Finding Dulcinea Logo New
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

The “MAD” Roman Emperor Caligula: Biography, Facts, Death

Written By Monika Soni
Last updated: September 4, 2023

As one of the most controversial figures in the grand timeline of Roman history, Caligula, or the “MAD” emperor, leaves an inherent sense of fascination and cautionary intrigue wherever his name is mentioned.

Noted for his eccentricities and outrages, Roman Emperor Caligula is an enigmatic historical figure who continues to baffle historians and enthusiasts alike.

From a significant rise to power to exploits that led him to declare himself a God, it’s no wonder why he is often referred to as the “Mad Emperor of Rome.” Add in elements of power struggles with the Senate and a mental landscape seemingly ahead of its time.

This infamous ruler’s tale comes across like a suspense thriller built on elements of fear, awe, and bewilderment. Stay tuned as we unravel the mind-boggling reign of this unique Roman emperor.

Who was Caligula, The Roman Emperor?

Who was Caligula

Caligula, born Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was a Roman Emperor notorious for his unpredictable and erratic behavior. He earned his moniker ‘Caligula,’ a term of endearment meaning ‘little soldier’s boot,’ during his childhood spent among the Roman legions that his father commanded.

Let’s delve deeper into the root of Caligula’s perception as a ‘mad’ emperor and revisit some of the incidents that defined his reputation.

Caligula: The Name and The Man Behind It

Born in 12 AD, Caligula was the third son of Germanicus, a beloved military leader. During his time in military camps, young Gaius attracted attention by wearing miniature soldiers’ outfits, including little boots or “caligae.”

This led to soldiers affectionately nicknaming him ‘Caligula.’ With time, what once was an affectionate nickname developed into something darker.

As Emperor from 37-41 AD, Caligula’s actions suggest he suffered from serious mental health problems. His erratic behavior ranged from unnecessary executions to lavish indulgent behaviors that depleted Rome’s treasury. He allegedly ordered statues to be erected of himself across temples in Rome for people to worship him.

Such acts swiftly turned the jubilation over Caligina’s ascent into shock and then ultimately despair, labeling him as ‘mad.’

Also Read: Aphrodite: Greek Goddess of Love | Birth, Role, Family, Facts

The Rise and Reign of Caligula

The Rise and Reign of Caligula

Caligula, born Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, rose to power through a series of strategic maneuverings not unlike what we see in the popular TV series “Game of Thrones.”

His reign as an emperor was marked by unrivaled extravagance, personal eccentricities, and a display of power that placed him among unforgettable Roman emperors.

How Caligula Survived the ‘Game of Thrones’ to Become Emperor

As the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius (the second Roman Emperor), it was clear that Caligula’s position in the royal succession was secure if he could avoid intense political battles often likened to a ‘Game of Thrones.’

Following Tiberius’s death in 37 AD under suspicious circumstances—suspected to be orchestrated by Caligula himself—Caligula ascended the throne at just 24 years old.

Explore Caligula’s Notable Accomplishments

Despite being labeled as ‘mad,’ Caligula did have some notable accomplishments during his rule. He initiated public construction projects such as building new aqueducts to carry fresh water into Rome and resuming work on a lavish palace on Palatine Hill that previous emperors had started.

He also implemented significant military campaigns and improved harbor facilities at Rhegium and Sicily, bolstering Rome’s commanding presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, Caligula’s reign had its highs despite its dramatic lows.

Also Read: Hermes – Greek God of Herds & Trade [Family, Myth & 5 Facts]

Understanding the “Madness” of Caligula

Understanding the "Madness" of Caligula

Caligula’s reign brings with it a fascinating paradox, marked by unconventional approaches and forward-thinking attitudes alongside instances of madness.

Understanding his controversial reign takes us on a journey through the prevalent aspects that solidify his label of ‘Mad Emperor of Rome’ and how he remained a notable character throughout history.

Detailing Instances that Gave Him the Title ‘Mad Emperor of Rome’

Caligula’s rule was filled with instances that led to him being called the mad emperor. His debauched social behavior and his perceived abuse of power contributed largely to this label.

He made outrageous decisions, such as declaring war on Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, and ordering his legions to pierce the ocean with their spears.

Another example was when he declared his favorite horse, Incitatus, a senator purely out of whimsy – flaunting disregard for traditional structures.

Such unconventional methods shook Roman society and left an indelible impression about his erratic form of governance – painting him as a ruler veering into lunacy.

Examination of How Caligula Was Ahead of His Time

While Caligula’s actions were deemed irrational by many, it can be argued that they were politically motivated — showcasing some strategic genius that goes overlooked.

A highlight almost heralding democratic principles is when Caligula opened the granaries during the famine – signaling empathy and understanding towards subjects. This moved beyond traditional oligarchic practices where relief for the masses was rarely considered.

Also, despite his prolific hedonism, seen as an extravagance by many, he backed it up with infrastructure projects like aqueducts and harbors, which were essential contributions to Roman civilization.

Although seen as ‘mad,’ Caligula nevertheless introduced aspects of governance that would later form cornerstones in modern society, proving he was ahead of his time in certain ways.

Also Read: The Greek God Morpheus: Birth, Death, Wife, Fate, Facts

The Divinity Claimed by Caligula

The Divinity Claimed by Caligula

Caligula did what no Roman Caesar dared to do: he declared himself a God. The man behind this audacious act was none other than Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, more commonly known as Caligula. His divine claim was driven by political ambition, deep-seated fear of loss of power, and fueled by his perceived invincibility.

