The cruel emperor of ancient Rome - The New Indian Express

The cruel emperor of ancient Rome

Published: 15th November 2012 01:44 PM

Last Updated: 15th November 2012 01:44 PM

Some of the most evil men in history can be traced to the Roman Empire. Not only were the rulers in ancient Rome renowned for their cruelty and greed for power and wealth, but even the ordinary citizens of ancient Rome exhibited total disregard for life, be it of humans or animals, when they thronged to the colosseum to watch gladiators fight to their deaths. Watching young men and animals savagely fight amongst themselves did not evoke horror or revulsion but exultation. It was considered a sport like any other. 

Caligula, also known as  Gaius, was the Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Even as a two-year-old boy he accompanied his father, Germanicus, on campaigns to the north of Germania. The soldiers were amused by the sight of Gaius dressed in a miniature soldier’s uniform, boots and armour and he was given the nickname Caligula which meant “little (soldier’s) boot” in Latin  although it is said that Gaius grew to dislike this nickname.

The notorious Caligula is remembered till today for his cruelty, his extravagance and his perversity although the reliability of the various sources has been increasingly questioned. During his brief reign, Caligula flouted every rule to increase his personal power and directed his attention to the construction of extravagant projects and luxurious dwellings for himself.

However, he also initiated the construction of two new aqueducts in Rome. In early 41 AD, Caligula became the first Roman emperor to be assassinated following a conspiracy that involved officers of the Praetorian Guard, members of the Roman Senate and of the imperial court. The intention of the conspirators was to use this opportunity to restore the Roman Republic but this venture was doomed to be a failure because on the same day, the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula’s uncle Claudius as emperor in his place.

Caligula’s father’s death in Syria was rumoured to have been caused due to  poisoning by Tiberius, the then Roman emperor who viewed him as a rival. Caligula lived with his mother who was not permitted to remarry for fear that her husband would be a rival to Tiberius. In AD 29, Caligula, his mother and his brother Nero were banished for treason. In AD 30, his brother was imprisoned on charges of treason and his other brother died in exile from either starvation or suicide. Following the banishment of his mother and brothers, Caligula and his sisters were as good as prisoners of Tiberius under the close watch of the soldiers.

In AD 31, to the surprise of many, Caligula was spared and placed under the personal care of Tiberius in Capri where he lived for six years. Caligula’s mother and brother Drusus died in prison.

Historians are of the view that Caligula was an excellent actor and was aware of the danger to his life. So he took care to hide all his resentment towards Tiberius. It was said of Caligula, “Never was there a better servant or a worse master!” After he became Emperor, Caligula supposedly planned to kill Tiberius to avenge his mother and brother’s death but after he brought the dagger into Tiberius’s bedroom he did not kill him but threw the dagger on the floor instead. It is said that Tiberius was aware of this but never dared to do anything about it.

Sources  describe Caligula as an insane man who was self-obsessed, angry, killed on a whim, and who indulged in too much spending, deliberately wasting money on his bridge, causing starvation, and wanting a statue of himself erected in the Temple of Jerusalem to be worshipped. Once when presiding over some games, he ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the crowd into the arena during intermission to be eaten by animals because there were no criminals to be prosecuted and he was getting bored. Such was ancient Rome!

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