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

XXXII. Even in the midst of his diversions, while gaming or feasting,
this savage ferocity, both in his language and actions, never forsook
him. Persons were often put to the torture in his presence, whilst he
was dining or carousing. A soldier, who was an adept in the art of
beheading, used at such times to take off the heads of prisoners, who
were brought in for that purpose. At Puteoli, at the dedication of the
bridge which he planned, as already mentioned [438], he invited a number
of people to come to him from the shore, and then suddenly, threw them
headlong into the sea; thrusting down with poles and oars those who, to
save themselves, had got hold of the rudders of the ships. At Rome, in a
public feast, a slave having stolen some thin plates of silver with which
the couches were inlaid, he delivered him immediately to an executioner,
with orders to cut off his hands, and lead him round the guests, with
them hanging from his neck before his breast, and a label, signifying the
cause of his punishment. A gladiator who was practising with him, and
voluntarily threw himself at his feet, he stabbed with a poniard, and
then ran about with a palm branch in his hand, after the manner of those
who are victorious in the games. When a victim was to be offered upon an
altar, he, clad in the habit of the Popae [439], and holding the axe
aloft for a while, at last, instead of the animal, slaughtered an officer
who attended to cut up the sacrifice. And at a sumptuous entertainment,
he fell suddenly into a violent fit of laughter, and upon the consuls,
who reclined next to him, respectfully asking him the occasion,
“Nothing,” replied he, “but that, upon a single nod of mine, you might
both have your throats cut.”

(275) XXXIII. Among many other jests, this was one: As he stood by the
statue of Jupiter, he asked Apelles, the tragedian, which of them he
thought was biggest? Upon his demurring about it, he lashed him most
severely, now and then commending his voice, whilst he entreated for
mercy, as being well modulated even when he was venting his grief. As
often as he kissed the neck of his wife or mistress, he would say, “So
beautiful a throat must be cut whenever I please;” and now and then he
would threaten to put his dear Caesonia to the torture, that he might
discover why he loved her so passionately.

XXXIV. In his behaviour towards men of almost all ages, he discovered a
degree of jealousy and malignity equal to that of his cruelty and pride.
He so demolished and dispersed the statues of several illustrious
persons, which had been removed by Augustus, for want of room, from the
court of the Capitol into the Campus Martius, that it was impossible to
set them up again with their inscriptions entire. And, for the future,
he forbad any statue whatever to be erected without his knowledge and
leave. He had thoughts too of suppressing Homer’s poems: “For why,” said
he, “may not I do what Plato has done before me, who excluded him from
his commonwealth?” [440] He was likewise very near banishing the
writings and the busts of Virgil and Livy from all libraries; censuring
one of them as “a man of no genius and very little learning;” and the
other as “a verbose and careless historian.” He often talked of the
lawyers as if he intended to abolish their profession. “By Hercules!”
he would say, “I shall put it out of their power to answer any questions
in law, otherwise than by referring to me!”

XXXV. He took from the noblest persons in the city the ancient marks of
distinction used by their families; as the collar from Torquatus [441];
from Cincinnatus the curl of (276) hair [442]; and from Cneius Pompey,
the surname of Great, belonging to that ancient family. Ptolemy,
mentioned before, whom he invited from his kingdom, and received with
great honours, he suddenly put to death, for no other reason, but because
he observed that upon entering the theatre, at a public exhibition, he
attracted the eyes of all the spectators, by the splendour of his purple
robe. As often as he met with handsome men, who had fine heads of hair,
he would order the back of their heads to be shaved, to make them appear
ridiculous. There was one Esius Proculus, the son of a centurion of the
first rank, who, for his great stature and fine proportions, was called
the Colossal. Him he ordered to be dragged from his seat in the arena,
and matched with a gladiator in light armour, and afterwards with another
completely armed; and upon his worsting them both, commanded him
forthwith to be bound, to be led clothed in rags up and down the streets
of the city, and, after being exhibited in that plight to the women, to
be then butchered. There was no man of so abject or mean condition,
whose excellency in any kind he did not envy. The Rex Nemorensis [443] having many years enjoyed the honour of the priesthood, he procured a
still stronger antagonist to oppose him. One Porius, who fought in a
chariot [444], having been victorious in an exhibition, and in his joy
given freedom to a slave, was applauded so vehemently, that Caligula rose
in such haste from his seat, that, treading upon the hem of his toga, he
tumbled down the steps, full of indignation, (277) and crying out, “A
people who are masters of the world, pay greater respect to a gladiator
for a trifle, than to princes admitted amongst the gods, or to my own
majesty here present amongst them.”

