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Caligula: A Biography

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"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 loathsom "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 Book originally published in German as Caligula : eine Biographie


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"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 loathsom "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 Book originally published in German as Caligula : eine Biographie

30 review for Caligula: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jaidee

    4 "fascinating, provocative, a bit dry" stars !! This review will be a bit of a mess. I apologize in advance. I did not study history in university and am unfamiliar with historical analysis especially of ancient times where sources are scant, often untrustworthy and highly subjective. Caligula is often portrayed as mad and this author argues valiantly against this by looking deeply into the written sources available to him. I partially agree with him but not completely. I will explain in a little 4 "fascinating, provocative, a bit dry" stars !! This review will be a bit of a mess. I apologize in advance. I did not study history in university and am unfamiliar with historical analysis especially of ancient times where sources are scant, often untrustworthy and highly subjective. Caligula is often portrayed as mad and this author argues valiantly against this by looking deeply into the written sources available to him. I partially agree with him but not completely. I will explain in a little bit what I mean. I was expecting this book to be a little more juicy with stories of incest and sexcapades but it focused much more on Caligula as he becomes emperor and all of his political plotting. Caligula was the target of assassinations since childhood, much of his family was killed and it did not seem like he ever received any real nurturing save perhaps from his sisters who as he grew older were often central figures in attempts at killing him. Can we blame the man for being anxious and moderately paranoid? Not if he wanted to survive. Is this mental illness? No it is not. These are understandable reactions to the social and political environment he is in. Caligula relishes in sadistic and humiliating acts. The book describes many of these are described at length in the book. These acts including beatings, beheadings, murders, slanders, sexual humiliations, wife stealing, extortion and on and on and on. Reading about his evil and clever crimes,( one could also argue genious maneveurings) does not fit with our modern concept of severe mental illness ( where even if evil is done it is almost always unintentional and always disorganized.) Caligula's brilliant ploys and very cruel behaviors do not fit into this contemporary understanding of severe mental illness. This does however fit into the category of malignant personality disorder and I would argue in the spheres of sadistic, narcissistic and paranoid subtypes. Wait- aren't personality disorders mental illnesses? Yes and No. Mental illness must have a component of emotional distress and in the cases of avoidant and borderline subtypes this is always the case. Other types of personality disorders, however, tend to be externalizing ones and cause hurt and distress TO OTHER PEOPLE. I would suggest that these conditions although problematic for society are disorders that often do not cause distress for those that have them. I know many will argue with me about this and I'm OK with that. Wait Jaidee this is a history book!! Ummm yes it is but I could not help but share my opinion on what I learned about Caligula from a psychopathological perspective. Anyhow, this book, is well worth reading as it is interesting and illuminating but also a little dry. I am certainly glad I was not born into that family ;))

