Roman Emperor Commodus, Palazzo Massimo

Roman Emperor Commodus, Palazzo Massimo

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Roman Emperor Commodus, Palazzo Massimo - History

The Capitoline Museum is the oldest public collection of art in the world, began in 1471, and in my opinion, it is absolutely the best museum in Rome. If you are interested in artifacts and sculptures from ancient Rome up to the 1700s or so, you'll love it, too. It is filled with ancient Roman history and Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures. To help you estimate how long you'll need to spend in this this museum, I'll tell you my experience. I spent about two hours in the museum the first time I went, and completely enjoyed the highlights (perhaps 50 objects) without having any prior background knowledge about Rome beside what I think most people have. After that trip to Rome I learned quite a bit of Roman history, so during my second visit to Rome I spent about 6 hours in the museum. After more study, my third visit was a full day. The more you understand and can appreciate, the more time you can spend in the museum. But if you understand nothing, still go and enjoy a few hours of beautiful sculptures.

The Capitoline Museum is made of 3 the buildings that surround the Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitol Hill. You can get there from the Colosseo metro stop by walking down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the end of the Roman Forum, turning left at the street before you get to the huge white Victor Emmanuel Monument, and walking up the hill to the large piazza on the right. Or, if you're approaching from the other side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, pass the stairway that leads to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and climb the stairs (actually, more of a ramp) to the piazza. The ticket booth, audio guide rental and entrance are all in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (1st photo below), the building furthest from the huge white Victor Emmanuel Monument. This building also houses the most famous works in the museum. The building across the piazza (closest to the Victor Emmanuel Monument) is the Palazzo Nuovo, which houses sculptures, and will probably be the last part of the museum you see. The buildings are joined by an underground passage which runs under the third building in the piazza, the Palazzo Senatorio, and houses a huge collection of inscriptions. None of the museum is above ground in that building, but in the underground passageway is a side-branch that leads past an ancient temple to the Tabularium, the public records building of Ancient Rome, where you'll get a great view of the Roman Forum. (For completists, the Central Montemartini Museum, miles away, is also part of the Capitoline Museum)

One of these days, I hope to create a virtual tour of the museum here, describing each piece in detail. For now, I've only done this for a few works.

Eleven reliefs still exist from a triumphal arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius. Eight of them are on the Arch of Constantine and the other three are in the Capitoline Museum.

The 'sacrifice' relief (1st photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius in his role as pontifex maximus or chief priest, one of the traditional roles of a Roman Emperor. Augustus is sculpted in this role in the Palazzo Massimo. Typically, sculptures of emperors in this role are wearing a toga with a hood covering their head, and are holding a patera, a dish used during sacrifice. Considering how important religion and tradition was to Roman people, it was important for the emperor to demonstrate his conviction to these ideals. The temple in the background of this relief might be the Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus located on top of the Capitoline Hill.

The 'conquest and clemency' relief (2nd photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius dressed in a cuirass, on horseback. The trees in the background suggest he is in reviewing the battlefield after a victory. Barbarians surrender at his feet and beg for mercy. Marcus Aurelius' pose in this relief is reminiscent of the emperor's equestrian statue in the Capitoline Museum.

The 'Triumph' relief (3rd photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius riding a four-horse chariot and being crowned by Nike, a representation of Victory. The chariot is decorated with reliefs showing the figures of Neptune and Minerva flanking the figure of Roma. A temple is shown in the background, and a triumphal arch is shown on the right, presumably the arch that the emperor's chariot has just passed through as his triumphal procession has just begun. Commodus was probably also in the chariot originally, as suggested by the large size of the chariot and the figure of Nike who was probably centered above the two characters and holding crowns for them both. After Commodus went crazy and became extremely unpopular and was assassinated, his memory was damned (damnatio memoriae) by the senate, causing him to be removed from all inscriptions, statues, friezes, etc, as if by doing this they could make him never exist.

It's very difficult to narrow down the holdings in the Capitoline Museum to the few best, but the ones below are my stab at it.

Early life Edit

Faustina, named after her mother, was her parents' fourth and youngest child and second daughter she was also their only child to survive to adulthood. She was born and raised in Rome.

Her great uncle, the emperor Hadrian, had arranged with her father for Faustina to marry Lucius Verus. On 25 February 138, she and Verus were betrothed. Verus’ father was Hadrian's first adopted son and his intended heir however, when Verus’ father died, Hadrian chose Faustina's father to be his second adopted son, and eventually, he became Hadrian's successor. Faustina's father ended the engagement between his daughter and Verus and arranged for Faustina's betrothal to her maternal cousin, Marcus Aurelius Aurelius was also adopted by her father.

Imperial heiress Edit

In April or May 145, [4] Faustina and Marcus Aurelius were married, as had been planned since 138. Since Aurelius was, by adoption, Antoninus Pius' son, under Roman law he was marrying his sister Antoninus would have had to formally release one or the other from his paternal authority (his patria potestas) for the ceremony to take place. [5] Little is specifically known of the ceremony, but it is said to have been "noteworthy". [6] Coins were issued with the heads of the couple, and Antoninus, as Pontifex Maximus, would have officiated. Marcus makes no apparent reference to the marriage in his surviving letters, and only sparing references to Faustina. [7] Faustina was given the title of Augusta on 1 December 147 after the birth of her first child, Domitia Faustina. [8]

Empress Edit

When Antoninus died on 7 March 161, Marcus and Lucius Verus ascended to the throne and became co-rulers. Faustina then became empress.

Not much has survived from the Roman sources regarding Faustina's life, but what is available does not give a good report. Cassius Dio and the unreliable Historia Augusta accuse Faustina of ordering deaths by poison and execution she has also been accused of instigating the revolt of Avidius Cassius against her husband. The Historia Augusta mentions adultery with sailors, gladiators, and men of rank however, Faustina and Aurelius seem to have been very close and mutually devoted.

Faustina accompanied her husband on various military campaigns and enjoyed the excessive love and reverence of Roman soldiers. Aurelius gave her the title of Mater Castrorum or ‘Mother of the Camp’. She attempted to make her home out of an army camp. Between 170 and 175, she was in the north, and in 175, she accompanied Aurelius to the east.

