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10 Weird Things You Didn’t Know Caligula Did

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Linnea has a fascination with intriguing and unusual things and is especially interested in their historical and cultural backgrounds.

The Ancient Roman emperor Gaius, better known these days as Caligula, was famous for his cruel and extraordinary rule. There are the well-known stories about how he promised the senate he would make his horse a consul, or about how he made the soldiers collect seashells from the ocean. Although, aside from those strange tales about the emperor’s life, there are many other cases which show what an unusual and strange person Caligula was.

1. He Bathed in Gold and Drank Pearls

Well, Caligula was not literally filling a bath with golden coins and swimming inside it. But, inspired with his well-known love of gold, he poured pieces of gold and other valuable golden artifacts over the ground to walk on them barefoot and wallowed in them with his whole body for hours. Aside from that, the emperor was very fond of jewels and golden decorations, putting them over his clothes and in the walls of his palace. Another wonderful habit Caligula used to enjoy was drinking natural pearls, dissolved in vinegar. He served loaves and meats of gold during his banquets, leaving the visitors amazed and stating that one should either be a frugal or an emperor.

2. He Built a Temple for Himself

Even though in later times the cult of an emperor was a great thing and not uncommon, and during times of Gaius’s rule the temples dedicated to Emperor Augustus existed already, he went way too far in making people worship him. The temple was built for him while he was still alive, and among other rich things, it had a life-sized golden statue of the emperor himself. Every day the statue was dressed in the same clothes Caligula was wearing and the richest citizens of Rome wanted to become the priests, as it was a great honor to be one. The offerings to the living god were as fancy as flamingoes, peacocks, pheasants, and other exotic animals highly praised in Rome, and were made day by day.

3. He Proclaimed Himself Jupiter

Gaius didn’t really enjoy the nickname, Caligula. In fact, he hated it, though his actual name wasn’t in his favor either. He more enjoyed to be called Jupiter, just like the Ancient Roman king of the gods. According to Roman historian Cassius Dio, he was referred to as Jupiter by senators, and even in documents. He also ordered to bring the Great Statue of Zeus at Olympia (which was the Greek equivalent of Jupiter) from Greece in order to replace its head with his own. Aside from those eccentric things, he enjoyed dressing himself as Jupiter, including the golden beard and a thunderbolt in his hand. There was a case when Gaius took a spot near Jupiter’s statue and asked the actor who was nearby about who in his mind is more mighty: the god or the emperor himself. When the man naturally hesitated to reply, Caligula ordered him to be whipped.

Caligula with the goddess Roma

Caligula with the goddess Roma

4. He Talked to Gods

Aside from wanting to be called Jupiter, he also was known for having conversations with the gods. The rumors said that he was talking to the moon at night, inviting her to his bed and threatening Jupiter himself, or talking to him during the day. He also said that the goddess Victoria put a crown on him, and he was boasting about seducing the moon. He also mentioned the spirit of the ocean talking to him while he couldn’t sleep. Once Gaius asked one of his subjects if he can see the Moon Goddess standing around him, and, after the man answered that only the other gods—like Caligula—can see each other, he became a great favorite of the emperor.

18th century engraving of Gaius

18th century engraving of Gaius

5. He Was Outstanding in His Clothes

Caligula liked to dress himself. He enjoyed the best clothes that the time and tailors could offer, including the silk ones and richly decorated ones, but, like it was usually with that emperor, he went too far with it. He was often dressing himself as different gods, parading around as Jupiter, Bacchus, Apollo, Neptune, or Hercules, of course with all those gods’ attributes and wigs to be recognized, as he tried to resemble them as much as possible. Like that he could be seen carrying around a trident, or wearing the lion’s skin and holding a club to look like Hercules. He wasn’t only impersonating the male gods, though, as he greatly enjoyed to dress as Venus, Diana, or Juno. Aside from portraying gods this emperor was fond of dressing himself in the clothes that a general would wear during a Triumph, even when there was no reason for it. He also was wearing the breastplate belonging to Alexander the Great, which he took from his grave. When he wasn’t wearing those extravagant clothes he preferred to wear silk, often appearing in expensive cloaks decorated with stones, and sometimes wearing female clothes. He naturally owned a huge amount of jewelry, bracelets and rings among them, and a great variety of shoes, including female ones.

One of the Nemi ships as they were found in 1930s

One of the Nemi ships as they were found in 1930s

6. He Liked to Do Impossible Things

Caligula, among other things, is known for building his enormous pleasure boats, known as the Nemi ships these days. The two ships were, in fact, floating villas, which had baths, a heating system, temples, colonnades, banquet rooms, statues, and even beautiful mosaics on their floors. The Nemi ships were also decorated with marble, precious stones, and colored sails over them. The size of the first one found was 230 feet long and 66 feet wide, and the second Nemi ship was about the same size, but a little bigger. Unfortunately, both of them were destroyed during World War II, though the remains of the decorations can still be seen in the museums. Though the huge pleasure boats weren’t the only incredible things Gaius built. According to Suetonius, he enjoyed all the things impossible, and his projects usually went as far as building tunnels through the hardest mountains, building stone piers far into the deepest and stormy sea, turning high mountains into the plains, and plains into high mountains.

