Caius Caesar Caligula (From The Lives of the Twelve Caesars)

By C. Suetonius Tranquillus


I. Germanicus, the father of Caius Caesar, and son of Drusus and the
younger Antonia, was, after his adoption by Tiberius, his uncle,
preferred to the quaestorship [377] five years before he had attained the
legal age, and immediately upon the expiration of that office, to the
consulship [378]. Having been sent to the army in Germany, he restored
order among the legions, who, upon the news of Augustus’s death,
obstinately refused to acknowledge Tiberius as emperor [379], and offered
to place him at the head of the state. In which affair it is difficult
to say, whether his regard to filial duty, or the firmness of his
resolution, was most conspicuous. Soon afterwards he defeated the enemy,
and obtained the honours of a triumph. Being then made consul for the
second time [380], before he could enter upon his office he was obliged
to set out suddenly for the east, where, after he had conquered the king
of Armenia, and reduced Cappadocia into the form of a province, he died
at Antioch, of a lingering distemper, in the thirty-fourth year of his
age [381], not without the suspicion of being poisoned. For besides the
livid spots which appeared all over his body, and a foaming at the mouth;
when his corpse was burnt, the heart was found entire among the bones;
its nature being such, as it is supposed, that when tainted by poison, it
is indestructible by fire. [382]

II. It was a prevailing opinion, that he was taken off by the
contrivance of Tiberius, and through the means of Cneius Piso. This
person, who was about the same time prefect of Syria, and made no secret
of his position being such, that (252) he must either offend the father
or the son, loaded Germanicus, even during his sickness, with the most
unbounded and scurrilous abuse, both by word and deed; for which, upon
his return to Rome, he narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the
people, and was condemned to death by the senate.

III. It is generally agreed, that Germanicus possessed all the noblest
endowments of body and mind in a higher degree than had ever before
fallen to the lot of any man; a handsome person, extraordinary courage,
great proficiency in eloquence and other branches of learning, both Greek
and Roman; besides a singular humanity, and a behaviour so engaging, as
to captivate the affections of all about him. The slenderness of his
legs did not correspond with the symmetry and beauty of his person in
other respects; but this defect was at length corrected by his habit of
riding after meals. In battle, he often engaged and slew an enemy in
single combat. He pleaded causes, even after he had the honour of a
triumph. Among other fruits of his studies, he left behind him some
Greek comedies. Both at home and abroad he always conducted himself in a
manner the most unassuming. On entering any free and confederate town,
he never would be attended by his lictors. Whenever he heard, in his
travels, of the tombs of illustrious men, he made offerings over them to
the infernal deities. He gave a common grave, under a mound of earth, to
the scattered relics of the legionaries slain under Varus, and was the
first to put his hand to the work of collecting and bringing them to the
place of burial. He was so extremely mild and gentle to his enemies,
whoever they were, or on what account soever they bore him enmity, that,
although Piso rescinded his decrees, and for a long time severely
harassed his dependents, he never showed the smallest resentment, until
he found himself attacked by magical charms and imprecations; and even
then the only steps he took was to renounce all friendship with him,
according to ancient custom, and to exhort his servants to avenge his
death, if any thing untoward should befall him.

IV. He reaped the fruit of his noble qualities in abundance, being so
much esteemed and beloved by his friends, that Augustus (to say nothing
of his other relations) being a long time in doubt, whether he should not
appoint him his successor, at last ordered Tiberius to adopt him. He was
so extremely popular, that many authors tell us, the crowds of those who
went to meet him upon his coming to any place, or to attend him at his
departure, were so prodigious, that he was sometimes in danger of his
life; and that upon his return from Germany, after he had quelled the
mutiny in the army there, all the cohorts of the pretorian guards marched
out to meet him, notwithstanding the order that only two should go; and
that all the people of Rome, both men and women, of every age, sex, and
rank, flocked as far as the twentieth milestone to attend his entrance.