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ozymandias

    Wow, a whole new way of looking at Caligula! Okay, that’s not entirely true. Barret’s Caligula: The Corruption of Power among others paved the way for this interpretation and really doesn’t take as its premise a radically different viewpoint. Both see Caligula as a Stalinesque figure; an all-too-sane monster who saw the world perhaps too clearly and was not willing to put up with the farce of concealing his power. The difference between these two books is this: Barrett went through Caligula’s re Wow, a whole new way of looking at Caligula! Okay, that’s not entirely true. Barret’s Caligula: The Corruption of Power among others paved the way for this interpretation and really doesn’t take as its premise a radically different viewpoint. Both see Caligula as a Stalinesque figure; an all-too-sane monster who saw the world perhaps too clearly and was not willing to put up with the farce of concealing his power. The difference between these two books is this: Barrett went through Caligula’s reign in numbing detail and showed us there was a clear rational approach at work. Winterling goes straight for questions of character. In this book we follow Caligula from his early years as family pet through the horrors he endured as Tiberius slowly liquidated his family and then the gradual dissolution of his relationship with the Senate. As we progress we see exactly why these factors shaped Caligula and what sort of a man he was. This reconstruction of the young emperor’s life makes sense, and it doesn’t require a descent into madness and delusion to explain his behavior. Malice, paranoia, and a vicious sense of humor are explanation enough. Again, this was all pointed out by Barrett among others years ago, but it takes skill to really sell the emotion. Honestly, in Barrett’s book his personality is only discussed briefly in a few lines in the conclusion. Here we approach much more intimately. The word character there applies to more than just Caligula’s personality. The character of the early principate is a major issue. Winterling’s view of the principate is essentially a question of communication. As he sees it, the goal of the emperor, as Augustus had created it, was to make his wishes clear without issuing any orders and thus maintain senators’ standing. The goal of the Senate was to recognize these unstated wishes and act on them, thus preserving their authority while abrogating their power. And the problem with Tiberius was that he believed the illusion. He thought the Senate had and should have power as well as authority. But he also expected them to obey him. An unworkable situation. Caligula, on the other hand, excelled at the Augustan model of ruling. He expressed himself clearly and said all the right things… until he stopped. But it wasn’t a matter of ability, he was filled with contempt at the need for pretense. Pretense had kept him alive during the six years he’d lived in Tiberius’ palace. Six miserable years of enforced passivity where only he, the third son of Germanicus, was left alive. And then he came to power and applied his chameleonlike skills to the new situation… and was shortly thereafter targeted for assassination. Repeatedly. At which point he discarded the much-hated mask and revealed his contempt for all the self-righteous sycophants of the Senate. Open war is really the best way to describe it. And in keeping with the theme of communication, Caligula’s main method of humiliating senators was to take their stated wish at face value while ignoring their unstated wish. For example, the senator who claimed he would kill himself if it meant the emperor would survive an unexpected illness. Well, Caligula recovered, and immediately made the man keep his promise. He was the sort of man who loved taking men's flattery literally since he knew they couldn't do anything about it without admitting their lie. Every aspect of his rule is treated through this lens. Mostly it fits. I like the idea that Caligula opening a “brothel” where he prostituted the wives and children of Senators was really a bad joke based on his “honoring” senators by having them housed on the Palatine Hill where he could keep an eye on them (and not incidentally charge them for the privilege). It fits with his love of puncturing hidden meanings. To reject such an honor would be to acknowledge the truth that the emperor hated and mistrusted you. It was much easier to live with pretty lies than just roll with it. Especially since to do otherwise would mean your death, a fact which he loved sticking their face in. You can see why it would be resented, but also why senators couldn’t explain why they were so offended until they blew the whole thing into a much clearer abuse of power. I’m less sure I buy the idea that his claims of godhood were designed to humiliate the Senators by having them publicly take an absurd idea literally. Of course he used his godhood to humiliate Senators. He used everything he did to humiliate Senators. But it seems much more in line with his ambitions for claiming a power base outside Senatorial grants. i.e. he wanted to be a god-king in the Hellenistic mode and claim an even more direct form of divine authority than Augustus’ deifying his adoptive father Caesar. A claim Winterling at least partly rejects since the emperor didn’t permanently wear divine attire. A claim of dubious merit since I’m unaware of any evidence that Hellenistic kings wore fixed divine attire. I very much enjoyed this book. I wont say it changed my mind about Caligula. Rather I think it strengthened and directed my opinion. And I think it’s a good book for many different uses. As a biography it’s a lot more fun than most Kaisergeschichte. It really conveys something of the man’s forceful personality. This is about as close as we can come without drifting into fiction. Great for the general reader since it does away with a lot of the critical apparatus. But it also provides a precise vision of how the principate operated that’s very useful for the scholar.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Constantine

    Rating: 3.0/5.0 I watched the movie Caligula and wanted to see what the historical figures said about this crazy emperor. This book started very well and towards its middle it was fun to read about the life of the emperor and the people close to him and how there were many conspiracies. I was hoping it will give more than a glimpse about the real personality of the emperor. Unfortunately this did not happen. The second half of the book was just boring and not interesting as the first half. This bo Rating: 3.0/5.0 I watched the movie Caligula and wanted to see what the historical figures said about this crazy emperor. This book started very well and towards its middle it was fun to read about the life of the emperor and the people close to him and how there were many conspiracies. I was hoping it will give more than a glimpse about the real personality of the emperor. Unfortunately this did not happen. The second half of the book was just boring and not interesting as the first half. This book will definitely not give you the full picture of Caligula and you will need to read some other books as well to get a better picture of him.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Francisca