A roman mosaic depicting the winner of a chariot race

A roman mosaic depicting the winner of a chariot race

7. He Really Loved His Horse

It is a very well-known story that Caligula wanted to make his horse a consul. And even though this never actually came to fruition, Incitatus (the name of the horse), enjoyed all the pleasures of being the emperor’s favorite animal. The horse had a stall of marble, a feeder made from ivory, a collar decorated with precious stones, blankets of the purple dyed fabric—which was considered the most expensive one in ancient Rome—his own house with furniture included, and a troop of slaves. The day before Incitatus would have to take part in races silence was ordered in the neighborhood, to prevent the horse from distraction. Aside from that, the emperor invited Incitatus to dinner, drank wine for his health from golden cups, and fed him golden oats. Gaius was a great admirer of horse races, so he tried to put Incitatus in the best conditions possible, giving him the most luxurious goods, which was very natural for his odd nature.

Ancient Roman theater

Ancient Roman theater

8. He Liked to Perform Any Way Possible

Caligula was a huge fan of chariot racing, often sleeping in stables and taking part in them himself. Aside from that, he enjoyed any kinds of showing off greatly, performing as a gladiator, a singer, or a dancer on multiple occasions. Once in the middle of the night, he called the consulars, and when they arrived, frightened and nervous, they had to do nothing but watch the emperor dancing for them in a long tunic and a robe, before disappearing from their sight again. Once he was fighting a gladiator who used a wooden sword instead of an actual one, and when his opponent fell on purpose, Caligula stabbed him with an actual dagger, running around with a victorious palm branch afterward. He also enjoyed singing along with actors as they were on the stage.

The bust of Caligula in its original colors

The bust of Caligula in its original colors

9. He Was Very Concerned With His Appearance

People considered Emperor Gaius not very handsome, and fearful in his looks, and aside from that he was having other problems with his appearance. His body was extremely hairy, and this was seen as unattractive in Rome. So a law was passed to not mention a goat at all in his presence. He also had problems with early hair loss, just like his ancestors, and that caused another law to be created. This one prohibited anyone to stand higher than him or look down upon the emperor as he passed by. To look more fearsome and frightening he regularly practiced expressions before a mirror.

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16th century depiction of Caligula

16th century depiction of Caligula

10. He Was Really Mean to People

Aside from his incredible cruelty and obsession with killing and torturing people he was doing other things that were strange and had a very weird sense of humor. Like he enjoyed hanging up new laws in places hard to reach, writing them in very little letters, just to punish people who didn’t know about them afterward. He enjoyed drawing back the awnings over the arena when the sun was hottest, forbidding anyone to leave and making the spectators suffer from the heat. During the time of his rule, he constantly prayed to gods, asking them to send a great catastrophe for Rome, and was very sad when nothing happened. He also had a great joy shutting up the granaries and condemning people to starve, and doing other things to just see how his citizens would get to suffer or be irritated. Though Caligula was more than unpredictable in his deeds, such as one time, as he was dressed as Jupiter, a Gaul who saw him started to laugh. When the emperor asked him what made him so amused, the man replied that he looked silly. Though, unexpectedly, no harm at all came to him because he was only a shoemaker.


LimaBeanz on January 27, 2020:

Thanks helped me with a major project.

tortillatortise on January 06, 2020:

thanks for helping me ace this history project

Geno Turrise on October 17, 2019:

This is writing? Awful. Reads like it was cobbled together from various websites about Roman emperors. Ugh.

e3929092939 on February 28, 2019:

thanks it realy helped

Bookwizard19 on January 08, 2019:

Hey, could you post your links for your information? I would seriously appreciate it.

bla on November 16, 2018:

he is my emperor project person and this helps ty

:FD on May 23, 2018:

like me

Giovanni Donegan from Tennessee on April 30, 2018:

Linnea is cute!!!

Alejandra on March 30, 2018:

This really helped me with my history homework. Thanks!!

Lin (author) from USA on December 24, 2015:

Anne Harrison, I'm glad you liked it! Caligula was known for mostly partying instead of ruling, too, so I'm sure it must have been quite a mess.

Chantelle, thank you for sharing! He was very twisted and I guess that's why people still remember him.

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on December 23, 2015:

Fascinating article. He was one twisted dude. Shared.

Anne Harrison from Australia on December 23, 2015:

An interesting hub - to try and keep Rome running under his rule must have been difficult indeed!

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