Caligula

August 31, 12 CE – January 24, 41 CE

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus–nicknamed “Caligula–was Emperor from 37 to 41 CE. Caligula earned his nickname, meaning “little boots”, as a boy, from his father’s (Germanicus) soldiers. When Germanicus died at Antioch in 19 CE, his wife, Agrippina the Elder, returned to Rome with her six children. There, she became entangled in a deadly feud with the emperor Tiberius. As Caligula was the sole male survivor, after Tiberius’ death in 37 CE, Caligula became the emperor of Rome.

Caligula’s reign started off well. For the first six months, he was considered to be a good ruler. Caligula was generous with the treasury and instituted a series of public reforms.

Then, he contracted a near-fatal illness, with some historians believing that he might have been poisoned. After recovering from the illness, Caligula’s personality took a dark turn. He became known as an insane tyrant and bathed his political role in religious symbolism. He killed on a whim and indulged his considerable libidinous appetite. He also had designs of leaving Rome for good and settling in Egypt, where he could be worshipped as a living god.

The ruling class of Rome had had enough.

In the end, Caligula would meet a fate similar to that of Julius Caesar. On 24 January 41 CE, a group of Praetorian guards accosted the emperor on the palace grounds and stabbed him to death.

Caligula’s Affection for His Mother Had Political Import

When Caligula became emperor, he did so as the lone-surviving male of the lines of Augustus and Germanicus (his three sisters were still alive). Caligula had lost both parents and both brothers during the reign of Tiberius. His father had died under mysterious circumstances and the rest fell during the family’s contest for power against Tiberius and his prefect Sejanus.

Since Caligula’s claim to power rested upon his membership in the Julio-Claudian family, early in his reign he tried to curry favor by taking a journey to the islands of Potnia and Pandateria to gather the ashes of his mother Agrippina and his eldest brother, Nero Caesar (his brother Drusus Caesar died of starvation in prison and none of his remains survived). The seas were stormy and the perilous nature of his journey only amplified the appearance of Caligula’s devotion to the memory of his family.

As part of this program of honoring his ill-fated relatives, Caligula issues an aureus with a portrait of his mother, who for the decade after Germanicus’ death had been Tiberius’ greatest critic and his most persistent opponent. On this aureus, her facial features are similar to those of Caligula; a feature that seems to combine family resemblance and a purposeful desire to show the kinship between the new Emperor and his mother.

Timeline of Important Events During the Reign of Caligula

37 – With the death of Tiberius on the island of Capri, Caligula takes the throne. The future emperor Nero is born in the town of Antium
39 – He  marches the legions to Germania in a “mock” campaign
40 – Caligula marches to the English Channel with the intention of invading Britain. Instead, the legions collect seashells.
41 – He is assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. Claudius, supposedly discovered hiding in the curtains of the palace is hailed as the new Emperor of Rome.

Previous Tiberius    —–     NextClaudius


Gold and Silver Coins Available from

Caligula Gold Aureus NGC VF

Nero AE Sestertius NGC Ch XF