Revolt of Avidius Cassius and death Edit

That same year, 175, Aurelius's general Avidius Cassius was proclaimed Roman emperor after the erroneous news of Marcus's death [9] the sources indicate Cassius was encouraged by Marcus' wife Faustina, who was concerned about her husband's failing health, believing him to be on the verge of death, and felt the need for Cassius to act as a protector in this event, since her son Commodus, aged 13, was still young. [9] [10] She also wanted someone who would act as a counter-weight to the claims of Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, who was in a strong position to take the office of Princeps in the event of Marcus's death. [11] The evidence, including Marcus's own Meditations, supports the idea that Marcus was indeed quite ill, [11] but by the time Marcus recovered, Cassius was already fully acclaimed by the Egyptian legions of II Traiana Fortis and XXII Deiotariana. [ citation needed ]

"After a dream of empire lasting three months and six days", Cassius was murdered by a centurion [12] his head was sent to Marcus Aurelius, who refused to see it and ordered it buried. [10] Egypt recognized Marcus as emperor again by 28 July 175. [12]

The facts concerning the death of Faustina are not definite. She died in the winter of 175 at the military camp in Halala (a city in the Taurus Mountains in Cappadocia). The causes of her death are of speculation of scholars and range from death from natural causes, suicide, an accident, or even possibly assassination in retaliation for her alleged affair with Cassius earlier that year, depending on the source. [ citation needed ]

Aurelius grieved much for his wife and buried her in the Mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome. She was deified: her statue was placed in the Temple of Venus in Rome and a temple was dedicated to her in her honor. Halala's name was changed to Faustinopolis and Aurelius opened charity schools for orphan girls called Puellae Faustinianae or 'Girls of Faustina'. [13] The Baths of Faustina in Miletus are named after her.

Intrigue, Insanity, and the Reign of Commodus

(Image: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme/Public domain)

For so prudent and careful a ruler as Marcus, it proved a catastrophic choice. The lad showed worrying proclivities: he liked his singing, dancing, and rude jokes. He liked performing (in private, one presumes) as a gladiator. At 11 years old, he had been so infuriated by the insufficient heat of his bath that he’d ordered the bath man hurled into the furnace alive. A sheepskin had been tossed onto the fire instead, and then, fooled by the smell of burning skin, Commodus believed his vile order had been carried out.

Why Marcus was so blind to these features of his son’s character remains unclear. Perhaps it was a reluctance to regard his son as a savage. In March A.D. 180, no one was in a position to challenge Commodus’s accession, especially after the armies voiced their support on the spot. The new emperor immediately reversed any plan to annex Transdanubian territory for the empire (if indeed that had been Marcus’s plan). The forts and roads beyond the river were abandoned, peace was made with the Iazyges, and the frontier system was strengthened.

The Comforts of Rome

The sources suggest that Commodus was keen to return to the pleasures of Rome, which may have been true, but it’s also possible that he recognized his father’s plan to annex northern territory for Rome was misguided. The shifting currents of tribal migrations in the dense forests of Germany made the annexation of new territory there an added burden on the empire. Beyond the occasional unrest in places like Britain and Africa, the years of Commodus’s reign were relatively quiet in the provinces. The emperor, for his part, had his own priorities.

This is a transcript from the video series Emperors of Rome. Watch it now, on The Great Courses.

Commodus was idle and vainglorious. Both characteristics were probably reactions to his hard-working, modest father. Later on in his reign, Commodus even changed his official name to erase any mention of Marcus or Antoninus. This suggests a strong desire to be free from his father’s shadow. Dio, in introducing us to Commodus, says that he was not inherently wicked but that he was unintelligent, lacked guile, and was easily manipulated. An unintelligent and easily manipulated ruler is a dangerous one he was only 19 years old on his accession. Despite being at Marcus’s side for most of his final years, Commodus had little hands-on experience in administration or command, or even in observing imperial power in action.

Conspiracy, Power, and Assassination

These circumstances left the field wide open for unscrupulous underlings, and chief among these was a chap called Aelius Saoterus, a Greek advisor. Saoterus was eventually ruined and replaced by the Praetorian prefects, Sextus Tigidius Perennis and Marcus Aurelius Cleander, both probably around the year 182.

Cleander comes across as something of a neo-Sejanus. He was of low birth (he was an ex-slave), ambitious, and cunning—and during his ascendancy, which stretched from approximately 182 to 189, he was practically emperor while Commodus indulged his private pursuits. Perennis and Cleander also fell from grace and perished in circumstances that are left vague, after which Commodus ruled on his own initiative. That this period of his reign, from 189 to 192, was a disaster demonstrates that Commodus was deeply unsuited for power.

Other people reached this conclusion much earlier in his reign. In 181 or 182, a conspiracy was unearthed involving Commodus’s sister, Lucilla, and her husband, Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus. If we believe our sources, the plot was revealed to Commodus by the staggering stupidity of its chief agent, a man named Pompeianus Quintianus.

The conspirators had chosen Quintianus as an assassin due to his bold temperament, but his family name suggests some vague connection with Lucilla’s husband. Quintianus proved to be a dolt. Concealing a dagger beneath his gown, he waited for Commodus in a dark entrance of the amphitheater. But instead of a surprise attack, Quintianus brandished his weapon and shouted out that he’d been sent by the entire Senate to kill Commodus, at which point he was arrested and put to death. Lucilla was banished to Capri and later executed. Her husband, Pompeianus, strangely enough, survived unscathed.

That Quintianus claimed to be an agent of the entire Senate soured relations between the emperor and that body. There now started the familiar and dreadful rounds of inquisition and denunciation that pitted senator against senator. Many perished at Commodus’s hands, and their property was confiscated.

The prevailing suspicion and fear are revealed in the strange tale of Sextus Condianus, the son of a senator murdered on Commodus’s orders. Condianus, realizing his likely fate, faked his death and then wandered the earth in disguise. So keen was Commodus to apprehend him that many men were arrested and killed merely for looking like Condianus. Their heads were put on display in Rome.

Condianus’s final fate is not recorded anywhere, but the fact the emperor targeted people because they looked like somebody else speaks volumes about Commodus’s reign. At least two other unsuccessful plots are on record against Commodus, the details of which are vague and disputed, but one apparently involved the prefect Perennis and led to his death in the year 185.

Entertaining the Emperor

For his part, Commodus gave himself over to his private passions, chiefly gladiatorial combat and chariot racing. The latter he practiced in private, as shame prevented him from racing in public. But as Dio records from personal observation, the emperor performed gladiatorial combats and beast hunts in the arena before adoring crowds.

He appears to have been quite good. In private, he fought with sharp weapons, killing and maiming his opponents, but in public, he fought only with blunt weapons—the prospect of an emperor of Rome dying on the sand before the eyes of his people was too atrocious even for Commodus to contemplate. Dio notes that Commodus was a left-handed gladiator, a fact of which he was very proud. He appears to have won every bout he fought.

Not only were the senators and knights forced to attend whenever Commodus took to the sand, but they also had to chant: “You are lord and you are first, of all men most fortunate. You win and win you will from time everlasting, Amazonian, you win.”

Once, having killed an ostrich, Commodus strutted about waving the ostrich head and his bloody sword, grinning at the senators menacingly. Dio says that he and his colleagues found this spectacle not threatening but silly, and they laughed—but to avoid risking death, they concealed their mirth by chewing the laurels of the wreaths that they were wearing.

In one bizarre spectacle, Commodus collected from the city men who had lost their feet, and he fashioned serpent’s tails for their lower legs so that they resembled mythological giants.

He then gave them sponges instead of stones to throw at him before he battered them all to death with a club.