    This book was fascinating and disappointing at the same time. I'll explain myself. First of all, this book was fascinating for the depth of its analysis and insight. It is very educational and easy to understand (maybe it helped a bit that the last book I had read before had been Historia de Roma but I don't think a first-time reader would have been too lost either way.) And it was very revelatory too. I think the biggest asset, in this sense, was its thesis: Caligula was never that insane as his This book was fascinating and disappointing at the same time. I'll explain myself. First of all, this book was fascinating for the depth of its analysis and insight. It is very educational and easy to understand (maybe it helped a bit that the last book I had read before had been Historia de Roma but I don't think a first-time reader would have been too lost either way.) And it was very revelatory too. I think the biggest asset, in this sense, was its thesis: Caligula was never that insane as history has led us to believe. He was, in fact, a victim of his contemporary historians because of how he had conducted his reign against Roman aristocracy. And considering the way Caligula is remembered today--batshit crazy I should say--then you can guess his relationship with the aristocrats senators did not go as well as everyone might have wished for. Take for instance the famous I just made my horse consul, deal with it 'cause I'm the emperor incident. Everyone agrees this action was a clear symptom of Caligula suffering a severe case of goat-like level of insanity. According to Winterling, this decision was, in fact, a derogatory joke just to humilliate the senate and the aristocracy. I mean, it makes sense if you are also a sarcastic little shit. What better way to state how little you think of them than saying in a very public manner that your own horse is smart enough to take on the most important political role available. Apparently, this was the norm for all of Caligula's notorious demented behaviour that we have grown to know with time. It was obviously a political move to stake his claim as emperor over the most dangerous political class around him--and I would even say it was savy had it not backfired so espectaculary with his assassination. At least, he tried, I guess. Which is also the reason why I found this book disappointing. I mean, a part of me thought when starting this book that I would be getting an academic insight on Caligula's most wacky adventures. How fun, right! Great material for trivia night... Obviously, I was wrong. And now that I have a clearer understanding of his personality and the political scene that defined his brief reign, I don't have anything to laugh about. I can't even think fondly of Caligula, that emperor who once commanded his army to attack Poseidon by sending his men to march into the sea because that was actuall a celebration a past victory that included boats awaiting for his men to keep them safe. I guess we all have Nero still. But, if I were to know of a book stating that he wasn't crazy either--that he did not marry a boy who had put on a wig and called him his wife--maybe, just maybe I might hesitate on picking it up next time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Al Bità

    Gaius Caesar Germanicus became Roman Emperor in 37 CE at the age of 24, and was assassinated in 41 CE just as he was about to travel to Alexandria, possibly to set that city up as an alternative location from which to rule the Roman Empire. The son of the very popular and potential Emperor Germanicus (who died, some say in mysterious circumstances) he was as popular as his father, and was known to all as “Little Boots” a term which in Latin translates as Caligula, and he has gone down in history Gaius Caesar Germanicus became Roman Emperor in 37 CE at the age of 24, and was assassinated in 41 CE just as he was about to travel to Alexandria, possibly to set that city up as an alternative location from which to rule the Roman Empire. The son of the very popular and potential Emperor Germanicus (who died, some say in mysterious circumstances) he was as popular as his father, and was known to all as “Little Boots” a term which in Latin translates as Caligula, and he has gone down in history with that nickname. He has also been saddled throughout history as being one of the cruellest, monstrous, and possibly even insane Emperors, who thought he was God, was prone to sexual excesses and extravagance, building, among other things, a bridge some three miles long across the Bay of Baiae out of tethered double row of ships, covered in earth, over which he rode his horse across the Bay, to everyone’s amazement. He also apparently made his favourite horse Incitatus a Senator… This negative view of Caligula has persisted through the ages: one of the ‘bad’ Emperors. The trouble with this assessment is that it is, in all probability, incorrect. In this book history professor Winterling examines what little historical information we have on Caligula together with the subsequent blackening of his name by later historians, in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff. His method of carefully picking through the various strands and attempting to isolate fact from fiction is done, a little too academically, perhaps, for some people’s taste, but consciously striving (and succeeding, in my opinion) to make this discipline more accessible to the general reader. This book is an excellent illustration of what modern historians have to go through when attempting to arrive at something more grounded in facts than in fictions (whatever the reasons for those fictions might be). One thing appears certain: Caligula was extremely popular with the ordinary people. He was intelligent, no more ‘cruel’ than just about any other Roman Emperor, and seemed more than capable of ruling appropriately, as required. So why the animosity of the later historians? Winterling suggests that more than anything this was because he not only managed to reveal the general hypocrisy of the Senate and the Aristocracy (basically one and the same as far as power was concerned) but to gleefully rub their faces in it, both privately and publicly. The Aristocracy were the true powerbrokers, with the Senate their public face pretending to be serving the Republic when they were more interested in serving their own interests. Certainly they did not want a return to Monarchy (one of the main reasons for their assassination of Julius Caesar) nor did they really like the idea of an Emperor (too close to Monarchy, and to control over Aristocratic power). Only Octavian as Augustus managed to run the Empire as Emperor, yet wily enough to ensure that the Senate believed it was in control. Tiberius, Augustus’s successor, so loathed dealing with the Senate that in the end he preferred to rule from Capri, letting the Senators more or less have their way in Rome. Caligula, on the other hand, apparently shared Tiberius’s loathing, but preferred to confront the Senate head-on: he, Caligula, was Emperor, and demanded to being treated as a god like Augustus, while they, the Senate, were there only to follow his commands and do his bidding. He relished ridiculing and humiliating Senators on a regular basis, making fun of them through some of his outrageous demands, yet ever ready to threaten severe punishments, even unto death, if they displeased him. Of course, this tended to result in Caligula’s increasing isolation from any benefactors he might have had in the ruling classes, and he even managed to antagonise family members to the extent that they conspired against him. In the end, he set the seeds for his own destruction. History, we are told, is written by the winners, and this tends to contaminate their records as far as the truth is concerned. Here Winterling shows how, even after some 2000 years, it is possible to extract a few nuggets of golden facts from the mountain of dross that sometimes accompanies the records of those who either over-praise, or, as in the case of Caligula, over-condemn.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Doreen Petersen