XXXVI. He never had the least regard either to the chastity of his own
person, or that of others. He is said to have been inflamed with an
unnatural passion for Marcus Lepidus Mnester, an actor in pantomimes, and
for certain hostages; and to have engaged with them in the practice of
mutual pollution. Valerius Catullus, a young man of a consular family,
bawled aloud in public that he had been exhausted by him in that
abominable act. Besides his incest with his sisters, and his notorious
passion for Pyrallis, the prostitute, there was hardly any lady of
distinction with whom he did not make free. He used commonly to invite
them with their husbands to supper, and as they passed by the couch on
which he reclined at table, examine them very closely, like those who
traffic in slaves; and if any one from modesty held down her face, he
raised it up with his hand. Afterwards, as often as he was in the
humour, he would quit the room, send for her he liked best, and in a
short time return with marks of recent disorder about them. He would
then commend or disparage her in the presence of the company, recounting
the charms or defects of her person and behaviour in private. To some he
sent a divorce in the name of their absent husbands, and ordered it to be
registered in the public acts.

XXXVII. In the devices of his profuse expenditure, he surpassed all the
prodigals that ever lived; inventing a new kind of bath, with strange
dishes and suppers, washing in precious unguents, both warm and cold,
drinking pearls of immense value dissolved in vinegar, and serving up for
his guests loaves and other victuals modelled in gold; often saying,
“that a man ought either to be a good economist or an emperor.” Besides,
he scattered money to a prodigious amount among the people, from the top
of the Julian Basilica [445], during several days successively. He built
two ships with ten banks of oars, after the Liburnian fashion, the poops
of which blazed with jewels, and the sails were of various parti-colours.
They were fitted up with ample baths, galleries, and saloons, and
supplied with a great variety of vines and other fruit-trees. In these
he would sail in the day-time along the coast of Campania, feasting (278)
amidst dancing and concerts of music. In building his palaces and
villas, there was nothing he desired to effect so much, in defiance of
all reason, as what was considered impossible. Accordingly, moles were
formed in the deep and adverse sea [446], rocks of the hardest stone cut
away, plains raised to the height of mountains with a vast mass of earth,
and the tops of mountains levelled by digging; and all these were to be
executed with incredible speed, for the least remissness was a capital
offence. Not to mention particulars, he spent enormous sums, and the
whole treasures which had been amassed by Tiberius Caesar, amounting to
two thousand seven hundred millions of sesterces, within less than a

XXXVIII. Having therefore quite exhausted these funds, and being in want
of money, he had recourse to plundering the people, by every mode of
false accusation, confiscation, and taxation, that could be invented. He
declared that no one had any right to the freedom of Rome, although their
ancestors had acquired it for themselves and their posterity, unless they
were sons; for that none beyond that degree ought to be considered as
posterity. When the grants of the Divine Julius and Augustus were
produced to him, he only said, that he was very sorry they were obsolete
and out of date. He also charged all those with making false returns,
who, after the taking of the census, had by any means whatever increased
their property. He annulled the wills of all who had been centurions of
the first rank, as testimonies of their base ingratitude, if from the
beginning of Tiberius’s reign they had not left either that prince or
himself their heir. He also set aside the wills of all others, if any
person only pretended to say, that they designed at their death to leave
Caesar their heir. The public becoming terrified at this proceeding, he
was now appointed joint-heir with their friends, and in the case of
parents with their children, by persons unknown to him. Those who lived
any considerable time after making such a will, he said, were only making
game of him; and accordingly he sent many of them poisoned cakes. He
used to try such causes himself; fixing previously the sum he proposed to
raise during the sitting, and, after he had secured it, quitting the
tribunal. Impatient of the least delay, he condemned by a single
sentence forty (279) persons, against whom there were different charges;
boasting to Caesonia when she awoke, “how much business he had dispatched
while she was taking her mid-day sleep.” He exposed to sale by auction,
the remains of the apparatus used in the public spectacles; and exacted
such biddings, and raised the prices so high, that some of the purchasers
were ruined, and bled themselves to death. There is a well-known story
told of Aponius Saturninus, who happening to fall asleep as he sat on a
bench at the sale, Caius called out to the auctioneer, not to overlook
the praetorian personage who nodded to him so often; and accordingly the
salesman went on, pretending to take the nods for tokens of assent, until
thirteen gladiators were knocked down to him at the sum of nine millions
of sesterces [447], he being in total ignorance of what was doing.