I Am Hercules

These shows helped forge and reinforce divine connections for Commodus to the public. Prominent Romans since the republic had all associated themselves with gods, and the emperors were no exception. In the 2nd century, Jupiter, the chief god of the Roman state, was a favorite, as was Hercules.

Hercules was the Greek demigod, the son of Zeus (or Jupiter, for the Romans), who, through fighting for good against evil, freed the common man from dangers and was eventually upgraded to full divine status on death. The appeal of Hercules to imperial minds is therefore not far to seek. By killing large and threatening animals in the arena, let alone make-believe giants straight from myth, Commodus drove home the association with Hercules.

The difference from other prominent Romans is that, at least toward the end, Commodus thought he actually was Hercules. The identification goes well beyond simple evocation, to the point that “Hercules Commodianus” was proclaimed on coins. Note that in that form, Hercules is the primary name and Commodianus is the adjective attached to it.

Commodus is portrayed outright as Hercules, complete with lion skin and club, in his portraits, and a cult was established to worship the emperor as Hercules. He had Nero’s colossus altered to resemble himself as Hercules, with an inscription added: “Jupiter’s son, victorious Hercules am I, not Lucius, even though forced to bear that name.”

Renaming the Empire

All of this, of course, reveals a vast and towering megalomania. At the very end of his life, he even renamed Rome “Colonia Lucia Aelia Nova Commodiana,” which means something like “The New Colony of Commodus.” He also had all the months of the year named after himself, and he liked to be addressed as either Amazonius or Exsuperatorius, two titles difficult to render into English but carrying connotations of martial skill and transcendent superlativeness.

The Senate was renamed “the lucky Commodian Senate,” the Roman people were renamed “the Commodian people,” and all the legions were to be given the title “Commodian.” Commodus was declared “The Golden One,” and his reign “The Golden Age.” All of this made Commodus deeply unpopular in senatorial circles, but it amused the masses to no end. His Herculean persona promised them protection, while his extravagant generosity (cash handouts are proclaimed on nine coin issues) and his fine spectacles, which he staged and then sometimes took part in himself, all added to his popular appeal.

The Death of a Madman

In the end, though, his death was carried out by those closest to him. New advisors, such as the new Praetorian prefect, Aemilius Laetus, or his chamberlain, Eclectus, feared for their lives. They’d seen what happened to Commodus’s prior advisors, like Cleander. His long-term mistress, Marcia, also seems to have been involved.

When an appalling plan surfaced that Commodus, on the 1st of January, 193, should kill both of the new consuls and then emerge from the gladiatorial barracks dressed in his fighter’s gear to assume the post of consul himself, this group decided to act. In another version, the group discovered a death list with their names on it.

Damnatio memoriae of ‘Commodus’ on an inscription in the Museum of Roman History Osterburken. The abbreviation “CO” was later restored with paint. (Image: DerHexer/Public domain)

Regardless of how the plot came about, Commodus was fed poisoned beef, but he vomited it up and thus saved himself. An athlete named Narcissus was then sent in to strangle the emperor in his bath. This was done on the 31st of December, 192. Commodus was 31 years old and had ruled almost 13 years. With Commodus died the Antonine dynasty, as minimal provisions had been made for the succession. Since Nerva, the Antonines had presided over unprecedented stability and prosperity. But the good years were over, and the shadow of civil war once more loomed over the realm.

Common Questions About Commodus

Among the the cruelest Roman emperors were the paranoid Tiberius, who executed anyone who aroused his suspicions, Nero, who persecuted Christians and wasn’t above killing his own family members, and the corrupt Commodus , who had citizens executed under faulty reasoning so he could steal their wealth.

Although in real life Commodus did not murder his father Marcus Aurelius, as he does in the movie Gladiator, the movie is similar to the real story in that both depict the assassination attempt by Commodus’s sister, followed by Commodus’s descent into madness and the way in which his ego led to recklessness and senseless violence.

Commodus was assassinated by strangulation, ending his chaotic and brutal reign.


Gaius Julius Caesar (named in honour of his famous relative) was born in Antium (modern Anzio and Nettuno [2] ) on 31 August 12 AD, the third of six surviving children born to Germanicus and his second cousin Agrippina the Elder, [3] who was the daughter of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder making her the granddaughter of Augustus. [3] Gaius had two older brothers, Nero and Drusus, [3] as well as three younger sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Julia Drusilla and Julia Livilla. [3] [4] He was also a nephew of Claudius, Germanicus' younger brother and the future emperor. [5]

As a boy of just two or three, Gaius accompanied his father, Germanicus, on campaigns in the north of Germania. [6] The soldiers were amused that Gaius was dressed in a miniature soldier's outfit, including boots and armour. [6] He was soon given an affectionate nickname, Caligula, meaning "little (soldier's) boot" in Latin, after the small boots (caligae) he wore. [7] Gaius, though, reportedly grew to dislike this nickname. [8]

Suetonius claims that Germanicus was poisoned in Syria by an agent of Tiberius, who viewed Germanicus as a political rival. [9] After the death of his father, Caligula lived with his mother until her relations with Tiberius deteriorated. [10] Tiberius would not allow Agrippina to remarry for fear her husband would be a rival. [11] Agrippina and Caligula's brother, Nero, were banished in 29 on charges of treason. [12] [13]

The adolescent Caligula was then sent to live with his great-grandmother (and Tiberius's mother), Livia. [10] After her death, he was sent to live with his grandmother Antonia Minor. [10] In 30, his brother Drusus was imprisoned on charges of treason and his brother Nero died in exile from either starvation or suicide. [13] [14] Suetonius writes that after the banishment of his mother and brothers, Caligula and his sisters were nothing more than prisoners of Tiberius under the close watch of soldiers. [15]

In 31, Caligula was remanded to the personal care of Tiberius on Capri, where he lived for six years. [10] To the surprise of many, Caligula was spared by Tiberius. [16] According to historians, Caligula was an excellent natural actor and, recognising danger, hid all his resentment towards Tiberius. [10] [17] An observer said of Caligula, "Never was there a better servant or a worse master!" [10] [17]

Caligula claimed to have planned to kill Tiberius with a dagger to avenge his mother and brother: however, having brought the weapon into Tiberius's bedroom he did not kill the Emperor but instead threw the dagger down on the floor. Supposedly Tiberius knew of this but never dared to do anything about it. [18] Suetonius claims that Caligula was already cruel and vicious: he writes that, when Tiberius brought Caligula to Capri, his purpose was to allow Caligula to live in order that he "prove the ruin of himself and of all men, and that he was rearing a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world." [19]

In 33, Tiberius gave Caligula an honorary quaestorship, a position he held until his rise to emperor. [20] Meanwhile, both Caligula's mother and his brother Drusus died in prison. [21] [22] Caligula was briefly married to Junia Claudilla in 33, though she died in childbirth the following year. [18] Caligula spent time befriending the Praetorian prefect, Naevius Sutorius Macro, an important ally. [18] Macro spoke well of Caligula to Tiberius, attempting to quell any ill will or suspicion the Emperor felt towards Caligula. [23]

