On this very day in 44 BC, Julius Caesar got shanked by a bunch of his friends, giving us a ton of filmic and literary references for centuries to come, the best of which is obviously the Weiners-George metaphor.
But just because it’s the Ides doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about good ol’ Julie Caesar. It’s been done. If you want that story, watch the Liz Taylor Cleopatra or the Jeremy Sisto Caesar (especially the Sisto, because ain’t no Sisto like Sisto in a metal breastplate).
I’ve got something better for you. He’s blonde, he’s crazy, and he’s fond of whimsy. He’s EMPEROR CALIGULAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!1
First, though, let’s acknowledge that in the metaphorical “sexually scandalous people that history remembers generation after generation throughout time despite the frailty of human memory” conversation (which occurs at dinner tables across this great nation every night, no doubt), Caligula is like THE first guy you mention. Accordingly, let’s acknowledge how restrained we at For Shame have been in not writing about Caligula at all during this two-year blogsperiment. I mean it’s not like we forgot he existed. We just sort of held him in the Scandal Pantheon (Scantheon, hollaaa) with the likes of Misters Jefferson and Kennedy.
But then JAF was like, “I’m a really smart classicist and we should do an Ides of March theme week about Roman emperors!” And I was like, “I watched I, Claudius in high school Latin class and Caligula did crazy shit on it and that’s all I know.” And then poor JAF got the stomach flu last night.
So here we are.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born to second cousins (who were each in turn byproducts of many other cousin-marriages down the ancestral line, so maybe keep the genetics in mind as we go here) in Antium in 12 AD. He got the nickname “Caligula” when he was three and following his dad, Germanicus, on some military campaigns. He’d dress in a tiny replica soldier’s uniform. Caliga were soldiers’ boots. Caligula were little soldiers’ boots. Hence the adorable nickname. I’m just including this because it’s actually the only cute thing about our Cal that ever happened, ever.
I could use this space to talk about how and why Caligula got to be emperor, but who actually cares about that shit? You want the crazy. I want the crazy. Let’s get CRAYZAY.
So during the first six months of his reign, Cal is absolutely beloved by Romans in all corners of the empire. He’s granting bonuses and pardoning people right and left, there are lots of slaves and animals being killed in superfun gladitorial combat, Inspector Javert is inspirationally seeking revenge, you get it. The general mood is pretty high on all seven hills of Rome.
Until 37 AD, that is, when Mr. Cal Ligula (also the name of a Staten Island small claims lawyer?) fell seriously ill. You’d think that maybe recovering from a near-death illness might make one kinder and gentler, but lucky for us that DID NOT happen. Instead, Cal started murdering EVERYBODY! “You get an execution! You get an execution! Even my young cousin/adopted son gets an execution!”
Then he went all 2007-shaven-head-Britney and the next four years were straight up insanity. You know what? There’s a lot of CRAY coming your way, so let’s make a couple lists to facilitate.
GENERALLY CRAZY SHIT CALIGULA DID:
· Built and rode a horse across a custom-built two-mile pontoon bridge from Baiae to Puteoli because this soothsayer one time said he had a better chance of crossing the Bay of Baiae on horseback than becoming emperor. This project cost a massive amount of money, lots of men died during the construction, the project added to the growing discontent in the empire, and he HAD ALREADY BECOME EMPEROR when he set out to prove he COULD BECOME EMPEROR. But he sure showed that unimportant-and-probably-already-dead soothsayer.
· Built a pair of giant ships. One was a floating temple to Diana and the other was what I imagine to be the first-century version of that kickass party yacht in Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” video. Except that this one had marble floors and as such weighed 7,400 tons. We all know how that goes.
· Tried to throw Britannia on the pile of Roman-conquered countries, but when his soldiers arrived at the English Channel, he ordered them to stop and collect seashells “as spoils of the sea,” then bring them back to Rome. Some historians think “seashells” was code for ships or something else of the military persuasion, but I think they’re neglecting the innate human desire to make shitty crafts.
· Started dressing as various gods and goddesses at public events, referring to himself as a god, and signing documents of state “Jupiter.” He also had a couple of temples rededicated to himself, which naturally involved removing the heads from sacred statues and replacing them with Caligula heads. And he decided the senators had to worship him as a god. Not the first boss with a god complex though, am I righttttttttttttt?
· Ordered guards to throw a few rows of spectators into an arena full of hungry lions during intermission at a gladitorial event because he was bored. Whereas when I’m bored during an intermission I go to the bathroom and maybe treat myself to a soft pretzel.
· Also enjoyed having prisoners thrown from high towers of the palace during his breakfast. The best part of wakin’ up is DEAD PEOPLE.
· Planned to make his favorite horse, Incitatus (from the aforementioned bridge ride), a consul. But he didn’t end up actually doing it. That’s a myth, you guys.
· Actually made Incitatus a priest. I’m sort of on board with this because I’d like to give a horse my confession. It would be a judgement-free zone and there would be some nice nuzzling at the end.
SEXUALLY CRAZY SHIT CALIGULA DID:
· After spending ALLLL the money left to him by his predecessor (we’re talking hella denarii – like $300+ billion today), opened a brothel in the palace to recoup. But of course he couldn’t have common skanks getting fancy all over the seat of the Roman empire. He needed a classier workforce, so instead he force-hired the wives of senators. But I think they got dental!
· Would inspect guests’ wives at banquets, and if he liked what he saw, have sex with said wives. If he REALLY liked what he saw, he would declare a couple’s divorce without their consent. (Insert “Take my wife” joke here).
· Would, after non-consensually fucking a married woman, discuss her performance with her husband.
· Held orgies, but obviously.
· Attended the marriage of a young officer named Proculus, and, pissed that they didn’t have an open bar, raped both Proculus and his new wife. Let the togae hit the floor.
· Boned a lot of dudes: Romans, prisoners of war, a court fool. He didn’t have a type, ya know?
· Boned all three of his sisters. So maybe actually his type was “similar genetic composition.”
· Maybe impregnated one of them. And according to I, Claudius (which, given the conflicting and crazy stories out there about this guy, is probably not the worst source) (plus Robert Graves was a certified dimepiece) he became obsessed with the idea that his son/nephew would overtake him, so he naturally CUT THE BABY OUT OF HER and ATE IT ohmygoddddddddisturbing.
I think maybe we should end here.
Obviously Cal wasn’t the most popular guy in the world after all of these shenanigans, so there were a lot of murder plots afoot. The one that succeeded — the Praetorian Guard, in an empty passageway, with
the candlestick lots of knives and swords — is notable because even his body guards, who swore a blood oath of loyalty, were over his bullshit.
Cal’s uncle Claudius, who had a stutter and club foot but was a sweet guy in a sour world, was made emperor, and the rest is this 1970s BBC miniseries I keep referencing (and if you aren’t intrigued already, Caligula is played by a young Mr. Ollivander). And there’s another Caligula movie in which you see Dame Helen Mirren’s royal boobs!
So maybe treat yourself on this Ides of March. To a little IDES CANDY. It’s what Caligua would have done (except there would probably be a few more naked corpses and horses around).