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File:EmperorCaligula 1910.jpg

 Ita feri ut se mori sentiat. ("Strike so that he feels he is dying.")

The infamous Roman emperor, reigned between AD 37 and AD 41. His actual name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus; Caligula is a nickname, meaning "little boot", that he got in his childhood, because he liked to dress up as a soldier. The popular image about him is of an insane tyrant. It's hard to find out how much of this is true, since hardly any contemporary sources survived about him. The outrageous tales about him committing incest with his sisters, sending his army against the sea and having them collect shells as booty, and wanting to make his favorite horse a consul come from Suetonius, who wrote a biography about him 80 years after his death (and was in the employ of an another dynasty of Emperors who had interest in demonizing their predecessors). It's certain that he wanted to increase his authority, which made him unpopular with the Senate. There were several conspiracies against him, and he was eventually stabbed to death by his own bodyguards.

Is the Trope Namers for The Caligula and Caligula's Horse. His life was the source material for the infamously controversial film Caligula starring Malcolm McDowell in the title role.


Tropes associated with him:

  • A God Am I: Reportedly, he referred to himself as a god, and had the people worship him. Also promoted beloved sister Drusilla to godhood. Most emperors were deified after death, so this alone wasn't unusual, but he was the first to want this while he was still alive.
  • Ax Crazy: Regardless of how exaggerated this is, there's a reason why he's the trope name of The Caligula. It was bad enough for his bodyguards to kill him.
  • Bald of Evil
  • Big Fancy House: To the point of trying to incorporate temples into it.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Eventually his guards snapped and killed his entire family. His successor, his uncle Claudius, was spared because they thought he was too stupid to be a danger. They fell for it.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: He was accused of this with all three sisters.
  • Carpet of Virility: Suetonius claimed that Caligula was so self-conscious of his exuberant body hair that he made it a crime to mention the word "goat" in his presence.
  • Cool Boat: His massive pleasure boats. Jeweled sterns, onboard baths, and even fruit trees and vines.
  • Daddy's Little Villain and Enfante Terrible: According to Suetonius, when he heard that his daughter, Julia attacked her playmates and tried to scratch their eyes out, he bragged that there was no dispute of who her father was. This portrayal of Julia may have been exaggerated to justify her murder after Caligula's assassination.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: A favored execution method.
  • Defiant to the End: As he was being murdered by his own soldiers, Caligula reportedly exclaimed: Vivo! (I live!)
  • Depraved Bisexual, Casanova, and Villainous Crossdresser: More or less standard Roman invective, but Throw It In.
  • Dirty Coward: His conduct during his only military campaign is best described as this trope mixed with sheer insanity.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Reportedly, he disliked his nickname.
  • Fear of Thunder: To the point of hiding under the bed during particularly strong storms.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: "Caligula" translates as "Little Boot", or "Bootsie". Kneel Before Bootsie, plebians!
  • Forced Prize Fight: He forced a man who had vowed to fight as a gladiator if the emperor recovered from a serious illness to fulfill his vow. It took a lot of begging to convince Caligula to let him go after winning.
  • Freudian Excuse: Given the lack of reliable historical sources, there's a lot of speculation as to what exactly made Caligula as crazy as he was. If sources are to be believed, his personality changed very suddenly, going from Troubled but Cute to Ax Crazy after surviving a bout of a serious, unspecified illness. Theories as to what actually happened to him range from a stroke, to brain damage brought on by lead poisoning, to syphilis or some other sexually-transmitted disease.
  • Groin Attack: Favorite target of Roman assassins, it seems. Domitian was also stabbed there.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: There has been much scholarly debate on just how many of his evil deeds are real. Although it was common for writers to slander previous rulers, most historians still think that he was pretty unstable.
  • Love Potion: Caligula may have been driven (more) insane by an aphrodisiac given by his wife Caesonia.
  • Money Fetish: Always avaricious, he eventually started piling up coins to walk on them or to wallow in.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Terribly averted. He was more than happy to let his friends see his sisters... when he wasn't with them.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Exaggerated or not, this was one guy you did not want to meet in a back alley.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: As mentioned in the page summary, he was officially named Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. The use of his nickname wasn't so widespread in the Ancient Roman era; Suetonius and Tacitus both refer to him as "Emperor Gaius".
  • Prince Charming: Based on his father Germanicus' reputation, the Romans thought he would be one after Tiberius' purges. And he almost was, for a little while.
  • The Purge, by means of Kangaroo Courts: Coupled with his utter contempt for the senatorial order, a big part of why he got such a horrendous write-up from Roman historians.
  • Royally Screwed-Up: He and his nephew Nero were only the two most outstanding members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The Claudian gens in particular had a reputation for self-serving cruelty that stretched back to the early days of the Roman Republic.
  • Start of Darkness: Most likely began with the death of his father Germanicus under, ahem, mysterious circumstances. Seven-year-old Gaius was then bounced around from relative to relative until finally coming to live with his Evil Uncle Tiberius, who may have been the one who had the more popular Germanicus killed so that he could not conspire against him. Tiberius was also rumored to be just as twisted as Caligula turned out to be, if not just a little smarter about keeping his craziness out of the public eye. Fourteen years later, Tiberius, in turn, dies under "mysterious circumstances," and Caligula takes the throne. Nobody bats an eye over the subsequent rumors.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Some accounts claim that this trope was literal and that Caligula had this habit of insulting members of his own Praetorian Guard and forcing himself on some of their wives. Turns out, that's not such a smart thing to do to the people tasked with keeping you alive.
  • Traumatic Haircut: He started losing his hair at a young age, which the Romans culturally regarded as a deformity, but most balding Romans went with wigs (his own great-uncle Gaius was notable for mostly leaving it alone). Caligula, on the other hand, would go around having men with the audacity to have thick heads of hair in his presence arrested and shaven bald in public.
  • Villainous Glutton and The Alcoholic: Again, standard Roman invective, but there's probably something to it.
  • Written by the Winners

In fiction:

  • Robert Graves in his novel, I, Claudius (closely following Suetonius) portrays him as evil and completely insane. In the TV adaptation he's played by John Hurt. Awesomely.
  • He's the subject of the infamous Gorn movie Caligula, where he's played by Malcolm McDowell.
  • He's portrayed by Jay Robinson (in Large Ham style) in the 1953 film The Robe and its sequel, Demetrius and The Gladiators.
  • Albert Camus wrote a play about him entitled Caligula.
  • John Simm played him in a TV miniseries about Nero, and his performance is pretty much a first draft for his portrayal of The Master in Doctor Who.
  • He's mentioned in America (The Book), in the section "The 5 Greatest Moments in Negative Advertising", where it's said that he was nearly undone by a smear campaign that depicted him as a "pretty nice guy". He went into "damage control" by publicly sodomizing a puppy.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, it's stated that it was a member of the Assassins that finally put down Caligula.
  • Is the star of the Adult Swim online game Viva Caligula! and its sequel, Viva Caligula! in Hell. The goal? Kill'Em All, using various weapons.
  • Appears in "Escape to the House of Mummies Part Two!", an The Venture Brothers episode involving time travel. He appears to be attracted to Hank.
  • The 2011 Avatar Press miniseries Caligula begins with Emperor Caligula and his cronies raping the protagonist's family to death as part of their drunken revelry, then follows the protagonist's infiltration of the Emperor's inner circle in a plot to assassinate him.

Notes

  1. Considering how handsome the bust is, it's probably the the face of the sculptor's nephew.
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