A Collection of the Ancient Sources About Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus
This site is a warehouse of information about the infamous Ancient Roman Emperor Caligula. Its goal is to collect copies of all ancient texts that mention him in order to facilitate research. It also contains many useful links to the sites from which these texts were collected.
Above are links to pages within this site that contain all of the works that mention Caligula; they are arranged by author and date written from earliest to latest. To the right, are links to outside websites that might be useful.
A marble bust of Caligula restored to its original colours. Photo by G.dallorto
Getting Started with Caligula
If you are unfamiliar with Caligula, you may be confused when you can find no mention of him in the ancient sources. This is because the ancient authors almost never refer to Caligula by that name. He is usually referred to as Gaius (sometimes spelled Caius), Gaius Caesar, or C. Caesar.
Caligula was an affectionate nickname given to him. It is outside of normal Ancient Roman naming conventions. Unlike the English translations, the ancient sources in Latin barely mention it.
Gaius Julius Caesar was his full proper name. This was also the full name of the Julius Caesar. Like today, Ancient Romans named their children after parents and grandparents. There were several Gaius Julius Caesars.
Also, Caesar was not a title at this time. This was Caligula's name.
Gaius was his “first name” or given name. Julius was his “last name” and Caesar was also his last name. Caesar indicated which branch of the Julian family he belonged to. This is the basic format of Ancient Roman names.
Other names could be attached to this though. For example, Germanicus was an honorary name given to Caligula's grandfather for his successful battles against German Tribes. Caligula's father inherited this name and so did Caligula.
So Caligula's complete official name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus.
The Principate and the Term "Emperor"
If you are unfamiliar with Ancient Rome you may be confused when you come across passages in the ancient texts that refer to Caligula's station of power in regal terms. Many of the translations here were written many centuries ago and will sometimes say things like: "When Tiberius inherited the throne" or refer to the emperors as "princes". This is due to the nebulous station of power these emperors had.
Today, for simplicity, we refer to Caligula as an emperor. But when he came to power, the concept of “emperor” had not developed yet. His official station of power was princeps senatus (which was a prestigious position but not a regal one). Thus, modern historians refer to his station of power as The Principate.
The Latin text will say he inherited "imperium" or became "princeps" and archaic authors will translate this to terms familiar to the reader at the time. "Imperium" has regal connotations today that it did not have to the Ancient Romans. Lots of people had imperium over various things.
The Principate was clouded in what we would call today "weasel words". Kings were repugnant to the Ancient Romans so the emperors of the Early Principate were eager to avoid any terms that sounded remotely regal. They did not want to suffer the same fate of Julius Caesar. Though their station of power resembled that of a modern Constitutional Monarchy.
Caligula the Prude
If you are unfamiliar with Ancient Rome you may be confused when you come across passages in the ancient texts that report of Tiberius and Caligula punishing people for sexual offenses. There is the popular conception that Ancient Romans, particularly Tiberius and Caligula, were far from prudish. But this is incorrect. The Ancient sources will often relate wild stories but it is unclear how accurate they are. And there are many more reports of the emperors reacting to moral panics with draconian policies which better line up with the logic of texts.
Sometimes the punishments these emperors ordered were brutal. Tiberius had Caligula's brother exiled for the nebulous crime of sexual depravity. He even forced an adulterous wife of a Senator to publicly register with the government as a known prostitute. Depending on the definition of the Latin word Spintriae, Caligula either expelled prostitutes and homosexuals from Rome or banned the black market tokens named this that were used in brothels. The accusations of sexual impropriety leveled at the emperors seem to be exaggerated political attacks in retaliation for their brutal policies towards Roman citizens.
The anceint writers frequently exagerrated. For example, in the following passage from On Anger, Seneca seems to be exaggerating when he claims that Caligula had people killed for fun. He is specifically using it to make a point about anger but the accusation contradicts the moral point of his essay. It would make more sense if Caligula was killing out of anger. The passage also indicates that Caligula felt the Senators posed a "public or private danger" and he might have been afraid of them.
Why do I pry into ancient history? quite lately Gaius Caesar flogged and tortured Sextus Papinius, whose father was a consular, Betilienas Bassus, his own quaestor, and several others, both senators and knights, on the same day, not to carry out any judicial inquiry, but merely to amuse himself. Indeed, so impatient was he of any delay in receiving the pleasure which his monstrous cruelty never delayed in asking, that when walking with some ladies and senators in his mother's gardens, along the walk between the colonnade and the river, he struck off some of their heads by lamplight. What did he fear? what public or private danger could one night threaten him with? how very small a favour it would have been to wait until morning, and not to kill the Roman people's senators in his slippers?
There are many instances like this in the ancient texts where reality has to be triangulated.
The Divine Caligula
Caligula's deification caused much hand-wringing during his lifetime, but due to semantic confusion, today, it seems utterly insane that anyone could be voted a god. But the term "god" had a broad meaning to Ancient Romans. There was the God Jupiter Almighty. And then there were his helper gods like Mercury, Mars, and the rest, who were more akin to what we would call angels today. Family members became gods upon death but this was like today when a dead parent becomes an unofficial "saint". Today, "god" almost always refers to the common concept of "the one true God" (which Jupiter was to the Romans for all intents and purposes). But to the Ancient Romans the term "god" was a catch-all for almost all supernatural beings.
So when Caligula was deified, he did not become a god on the level of Jupiter. He became a god on the level of Julius Caesar or Augustus. Though these official posthumous deifications did cause much consternation amongst many religious purest. And when Caligula became deified while alive, it caused a lot of grumbling. Imagine if the Pope had himself voted a saint while alive.