Caligula: The Corruption of Power

Caligula: The Corruption of Power

Caligula: The Corruption of Power

Caligula: The Corruption of Power

Synopsis

Of all Roman emperors none, with the possible exception of Nero, surpasses Caligula's reputation for infamy. But was Caligula really the mad despot and depraved monster of popular legend or the victim of hostile ancient historians?In this study of Caligula's life, reign and violent death, Anthony A. Barrett draws on the archaeological and numismatic evidence to supplement the later written record. In Professor Barrett's view, the mystery of Caligula's reign is not why he descended into autocracy, but how any intelligent Roman could have expected a different outcome - to grant total power to an inexperienced and arrogant young man was a recipe for disaster. This book, scholarly and accessible, offers a careful reconstruction of Caligula's life and times, and a shrewd assessment of his historical importance.

Excerpt

The emperor commodus is said to have put a man to death simply for reading Suetonius' Life of Caligula. the punishment may seem excessive, but it is probably safe to say that of all the emperors of ancient Rome none, with the possible exception of Nero, surpasses Caligula's reputation for infamy, and Nero, it must be pointed out, had fourteen years to perfect his image, against Caligula's modest four. the quintessential mad despot, Caligula has inspired plays, films, several series for television. Yet while the public at large seems to find him irresistible, academic biographers have tended to give him a wide berth. Nor is this surprising. the loss of the relevant books of the most important ancient commentator on the Julio-Claudian period, the historian Tacitus, means that we have to rely for our information on markedly inferior sources, in particular the late historian Dio and the biographer Suetonius. Their evident bias is not the main problem. Scattered references to Caligula made by Tacitus in the context of other emperors make it clear that his account must have been no less hostile than those that have survived, and in any case allowance can always be made for prejudice. a much more serious difficulty is that much of the surviving material is anecdotal and trivial, often in the form of the emperor's intentions, rather than his actual deeds, and generally presented with such little coherence that even a simple but reliable reconstruction of chronological events still largely eludes us. As a consequence, most surveys of Caligula's life, more popular on the continent than in the English speaking world, have tended to avoid critical analysis and to limit themselves essentially to paraphrased selections of Suetonius and Dio.

The biographical format imposes undeniable limitations on the serious study of any historical period, and it might well be asked why Caligula of all emperors should merit one in any case. His reign was exceptionally brief, shorter, for example, than those of Galerius (six years), or Crispus (nine), or Licinius the First and the Second (twenty three between them), emperors who have suffered general neglect and whose names remain obscure. Moreover, he had no profound views on government, as far as we can tell, and represents no major historical trend. There is, of course,

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