Caligula was one of Rome’s most tyrannical emperors. His reign from 37-41 AD was filled with murder and debauchery at levels even his infamous nephew Nero could not reach. He was also mad. Aside from trying to make his horse a consul in the Roman Senate and naming it an offence punishable by death to talk about goats in his presence, Caligula also elevated himself to the status of God.
Caligula was only 25 years old when he became the emperor of Rome in 37 AD. Finally freed from being the “pampered prisoner” of his father’s murderer, Caligula was a loved and welcomed emperor. He granted bonuses to those in the military, eliminated unfair taxes, and freed those who had been unjustly imprisoned. He also hosted lavish chariot races, gladiator shows, and plays. But in the latter years of his life, his behavior became so outlandish and extreme that many believe he was suffering from insanity.
One of Caligula’s most egregious acts was in declaring that he was a living god . He ordered the construction of a bridge between his palace and the Temple of Jupiter, so that he could meet with the deity. He also began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules, Mercury, Venus, and Apollo.
Caligula tried to make his horse consul in the Roman senate, a clear sign of his madness! ( Lunstream / Adobe Stock)
Caligula began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians and he was referred to as Jupiter on occasion in public documents. Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods and replaced with his own. Two temples were erected to worship Caligula the god in Rome. The Temple of Castor and Pollux was connected to the imperial residence and dedicated to Caligula. He would appear there on occasion and present himself as a god to the public.
As Caligula’s actions became more outrageous, the people of Rome began to hate him, and wished to remove him from power. At one point, Caligula declared to the Senate that he would be leaving Rome and moving to Egypt, where he would be worshipped as a living god. Indeed, he was represented as a sun god on Egyptian coins.
On January 24, 41 AD, a group of guards attacked Caligula after a sporting event, stabbing him more than 30 times and burying him in a shallow grave. Far from being given godlike status after his death, as many emperors before him, the Senate pushed to have Caligula erased from Roman history – a humiliating end for Rome’s “living god.”
Read more: The Madness of Caligula: Rome’s Cruelest Emperor?