In 35, Caligula was named joint heir to Tiberius's estate along with Tiberius Gemellus. [24]

Early reign Edit

When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, his estate and the titles of the principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius's own grandson, Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. Although Tiberius was 77 and on his death bed, some ancient historians still conjecture that he was murdered. [18] [25] Tacitus writes that Macro smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula's accession, much to the joy of the Roman people, [25] while Suetonius writes that Caligula may have carried out the killing, though this is not recorded by any other ancient historian. [18] Seneca the Elder and Philo, who both wrote during Tiberius's reign, as well as Josephus, record Tiberius as dying a natural death. [26] Backed by Macro, Caligula had Tiberius's will nullified with regard to Gemellus on grounds of insanity, but otherwise carried out Tiberius's wishes. [27]

Caligula was proclaimed emperor by the Senate on 18 March. [28] He accepted the powers of the principate and entered Rome on 28 March amid a crowd that hailed him as "our baby" and "our star", among other nicknames. [28] [29] Caligula is described as the first emperor who was admired by everyone in "all the world, from the rising to the setting sun." [30] Caligula was loved by many for being the beloved son of the popular Germanicus, [29] and because he was not Tiberius. [31] Suetonius said that over 160,000 animals were sacrificed during three months of public rejoicing to usher in the new reign. [32] [33] Philo describes the first seven months of Caligula's reign as completely blissful. [34]

Caligula's first acts were said to be generous in spirit, though many were political in nature. [27] To gain support, he granted bonuses to the military, including the Praetorian Guard, city troops and the army outside Italy. [27] He destroyed Tiberius's treason papers, declared that treason trials were a thing of the past, and recalled those who had been sent into exile. [35] He helped those who had been harmed by the imperial tax system, banished certain sexual deviants, and put on lavish spectacles for the public, including gladiatorial games. [36] [37] Caligula collected and brought back the bones of his mother and of his brothers and deposited their remains in the tomb of Augustus. [38]

In October 37, Caligula fell seriously ill, or perhaps was poisoned. He soon recovered from his illness, but many believed that the illness turned the young emperor toward the diabolical: he started to kill off or exile those who were close to him or whom he saw as a serious threat. Perhaps his illness reminded him of his mortality and of the desire of others to advance into his place. [39] He had his cousin and adopted son Tiberius Gemellus executed – an act that outraged Caligula's and Gemellus's mutual grandmother Antonia Minor. She is said to have committed suicide, although Suetonius hints that Caligula actually poisoned her. He had his father-in-law Marcus Junius Silanus and his brother-in-law Marcus Lepidus executed as well. His uncle Claudius was spared only because Caligula preferred to keep him as a laughing stock. His favourite sister, Julia Drusilla, died in 38 of a fever: his other two sisters, Livilla and Agrippina the Younger, were exiled. He hated being the grandson of Agrippa and slandered Augustus by repeating a falsehood that his mother was actually conceived as the result of an incestuous relationship between Augustus and his daughter Julia the Elder. [40]

Public reform Edit

In 38, Caligula focused his attention on political and public reform. He published the accounts of public funds, which had not been made public during the reign of Tiberius. He aided those who lost property in fires, abolished certain taxes, and gave out prizes to the public at gymnastic events. He allowed new members into the equestrian and senatorial orders. [41]

Perhaps most significantly, he restored the practice of elections. [42] Cassius Dio said that this act "though delighting the rabble, grieved the sensible, who stopped to reflect, that if the offices should fall once more into the hands of the many . many disasters would result". [43]

During the same year, though, Caligula was criticized for executing people without full trials and for forcing the Praetorian prefect, Macro, to commit suicide. Macro had fallen out of favor with the emperor, probably due to an attempt to ally himself with Gemellus when it appeared that Caligula might die of fever. [44]

Financial crisis and famine Edit

According to Cassius Dio, a financial crisis emerged in 39. [44] Suetonius places the beginning of this crisis in 38. [45] Caligula's political payments for support, generosity and extravagance had exhausted the state's treasury. Ancient historians state that Caligula began falsely accusing, fining and even killing individuals for the purpose of seizing their estates. [46]

Historians describe a number of Caligula's other desperate measures. To gain funds, Caligula asked the public to lend the state money. [47] He levied taxes on lawsuits, weddings and prostitution. [48] Caligula began auctioning the lives of the gladiators at shows. [46] [49] Wills that left items to Tiberius were reinterpreted to leave the items instead to Caligula. [50] Centurions who had acquired property by plunder were forced to turn over spoils to the state. [50]

The current and past highway commissioners were accused of incompetence and embezzlement and forced to repay money. [50] According to Suetonius, in the first year of Caligula's reign he squandered 2.7 billion sesterces that Tiberius had amassed. [45] His nephew Nero both envied and admired the fact that Gaius had run through the vast wealth Tiberius had left him in so short a time. [51]

However, some historians have shown scepticism towards the large number of sesterces quoted by Suetonius and Dio. According to Wilkinson, Caligula's use of precious metals to mint coins throughout his principate indicates that the treasury most likely never fell into bankruptcy. [52] He does point out, however, that it is difficult to ascertain whether the purported 'squandered wealth' was from the treasury alone due to the blurring of "the division between the private wealth of the emperor and his income as head of state." [52] Furthermore, Alston points out that Caligula's successor, Claudius, was able to donate 15,000 sesterces to each member of the praetorian guard in 41, [25] suggesting the Roman treasury was solvent. [53]

A brief famine of unknown extent occurred, perhaps caused by this financial crisis, but Suetonius claims it resulted from Caligula's seizure of public carriages [46] according to Seneca, grain imports were disrupted because Caligula re-purposed grain boats for a pontoon bridge. [54]

Construction Edit

Despite financial difficulties, Caligula embarked on a number of construction projects during his reign. Some were for the public good, though others were for himself.

