Caligula: Rome's Cruelest Emperor
Here is another video to put into your files for the future. This time, we are exploring the history of Ancient Rome. Mary Beard takes us through the life of Caligula. Was he Rome’s cruelest emperor? Why has he gone down into history as Rome’s Biggest Villains?
Caligula’s story starts in Germany, in the Rhine Valley. His father was Germanicus, he was heir to the throne, and his mother was the granddaughter of the first Roman Emperor. Caligula was born Gaius Caesar Germanicus, it sounds like he was the thrasher of the Germans. Caligula traveled through the German lands while his father was on the campaign. He grew up in a war zone. The most intriguing artifact connected to Caligula’s childhood was a pair of boots, the Caggiula. His mother dressed the young Caligula as a miniature soldier. The soldiers around him nicknamed him Caligula or “little boots” or “bootikins.” It was a nickname he would hate.
In 19 AD, Germanicus suddenly died, while Caligula was seven years old. Romans were grief-stricken with the news of Germanicus' death. Germanicus’ death was possibly ordered by the Emperor and the person who poisoned him committed suicide before the trial. The Emperor was not seen as grieving for his nephew’s death. Germanicus was not given a state funeral when his ashes were returned to Rome. The Emperor made sure that every important city knew that he was not responsible for Germanicus’ death. Caligula’s mother felt the Emperor was responsible. Knowing this Caligula’s mother was exiled.
When Caligula was 19, the emperor summoned the boy to his palace at Capri. Why did the Emperor summon Caligula to Capri? Nobody knows. It could be theorized that the Emperor taught Caligula how to be a dictator. During his time, Caligula’s family was under attack. His mother starved to death and his brothers were violently murdered. Caligula would have learned that anyone close to power was in danger of dying. He also learned never to show any emotion.
When the Emperor died the Roman Senate declared Caligula Rome’s third emperor. When he was declared emperor, Caligula had a young cousin murdered as he was seen as an alternative to his reign. His second act as emperor was to put on a play to demonstrate his family connections and his right to rule Rome. He then had his mother’s ashes brought to Rome and buried her next to his father Germanicus. The coins he minted had his image on them and he would scatter coins out to the people. The coins hammered home the message of Caligula’s bloodline. It also hammered home the message that Caligula had the support of the army.
Caligula started many building projects around Rome. He built aqueducts, the imperial palace, an obelisk was shipped from Egypt. Caligula showed off his wealth. However, there were shadows underneath the Emperor’s show. The only people Caligula was his servants’ and the servants played a role in the palace games. They helped Caligula keep control over the empire. The servants did not represent a direct threat to him. Caligula was a man paranoid about security, especially after what happened with his family.
He was right to be worried, there were people after him. One group came from his family because one of them wanted to be emperor. The second group came from ordinary people who wanted to not have an Emperor. These threats would turn him into a monster.
You could always use clips from this documentary in the classroom as there is some discussion that is targeted at an older audience. Mary Beard is a fantastic narrator of Roman history. You can continue to watch this documentary to find out more about Caligula.
You can access the documentary on YouTube here.
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