identify the mental illness suffered by Frodo as he bore the Ring toward Mount Doom? Any conclusion is possible.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/1/2018 at 0:18 PM, caldrail said:

Caligula wasn't crazy. I agree he wasn't especially well adjusted as an individual, but then the Romans were often colourful characters. What we can easily observe is his immaturity. He takes nothing seriously except his own importance and safety. He plays games with people, he acts out roles, such as general, auctioneer, gladiator, statesman, and so on. However his sense of humour is black, and as a cruel personality, almost like a child torturing ants, he is callous to lesser individuals. In fact his sense of humour did nothing for his survival chances. Cassius Chaerea, the Praetorian Prefect at the time, was a war hero from the conflicts in Germania. Unfortunately, Chaerea also had a soft voice, and Caligula teased him mercilessly about his manhood. Right up until Chaerea - alongside other conspirators - stabbed him in a tunnel leading to the theatre.

Quite a few of the 'bad' emperors could've stayed alive if they had cared about, or at least had not messed with, their guards and personal staff. Caligula, Domitian, most likely Caracalla, several barracks emperors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's difficult to be certain about these things because the nature of a conspiratorial society is that paranoia and misinterpretation sometimes interfere in business. There are many anecdotes in Roman history that mention innocent people getting harshly treated under suspicion. As much as some Caesar's had fixed their own fate, others were simply caught up in the machinations of others. Ruling Rome in that period was not a defined job - it was a composite of whatever status, support, honours, titles, and offices the holder could bring to bear, and in theory anyone could attempt to dominate the empire with no agreed form of succession ever. Further, Rome was a violent society, and grievances often led to deaths. If one is extremely powerful, wealthy, and so on, it is very easy to say or do something that will upset someone. To err on the side of caution would in all likelihood result in weakness being detected and that would be fatal at some point. Basically, the Caesar's had to play the game to survive, and that meant a heavy hand and a keen eye, but of course not everyone is so paranoid and ruthless, and being human, occaisionally they got careless or made poor decisions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Certainly; I omitted Commodus from my list because the poor I-am-Iron-Man was likely done in by a vast right-wing African conspiracy, "caught up in the machinations of others," i.e. Aemilius Laetus first and foremost.

However, Laetus appears to have fixed his own fate in masterminding the plot. :D Perhaps he expected to betray Pertinax to Septimius Severus, but Pertinax got himself killed too early, and Laetus had to face Didius Julianus anxious to secure himself. That was unfortunate. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would like to share my opinion on your question from my point of you when child lost its parents at early age he cannot be able to judge that what is right or wrong and also become quite stubborn and the name caligula which means little boots means his parents might have loved him and never taught their son to be emperor of Rome and somewhere I have read that tyberius was great leader but in reality he was the one who stole innocence from child and made him tyrant so let's forgive caligula I know lot of people will disagree with me but I have just put forward my point of view

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's my view that Caligula was murdered and defamed in a senatorial reaction. You may have been emperor but you couldn't thumb your nose at the senate and expect to live. Nero seems to have fallen the same way and suffered the same blackening of the reputation. Oddly enough both are mentioned in Seutonius 'The Twelve Caesars' (Graves) as having 'ignored the senate' or words to those effects.

A note about Calligula's horse. In the above Seutonius 'The Twelve Caesars' it states that it wasn't his horse but his favourite horse in one of the famous racing factions and that he had said 'that horse would make a better consul' 

The section also has a lot of things listed that Calligula was said to have thought, making one suspect that it was retrospective excuse-making for a deposition
 

Edited by James Lawrie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The office of Emperor is all illusion. We call them that, they didn't. Mary Beard will insist "of course they were emperors!" which she has written in her book SPQR, but I disagree intensely. They did the same job - but 'Emperor' wasn't a proper job anyway (As discussed by Greg Woolf in interview with Mary Beard on tv).

The word 'emperor' descends from Imperator which meant 'Victorious General', a traditional honour given by soldiers to commanders who win wars, but later, used from Augustus onward to describe their status as de facto control over the legions - but then, legions were notoriously fickle and certainly not regiments in a state army organisation. All independent, and all prone to deciding loyalty for themselves. Please note that nearly half the major battles fought by Imperial Roman legions were against each other.

The thing is the Romans didn't organise their political and military sphere as we do today. They compartmentalised everything. So that when Augustus hands power back to the Senate, it isn't actually a ruse as is often described but a traditional requirement he obliges the Roman state with and one that only parts company with a certain allocation of power. He still has his powerful CV, his authority and status in Roman society, his senatorial influence, his wealth, his catalogue of influential friends and contacts, and most telling of all, the adoration of the common folk. He could afford to lose a privilege or two. It made his career less contentious.

