Historians have long struggled to explain notorious Roman Emperor Caligula’s behavior. During his short reign, Caligula did everything from engage in public incest to order an innocent 12-year-old to be raped and murdered—making him one of the most hated people in Roman history.
He Wasn’t Considered Very Good Looking
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Caligula—whose real name was Gaius—was born into a Roman dynasty. His father, respected general Germanicus, used to bring him along to battles, and dressed him up in a miniature version of Roman battle gear. The troops were enamored with the little general, and gave him the nickname “Caligula,” which meant, “little boots.” Eventually, Caligula grew up, but he wasn’t considered particularly handsome. He was tall, gangly, pale, and had a bald head but a super hairy body. When he first took the throne, Roman citizens mocked him and claimed he looked like a goat. Eventually, Caligula got fed up with the mockery and made it a crime for anyone to mention goats in his presence.
He Was Super Paranoid And Had His Family Members Killed
While Caligula’s crazy behavior started when he outlawed the act of mocking his appearance, he soon became extremely suspicious of almost everyone in Rome. A few months after Caligula was appointed Emperor, he became seriously ill. Caligula, who believed someone had tried to kill him with poison, never truly recovered from the illness. Although his health was restored in a bodily sense, he was mentally never the same. After the incident, he became extremely paranoid and obviously a little insane. In some of his first acts of paranoia, he accused his loved ones of treason and ordered to have them murdered or exiled.
After He Got Sick, Everyone Thought He Was Crazy
Initially, most of Rome was happy to have Caligula as a ruler. He won over his people when he granted members of the military large bonuses, got rid of unfair taxes, and freed anyone who had been sent to prison unlawfully. However, after he fell ill, he started behaving really erratically. While some dubbed him insane, modern historians believe there is evidence that suggests he was suffering from epilepsy and lived in constant fear of seizures. He was known to stand outside and speak to the moon, and the effects of a full moon were once linked to epileptic episodes. He was also fond of just staring off into the distance and was constantly irritable, which are both signs of hyperthyroidism.
He Murdered People Left And Right
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If Caligula had spent his time as Emperor staring off into space and lashing out at his family, his legacy probably wouldn’t have been so bad. But, as luck has it, his extreme paranoia, emotional instability, and limitless power all came together to mold him into one bloodthirsty killer. After just a few months as Emperor, he started ordering seemingly anyone who crossed him to be murdered. His behavior became outlandish, and before long almost all of Rome hated him.
He Enjoyed Torturing People
For some reason, hanging or chopping people’s heads off doesn’t seem out of character for an Emperor—and probably wouldn’t even be considered that evil in the scheme of things. But Caligula wasn’t just murder crazy—he was torture crazy. He derived loads of pleasure out of torturing people, and even turned torture sessions into public events. He once had a man tied down and beaten with chains for three months, bringing him out of a dungeon and onto the street where people would gather when they smelled the man’s gangrenous brain.
Caligula Was Obsessed With Body Mutilation
In addition to publicly beating people, Caligula liked to mutilate people’s bodies. Apparently, his favorite torture device was the saw. He had a special saw blade that was modeled after the human spine and could cut someone along the spinal cord from the top of the chest to the crotch in one swoop. The worst thing about the blade was that it caused blood to rush to the victim’s brain, making it impossible for them to pass out. That, of course, meant they actually had to endure every moment of the torture.
He Had A Killer Appetite For Testicles
As if a gross serial killer saw blade wasn’t bad enough, Caligula also like to chew on the testicles of his victims. He would have someone tie down a victim, and then he would slowly nibble on the testicles while they were restrained upside down. Obviously, Caligula had an insatiable appetite for torture. One of his favorite public events, the Circus Maximus, involved throwing criminals into big pits where they were devoured by starved wild animals. He particularly loved when the hungry lions would go after victims. Once, when the criminals ran out before the lions were brought on, he had random people pulled from the stands to participate in the deadly event.
He Thought He Was A Living God
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Eventually, Caligula fell off the deep end when he started publicly exclaiming he was a living God, and ordered his Roman Empire to treat him accordingly. One of his first acts as a living God was ordering the construction of a bridge between the palace and the Temple of Jupiter (the most significant temple in Rome) so that he could regularly hobnob with other deities. Additionally, Caligula started dressing up like Gods, demigods, and goddesses—including Hercules, Mercury, Venus, and Apollo. As if the costumes and outrageous orders weren’t enough, he also referred to himself as “God” in the third person and had the faces removed from god statues in Roman temples and replaced with his face.
He Tried To Appoint His Horse As A Priest
Amongst all of the bloodthirsty murders, Caligula tried to have his horse Incitatus (Galloper) appointed as a priest and consul. Caligula took the instatement so seriously he actually had a huge pure marble stable built for the horse and filled it with the most lavish furnishings. Of course, the horse never sat on the luxurious chairs or couches, and instead preferred to hang around the servants who fed him oats mixed with gold flakes.
He Had A Whole Family Publicly Executed
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Perhaps one of the most evil acts Caligula ever committed came when he had an entire family publicly executed. The debacle began when a Roman citizen had the guts to insult the hated leader to his face. Caligula responded by ordering guards to tie the man down and beat him with chains. At the same time, he sent other guards to gather the man’s family, and one by one he had the children publicly executed from oldest to youngest.
Caligula Took His Public Executions Too Far
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The crowd was so disgusted with the spectacle they started to revolt, and Caligula responded by focusing on the last remaining member of the family, a 12-year-old girl. The girl was a sorry sight—she had just watched her entire family get murdered, and was sitting sobbing in the street. According to Roman law, Caligula couldn’t execute her because she was still a virgin. As a way around that, Caligula coldly ordered the executioner to rape and then strangle her.
He Was Rumored To Have Had Public Sex With His Sisters
While his murder and torture rampages are pretty well documented, few people actually made official records about his acts of incest. In fact, only one historian, Suetonius (who was known to be pretty gossipy) published claims that Caligula had sex with his sisters in the open at banquets while guests walked around them. Other chroniclers, who lived the same time as Caligula, never mentioned his sisterly trysts.
Some Thought He Was Possessed By A Demon
While some ancient historians claimed he was into incest, others, who were persuaded by the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, believed he was straight up possessed by a demon. Eventually, Caligula’s bad reputation got him killed a year before his 30th birthday. And, fittingly, he was stabbed to death in public right after he left his favorite event, the Circus Maximus. In the end, Caligula was so hated by the Roman people that they left his body to rot in the street and his remains were eaten by dogs.