Josephus describes Caligula's improvements to the harbours at Rhegium and Sicily, allowing increased grain imports from Egypt, as his greatest contributions. [55] These improvements may have been in response to the famine. [ citation needed ]

Caligula completed the temple of Augustus and the theatre of Pompey and began an amphitheatre beside the Saepta. [56] He expanded the imperial palace. [57] He began the aqueducts Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus, which Pliny the Elder considered engineering marvels. [58] He built a large racetrack known as the circus of Gaius and Nero and had an Egyptian obelisk (now known as the "Vatican Obelisk") transported by sea and erected in the middle of Rome. [59]

At Syracuse, he repaired the city walls and the temples of the gods. [56] He had new roads built and pushed to keep roads in good condition. [60] He had planned to rebuild the palace of Polycrates at Samos, to finish the temple of Didymaean Apollo at Ephesus and to found a city high up in the Alps. [56] He planned to dig a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece and sent a chief centurion to survey the work. [56]

In 39, Caligula performed a spectacular stunt by ordering a temporary floating bridge to be built using ships as pontoons, stretching for over two miles from the resort of Baiae to the neighbouring port of Puteoli. [61] [62] It was said that the bridge was to rival the Persian king Xerxes' pontoon bridge crossing of the Hellespont. [62] Caligula, who could not swim, [63] then proceeded to ride his favourite horse Incitatus across, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. [62] This act was in defiance of a prediction by Tiberius's soothsayer Thrasyllus of Mendes that Caligula had "no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae". [62]

Caligula had two large ships constructed for himself (which were recovered from the bottom of Lake Nemi around 1930). The ships were among the largest vessels in the ancient world. The smaller ship was designed as a temple dedicated to Diana. The larger ship was essentially an elaborate floating palace with marble floors and plumbing. [64] The ships burned in 1944 after an attack in the Second World War almost nothing remains of their hulls, though many archaeological treasures remain intact in the museum at Lake Nemi and in the Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo) at Rome. [65]

Feud with the senate Edit

In 39, relations between Caligula and the Roman Senate deteriorated. [66] The subject of their disagreement is unknown. A number of factors, though, aggravated this feud. The Senate had become accustomed to ruling without an emperor between the departure of Tiberius for Capri in 26 and Caligula's accession. [67] Additionally, Tiberius' treason trials had eliminated a number of pro-Julian senators such as Asinius Gallus. [67]

Caligula reviewed Tiberius' records of treason trials and decided, based on their actions during these trials, that numerous senators were not trustworthy. [66] He ordered a new set of investigations and trials. [66] He replaced the consul and had several senators put to death. [68] Suetonius reports that other senators were degraded by being forced to wait on him and run beside his chariot. [68]

Soon after his break with the Senate, Caligula faced a number of additional conspiracies against him. [69] A conspiracy involving his brother-in-law was foiled in late 39. [69] Soon afterwards, the Governor of Germany, Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, was executed for connections to a conspiracy. [69]

Western expansion Edit

In 40, Caligula expanded the Roman Empire into Mauretania and made a significant attempt at expanding into Britannia. (Due to the novel I, Claudius, it is commonly believed that Caligula attempted war against Neptune at this time. This is not mentioned in any ancient source, however.) [3] The conquest of Britannia was later achieved during the reign of his successor, Claudius.

Mauretania Edit

Mauretania was a client kingdom of Rome ruled by Ptolemy of Mauretania. Caligula invited Ptolemy to Rome and then suddenly had him executed. [70] Mauretania was annexed by Caligula and subsequently divided into two provinces, Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis, separated by the river Malua. [71] Pliny claims that division was the work of Caligula, but Dio states that in 42 an uprising took place, which was subdued by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and Gnaeus Hosidius Geta, and the division only took place after this. [72] This confusion might mean that Caligula decided to divide the province, but the division was postponed because of the rebellion. [73] The first known equestrian governor of the two provinces was Marcus Fadius Celer Flavianus, in office in 44. [73]

Details on the Mauretanian events of 39–44 are unclear. Cassius Dio wrote an entire chapter on the annexation of Mauretania by Caligula, but it is now lost. [74] Caligula's move seemingly had a strictly personal political motive – fear and jealousy of his cousin Ptolemy – and thus the expansion may not have been prompted by pressing military or economic needs. [75] However, the rebellion of Tacfarinas had shown how exposed Africa Proconsularis was to its west and how the Mauretanian client kings were unable to provide protection to the province, and it is thus possible that Caligula's expansion was a prudent response to potential future threats. [73]

Britannia Edit

There seems to have been a northern campaign to Britannia that was aborted. [74] This campaign is derided by ancient historians with accounts of Gauls dressed up as Germanic tribesmen at his triumph and Roman troops ordered to collect seashells as "spoils of the sea". [76] The few primary sources disagree on what precisely occurred. Modern historians have put forward numerous theories in an attempt to explain these actions. This trip to the English Channel could have merely been a training and scouting mission. [77] The mission may have been to accept the surrender of the British chieftain Adminius. [78] "Seashells", or conchae in Latin, may be a metaphor for something else such as female genitalia (perhaps the troops visited brothels) or boats (perhaps they captured several small British boats). [79]

Claims of divinity Edit

When several client kings came to Rome to pay their respects to him and argued about their nobility of descent, he allegedly cried out the Homeric line: [80] "Let there be one lord, one king." [57] In 40, Caligula began implementing very controversial policies that introduced religion into his political role. Caligula began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules, Mercury, Venus and Apollo. [81] Reportedly, he began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians and he was referred to as "Jupiter" on occasion in public documents. [82] [83]

A sacred precinct was set apart for his worship at Miletus in the province of Asia and two temples were erected for worship of him in Rome. [83] The Temple of Castor and Pollux on the forum was linked directly to the imperial residence on the Palatine and dedicated to Caligula. [83] [84] He would appear there on occasion and present himself as a god to the public. Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods located across Rome and replaced them with his own. [85] It is said that he wished to be worshipped as Neos Helios, the "New Sun". Indeed, he was represented as a sun god on Egyptian coins. [86]

Caligula's religious policy was a departure from that of his predecessors. According to Cassius Dio, living emperors could be worshipped as divine in the east and dead emperors could be worshipped as divine in Rome. [87] Augustus had the public worship his spirit on occasion, but Dio describes this as an extreme act that emperors generally shied away from. [87] Caligula took things a step further and had those in Rome, including senators, worship him as a tangible, living god. [88]

Eastern policy Edit

Caligula needed to quell several riots and conspiracies in the eastern territories during his reign. Aiding him in his actions was his good friend, Herod Agrippa, who became governor of the territories of Batanaea and Trachonitis after Caligula became emperor in 37. [89]

The cause of tensions in the east was complicated, involving the spread of Greek culture, Roman law and the rights of Jews in the empire.