    Excellent book. It has been rumored that Caligula was either insane or a very ruler. Time will be the judge of there. I suspect it was a bit of both.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Dockrill

    I quite enjoyed Aloys take on Caligula and was very happy at the outset where she even claimed that there are alot of false ideas of Caligula that we have all been brought up knowing, like how he wanted to name his horse a consul and people thought he was out of his mind to do that (but it was just a joke that wasn't terribly funny). Also the story where he took his legions to the mouth of the English Channel as he wanted to gain fame much like his father Germanicus did. Once at the channel he s I quite enjoyed Aloys take on Caligula and was very happy at the outset where she even claimed that there are alot of false ideas of Caligula that we have all been brought up knowing, like how he wanted to name his horse a consul and people thought he was out of his mind to do that (but it was just a joke that wasn't terribly funny). Also the story where he took his legions to the mouth of the English Channel as he wanted to gain fame much like his father Germanicus did. Once at the channel he supposedly declared war on neptune and then had his men collect sea shells. This could been seen as odd taken out of the context. The explanation for this was that the Romans were terribly afraid of anything outside of the mediteranean, as they thought it was the limit of the civilized world and they thought the seas were full of spirits and monsters, so they refused to go and they mutinied against Caligula. As a result Caligula, in order to embarrass his men for their lack of courage, had them pick up shells. All in all Caligula was a bit of an odd fellow, he could never find the right balance he needed socially when dealing with the senate and aristocracy. Not only that but for a man of his place in society with noble blood he was supposed to act a certain way that was suited to his station but he failed to do so. He would cheer and get excitable at the gladiatorial games and the chariot races along with the lower classes which the aristocrats did not appreciate. This was likely due to that fact the he never knew how to act as he was not exposed to high society as a youth due to the fact that he was being hunted down by the senate and Sejanus, or was stuck on Capreae with Tiberius. But even that argument did not really make sense considering that when he was brought up mostly by Tiberius and Macro and Silanus, he was instructed by this men on how to act at Aristocratic gatherings, so it would seem he just ignored his teachings. Either way Caligula was not as crazy as many people believed him to be I don't think. He did some peculiar things, but given the context of the situation, would you have done any differently? I think due to the lack of popularity he had with the senate and aristocracy they smeared his name and took certain odd behavior he displayed out of context. I personally believe he was a man ahead of his time and he spoke plainly which did not always work well for him as he did not have the subtlety or playacting with the senate that Augustus had. The book was good, but it didn't blow my mind by any means, I had recently watched a very good documentary on Caligula which approached his life on the same premise, that much of what he did could be explained logically. Aloys did a good job and I would probably recommend this book as a good starting point for someone new to him.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    A very interesting and illuminating read. Contradicting conventional wisdom about Caligula, this book tries to shed the ad hominems of "madman" and "crazed emperor" and dig for the truth of the matter. Caligula, when looked at with a degree historical scholarship, is honestly not that exciting or unique of an emperor. When it comes to most infamous of stories about him, said stories are either unsubstantiated or common among other emperors as well. What that doesn't account for, one can usually A very interesting and illuminating read. Contradicting conventional wisdom about Caligula, this book tries to shed the ad hominems of "madman" and "crazed emperor" and dig for the truth of the matter. Caligula, when looked at with a degree historical scholarship, is honestly not that exciting or unique of an emperor. When it comes to most infamous of stories about him, said stories are either unsubstantiated or common among other emperors as well. What that doesn't account for, one can usually find truth by digging for historical context. For example, Caligula did not make his horse a consul because he was insane, but rather because he wanted to mock the consuls and aristocracy to show them how meaningless their positions were and on some level to get revenge for the conspiracies that had been enacted against him (in 39 and 41). Sure, Caligula had a bit of a mean streak and he was vindictive but that wasn't uncommon among those in power at the time and when one looks at Caligula's childhood (i.e. watching his family slaughtered by Tiberius's cronies) it isn't necessarily hard to understand. As a book, it is captivating and the drama unfolds at a pace that will keep your attention. My only gripe is that during some chapters, there will be many names thrown at the reader that will fall flat unless the reader is already seriously invested in Roman history or cares to do a Google search every time an unknown name comes up. Besides that, Winterling has done an excellent job with this book and I greatly respect authors who go against the grain and back up their findings and conclusions. Definitely recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    Winterling's is a revisionary biography aiming to show that Caligula, though cruel, was no madman. First, he argues against the belief that Caligula committed incest. Then, he shows that his cruelty was no different from that of