The infamous emperor Caligula ruled Rome from A.D. 37 to 41 as a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. An exceptionally smart and cruelly witty man, Caligula made his contemporaries worship him as a god. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered in gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and committed incest with his sisters. He wanted to make his horse a consul. Torture and executions were the order of the day. Both modern and ancient interpretations have concluded from this alleged evidence that Caligula was insane. But was he?
This biography tells a different story of the well-known emperor. In a deft account written for a general audience, Aloys Winterling opens a new perspective on the man and his times. Basing Caligula on a thorough new assessment of the ancient sources, he sets the emperor's story into the context of the political system and the changing relations between the senate and the emperor during Caligula's time and finds a new rationality explaining his notorious brutality.
“Seeks to rehabilitate one of the most infamous Roman emperors, commonly believed to have been deranged.”—New Yorker
“A persuasive new Caligula emerges from this elegant revision: not mad at all, but just as bad and dangerous to know.”—Maclean’s
“In this lively biography of Rome’s infamous third emperor, readers will not find the wild-eyed dictator the public has, for nearly two millennia, come to expect. Offering not an apology for the ‘mad’ emperor but a thoughtful argument for his sanity, Winterling debunks Caligula’s most grotesque and oft repeated crimes.”—Publishers Weekly
“In a revisionist take on the man, Winterling argues that Caligula was cruel but that his actions were explicable in the light of the political situation of the time and considering the changing role of the emperor.”—Library Journal
“Winterling has produced an innovative biography which takes a novel approach to interpreting the historiography of Caligula’s reign.”—Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR)
“Presents Roman emperor Caligula in a new light.”—Booklist
“A worthy study, which covers significant aspects of Caligula’s reign and provides some new interpretations on this fascinating subject.”—Geoff W. Adams Ancient History Bulletin
“Offers a sharp analysis of political communication in imperial Rome and faces the central question raised by many ancient writers themselves: the question of how language functions under an autocracy. It is an eloquent and compelling study of Roman imperial history, and especially of the difficult relations between the imperial monarch and the traditional aristocracy.”—London Review Of Books
“No Roman emperor cries out more obviously for redemption, but Aloys Winterling’s Caligula, a calm reassessment of his reign, avoids revisionist whitewashing and takes the residue of hatred as inescapable.”—Cathnews Perspectives
“Caligula’s claims to godhood, his equine appointment, all his excesses, were written off as the products of an unsound mind. But [this book] makes it clear that the behavior of the third emperor were the acts of a diffident, slightly paranoid youth, who lacked the patience that the most quarrelsome and important of his subjects required. The vengeance of his enemies--the upper class he terrorized--was to take him at his word.”—The New Criterion
“[Winterling] gives us a biography that brings the man and his times to life.”—History
“Accessible and graceful. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice
“Caligula enjoys a reputation as one of the most brutal and tyrannical Roman emperors. In this accessible narrative of Caligula’s life, Winterling uses his deep knowledge of Roman society and the imperial court to investigate why contemporaries chose to assassinate Caligula’s reputation as well as his person. Caligula emerges here as rather less insane, if no less loathsome, than his posthumous reputation made him out to be.”
—Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, author of Rome’s Cultural Revolution