Favourite Caligula story


Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
But would 500 not be a before a breakfast job to 5000 Praetorians? Caligula was trampling all Roman elites and customs, in my book enough for a court revolution. What happened to those German guards after Caligula's assassination?
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Dec 2011
A bodyguard is simply to protect the emperor from individuals or conspirators. The Praetorian guard is a different case, any emnity coming from them could probably be quelled by giving them gold.
Mar 2018
But would 500 not be a before a breakfast job to 5000 Praetorians? Caligula was trampling all Roman elites and customs, in my book enough for a court revolution. What happened to those German guards after Caligula's assassination?
Having two equally powerful armies in the capital with potentially different political interests seems like an absolute recipe for disaster. A small one as a personal body guard, and another as a local state army seems a lot less risky.
Aug 2015
As long as they were paid and treated well, all was good. If they weten't then things could get... problematic. As for 500 bodyguards, this does seem like overkill (or over anti-kill) but is an indication of his popularity (or his paranoia). This number SHOULD be enough to protect the Emperor and his immediate family and their property/interests against any surprise attack.

The fact that there may be more Praetorians is irrelevant, as the likelihood was that any plot would be hatched by only a small number of people, usually those with close access to Caesar. The bigger the plot, the more men involved, the more chance it would be exposed and the conspirators confounded. There would be untold riches and significant promotion for those who uncovered a plot.

It also has to be questioned how unpopular Caligula was with the Praetorian. Certainly they were treated well, had special privelege and good pay, and what was it to them if their leaders were ridiculed by their commander in chief? Doubtless many of the Praetorian troops had derogatory nicknames for their commanders and likely found Caligula's treatment of them amusing rather than deserving of his assassination. And of course with their bosses death, the question of their future was very much in doubt; a return to the Republic could see their disbandment or perhaps even a return to standard army duties away frim Rome. Certainly their protection and support for Caligula's uncle shows that many had not turned against the emperor; those who had plotted against him would fear reprisals from his surviving relative.
Incidentally, the German bodyguard appears to have eventually become large enough to put up some kind of fight against the Praetorians. In 238 the Praetorians seized the emperors Pupienus and Balbinus and took them into the street, where they tortured them. The German bodyguard ran to the rescue, and the Praetorians, realising they were running out of time, finished off the emperors so that the Germans would have nothing to fight for.

Herodian 8.8.7: When the Germans learned what was happening, they snatched up their arms and hastened to the rescue. As soon as the praetorians were informed of their approach, they killed the mutilated emperors.
Sep 2012
Tarkington, Texas
I was of the opinion that the German Bodyguard was brought in by Tiberius and stayed at least until Claudius's time.

Mar 2017
Dios said
I find virtually all of the anecdotes about Caligula all too believable. All surviving sources indicate that Caligula was insane. Being given absolute power and incredible wealth at such a young age, might drive anyone insane. To my mind, he wasn't very intelligent. He seems to have accepted at face value, like a naive schoolboy, the existence of the Roman gods, and the stories of their behaviour. He thought he could do exactly what he liked - so he did. Any talk of him having an undelying political aim in insulting the senators is ridiculous, he was simply fascinated by his own power and he enjoyed letting everyone know about it. He was too stupid to realise that he had to cultivate good relationships with people who would eventually support him in time of need. As it was, he made too many enemies, who eventually got rid of him, after a fairly short reign, and everybody, except perhaps his sisters, was glad to see him gone.

At this distance of time we may laugh at his actions, but the stupidity, the waste and above all the cruelty of his reign sickens me. It was the imperial system itself that spawned such a disgusting ruler, and sure enough another of the same kind would soon arise, named Nero.
There does seem to be a "moment".

When he starts out, everyone likes him. He gives gifts the to Roman people, and allegedly does a fair enough job at governance for a newbie. There are some major public works that he STARTED (it took Claudius to finish them).

Then he gets sick ... really sick. When he gets past it, he turns a corner and goes nuts. Maybe it kicked off some psycholgic weakness that was opportunistic, maybe he ran a high enough fever to get brain damage .... or maybe it's coincidence and exactly as you say ... the imperial system on someone immature. Claudius seemed to do OK without too much nonsense (a bit of Tiberius-like destruction of enemies that's usually gossed over).

...and another possibility. Tapeworm was common in Roman's wealthy enough to eat pork. Mostly, tapeworms & their eggs stay in the gut. SOMETIMES, the tape worm eggs make their way outside the gut into the rest of the body (seen in Egyptian mummies upto present day). When the hatched tapeworm forms reach the brain, it's called Neurocysticercosis. One symptom is headaches ... it can cause epileptic fits. Maybe he lost the part of his brain that contains reason & empathy.
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Dec 2011
Maybe there are indications that Caligula had good intentions at first, because he attempted to revive the people's assembly and offices but apparently almost no-one came forward (probably out of fear). Even so I think most rulers have a "honeymoon" period when people have become tired of the late ruler and hope for a better future. As regards the "moment", Suetonious does mention that a plot against him was discovered and from then on he became a monster. Maybe his sickness played a part, but is there any condition which can turn a mind from being reasonably stable to wantonly sadist?

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