other previous emperors but because he had humiliated the nobles, the history they left behind turned him into a madman. What made him different was that he called the nobles on their syncophancy. The most extreme case was that of men who, while the emperor was ill, had Winterling's is a revisionary biography aiming to show that Caligula, though cruel, was no madman. First, he argues against the belief that Caligula committed incest. Then, he shows that his cruelty was no different from that of other previous emperors but because he had humiliated the nobles, the history they left behind turned him into a madman. What made him different was that he called the nobles on their syncophancy. The most extreme case was that of men who, while the emperor was ill, had promised to give their own life in exchange for his. Caligula, when cured, made them hold to their oaths. Similarly, if they were to look for his favor by calling him a god, he would force them to treat him as such. He mocked the nobles and their pseudo-worship of him, leaving them with the catch-22 of admitting they were lying hypocrites and did not really see him as a god, etc. or being forced to treat him like the god he was not. Winterling's belief is that Caligula did not really believe himself a god but used the nobles' attempt to win his favor in order to humiliate them over and over again. In Winterling's version, Caligula refused to play the previously accepted 'game' of nobles and god-like emperor and so was damned by history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    I don't read much nonfiction but I was intrigued by a review of this book and gave it a try. The author is clearly countering the prevailing wisdom that Caligula was crackers. In so doing he explains a whole whole lot about the dynamics of the political system in Rome in 20AD or so: game playing, posturing, false obequiousness, brutality, volatility. Not so different from today. Caligula is depicted as shrewd and strategic, not cuckoo, but nonetheless (spoiler alert) gets hacked to death by a bu I don't read much nonfiction but I was intrigued by a review of this book and gave it a try. The author is clearly countering the prevailing wisdom that Caligula was crackers. In so doing he explains a whole whole lot about the dynamics of the political system in Rome in 20AD or so: game playing, posturing, false obequiousness, brutality, volatility. Not so different from today. Caligula is depicted as shrewd and strategic, not cuckoo, but nonetheless (spoiler alert) gets hacked to death by a bunch of his closest friends.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    Look for my full review in Library Journal. But I will just say, I would have enjoyed this immeasurably more if it were framed as an investigation by a police detective recovering from a back injury and a young American student.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    I was looking forward to reading this book. I was both pleased and disappointed in it. I will explain why. I love history facts and I love that this book was making the argument that Caligula was not mad as has been handed down to us in history, but rather he was really clever and was making a point about the way the upper classes told all kinds of lies, or flattery to try and win favours from the Emperor. Caligula was making a joke of them, making them look foolish as that was how he saw societ I was looking forward to reading this book. I was both pleased and disappointed in it. I will explain why. I love history facts and I love that this book was making the argument that Caligula was not mad as has been handed down to us in history, but rather he was really clever and was making a point about the way the upper classes told all kinds of lies, or flattery to try and win favours from the Emperor. Caligula was making a joke of them, making them look foolish as that was how he saw society. The arguments and basis on historical records is fantastic and I loved seeing all the evidence of stories we have heard garbled versions of. What disappointed me though was there was very little reference to his early life, especially the time spent with Tiberius which I can only imagine being very scary as he must have been near death a lot I think it might have shown how he became the uncaring person he was later in life. He had to rely on himself. I was also disappointed in his assassination as it sort of referred to it as we all knew it happened and it did not give it the proper coverage it deserved. Hence 4 stars from me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Wilson

    Pretty good biography of Caligula; very readable and informative. Winterling takes the position that Caligula was not "mad" as most of the histories portray him. To be sure he was paranoid, vengeful, cruel, maniacal and despotic...but he was not insane. Winterling bases his conclusions on examining the parallel themes from classical authors, where they contradict each other, and where they contradict themselves, ultimately declaring that those authors were biased and therefore not accurate. He g Pretty good biography of Caligula; very readable and informative. Winterling takes the position that Caligula was not "mad" as most of the histories portray him. To be sure he was paranoid, vengeful, cruel, maniacal and despotic...but he was not insane. Winterling bases his conclusions on examining the parallel themes from classical authors, where they contradict each other, and where they contradict themselves, ultimately declaring that those authors were biased and therefore not accurate. He goes on to draw conclusions from what is NOT written in the classical histories to reach his conclusions. It's a novel approach but not one that has entirely convinced me. I would recommend this book to anyone. If you have no knowledge of Caligula or if you simply want a different perspective this is a good book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chelle