Caligula did not trust the prefect of Egypt, Aulus Avilius Flaccus. Flaccus had been loyal to Tiberius, had conspired against Caligula's mother and had connections with Egyptian separatists. [90] In 38, Caligula sent Agrippa to Alexandria unannounced to check on Flaccus. [91] According to Philo, the visit was met with jeers from the Greek population who saw Agrippa as the king of the Jews. [92] As a result, riots broke out in the city. [93] Caligula responded by removing Flaccus from his position and executing him. [94]

In 39, Agrippa accused Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, of planning a rebellion against Roman rule with the help of Parthia. Herod Antipas confessed and Caligula exiled him. Agrippa was rewarded with his territories. [95]

Riots again erupted in Alexandria in 40 between Jews and Greeks. [96] Jews were accused of not honouring the emperor. [96] Disputes occurred in the city of Jamnia. [97] Jews were angered by the erection of a clay altar and destroyed it. [97] In response, Caligula ordered the erection of a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, [98] a demand in conflict with Jewish monotheism. [99] In this context, Philo wrote that Caligula "regarded the Jews with most especial suspicion, as if they were the only persons who cherished wishes opposed to his". [99]

The Governor of Syria, Publius Petronius, fearing civil war if the order were carried out, delayed implementing it for nearly a year. [100] Agrippa finally convinced Caligula to reverse the order. [96] However, Caligula issued a second order to have his statue erected in the Temple of Jerusalem. In Rome, another statue of himself, of colossal size, was made of gilt brass for the purpose. The Temple of Jerusalem was then transformed into a temple for Caligula, and it was called the Temple of Illustrious Gaius the New Jupiter. [101]

Scandals Edit

Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, contemporaries of Caligula, describe him as an insane emperor who was self-absorbed, short-tempered, killed on a whim, and indulged in too much spending and sex. [102] He is accused of sleeping with other men's wives and bragging about it, [103] killing for mere amusement, [104] deliberately wasting money on his bridge, causing starvation, [54] and wanting a statue of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem for his worship. [98] Once, at some games at which he was presiding, he was said to have ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the audience into the arena during the intermission to be eaten by the wild beasts because there were no prisoners to be used and he was bored. [105]

While repeating the earlier stories, the later sources of Suetonius and Cassius Dio provide additional tales of insanity. They accuse Caligula of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, and say he prostituted them to other men. [106] They state he sent troops on illogical military exercises, [74] [107] turned the palace into a brothel, [47] and, most famously, planned or promised to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul, [108] [109] and actually appointed him a priest. [83]

The validity of these accounts is debatable. In Roman political culture, insanity and sexual perversity were often presented hand-in-hand with poor government. [110]

Assassination and aftermath Edit

Caligula's actions as emperor were described as being especially harsh to the Senate, to the nobility and to the equestrian order. [111] According to Josephus, these actions led to several failed conspiracies against Caligula. [112] Eventually, officers within the Praetorian Guard led by Cassius Chaerea succeeded in murdering the emperor. [113] The plot is described as having been planned by three men, but many in the senate, army and equestrian order were said to have been informed of it and involved in it. [114]

The situation had escalated when, in 40, Caligula announced to the Senate that he planned to leave Rome permanently and to move to Alexandria in Egypt, where he hoped to be worshipped as a living god. The prospect of Rome losing its emperor and thus its political power was the final straw for many. Such a move would have left both the Senate and the Praetorian Guard powerless to stop Caligula's repression and debauchery. With this in mind Chaerea convinced his fellow conspirators, who included Marcus Vinicius and Lucius Annius Vinicianus, to put their plot into action quickly.

According to Josephus, Chaerea had political motivations for the assassination. [115] Suetonius sees the motive in Caligula calling Chaerea derogatory names. [116] Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate because of a weak voice and for not being firm with tax collection. [117] Caligula would mock Chaerea with names like "Priapus" and "Venus". [118]

On 24 January 41, [120] Cassius Chaerea and other guardsmen accosted Caligula as he addressed an acting troupe of young men beneath the palace, during a series of games and dramatics being held for the Divine Augustus. [121] Details recorded on the events vary somewhat from source to source, but they agree that Chaerea stabbed Caligula first, followed by a number of conspirators. [122] Suetonius records that Caligula's death resembled that of Julius Caesar. He states that both the elder Gaius Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar) and the younger Gaius Julius Caesar (Caligula) were stabbed 30 times by conspirators led by a man named Cassius (Cassius Longinus and Cassius Chaerea respectively). [123] By the time Caligula's loyal Germanic guard responded, the Emperor was already dead. The Germanic guard, stricken with grief and rage, responded with a rampaging attack on the assassins, conspirators, innocent senators and bystanders alike. [124] These wounded conspirators were treated by the physician Arcyon.

The cryptoporticus (underground corridor) beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill where this event took place was discovered by archaeologists in 2008. [125]

The senate attempted to use Caligula's death as an opportunity to restore the Republic. [126] Chaerea tried to persuade the military to support the Senate. [127] The military, though, remained loyal to the idea of imperial monarchy. [127] Uncomfortable with lingering imperial support, the assassins sought out and killed Caligula's wife, Caesonia, and killed their young daughter, Julia Drusilla, by smashing her head against a wall. [128] They were unable to reach Caligula's uncle, Claudius. After a soldier, Gratus, found Claudius hiding behind a palace curtain, he was spirited out of the city by a sympathetic faction of the Praetorian Guard [129] to their nearby camp. [130]

Claudius became emperor after procuring the support of the Praetorian Guard. Claudius granted a general amnesty, although he executed a few junior officers involved in the conspiracy, including Chaerea. [131] According to Suetonius, Caligula's body was placed under turf until it was burned and entombed by his sisters. He was buried within the Mausoleum of Augustus in 410, during the Sack of Rome, the ashes in the tomb were scattered.

Historiography Edit

The facts and circumstances of Caligula's reign are mostly lost to history. Only two sources contemporary with Caligula have survived – the works of Philo and Seneca. Philo's works, On the Embassy to Gaius and Flaccus, give some details on Caligula's early reign, but mostly focus on events surrounding the Jewish population in Judea and Egypt with whom he sympathizes. Seneca's various works give mostly scattered anecdotes on Caligula's personality. Seneca was almost put to death by Caligula in AD 39 likely due to his associations with conspirators. [132]

At one time, there were detailed contemporaneous histories on Caligula, but they are now lost. Additionally, the historians who wrote them are described as biased, either overly critical or praising of Caligula. [133] Nonetheless, these lost primary sources, along with the works of Seneca and Philo, were the basis of surviving secondary and tertiary histories on Caligula written by the next generations of historians. A few of the contemporaneous historians are known by name. Fabius Rusticus and Cluvius Rufus both wrote condemning histories on Caligula that are now lost. Fabius Rusticus was a friend of Seneca who was known for historical embellishment and misrepresentation. [134] Cluvius Rufus was a senator involved in the assassination of Caligula. [135]

Caligula's sister, Agrippina the Younger, wrote an autobiography that certainly included a detailed explanation of Caligula's reign, but it too is lost. Agrippina was banished by Caligula for her connection to Marcus Lepidus, who conspired against him. [69] The inheritance of Nero, Agrippina's son and the future emperor, was seized by Caligula. Gaetulicus, a poet, produced a number of flattering writings about Caligula, but they are lost.

The bulk of what is known of Caligula comes from Suetonius and Cassius Dio. Suetonius wrote his history on Caligula 80 years after his death, while Cassius Dio wrote his history over 180 years after Caligula's death. Cassius Dio's work is invaluable because it alone gives a loose chronology of Caligula's reign.

A handful of other sources add a limited perspective on Caligula. Josephus gives a detailed description of Caligula's assassination. Tacitus provides some information on Caligula's life under Tiberius. In a now lost portion of his Annals, Tacitus gave a detailed history of Caligula. Pliny the Elder's Natural History has a few brief references to Caligula.

