Was Caligula insane?

Caligula was assassinated on January 24th, AD 41. He reputedly slept with his sisters and wanted to appoint his horse a consul. But was Tiberius' successor really insane or did he simply struggle to deal with the unlimited power that he received at such a young age?

Kathryn Hadley | Published in 24 Jan 2011

Gaius Caesar (r. AD 37-41), often known as Caligula ('little boots'), was assassinated on January 24th, AD 41. His reign is remembered, on the whole, as disastrous and many believe that Caligula was insane. He blew his predecessor Tiberius’s fortunes in just over a year, which led to a debt crisis in AD 39. Caligula was murdered, aged 28, just four years into his reign, in an underground corridor in the imperial palace in a conspiracy that is believed to have involved the army, the court and the senate.

Many of his monuments were destroyed in the aftermath of his assassination and his remains were lost. However, Caligula made the news just last week (see Tom Kington’s article in the Guardian): Italian police announced that they believed to have discovered the emperor’s tomb when they arrested a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the emperor. The man was arrested near Lake Nemi, South of Rome, where Caligula had a villa as a well as a floating temple and floating palace. Police believe that the marble statue came from the emperor’s tomb. Excavations on the site began last week.

But was Caligula really insane? He came to power when he was just 24 and was given unlimited power. He had no previous administrative experience. In the video devoted to Caligula from his ‘Emperors of Rome’ series, Adrian Murdoch suggests that the young emperor was corrupted by this absolute power which he had never been taught to manage.      

In Roman Britain: Ruling Britannia from our 2005 archive, Miles Russell draws on recent archaeological discoveries to reassess the Roman invasion of Britain and reveal another little known fact about Caligula. The invasion of AD 43 never happened, or not in the way that Claudius suggested; Caligula had already attempted an invasion in AD 37.