    Aloys Winterling makes a compelling case in this historical analysis for an alternative view to the accepted understanding of Caligula as a 'mad emperor'. AW takes each claim exacted upon Caligula and puts them into a historical context with astute commentary from himself and other contemporaries while backing any hypotheses with ancient sources. Overall a pleasant, quick read that offers a different perspective on a notorious figure.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard Harris

    Excellent book documenting the true Emperor, not the much maligned figure shamed in history because of the elements he confronted. This book will share with you the "mad" emperor's true motivations, how we played politics, and how he carefully navigated the competing interests in his rise to power. You might be surprised to learn he wasn't as crazy as his detractors would have you believe.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    A bit dry and sometimes I worried the author was twisting things to fit the thesis. But mostly it's an interesting take on Caligula and sheds a lot of light on how difficult it is to really know for sure what happened in early imperial Rome.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jason Wright

    A relatively short quick read on the life, ascension, and death of Caligula. The author puts forth theories on how Caligula actions were an attempt to humiliate his detractors in the senate. This is in contrast to the popular interpretation as actions of a madman.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gary Pointon

    I like roman history but boy this was a chore to get through

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    I love history, especially Roman history, so this unique take on such an important and talked about Emperor was just too interesting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hwajeong

    Frighteningly apt of late...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘He had held up a mirror to the Roman aristocracy and showed them the absurdity of their own behaviour.’ Gaius Caesar Germanicus, the Emperor Gaius, is known to many of us as the mad emperor Caligula (a childhood nickname meaning ‘little boots’), who ruled Rome from 37 to 41 CE. Caligula spent much of his childhood on military campaigns, dressed in a mini-military uniform which included small boots, with his father Germanicus Julius Caesar (commonly known as Germanicus). Caligula became emperor a ‘He had held up a mirror to the Roman aristocracy and showed them the absurdity of their own behaviour.’ Gaius Caesar Germanicus, the Emperor Gaius, is known to many of us as the mad emperor Caligula (a childhood nickname meaning ‘little boots’), who ruled Rome from 37 to 41 CE. Caligula spent much of his childhood on military campaigns, dressed in a mini-military uniform which included small boots, with his father Germanicus Julius Caesar (commonly known as Germanicus). Caligula became emperor at the age of 24 when the Emperor Tiberius died, ahead of Tiberius’s natural grandson who was murdered shortly afterwards. Caligula himself was, through his mother Agrippina, a direct natural descendant of Augustus, the first emperor. Caligula has been considered guilty of incest with his sisters, as being a sadistic torturer and a mass killer, as well as declaring his intention to name his horse Incitatus a consul. And the truth? Well, the incest charge did not surface until a century after Caligula’s death. And what better way to show contempt for the Roman aristocracy than to suggest that a horse have such a coveted honour? ‘Caligula placed his horse on the same level as the highest-ranking members of society – and by implication equated them with a horse.’ Caligula’s great-grandfather Augustus founded the Roman Empire, and established his one-man rule by observing the outward forms of the moribund republic. He achieved this in part by pretending to be first among aristocratic equals, and by suggesting measures to the Senate which would, after a period of ‘debate’ adopt them. Caligula had no tolerance for such subterfuge: he wanted his rule openly acknowledged. This resulted in a number of conspiracies against him, resulting in increasing paranoia and reprisals from him. Caligula may not have been mad, and he may have been satirising the aims and ambitions of the Roman aristocracy, but he was certainly cruel and dangerous to know. When he was assassinated in 41 CE, the throne passed to his uncle Claudius. I found this book very interesting: the picture of Caligula painted by Aloys Winterling is different (in many ways) from the popular view of Caligula - a view which seems largely to have been created by historians writing after his death. ‘Caligula was the first emperor who permitted the aristocracy in Rome to venerate him as divine.’ Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  22. 5 out of 5