V. At the time of his death, however, and afterwards, they displayed
still greater and stronger proofs of their extraordinary attachment to
him. The day on which he died, stones were thrown at the temples, the
altars of the gods demolished, the household gods, in some cases, thrown
into the streets, and new-born infants exposed. It is even said that
barbarous nations, both those engaged in intestine wars, and those in
hostilities against us, all agreed to a cessation of arms, as if they had
been mourning for some very near and common friend; that some petty kings
shaved their beards and their wives’ heads, in token of their extreme
sorrow; and that the king of kings [383] forbore his exercise of hunting
and feasting with his nobles, which, amongst the Parthians, is equivalent
to a cessation of all business in a time of public mourning with us.

VI. At Rome, upon the first news of his sickness, the city was thrown
into great consternation and grief, waiting impatiently for farther
intelligence; when suddenly, in the evening, a report, without any
certain author, was spread, that he was recovered; upon which the people
flocked with torches (254) and victims to the Capitol, and were in such
haste to pay the vows they had made for his recovery, that they almost
broke open the doors. Tiberius was roused from out of his sleep with the
noise of the people congratulating one another, and singing about the

Salva Roma, salva patria, salvus est Germanicus.
Rome is safe, our country safe, for our Germanicus is safe.

But when certain intelligence of his death arrived, the mourning of the
people could neither be assuaged by consolation, nor restrained by
edicts, and it continued during the holidays in the month of December.
The atrocities of the subsequent times contributed much to the glory of
Germanicus, and the endearment of his memory; all people supposing, and
with reason, that the fear and awe of him had laid a restraint upon the
cruelty of Tiberius, which broke out soon afterwards.

VII. Germanicus married Agrippina, the daughter of Marcus Agrippa and
Julia, by whom he had nine children, two of whom died in their infancy,
and another a few years after; a sprightly boy, whose effigy, in the
character of a Cupid, Livia set up in the temple of Venus in the Capitol.
Augustus also placed another statue of him in his bed-chamber, and used
to kiss it as often as he entered the apartment. The rest survived their
father; three daughters, Agrippina, Drusilla, and Livilla, who were born
in three successive years; and as many sons, Nero, Drusus, and Caius
Caesar. Nero and Drusus, at the accusation of Tiberius, were declared
public enemies.

VIII. Caius Caesar was born on the day before the calends [31st August] of September, at the time his father and Caius Fonteius Capito were
consuls [384]. But where he was born, is rendered uncertain from the
number of places which are said to have given him birth. Cneius Lentulus
Gaetulicus [385] says that he was born at Tibur; Pliny the younger, in
the country of the Treviri, at a village called Ambiatinus, above
Confluentes [386]; and he alleges, as a proof of it, that altars are
there shown with this inscription: “For Agrippina’s child-birth.” Some
verses which were published in his reign, intimate that he was born in
the winter quarters of the legions,

In castris natus, patriis nutritius in armis,
Jam designati principis omen erat.

Born in the camp, and train’d in every toil
Which taught his sire the haughtiest foes to foil;
Destin’d he seem’d by fate to raise his name,
And rule the empire with Augustan fame.

I find in the public registers that he was born at Antium. Pliny charges
Gaetulicus as guilty of an arrant forgery, merely to soothe the vanity of
a conceited young prince, by giving him the lustre of being born in a
city sacred to Hercules; and says that he advanced this false assertion
with the more assurance, because, the year before the birth of Caius,
Germanicus had a son of the same name born at Tibur; concerning whose
amiable childhood and premature death I have already spoken [387]. Dates
clearly prove that Pliny is mistaken; for the writers of Augustus’s
history all agree, that Germanicus, at the expiration of his consulship,
was sent into Gaul, after the birth of Caius. Nor will the inscription
upon the altar serve to establish Pliny’s opinion; because Agrippina was
delivered of two daughters in that country, and any child-birth, without
regard to sex, is called puerperium, as the ancients were used to call
girls puerae, and boys puelli. There is also extant a letter written by
Augustus, a few months before his death, to his granddaughter Agrippina,
about the same Caius (for there was then no other child of hers living
under that name). He writes as follows: “I gave orders yesterday for
Talarius and Asellius to set out on their journey towards you, if the
gods permit, with your child Caius, upon the fifteenth of the calends of
June [18th May]. I also send with him a physician of mine, and I wrote
to Germanicus that he may retain him if he pleases. Farewell, my dear
Agrippina, and take what care you can to (256) come safe and well to your
Germanicus.” I imagine it is sufficiently evident that Caius could not
be born at a place to which he was carried from The City when almost two
years old. The same considerations must likewise invalidate the evidence
of the verses, and the rather, because the author is unknown. The only
authority, therefore, upon which we can depend in this matter, is that of
the acts, and the public register; especially as he always preferred
Antium to every other place of retirement, and entertained for it all
that fondness which is commonly attached to one’s native soil. It is
said, too, that, upon his growing weary of the city, he designed to have
transferred thither the seat of empire.

