What do you think of Caligulae?

Let me start my first post of 2014 by wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. In my last post of 2013, I mentioned my latest ebook, Athene’s Prophecy, and that the main protagonist had to dodge the erratic imperium of the other Gaius Julius Caesar (Caligulae – note he had two feet!). That makes this ebook at least partially a historical novel, and the question then is, how do you portray Caligulae? Before I address that, stop and ask yourself, how would you describe the man?

I think the average response would be to describe him as a mad tyrant who delighted in killing at random and ruling through terror, I have seen him listed amongst the most despicable rulers. Now, pause, and try to describe what you think.

Now, let us be fair. If he were a terrible tyrant, then surely there would be great cheering when he died. That more or less happened when Tiberius died, and Gaius was cheered vigorously when he publicly destroyed the information Tiberius had on various other Romans. They may have cheered a little less vigorously had they known he had made copies and kept those. Nevertheless, when Gaius was assassinated, the crowds became very angry and they demanded the guilty be caught and punished. All evidence is that the general public were angered by Caesar’s assassination. To understand this, it is necessary to recognize that those of senatorial class tended to want a return to the ideals of the Republic, whereas the masses could not care less for the Republic. The Republic was of no value to the masses, and when, in the Republic, people of adequate means and property volunteered for the legions, when they came back they tended to find themselves dispossessed of their property, and the senators the new owners.

The various privileges the senators had in the old Republic allowed them to amass huge wealth, at the expense of the ordinary Roman. These privileges had been taken in part by the first Gaius Julius Caesar, then further by Augustus and Tiberius, because they knew that you could not run a professional army unless the soldiers could look forward to something in retirement. The first Caesar appealed to the masses, and tried to make their life better, and, at the same time, give himself the masses as defence to being isolated by the senators. Caligulae tried to follow the principle of the first Caesar, except that he did not have quite the same ability. The problem for us is that most of our information comes from people of senatorial class, and they were clearly against Caligulae. One popular source of material is Seneca. Now, he would hardly enthuse about Gaius after Gaius’ death, given the Gaius had exiled Seneca for being involved with plotters who were trying to assassinate him. As an aside, is that what a brutal tyrant would do? Not execute those plotting to kill him? Accordingly, Seneca’s complaints cannot be relied on at all. A secondary problem is that the relevant sections of Tacitus’ Annals are missing, and while Tacitus was of senatorial class and probably did not have any love for Caligulae, Tacitus appears to at least attempt to provide a true picture of what happened, even if he does add some personal comments.

So, what to do? Next post I shall explain my solution.