    judy

    Exactly what I wanted--a straightforward biography using the best sources available. What I got was way more interesting than I expected. Many historians now believe that Caligula wasn't insane. Rather, he was an absolute master at humiliating Senators. They hated him but they flattered him. He even told them so one day. His worse stunt, repeated many times, was making Senators actually carry through on their flattery. Thanks to one of them, he even made himself a deity they all had to worship. Exactly what I wanted--a straightforward biography using the best sources available. What I got was way more interesting than I expected. Many historians now believe that Caligula wasn't insane. Rather, he was an absolute master at humiliating Senators. They hated him but they flattered him. He even told them so one day. His worse stunt, repeated many times, was making Senators actually carry through on their flattery. Thanks to one of them, he even made himself a deity they all had to worship. The Senate in those days was all about money. Distinguished lineage didn't count. The Senators vied to outdo each other in priceless possessions and the elegance of homes. The end game was to be appointed consul. In one of his "insane" acts,Caligula lavishly decked out his favorite horse, gave him a staff of attendants, a gorgeous home and named him consul. Suetonius writing 150 years later simply called Caligula insane. Older sources didn't use the word. They, however, could guess that Caligula was mocking the Senators by giving his horse everything they wanted. I thoroughly enjoyed this historian's interpretation of Caligula's actions but I am sad. I can no longer picture Caligula as John Hurt played him in I, Claudius. My personal favorite was Hurt, in drag, wearing a wig, garish makeup and a two=piece gold bikini. Naturally, he made his guests watch him dance. Those were the days.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    A fascinating biography of the "mad emperor" Caligula that takes a close and detailed look at the various claims about his madness and the events of his reign, and proves quite convincingly that everything the average person thinks he or she knows about Caligula is likely quite false. The author skillfully picks apart contradictions in the sources, often revealing a likely version of what *really* happened around some of the celebrated events of Caligula's reign . . . and the jokes that Caligul A fascinating biography of the "mad emperor" Caligula that takes a close and detailed look at the various claims about his madness and the events of his reign, and proves quite convincingly that everything the average person thinks he or she knows about Caligula is likely quite false. The author skillfully picks apart contradictions in the sources, often revealing a likely version of what *really* happened around some of the celebrated events of Caligula's reign . . . and the jokes that Caligula often made, the point of which was often lost on subsequent generations. But Winterling shows that the various points of Caligula's words and deeds were not often lost on Caligula's contemporaries - it is only his biographers of later centuries that failed to grasp what Caligula was really saying and doing, in most events. I highly recommend this book for any Roman historian or classicist with an interest in early imperial history. Winterling paints a portrait of a young emperor who was certainly cruel (and indeed circumstances conspired to make him so - to even demand that he be so), but almost certainly not mad . . . take a look behind the veil and get a glimpse of the *real* Caligula!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    This book differs from the typical biography of ancient Romes's mythic leaders in that the author's overarching agenda to prove that Caligula wasn't insane imprints itself on almost every single page. This rather single-minded focus tends to distract from what, otherwise, would be a very serviceable account of the infamous emperor. Winterling does manage to make a few salable points in favor of his argument; it may very well be true that Little Boots didn't make sweet, sweet love to any of his s This book differs from the typical biography of ancient Romes's mythic leaders in that the author's overarching agenda to prove that Caligula wasn't insane imprints itself on almost every single page. This rather single-minded focus tends to distract from what, otherwise, would be a very serviceable account of the infamous emperor. Winterling does manage to make a few salable points in favor of his argument; it may very well be true that Little Boots didn't make sweet, sweet love to any of his sisters. On other occasions, the author seems to almost tie himself in knots in an attempt to put a sane face on Caligula's actions. There's no amount of exposition that's going to make me believe that building a three-mile-long bridge across the backs of boats assembled on the Gulf of Baiae to celebrate a military victory that probably never happened isn't just slightly batshit. More than anything, the historic Caligula already erected over the last 2,000 years works hard against this book. An insane Caligula is so much more interesting, so much more (dare I say) sexy than a Caligula who's just another murderous thug like Tiberius, Commodus and the rest of their ilk.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    The author does a good job in trying to re-cast a man that history has so strong cast in one role that he appears in many dictionaries next to "insane." He provides a compelling argument for Caligula doing many of his more outlandish decisions and actions in response to the Roman nobility and the Senate working to killing him even after he worked to appease them. If they were not going to play with nicely with him, then he was going to attack their very social structure that they relied on so he The author does a good job in trying to re-cast a man that history has so strong cast in one role that he appears in many dictionaries next to "insane." He provides a compelling argument for Caligula doing many of his more outlandish decisions and actions in response to the Roman nobility and the Senate working to killing him even after he worked to appease them. If they were not going to play with nicely with him, then he was going to attack their very social structure that they relied on so heavily. The author does a great job explaining the social contexts in which the nobility of Rome operated, but sadly, does so with a fair amount of repetition, bogging down the book and taking away some of the punch of the argument.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angel