The public’s reaction to this claim was a blend of disbelief, awe, and fear, which would ultimately lead to his downfall.

The emperor’s declaration of divinity wasn’t an overnight occurrence. Rather, it was a gradual process marked by strategic self-deification acts. He started modestly by portraying himself with features of different deities in statues and portraits across Rome.

Gradually, these implications escalated into the public realm when he assumed the role of Jupiter Latiaris during religious ceremonies and requested his statue be placed in Roman temples.

So why did Caligula declare himself a deity? His motives were entwined between insanity rumors coursing through the empire and strategic manipulations to consolidate and extend his power reach.

By professing divinity while still alive (a bold step as Romans only deified deceased emperors), Caligula believed he could instill fear among senators while also winning over citizens’ loyalty with an aura of celestial authority.

The community reaction was split into two main factions – simple acceptors conditioned by religious devotion and those who sensed this as a budding tyranny masked in a divine façade.

Some willingly complied out of religious respect or fear, building altars for their new “God Emperor” as traditions mandated. However, others viewed this move with skepticism, seeing beyond the veil to recognize it as a power grab masked under spiritual pretense.

Thus, what appeared on the surface as an outrageous claim demonstrated the sagacity behind Caligula’s move – using psychological warfare to keep everyone, friend or foe alike, under reigns – Yet unfortunately for him, even self-declared gods could not escape mortal fate.

Also Read: Unraveling the Legend of Heracles: The Demigod’s Tale

The Rift between the Throne and the Senate

The Rift between the Throne and the Senate

Caligula’s reign as intense battles on physical battlegrounds and grand halls of political power marked the Roman Emperor. This was evident in the tension that existed between him and the Senate, as they constantly clashed due to differences in ideas and authority.

Unpacking how “Caligula waged war with the Senate”

Despite his title as emperor, Caligula did not enjoy unanimous support from all quarters of Roman governance, noticeably from the Senate. He was often involved in heated encounters with senators.

His management style deeply unsettled numerous senators, leading to their dissatisfaction. One such occurrence involved Caligula’s direct involvement in legislative affairs – a domain traditionally set aside for the Senate.

Caligula challenged conventional norms and unilaterally made decisions that usually required senatorial counsel or approval.

This audacious approach was viewed as a blatant disregard for political traditions and evidenced his strained relationship with this important body within Rome’s power structure.

These unconventional decisions sounded an alarm bell among some senators who viewed them as reckless and threatening to the traditional checks-and-balances system.

The discord between Caligula and the Senate was fuelled further when he entertained the thought of “abolishment of senatorial control,” replacing it with imperial control, an act that essentially meant a war declaration against senatorial independence.

Also Read: Unraveling the Mystique: Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom

Final Days Of Caligula Before Decline

Final Days Of Caligula Before Decline

As Caligula’s reign approached its end, one of the most pressing fears was a potential return to the Republic system. The very idea troubled him deeply, and several factors contributed to this.

Caligula’s fear of returning to the Republic system

The Republic system was where Rome saw its roots, a time when Emperors didn’t exercise absolute authority. This sparked fear because it directly challenged his power as an emperor, essentially reducing his status to nothing more than a citizen with limited control over Rome.

Caligula had known only autocratic rule, exerting imperial control dear to him. He craved absolute power and left no stone unturned to ensure he maintained it. A republic threatened this setup by taking decisions out of the hands of one chief and dispersing it among senators.

Caligula was obsessed with maintaining his authority. His display of eccentricity was often seen as a tactic to show the world that he held supreme power over Rome’s destiny – enough to enforce bizarre orders without question. His erratic behavior acted as a shield against any threats or conspiracies hatched in the Senate against him.

One can argue that the potential shift back to Republic rule served as an existential crisis for Caligula, frightened at losing the very thing that defined his unique and infamous legacy in history – absolute control.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did Caligula, the Roman Emperor, die?

Caligula met his end through an assassination conspiracy involving his own guards. He was stabbed to death at a public event.

How long was Caligula Emperor of Rome?

Caligula ruled as the Roman Emperor for four years, from 37 AD to 41 AD. His reign was relatively short due to his early demise.

Did Caligula’s death change anything?

Indeed, Caligula’s death led to significant changes within the Roman Empire. It marked the end of his tumultuous reign and resulted in a brief return of the Republic before Claudius became emperor.


Roman Emperor Caligula’s reign is a fascinating study of power, fear, and supposed madness. His actions while in power earned him the epithet of ‘mad,’ but they also showed an individual unafraid to challenge traditional norms and stake his claim.

Yet his unconventional approach sowed the seeds of his downfall. This exploration allows us a unique view into the life and times of one of Rome’s most infamously eccentric leaders, providing a broader understanding of the intricate dynamics of ancient Roman politics.

Charles Eames

Monika Soni is a passionate writer and history enthusiast who joined the FindingDulcinea team in July 2023. With a deep love for both ancient and political history, she brings a unique perspective to her articles, weaving together narratives that captivate and educate her readers. Monika holds a B.Sc. degree from the esteemed Govt. College of Girls, Panchkula. When she's not diving deep into historical research, Monika enjoys exploring local museums and historical sites. Her commitment to bringing history to life makes her a valuable asset to the FindingDulcinea community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram