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Gaius


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Claudius (10 bc — 54 ad) Roman emperor

Tiberius (42—37 bc) Roman emperor ad 14–37

Livia (b. 58 bc)

Germanicus (15 bc — 19 ad)

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The emperor, ‘Caligula’ (Gaius Iulius Caesar Germanicus, ad 12–41), son of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. In 14–16 he was on the Rhine with his parents and, dressed in miniature uniform, was nicknamed ‘Caligula’ (‘Bootee’) by the soldiers. He went with his parents to the east in 17 and, after Germanicus' death in 19, lived in Rome with his mother until her arrest in 29, then successively with Livia Drusilla and Antonia (2) until he joined Tiberius on Capreae. The downfall of Sejanus in 31 was to Gaius' advantage, and it was probably engineered by him and associates such as the prefect of the watch (vigiles) Macro, who also benefited. After the death of his brother Drusus Iulius Caesar in 33 Gaius was the only surviving son of Germanicus and, with Iulius Caesar Nero ‘Gemellus’—Claudius' claim not being considered—next in succession. He became pontifex in 31 and was quaestor two years later, but received no other training in public life. Tiberius made Gaius and Gemellus joint heirs to his property, but, supported by Macro, now praetorian prefect, Gaius was proclaimed emperor (March 37), Tiberius' will being declared invalid by the senate, although his acts as a whole were not invalidated; Gaius made an appropriately perfunctory effort to have him deified.

Gaius' accession was greeted with widespread joy and relief, and his civility promised well. One symbolic gesture was the restoration of electoral choice to the popular assemblies, taken from them in 14 (it failed, and Gaius had to revert to Tiberian procedure). Gaius needed to enhance his authority and held the consulship four times; he became Pater Patriae, a title refused by Tiberius, in September 37. In the early months of his rule he honoured the memory of his mother, father, and brothers and spoke abusively of Tiberius. Antonia, a restraining influence, died May 37. In October Gaius was seriously ill, and this may have brought the succession question into prominence: in 38, Gaius executed both Macro and his rival Gemellus. In 39 Gaius quarrelled with the senate, revised his attitude towards Tiberius' memory, announcing the return of slandering the emperor as a treasonable offence. The same year he married his fourth wife, who had already borne him a daughter, proving her fertility. The autumn and winter of 39–40 Gaius spent in Gaul and on the Rhine; a conspiracy was revealed whose leader, Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, commander of the Upper Rhine army, was executed. This conspiracy may be connected with the simultaneous disgrace of his brother‐in‐law (and possible successor) Aemilius Lepidus and of Gaius' surviving sisters Iulia Agrippina and Iulia Livilla. After his return to Rome (in ovation, in August 40) Gaius was in constant danger of assassination, having no successor to avenge him, displayed increasing brutality, and was murdered in the palace in January 41. His wife and daughter were also murdered.

The government of Gaius was autocratic and capricious, and he accepted extravagant honours which came close to deification. He seems to have been engaged in discovering the limits of his power (‘for me anything is licit’). He was a person of the highest descent, which helps to account for the unprecedented attention paid to his sisters, Iulia Drusilla, whose death in 38 was followed by a public funeral and deification, Agrippina, and Livilla; he was brilliant and destructively witty; and he demanded exceptional homage and was savage if his superiority was not recognized. A gifted orator, who delivered Livia's laudatio funebris at the age of 17, he enjoyed writing rebuttals of successful speeches. By insisting on primacy in everything Gaius left even courtiers no role of their own. He had terrified the senators, humiliated officers of the praetorian guard (who carried out the assassination), and only the masses seem to have regretted his passing.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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