There are few surviving sources on Caligula and none of them paints Caligula in a favourable light. The paucity of sources has resulted in significant gaps in modern knowledge of the reign of Caligula. Little is written on the first two years of Caligula's reign. Additionally, there are only limited details on later significant events, such as the annexation of Mauretania, Caligula's military actions in Britannia, and his feud with the Roman Senate. According to legend, during his military actions in Britannia Caligula grew addicted to a steady diet of European sea eels, which led to their Latin name being Coluber caligulensis. [136]

Health Edit

All surviving sources, except Pliny the Elder, characterize Caligula as insane. However, it is not known whether they are speaking figuratively or literally. Additionally, given Caligula's unpopularity among the surviving sources, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Recent sources are divided in attempting to ascribe a medical reason for his behavior, citing as possibilities encephalitis, epilepsy or meningitis. [137] The question of whether Caligula was insane (especially after his illness early in his reign) remains unanswered. [137]

Philo of Alexandria, Josephus and Seneca state that Caligula was insane, but describe this madness as a personality trait that came through experience. [95] [138] [139] Seneca states that Caligula became arrogant, angry and insulting once he became emperor and uses his personality flaws as examples his readers can learn from. [140] According to Josephus, power made Caligula incredibly conceited and led him to think he was a god. [95] Philo of Alexandria reports that Caligula became ruthless after nearly dying of an illness in the eighth month of his reign in 37. [141] Juvenal reports he was given a magic potion that drove him insane.

Suetonius said that Caligula suffered from "falling sickness", or epilepsy, when he was young. [142] [143] Modern historians have theorized that Caligula lived with a daily fear of seizures. [144] Despite swimming being a part of imperial education, Caligula could not swim. [145] Epileptics are discouraged from swimming in open waters because unexpected fits could lead to death because a timely rescue would be difficult. [146] Caligula reportedly talked to the full moon: [68] Epilepsy was long associated with the moon. [147]

Suetonius described Caligula as sickly-looking, skinny and pale: "he was tall, very pale, ill-shaped, his neck and legs very slender, his eyes and temples hollow, his brows broad and knit, his hair thin, and the crown of the head bald. The other parts of his body were much covered with hair . He was crazy both in body and mind, being subject, when a boy, to the falling sickness. When he arrived at the age of manhood he endured fatigue tolerably well. Occasionally he was liable to faintness, during which he remained incapable of any effort". [148] [149] Based on scientific reconstructions of his official painted busts, Caligula had brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin. [150]

Some modern historians think that Caligula suffered from hyperthyroidism. [151] This diagnosis is mainly attributed to Caligula's irritability and his "stare" as described by Pliny the Elder.

Possible rediscovery of burial site Edit

On 17 January 2011, police in Nemi, Italy, announced that they believed they had discovered the site of Caligula's burial, after arresting a thief caught smuggling a statue which they believed to be of the emperor. [152] The claim has been met with scepticism by Cambridge historian Mary Beard. [153]

Quadrans celebrating the abolition of a tax in AD 38 by Caligula. [154] The obverse of the coin contains a picture of a Pileus which symbolizes the liberation of the people from the tax burden. Caption: C. CAESAR DIVI AVG. PRON[EPOS] (great-grandson of) AVG. / PON. M., TR. P. III, P. P., COS. DES. RCC. (probably Res Civium Conservatae, i.e. the interests of citizens have been preserved)

Roman gold coins excavated in Pudukottai, India, examples of Indo-Roman trade during the period. One coin of Caligula (AD 37–41), and two coins of Nero (AD 54–68). British Museum. Caption: C. CAESAR AVG. PON. M., TR. POT. III, COS. III. - NERO CAESAR. AVG. IMP. - NERO CAESAR AVG. IMP.

The Wonders of the Horti Lamiani

The Horti Lamiani (Lamian Gardens) was a luxurious complex of an ancient Roman villa with large gardens and outdoor rooms located on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, in the area around the present Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. They were created by the consul Lucius Aelius Lamia, a friend of Emperor Tiberius, and they soon became imperial property. Along with other ancient Roman horti on the Quirinal, Viminal and Esquiline hills, they were discovered during the construction work for the expansion of Rome at the end of 1800s.

The villa and gardens were scenically divided into pavillions and terraces adapted to the landscape, on a model of Hellenistic tradition. They were eventually filled with exceptional works of art, from original ancient Greek sculptures to exquisite frescoes and marble floors. A museum of the nymphaeum excavations is planned to open in 2021.

The land for the horti Lamiani was originally a cemetery just outside the ancient Servian Wall but was purchased by Lucius Aelius Lamia, the Roman consul in 3 CE, who developed the property. He seems to have bequeathed the property to the emperor probably during the reign of Tiberius, and it became imperial state property. Emperor Caligula loved the place so much he established his residence there and further developed the property. In an evocative eyewitness account, the philosopher Philo visited the gardens in 40 CE and accompanied Caligula inspecting the elaborate residence ordering them to be made more sumptuous. After his assassination, Caligula was briefly buried at the site.

The Horti Lamiani adjoined the Gardens of Maecenas and the Gardens of Maiani. Under Claudius (41-54 CE) the Horti Lamiani and Maiani were united and administered by a special superintendent (procurator hortorum Lamianorum et Maianorum).

The property survived until at least the Severan dynasty (193-235 CE) when it became the emperor's private property as shown by a stamped lead water pipe. By the 4th c. the gardens were no longer in use as evidenced by the statuary found broken in pieces and used in the foundations of a number of spas.


Campitelli district is one of the oldest Roman neighborhoods. It takes its name after the Capitoline hill it resides on (Capitolium), where once Rome’s major temple dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus stood. Despite this, this Roman neighborhood is the least populated, amounting to 600 residents. This is due to the fact of many governmental buildings and historical sites being located on its territory.

Modern history

Today, in Campitelli district tourists will find tons of historical attractions. As it was mentioned before, this district hosts the largest number of historical sites on its territory. Therefore, be ready to immerse yourself into a real Roman holiday.

Caligula’s Garden of Delights, Unearthed and Restored

Relics from the favorite hideaway of ancient Rome’s most infamous tyrant have been recovered and put on display by archaeologists.

The fourth of the 12 Caesars, Caligula — officially, Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus — was a capricious, combustible first-century populist remembered, perhaps unfairly, as the empire’s most tyrannical ruler. As reported by Suetonius, the Michael Wolff of ancient Rome, he never forgot a slight, slept only a few hours a night and married several times, lastly to a woman named Milonia.

During the four years that Caligula occupied the Roman throne, his favorite hideaway was an imperial pleasure garden called Horti Lamiani, the Mar-a-Lago of its day. The vast residential compound spread out on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills on which the city was originally built, in the area around the current Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

There, just on the edge of the city, villas, shrines and banquet halls were set in carefully constructed “natural” landscapes. An early version of a wildlife park, the Horti Lamiani featured orchards, fountains, terraces, a bath house adorned with precious colored marble from all over the Mediterranean, and exotic animals, some of which were used, as in the Colosseum, for private circus games.

