An Ill-Prepared Sick Boy Rules Rome Research Paper Examples

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Rome, Gaius, Senate, History, Caligula, Rule, Youth, Teenagers

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/28

Emperor Gaius (Caligula) – A.D. 12 -41


The story of Ancient Rome’s third Emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus rule from A.D. 37-41) represents the earliest historical turning point in the early history or principate of the Roman Empire. Ironically, while the story of this short-lived Roman emperor remains one of the most notorious yet least well-documented reigns fraught with unclear tales of ludicrous and unpredictable schemes among the Julio-Claudian dynasty of one of greatest and long-lived empires in the Western Civilization. The following academic investigation and report looks at the historic record in providing as true an account of the typically misrepresented figure of the Roman Emperor known in his day affectionately by Roman soldiers as little boots or Caligula.

Caligula or Gaius for the purpose of this scholastic discourse remained obsessed by his family's belief in their right to rule. Attached to the popularity of his father the renown and much loved Roman General Germanicus, all but put the young Caligula in the same frame of mind. “Unfortunately the extent of his political experience was observing Tiberius while on Capreae; it is no wonder he set out to rule directly and without the help of an unwanted senate” (Wilkinson 81).
As a product of the mindset of his own family the fact remains his death is not because of a backlash to his purported cruel, tyrannical, and incompetent rule as emperor but because the crisis of the Roman senate in this point in history found them attempting rid themselves of the principate or emperor rule altogether (Wilkinson 2005). Literature of his four year reign stands meager and most of the written sources of his four years as ruler remain meager, frequently drawn from unreliable hearsay as well as framed in universal hostility.
The result proves “not only are many of the events of the reign unclear, but Gaius himself appears more as a caricature than a real person, a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and ludicrous schemes” (Wilkinson 79). Historical scholars make some breakthroughs extricating truth from subjective rather than factual embellishments however, the true character of this young emperor continues ever elusive (Wilkinson 2005: Barrett, 2000; Mathews 1919; McGinn 2003). The following academic investigation and report looks at the historic record in providing as true an account of the typically misrepresented figure of the Roman Emperor known in his day affectionately by Roman soldiers as little boots or Caligula and proves a story of an ill prepared and sick young man destined to rule Rome. The story of Caligula or Gaius 4th emperor of Rome is at the very least one of exaggerations.

Exaggerations and Generalizations

Review of the ancient sources by researchers available on Caligula required they look beyond the anecdotes, exaggerations, and generalizations pulling what facts exist. Consequently, “there is no evidence that Gaius was a bad governor or unpopular with anyone other than senators” (Wilkinson 79).
While the historical record rightly condemns both emperors, Nero and Domitian persecuting the senate pleased the rowdy Roman masses marking them forever as tyrannical evil men, conversely, the death of Gaius was another issue with the senate altogether. “Gaius' death came about because the senate saw their decline and lost the respect of their emperor, while Gaius gained more and more popularity (among the millions of Roman citizens)” (Wilkinson 79). The consequence of the youthful emperor proved a move by the senate bent on restoring the grand Republic of Rome and giving power back to this illustrious body of blue bloods of the old rank and file of the original political power of the empire (Wilkinson 2005; Barrett 2000).
The senate of Rome viewed an opportunity for reasserting its own influence and ergo power over the youthfulness of the young emperor to their dismay early realized was impossibly futile. What remains known about Gaius is he indeed “went beyond all senatorial expectation and took power away from them; their only chance at claiming that power back was to assassinate their master as soon as possible ” (Wilkinson 79).

Senators Write the History of Caligula

The traditions assigned to Caligula about his character being that of an insanely cruel tyrant directly connect to the writings of senatorial would be historians with the intentional implementation of a campaign by his uncle Claudia “successfully implemented a campaign of denigration of his nephew” (Wilkinson 79).The intention of this character assassination after the actual assassination of Gaius meant proving the young emperor the one at fault and not the governing senate or principate.
In the writings of Seneca while not a true historical fact, they do represent the historical success of Claudius denigrating Gaius. Subsequent works by Detonius and Dio on the legend of Gaius formed from the writings of Claudius and other similar hostile sources (Williams 2005).
The quest to understand the true legacy of Caligula looks at the source of senator Cluvius Rufus. Using Gaius as a character finds Jewish religious-political writings with little or no interested in impartial Roman history. Modern scholarship understates the timing of the reign of Gaius as Roman emperor in terms of his method of engaging with the senate looming incompatible in terms of his vision for the rule of Rome. The senate awareness of the decline of their position in the rule of Rome sincerely anticipated a renewed effort to restore its position (Wilkinson 2005)
Of the historical record provided by Momigliano who pointed out how the entire Julio-Claudian line from Augustus to Nero remaining preoccupied protecting their house from the senate or any other would be usurper explains the necessary paranoia necessary resulting in later trials directed at the emperors led by the senate. Caligula openly took on the senate and this is the main reason for his early demise because the Senate viewed his rule as that of the first openly held master of the Roman state.
Caligula forsaking the traditional place of rule of Rome’s senate so early in the principate of emperor rule of Rome was never going to survive for long with his determination to have his own way and thus completely alienate the senate. After all, it was a short lived rule of the first emperor Julius Cesar proving the attitude of the Senate.
Consequently, it remains “’Gaius' lack of auctoritas (authority) on becoming princeps (emperor) contrasted dramatically with that of his predecessors” (Wilkinson 80) who continued recognizing the central positon of the senate. In turn, this may have led the Gaius closing as many doors to as many senators as possible having access to his attention or any subsequent influence on his actions. What the record implies is Gaius wanted no individual gaining outside himself gaining any prestige among the people he ruled for fear it highlighted his compete lack of experience in state matters.

Tales of Cruelty and the Truth

Generalizations aside, what emerges of the purported cruelties of Gaius, his desires and plans are a different story. “Modern scholarship has not gone far enough in showing Gaius for what he was: a competent, young, intelligent emperor whose death came about because he wanted to rule completely, as befits an emperor” (Wilkinson 80). His manifesto proved a clear one for ruling his empire but fatefully any valid involvement by the senate his family taught he distrust was the framework of his demise (Wilkinson 2005). Gaius' assassination was an attempt by the senate to restore the Republic. Its failure ensured that Gaius' work would be continued by his successors and that a new role for the emperor had been created” (Wilkinson 81).

Discussion and Conclusion

That Gaius was ill from childhood and had ongoing seizures so by the time he came to rule his mind was already in decline is probably true. But the incessant cruelties depicted in 20th century Hollywood versions of Caligula are only mirroring the lies set in motion by his uncle Claudius. The history of Caligula’s family especially his grandfather Tiberius as ruler of Rome proved another attribution laid upon the young ruler. While there does exist little facts on the his reign the truth of the deadly inevitability of his downfall at the hands of the Roman Senate remains the most factual historical record connected to his name.
In conclusion, as proposed in the introduction the previous discourse above resulted from an academic investigation and report about the historic record seeking a true an account of the typically misrepresented figure of the Roman Emperor known in his day affectionately by Roman soldiers as little boots or Caligula. History also calls this fourth emperor of Rome by his name Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus and clearly was there never so much a case of such a colorful historical figure wronged by the lies of historical writers as Caligula.


Barrett, Anthony A. Caligula: The Corruption of Power. London: Routledge, 2000.
Matthews, Louis. Roman Emperor Worship. Boston: R. G. Badger, 1919
McGinn, Thomas A. J. Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
Wilkinson, Sam. Caligula. London: Routledge, 2005.

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