Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

The Wild Caligula

As Caligula was the son of virtuous parents, everybody expected that he would prove to be a good man. But he had lost both father and mother when he was very young, and had been brought up among wicked people. It is no wonder, therefore, that he followed the example he had so long had under his eyes, and turned out to be even worse than Tiberius.

Caligula, like his great-uncle, was a hypocrite, so at first he pretended to be very good; but, before many months had passed, the Romans discovered that he was as cruel and vicious as he could be.

Among his many other failings, Caligula was very vain. Not content with adopting all the pomp of an Eastern king, he soon wished to be worshiped as one of the gods; and he struck off the heads of their statues, so as to have them replaced by copies of his own.

Sometimes, too, he stood in the temple, dressed as Mars or even as Venus, and forced the people to worship him. He often pretended to hold conversations with the gods, and even to threaten and scold them whenever things did not suit him.

Sometimes he went out to woo the full moon, as if he had been its lover, and he treated his horse far better than any of his subjects. This animal, whose name was Incitatus, lived in a white marble stable, and ate out of an ivory manger; and sentinels were placed all around to see that no sound, however slight, should disturb him when asleep.

Caligula often invited Incitatus to his own banquets, and there the horse was made to eat oats off a golden plate and drink wine out of the emperor's own cup. Caligula was on the point of sending the name of Incitatus to the senate, and of having him elected as consul of Rome, when this favorite horse died, and thus put a stop to his master's extravagance.

Many historians think that Caligula was not responsible for all the harm that he did; for he was once very ill, and it was only after that illness that he began to do all these crazy things. Some of his courtiers had exclaimed that they would gladly die if the emperor could only be well; so as soon as he was able to be up again, he forced them to kill themselves.

As time went on, Caligula's madness and cruelty increased, and he did many more absurd things. For instance, he once started out with a large army, saying that he was going to make war against the Germans. But, when he came to the Rhine, he gave orders that a few German slaves should hide on the other side of the river. Then, rushing into their midst, he made believe to take them captive; and when he came back to Rome he insisted upon having a triumph.

Before going back home, however, he started out to conquer Britain; but when he came to the sea he directed his soldiers to pick up a lot of shells on the shore. These he brought back to Rome, as booty, and he pompously called them the spoils of the ocean.

An astrologer once told him that he was as likely to become emperor as to walk over the sea; and he wished to prove his ability to do both. As he was emperor already, he ordered that a bridge of boats should be built across an arm of the sea; and then he walked over it simply to show how wrong the astrologer had been.

An ordinary boat to travel about in would not have suited Caligula, so he had a galley built of cedar wood. The oars were gilded, the sails were made of silk, and on the deck was a pleasure garden with real plants and trees bearing fruit of all kinds.

The cruelty of this emperor was quite as great as his folly. We are told that he killed his own grandmother, caused many Romans to die in slow torture, and once exclaimed, "I wish that the Roman people had but one head so that I might cut it off at a blow!"

Caligula's tyranny lasted about three years. Unable to endure it any longer, some of the Romans formed a conspiracy, and Caligula was murdered by one of his guards whom he had taunted. The first blow having been struck by this man, the other conspirators closed around Caligula, and it was found later that he had been pierced by no less than thirty mortal wounds.

Such was the end of this monster, of whom Seneca, a Roman writer, has said: "Nature seemed to have brought him forth to show what mischief could be effected by the greatest vices supported by the greatest authority."


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire