In detail

Caligula, in the emperor's mind

Caligula, in the emperor's mind

Cayo Julio César Germánico, better known by the nickname of Caligula, was one of the most controversial Roman emperors. He was born on August 31 of the year 12 A.D. and many stories have been told about him, to which more extravagant. For example, it is said that he named his horse Incitatus consul and proclaimed himself God. His great cruelty is also known. It is said that he sent to kill senators, friends and family. What was the cause of so much blood? Apparently pleasure.

Throughout the article we will enter what happened in the life of the young emperor to develop so much cruelty. We will review his childhood, his times that could traumatize him, as well as his possible herpetic encephalopathy, his lead poisoning and the death of his favorite sister.


  • 1 Caligula: the emperor boy
  • 2 Caligula in Capri: a journey for remembrance ... and trauma
  • 3 Herpetic encephalopathy
  • 4 Lead poisoning
  • 5 Death of Drusila, the sister of Caligula
  • 6 Narcissistic Disorder

Caligula: the emperor boy

The third Roman emperor, Caligula, successor of Tiberius, was the son of an important and renowned Roman commander, Germanic. When he was little he accompanied his father through military camps. His dress was the same as that of the military but adapted to his height. This is why it caught the attention of the rest of the military soldiers and they named it "Caligula", which means "booties".

Little Caligula had a comfortable, very comfortable childhood. Too comfortable. Something that would begin to mark his character and his way of being. His father was so admired (they say even more than Emperor Tiberius), that his son was treated almost like another commander. The army granted little Caligula everything he wanted. Thus, the future emperor began to have everything he wanted and more, never hearing a no for an answer. No wonder he could develop the emperor's syndrome.

Caligula in Capri: a journey for remembrance ... and trauma

When Caligula was nineteen he was called by Tiberius. The still emperor, lived in a palace on the island of Capri, as protected and isolated as possible from civilization. Caligula thought he would order his execution since his father, Germanicus, died in strange circumstances. The story attributes the death of Germanicus to a cyanide poisoning ordered by Tiberius. Caligula was only seven when he saw his father die. Years later, Tiberius would send the mother of young Cayo and two of his brothers to a desert island. She and a brother would starve. The other brother would kill himself. Caligula was orphaned very soon.

Caligula's stay on the island was an experience. Fearful of being executed, he wandered cautiously through the palace. However, Tibero, his great uncle, thought of him to be the future emperor. What Caligula did not know was what he would find in the palace. The story tells that the emperor organized orgies, murders and that he even threw women and children down cliffs 300 meters high just for pleasure. Everything that happened in Capri far exceeded what the future emperor had seen throughout his short life. That It was a before and after for Caligula.

Following his stay in Capri, Caligula would be marked by violence and extreme cruelty, by excessive sexual pleasure and by the experience of absolute power. In the beginning, the young Caligula agreed to participate in the sexual acts and other activities of the emperor. Bringing against Tiberius used to mean death, so to avoid problems, Caligula agreed. Nonetheless, his stay in the palace was six years, enough time to mark the future emperor for life.

Herpetic encephalopathy

When Caligula came to power with 24 years, after the death of Tiberius, the people were excited about his figure. Historians claim that their first eight months of office were exemplary. However, something happened. Caligula changed overnight. His way of being came dragging lights and shadows, but despite that, he maintained a stable mental health until something was twisted forever.

Some sources claim that the emperor's excessive sexual behavior could lead to a herpetic encephalopathy (cerebral herpes) that affected her in the frontal lobe. This lobe is responsible for reasoning, for measuring our emotional impulses, for controlling our behavior, etc. So that, a condition in this area of ​​the brain can lead to a significant personality change.

This theory about the emperor's sudden change is not completely ruled out, but neither can it be fully affirmed since, at present, with all available means, the probability of being cured of a brain herpes is low. So if recovery is difficult today, what would it be like two thousand years ago?

Lead poisoning

Another theory that takes weight in the emperor's mental deterioration was the lead poisoning. It was an involuntary poisoning. In those times, the wine was distilled in lead barrels. Then they did not know about the toxicity of this element. In addition, they assured that it gave the wine a special flavor, so distilling it in this type of barrels was a tradition to give it a special taste.

Since they did not know about the high toxicity of lead, they drank and drank without knowing that they were slowly poisoning. When Caligula came to power, he began to drink more and more wine. Their parties were well known and they drank a lot of wine. Thus, the emperor could go on becoming and developing an obvious mental disorder. Who knows if he had eventually died from the amount of lead ingested.

Death of Drusila, the sister of Caligula

Drusila, little sister of Caligula, had a huge influence on the emperor. When she fell ill and died on June 10, AD 38, Caligula suffered a severe blow. It is said that she had sex with her, despite being married and being her sister. Were the accusations of incest real? The story goes that they both had an affair and he was deeply in love with her. So, when he died, he named her goddess and commanded to celebrate tributes in his honor throughout the empire. With the death of Drusila, the emperor would be more touched and his cruelty would increase.

"When she died, she had all business suspended, and for some time
it was a capital offense to have laughed, to have bathed, to have eaten with relatives or
with the wife and children. "


Narcissistic Disorder

With everything lived by Caligula, it would not be surprising if he developed a narcissistic personality disorder. His personality, eccentric and controversial, sustained a human being who I thought I was about good and evil. A person who did what he wanted without any remorse for the consequences. Some people claimed that he was crazy, that he lost his mind, however, Caligula was aware at all times of what he was doing.

"That they hate me, as long as they fear me."


Final reflection

Caligula was an emperor who went down in history because of his extreme cruelty and his supposedly ill mind. However, one must reflect on who wrote the first documents about the emperor. Were they related to him or was there no good relationship? Did you meet him in person? Some authors affirm that the figure of Caligula, despite being controversial, was not as dark as history paints.

The emperor attacked, above all, the power, that is, the senators. Maybe he was looking for revenge for what Tiberius did with him and his family? Maybe Caligula was a resentful "child"? If we consider what the story tells, it is not surprising that Caligula could lose his mind. Let's remember: spoiled child, young orphan, six years living between sex, murder and power, brain herpes, lead poisoning and death of Drusila… If all this is true, could it not be a reason to develop a serious mental disorder? This is not intended to justify what he did, but to seek an explanation.

Was Caligula a victim of circumstances? How would we have acted in the same conditions? It's easy to judge someone from the outside after such a long time. Even so, it is not intended to prove the emperor right, but to reflect on everything that happened. What is the truth about young Cayo? What was Caligula really like? Was he a victim and guilty at the same time? It is still a mystery.


  • Irigoyen, R. (1999). The madness of the Caesars. Barcelona: Planet.
  • Montanelli, I. (2016). The history of Rome. Madrid: Debolsillo
  • Zapata, P. (2017). The reinterpretation of the monstrum. Caligula analysis of Albert Camus. Survival of the classical world in literature: tradition and rereading, 183-192.


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