XXXIX. Having also sold in Gaul all the clothes, furniture, slaves, and
even freedmen belonging to his sisters, at prodigious prices, after their
condemnation, he was so much delighted with his gains, that he sent to
Rome for all the furniture of the old palace [448]; pressing for its
conveyance all the carriages let to hire in the city, with the horses and
mules belonging to the bakers, so that they often wanted bread at Rome;
and many who had suits at law in progress, lost their causes, because
they could not make their appearance in due time according to their
recognizances. In the sale of this furniture, every artifice of fraud
and imposition was employed. Sometimes he would rail at the bidders for
being niggardly, and ask them “if they were not ashamed to be richer than
he was?” at another, he would affect to be sorry that the property of
princes should be passing into the hands of private persons. He had
found out that a rich provincial had given two hundred thousand sesterces
to his chamberlains for an underhand invitation to his table, and he was
much pleased to find that honour valued at so high a rate. The day
following, as the same person was sitting at the sale, he sent him some
bauble, for which he told him he must pay two hundred thousand sesterces,
and “that he should sup with Caesar upon his own invitation.”

(280) XL. He levied new taxes, and such as were never before known, at
first by the publicans, but afterwards, because their profit was
enormous, by centurions and tribunes of the pretorian guards; no
description of property or persons being exempted from some kind of tax
or other. For all eatables brought into the city, a certain excise was
exacted: for all law-suits or trials in whatever court, the fortieth part
of the sum in dispute; and such as were convicted of compromising
litigations, were made liable to a penalty. Out of the daily wages of
the porters, he received an eighth, and from the gains of common
prostitutes, what they received for one favour granted. There was a
clause in the law, that all bawds who kept women for prostitution or
sale, should be liable to pay, and that marriage itself should not be

XLI. These taxes being imposed, but the act by which they were levied
never submitted to public inspection, great grievances were experienced
from the want of sufficient knowledge of the law. At length, on the
urgent demands of the Roman people, he published the law, but it was
written in a very small hand, and posted up in a corner, so that no one
could make a copy of it. To leave no sort of gain untried, he opened
brothels in the Palatium, with a number of cells, furnished suitably to
the dignity of the place; in which married women and free-born youths
were ready for the reception of visitors. He sent likewise his
nomenclators about the forums and courts, to invite people of all ages,
the old as well as the young, to his brothel, to come and satisfy their
lusts; and he was ready to lend his customers money upon interest; clerks
attending to take down their names in public, as persons who contributed
to the emperor’s revenue. Another method of raising money, which he
thought not below his notice, was gaming; which, by the help of lying and
perjury, he turned to considerable account. Leaving once the management
of his play to his partner in the game, he stepped into the court, and
observing two rich Roman knights passing by, he ordered them immediately
to be seized, and their estates confiscated. Then returning, in great
glee, he boasted that he had never made a better throw in his life.

XLII. After the birth of his daughter, complaining of his (281) poverty,
and the burdens to which he was subjected, not only as an emperor, but a
father, he made a general collection for her maintenance and fortune. He
likewise gave public notice, that he would receive new-year’s gifts on
the calends of January following; and accordingly stood in the vestibule
of his house, to clutch the presents which people of all ranks threw down
before him by handfuls and lapfuls. At last, being seized with an
invincible desire of feeling money, taking off his slippers, he
repeatedly walked over great heaps of gold coin spread upon the spacious
floor, and then laying himself down, rolled his whole body in gold over
and over again.

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