    Not a very engaging book. It does get repetitive at times. A pity since it does present a different look at Caligula looking back at the source material. In brief, the thesis is that Caligula was not "crazy" or "insane" per se. It is more a matter of being insane as when someone is a tyrant, you call them insane, but they are not insane because they suffer from a mental defect. It is a distinction the author makes after looking at his life, the challenges he faced as a youth trying to stay alive Not a very engaging book. It does get repetitive at times. A pity since it does present a different look at Caligula looking back at the source material. In brief, the thesis is that Caligula was not "crazy" or "insane" per se. It is more a matter of being insane as when someone is a tyrant, you call them insane, but they are not insane because they suffer from a mental defect. It is a distinction the author makes after looking at his life, the challenges he faced as a youth trying to stay alive in the court of an emperor who killed his family and then survive the plots end events of his reign. In terms of reading, it is an ok work, but the repetitiveness does wear on you. You may find yourself skimming quite a bit.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Patrick

    Good-bye, crazed frat-boy. Hello, super-villain. Winterling makes a solid argument that everything Caligula did (as opposed to what he was accused of doing a century after the fact) was a brutal (though not vulgar) display of dominance vis-a-vis the senatorial class, who were his victims and rivals. Even naming his horse consul was a grand joke as part of this strategy. Caligula remained popular with the masses and the soldiers on the day of his death. The movement from Republic to Empire was slow Good-bye, crazed frat-boy. Hello, super-villain. Winterling makes a solid argument that everything Caligula did (as opposed to what he was accused of doing a century after the fact) was a brutal (though not vulgar) display of dominance vis-a-vis the senatorial class, who were his victims and rivals. Even naming his horse consul was a grand joke as part of this strategy. Caligula remained popular with the masses and the soldiers on the day of his death. The movement from Republic to Empire was slow, with a lot of vestigal support for the old regime requiring emperors to pretend that the Senate still mattered. A firmly monarchial empire didn't really come about until Diocletian and Constantine. In that respect, Caligula was 250 years ahead of his time.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Winterling, a Swiss classicist, carefully unpacks all of the much-beloved deranged anecdotes about Caligula in an attempt to figure out what was true and what was deliberately fashioned into a pro-aristocratic self-defense narrative after his death--was the horse in the senate really a clever mocking of patrician ambition? Was the "war" against Neptune an attempt to shame a legion who refused to deploy to Britain? Although it undermines some of my favorite stories, he makes the excellent point t Winterling, a Swiss classicist, carefully unpacks all of the much-beloved deranged anecdotes about Caligula in an attempt to figure out what was true and what was deliberately fashioned into a pro-aristocratic self-defense narrative after his death--was the horse in the senate really a clever mocking of patrician ambition? Was the "war" against Neptune an attempt to shame a legion who refused to deploy to Britain? Although it undermines some of my favorite stories, he makes the excellent point that "crazy" is one thing, unable to exercise ruthless power with the skill of Augustus and thus alienating the ruling class to the point of assassination is entirely something else.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    A very interesting book. It is well researched and not difficult to read. Unfortunately, it isn't extremely exciting either. This may be due to the main premise of the book that Caligula was actually a very good emperor and that he was demonized by the aristocracy of the time and later historians. Since the author is disputing the more scandalous details of Caligula's life, the book is not full of nasty scenes like you find in other depictions of Caligula. While agree with the author's remise in A very interesting book. It is well researched and not difficult to read. Unfortunately, it isn't extremely exciting either. This may be due to the main premise of the book that Caligula was actually a very good emperor and that he was demonized by the aristocracy of the time and later historians. Since the author is disputing the more scandalous details of Caligula's life, the book is not full of nasty scenes like you find in other depictions of Caligula. While agree with the author's remise in general, my feeling was that he went too far with it. In my opinion the book goes too far in praising Caligula and ultimately makes it unbelievable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Van Leadam

    To many the main attraction of a book on this subject would be the juicy details of the insane, decadent emperor's life. Rather surprisingly, the author manages to avoid sensationalism and focus on a very interesting question: was Caligula really insane, a troubled personality that did all those improbable things attributed to him - or was he just an emperor taking care of his business, admittedly in an aggressive manner that nevertheless reflected the conditions of his power, especially in rela To many the main attraction of a book on this subject would be the juicy details of the insane, decadent emperor's life. Rather surprisingly, the author manages to avoid sensationalism and focus on a very interesting question: was Caligula really insane, a troubled personality that did all those improbable things attributed to him - or was he just an emperor taking care of his business, admittedly in an aggressive manner that nevertheless reflected the conditions of his power, especially in relation to the Roman aristocracy? The author manages to give a convincing picture of Caligula in the latter framework and so suggest a different view of his position in Roman history.

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