Caligula and Claudius

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Does any of the following sound familiar?

Dio Cassius
Roman History 59.1-10
Gaius Caligula rules Rome (A.D. 37)

….. As it was, however, he lavished boundless sums upon actors (whose recall he at once brought about), upon horses, upon gladiators, and everything of the sort; and thus in the briefest space of time he exhausted the large sums of money that had accumulated in the …… At all events he had found in the treasury 2,300,000,000 or, according to others, 3,300,000,000 sesterces, and yet did not make any part of it last into the third year, but in his very second year found himself in need of vast sums in addition. 3 He went through this same process of deterioration, too, in almost all other respects. Thus, he had seemed at first most democratic, to such a degree, in fact, that he would send no letters either to the people or to the senate nor assume any of the imperial titles; yet he became most autocratic, so that he took in one day all the honours which Augustus had with difficulty been induced to accept, and then only as they were voted to him one at a time during the long extent of his reign, some of which indeed Tiberius had refused to accept at all. …. He delighted by turns in vast throngs of men and in solitude; he grew angry if requests were preferred, and again if they were not preferred. He would display the keenest enthusiasm about various projects, and then carry out certain of them in the most indolent fashion. He would spend money most unsparingly, and at the same time show a most sordid spirit in exacting it. He was alike irritated and pleased, both with those who flattered him and with those who spoke their mind frankly. Many who were guilty of great crimes he neglected to punish, and many who had not even incurred any suspicion of wrong-doing he slew. His associates he either flattered to excess or abused to excess. As a result, no one knew either what to say or how to act toward him, but all who met with any success in this respect gained it as the result of chance rather than of shrewd judgment. 5 This was the kind of emperor into whose hands the Romans were then delivered. Hence the deeds of Tiberius, though they were felt to have been very harsh, were nevertheless as far superior to those of Gaius as the deeds of Augustus were to those of his successor. For Tiberius always kept the power in his own hands and used others as agents for carrying out his wishes; whereas Gaius was ruled by the charioteers and gladiators, and was the slave of the actors and others connected with the stage. Indeed, he always kept Apelles, the most famous of the tragedians of that day, with him even in public. Thus he by himself and they by themselves did without let or hindrance all that such persons would naturally dare to do when given power. Everything that pertained to their art he arranged and settled on the slightest pretext in the most lavish manner, and he compelled the praetors and the consuls to do the same, so that almost every day some performance of the kind was sure to be given. At first he was but a spectator and listener at these and would take sides for or against various performers like one of the crowd; and one time, when he was vexed with those of opposing tastes, he did not go to the spectacle. But as time went on, he came to imitate, and to contend in many events, driving chariots, fighting as a gladiator, giving exhibitions of pantomimic dancing, and acting in tragedy. So much for his regular behaviour. And once he sent an urgent summons at night to the leading men of the senate, as if for some important deliberation, and then danced before them. 10 The following acts of his met with the censure of everybody alike. He caused great numbers of men to fight as gladiators, forcing them to contend both singly and in groups drawn up in a kind of battle array. He had asked permission of the senate to do this, so that he was able to do anything he wished even contrary to what was provided by law, and thus put many people to death, among others twenty-six knights, some of whom had devoured their living, while others had merely practiced gladiatorial combat. It was not the large number of those who perished that was so serious, though that was serious enough, but his excessive delight in their death and his insatiable desire for the sight of blood. The same trait of cruelty led him once, when there was a shortage of condemned criminals to be given to the wild beasts, to order that some of the mob standing near the benches should be seized and thrown to them; and to prevent the possibility of their making an outcry or uttering any reproaches, he first caused their tongues to be cut out. …. He held these contests at first in the Saepta, after excavating the whole site and filling it with water, to enable him to bring in a single ship, but later he transferred them to another place, where he had demolished a great many large buildings and erected wooden stands; for he despised the theatre of Taurus. For all this he was censured, because of the expense and also of the bloodshed involved. …Thereupon many others were executed, some after being sentenced and some even before being convicted. Nominally they were punished because of the wrongs done to his parents or to his brothers or the others who had perished on their account, but in reality it was because of their property; for the treasury had become exhausted and he never could have enough. Such persons were convicted on the evidence not only the witnesses who appeared against them but also of the papers which he once declared he had burned. Others, again, owed their ruin to the emperor’s illness of the preceding year and to the death of his sister Drusilla, since, among other things, any one who had entertained or had greeted another, or even had bathed during those days, incurred punishment.

Dio Cassius
Roman History 60.2
Claudius becomes emperor (A.D. 41)

2 Thus it was that Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus, the son of Drusus the son of Livia, obtained the imperial power without having been previously tested at all in any position of authority, except for the fact that he had been consul. He was in his fiftieth year. In mental ability he was by no means inferior, as his faculties had been in constant training (in fact, he had actually written some historical treatises); but he was sickly in body, so that his head and hands shook slightly. 2 Because of this his voice was also faltering, and he did not himself read all the measures that he introduced before the senate, but would give them to the quaestor to read, though at first, at least, he was generally present. Whatever he did read himself, he usually delivered sitting down. 3 Furthermore, he was the first of the Romans to use a covered chair, and it is due to his example that to day not only the emperors but we ex-consuls as well are carried in chairs; of course, even before his time Augustus, Tiberius, and some others had been carried in litters such as women still affect even at the present day. 4 It was not these infirmities, however, that caused the deterioration of Claudius so much as it was the freedmen and the women with whom he associated; for he, more conspicuously than any of his peers, was ruled by slaves and by women. From a child he had been reared a constant prey to illness and great terror, and for that reason had feigned a stupidity greater than was really the case (a fact that he himself admitted in the senate); 5 and he had lived for a long time with his grandmother Livia and for another long period with his mother Antonia and with the freedmen, and moreover he had had many amours with him. Hence he had acquired none of the qualities befitting a freeman, but, though ruler of all the Romans and their subjects, had become himself a slave. They would take advantage of him particularly when he was inclined to drink or to ….., 6 since he applied himself to both these vices insatiably and when so employed was exceedingly easy to master. Moreover, he was afflicted by cowardice, which often so overpowered him that he could not reason out anything as he ought. They seized upon this failing of his, too, to accomplish many of their purposes; 7 for by frightening him they could use him fully for their own ends, and could at the same time inspire the rest with great terror. To give but a single example, once, when a large number of persons were invited to dinner on the same day by Claudius and by these associates, the guests neglected Claudius on one pretense or another, and flocked around the others.

1 Comment

  1. Megan Volmer

    Thanks for the post. I have read so precious little of ancient times and look forward to learning more as my children grow up. Thanks for giving me food for thought. It can be scary to think of where our nation is headed. Seems like all great nations follow the same pattern.


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