Sorry, I'm getting distracted. Caligula. Well Claigula comes to power with the high hopes of Roman society but manages to alienate everyone except the remote common people within four years. He struggles to retain respect, and that black humour of his spoils everything. The elite tire of his antics and disrespect. But a few held grudges. Especially Cassius Chaerea, the Praetorian Prefect and war hero of the Germanic campaigns. Caligula ribbed him mercilessly for his soft voice, and for a man of action rewarded with the highest military post of the time, it was too much. Chaerea was among the leaders of the insurrection and helped murder Caligula in the passage leading from the theatre.

Edited by caldrail
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having studied classical history for a few years now, the most satisfying answer to this question to me is that the Julio-Claudian dynasty all shared a hereditary disease. Some lists of proposed illnesses exist on independent sites, I feel that if this were true it could answer many questions we have about the actions of these emperors.

This theory has reasonably good footing as well as Suetonius details that after his first 'good' year, he should be called Gaius the monster and not Gaius the Emperor, this is shortly after he falls into a Coma and so perhaps there is room for this idea of a mystery illness ?

Regardless, it could also be nurture over nature as he did live a traumatic life, even by Roman standards. He had likely been groomed by Tiberius on Capri, lived on a military camp (Hence his nickname Calligula or 'Little boots') and so was surrounded by violence as he grew up and was subjected to the many cruelties that took place in the treason trials.

To answer your question, no one truly knows however I feel the most applicable reasoning comes from the idea of a traumatic life or simply an illness that had been present in all of his dynasty.

Edited by Liber Pater

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really dislike this 'disease' paradigm. I've sen all sorts of preposterous ailments put forward for just about every notable historical character that attempts to justify why he was so colourful. It seems to be a facet of human psychology that some seek diverse answers that sound clever and satisfy a need for diversity in thinking. I'm not convinced at all. The Roman sources are very keen to point out character flaws and love anecdotes of odd behaviour. The truth is that humanity is not quite sane and sensible. In any modern society you will find plenty of oddballs and powerful maniacs. It's that oddness that helps propel someone to positions of note - those of us less able to tolerate or exhibit unconventional behaviour do seem to find something beyond their conformity hard to understand. it's why they remain among the faceless crowd whilst those prepared to be different take centre stage. It happens in all walks of life. But necrotic viruses eating people? Strange mental conditions causing aggression and domination? It's all hokum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess the definition of "insane" is both imprecise and unspecific.

Caligula certainly showed signs of psychopathology, however. Quick review of traits of psychopaths:

 

Quote

 

The twenty traits on the Hare Psychopathy checklist are:

  1. pathological lying
  2. glib and superficial charm
  3. grandiose sense of self
  4. need for stimulation
  5. cunning and manipulative
  6. lack of remorse or guilt
  7. shallow emotional response
  8. callousness and lack of empathy
  9. parasitic lifestyle
  10. poor behavioral controls
  11. sexual promiscuity
  12. early behavior problems
  13. lack of realistic long-term goals
  14. impulsivity
  15. irresponsibility
  16. failure to accept responsibility
  17. many short-term marital relationships
  18. juvenile delinquency
  19. revocation of conditional release
  20. criminal versatility

 

 

https://www.learning-mind.com/hare-psychopathy-checklist/

 

Sure, we will never know exactly why Caligula acted the way he did. Childhood psychological trauma? Childhood disease? Traumatic brain injury? An unknown hereditary organic brain disease? A hereditary propensity for a personality disorder? Too much TV and social media?  My guess is that his aberrant behavior was probably a result of many of these different factors. 

That said, as I get older, I've come to appreciate the delicate health of our brains. I have long suspected that the behavior of England's Henry VIII was more than the result of cold calculations. I accept the notion that Henry probably suffered an early brain trauma from jousting that changed the course of history.

https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/henry-viii-brain-injury-caused-by-jousting-to-blame-for-erratic-behaviour-and-possible-impotence/

 

 

guy also known as gaius

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting. That more or less confirms the suspicions I have of people trying to make diagnoses on the basis of classical sources. It seems any behaviour not considered calm and logical is in some way a disorder. One might suggest why the diagnosis is being attempted on the basis of that alone.

We are social animals. Like other species so blessed with complex relationships, our motives vary both in scope and intensity. Some individuals are more benevolent, others malignant. Some lash out, others are more calculating. I'm reminded of a documentary following a pack of chimpanzees. It involved the activities of one female who murdered other chimp's babies whilst she had none of her own, and at one point, even consoled a bereft mother. My contention is that there is no fixed standard of behaviour. We are subject to deviation according to many factors and it's another case of the bell curve. A happy average, with extremes in a very minor presence at each end.

Truth is, everyone thinks they're sane or normal - of course they do, because otherwise their self-esteem is challenged and what other detailed frame of reference do we have but our own internal conceptualisations?

But regarding this thread, what made Caligula crazy? Idle gossip and barbed writing. Not that I think he was a happy average man - far from it.

Edited by caldrail

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×