Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD12-AD41), known by his nickname Caligula (Little Boots), was the third emperor of the Roman Empire after Augustus and Tiberius, and like them a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
His assassination was the result of a conspiracy by members of the Senate who hoped to restore the Roman Republic. However the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula’s uncle Claudius emperor instead, thus preserving the monarchy.
Maria Antonietta Tomei, a Rome archeologist, said a cryptoportico or underground corridor discovered beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill matched exactly the description given by the Rome historian Suetonius, who says that the Emperor was stabbed to death after watching an entertainment. He left via the passageway, where the Praetorian Guard led by its commander, Cassius Chaerea, was lying in wait.
Professor Tomei said she was “absolutely convinced” that the cryptportico was the one in which Caligula met his end. Although it bore builders’ stamps from the time of Claudius, it already existed at the time of Caligula, and had only been restructured by his uncle and successor.
“It is clear that it was Claudius and not Nero, as commonly thought, who gave shape to the imperial palace complex on the Palatine Hill,” she said.
According to Suetonius and the Jewish historian Josephus, Caligula’s assassins also stabbed to death his wife, Caesonia, and killed their infant daughter, Julia Drusilla, by smashing her head against a wall. Caligula’s body was burnt and the ashes interred at the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is still standing near the Tiber. Now a ruin, its tombs were ransacked during the Barbarian invasions of the fifth century.
Unlike his father Germanicus, a widely admired and upright Roman general, Caligula became a byword for cruelty, excess, insanity and sexual perversion. His nickname derived from the fact that as a small boy he dressed up in a miniature uniform while accompanying his father on military campaigns.
Some scholars maintain that Caligula murdered Tiberius to ensure the succession, or at least ordered his murder. On becoming emperor Caligula was at first hailed as the son of Germanicus, but his behaviour became increasingly psychopathic after he fell ill in AD37 and nearly died. He had all possible opponents, real and imagined – including members of his own family – banished or killed, and seized their properties.
He also proclaimed himself a living god. According to Suetonius, Caligula had incestuous sex with with his sisters Agrippina, Drusilla and Julia Livilla. He also supposedly tried to confer the title of consul on his favourite horse, Incitatus, who had a stable of marble and a collar of precious stones, and had flakes of gold mixed into his oats. Some historians have suggested, however, that such stories were embellished or even invented by Caligula’s many enemies.