IX. It was to the jokes of the soldiers in the camp that he owed the
name of Caligula [388], he having been brought up among them in the dress
of a common soldier. How much his education amongst them recommended him
to their favour and affection, was sufficiently apparent in the mutiny
upon the death of Augustus, when the mere sight of him appeased their
fury, though it had risen to a great height. For they persisted in it,
until they observed that he was sent away to a neighbouring city [389],
to secure him against all danger. Then, at last, they began to relent,
and, stopping the chariot in which he was conveyed, earnestly deprecated
the odium to which such a proceeding would expose them.

X. He likewise attended his father in his expedition to Syria. After
his return, he lived first with his mother, and, when she was banished,
with his great-grandmother, Livia Augusta, in praise of whom, after her
decease, though then only a boy, he pronounced a funeral oration in the
Rostra. He was then transferred to the family of his grandmother,
Antonia, and afterwards, in the twentieth year of his age, being called
by Tiberius to Capri, he in one and the same day assumed the manly habit,
and shaved his beard, but without receiving any of the honours which had
been paid to his brothers on a similar (257) occasion. While he remained
in that island, many insidious artifices were practised, to extort from
him complaints against Tiberius, but by his circumspection he avoided
falling into the snare [390]. He affected to take no more notice of the
ill-treatment of his relations, than if nothing had befallen them. With
regard to his own sufferings, he seemed utterly insensible of them, and
behaved with such obsequiousness to his grandfather [391] and all about
him, that it was justly said of him, “There never was a better servant,
nor a worse master.”

XI. But he could not even then conceal his natural disposition to
cruelty and lewdness. He delighted in witnessing the infliction of
punishments, and frequented taverns and bawdy-houses in the night-time,
disguised in a periwig and a long coat; and was passionately addicted to
the theatrical arts of singing and dancing. All these levities Tiberius
readily connived at, in hopes that they might perhaps correct the
roughness of his temper, which the sagacious old man so well understood,
that he often said, “That Caius was destined to be the ruin of himself
and all mankind; and that he was rearing a hydra [392] for the people of
Rome, and a Phaeton for all the world.” [393]

XII. Not long afterwards, he married Junia Claudilla, the daughter of
Marcus Silanus, a man of the highest rank. Being then chosen augur in
the room of his brother Drusus, before he could be inaugurated he was
advanced to the pontificate, with no small commendation of his dutiful
behaviour, and great capacity. The situation of the court likewise was
at this time favourable to his fortunes, as it was now left destitute of
support, Sejanus being suspected, and soon afterwards taken off; and he
was by degrees flattered with the hope of succeeding Tiberius in the
empire. In order more effectually to secure this object, upon Junia’s
dying in child-bed, he engaged in a criminal commerce with Ennia Naevia,
the wife (258) of Macro, at that time prefect of the pretorian cohorts;
promising to marry her if he became emperor, to which he bound himself,
not only by an oath, but by a written obligation under his hand. Having
by her means insinuated himself into Macro’s favour, some are of opinion
that he attempted to poison Tiberius, and ordered his ring to be taken
from him, before the breath was out of his body; and that, because he
seemed to hold it fast, he caused a pillow to be thrown upon him [394],
squeezing him by the throat, at the same time, with his own hand. One of
his freedmen crying out at this horrid barbarity, he was immediately
crucified. These circumstances are far from being improbable, as some
authors relate that, afterwards, though he did not acknowledge his having
a hand in the death of Tiberius, yet he frankly declared that he had
formerly entertained such a design; and as a proof of his affection for
his relations, he would frequently boast, “That, to revenge the death of
his mother and brothers, he had entered the chamber of Tiberius, when he
was asleep, with a poniard, but being seized with a fit of compassion,
threw it away, and retired; and that Tiberius, though aware of his
intention, durst not make any inquiries, or attempt revenge.”

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