When Caligula was assassinated in his palace on the Palatine Hill in 41 A.D., his body was carried to the Horti Lamiani, where he was cremated and hastily buried before being moved to the Mausoleum of Augustus on the Campus Martius, north of the Capitoline Hill. According to Suetonius, the elite garden was haunted by Caligula’s ghost.

Historians have long believed that the remains of the lavish houses and parkland would never be recovered. But this spring, Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism will open the Nymphaeum Museum of Piazza Vittorio, a subterranean gallery that will showcase a section of the imperial garden that was unearthed during an excavation from 2006 to 2015. The dig, carried out beneath the rubble of a condemned 19th-century apartment complex, yielded gems, coins, ceramics, jewelry, pottery, cameo glass, a theater mask, seeds of plants such as citron, apricot and acacia that had been imported from Asia, and bones of peacocks, deer, lions, bears and ostriches.

“The ruins tell extraordinary stories, starting with the animals,” said Mirella Serlorenzi, the culture ministry’s director of excavations. “It is not hard to imagine animals, some caged and some running wild, in this enchanted setting.” The science of antiquities department of the Sapienza University of Rome collaborated on the project.

The objects and structural remnants on display in the museum paint a vivid picture of wealth, power and opulence. Among the stunning examples of ancient Roman artistry are elaborate mosaics and frescoes, a marble staircase, capitals of colored marble and limestone, and an imperial guard’s bronze brooch inset with gold and mother-of-pearl. “All the most refined objects and art produced in the Imperial Age turned up,” Dr. Serlorenzi said.

The classicist Daisy Dunn said the finds were even more extravagant than scholars had anticipated. “The frescoes are incredibly ornate and of a very high decorative standard,” noted Dr. Dunn, whose book “In The Shadow of Vesuvius” is a dual biography of Pliny the Elder — a contemporary of Caligula’s — and his nephew Pliny the Younger. “Given the descriptions of Caligula’s licentious lifestyle and appetite for luxury, we might have expected the designs to be quite gauche.”

The Horti Lamiani were commissioned by Lucius Aelius Lamia, a wealthy senator and consul who bequeathed his property to the emperor, most likely during the reign of his friend Tiberius from A.D. 14 to 37. When Caligula succeeded him — it is rumored that Caligula and the Praetorian Guard prefect Macro hastened the death of Tiberius by smothering him with a pillow — he moved into the main house.

In an evocative eyewitness account, the philosopher Philo, who visited the estate in A.D. 40 on behalf of the Jews of Alexandria, and his fellow emissaries had to trail behind Caligula as he inspected the sumptuous residences “examining the men’s rooms and the women’s rooms … and giving orders to make them more costly.” The emperor, wrote Philo, “ordered the windows to be filled up with transparent stones resembling white crystal that do not hinder the light, but which keep out the wind and the heat of the sun.”

Evidence suggests that after Caligula’s violent death — he was hacked to bits by his bodyguards — the house and garden survived at least until the Severan dynasty, which ruled from A.D. 193 to 235. By the fourth century, the gardens had apparently fallen into desuetude, and statuary in the abandoned pavilions was broken into pieces to build the foundations of a series of spas. The statues were not discovered until 1874, three years after Rome was made the capital of the newly unified Kingdom of Italy. With the Esquiline Hill in the midst of a building boom, the Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani nosed around freshly excavated construction sites and uncovered an immense gallery with an alabaster floor and fluted columns of giallo antico, considered the finest of the yellow marbles.

He later stumbled upon a rich deposit of classical sculptures that, at some point in the horti’s history, had been deliberately hidden to protect them. The treasures included the Lancellotti Discobolus, now housed at the National Museum of Rome the Esquiline Venus and a bust of Commodus depicted as Hercules, now at the Capitoline Museums. In short time, the sculptures were carted off, the foundation of an apartment building was laid, and the ancient ruins were reburied.

7. Caracalla And Citizenship

Portrait of Caracalla, 212-17, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Caracalla’s reign was not his palatial thermae, nor his bellicose reputation, nor even the stain on his reputation as a fratricide. Rather, it is to be found in a scrap of papyrus and in the single sentence of the Digest, the collection of Roman laws. There, it states: “All persons throughout the Roman world were made Roman citizens by an edict of the Emperor Antoninus Caracalla.” This edict, known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, issued on 11th July AD 212, transformed the Roman Empire. It declared that all free men within the Roman Empire were granted Roman citizenship, whilst all free women were granted the same status as their Roman counterparts.

The emperor’s motivation for this edict remains contested. One prevailing interpretation suggests that the emperor was compelled by financial pressures to enact the edict. This was the interpretation of Cassius Dio, the only historian to comment on the edict, who claimed that the edict was passed not so much to honor the inhabitants of the empire, but, “to increase his revenues… inasmuch as aliens did not have to pay most of these taxes.” This is a tempting interpretation – wars, the favored past time of Caracalla – are of course expensive.

Nevertheless, given that as emperor, Caracalla exercised total control over the finances of the empire, such a significant social and political development seems to extend beyond basic fiscal wants. Regardless of the emperor’s motivations, the impact is most clearly indicated in the epigraphic record. In the immediate aftermath of the edict, a whole host of ‘Marcus Aurelius’ appear on inscriptions around the empire, as the newly enfranchised men paid homage to their new patron by adopting his nomenclature.

Humans into gods

The Emperor Vespasian, as he was expiring, declared, "Oh, I think I am becoming a god."

But most Romans thought "no god arises from man." Julius Caesar, who thought he was descended from Venus, upset this stricture. He had politically powerful friends who declared him "divine."

First Julius Caesar. Next, his successor Augustus, whose wife Livia rewarded a senator with an outrageous fortune for stating he saw Augustus ascend to heaven. After that, divinity for any Emperor was almost a done-deal.

The slippery slope eventually included non-rulers: a wife or other female relative of an Emperor was often declared divine, "suggested" by the Emperor and declared so by the Senate.

What an augur did: augurs observed natural phenomena. T he flight and activity of birds, thunder and lightning, and feeding patterns of the sacred chickens held special status. The augur had to follow written instruction from his manual. The manuals contained the proper techniques for the ritual and how to interpret the results. Signs given by the gods to the augur were good only for one day.

Duoviri, decemviri, and quindecimiviri: a group of distinguished Senator-priests who advised the Senate on reports of prodigies. Prodigies were events which the Romans considered "unnatural," such as "rains of blood" or "monstrous births."

Epulones : specialized priests in charge of the rituals of the Roman games and of the feast of Jupiter, Rome's most important god. Along with the pontifices, the augurs, and the duoviri, the epulones made up the four major 'colleges' of priests.

Fetiales: Priests who prayed to the gods for success in war.

Flamines: a special group of pontifices. Originally flamines were individual priests for the Roman gods Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. As a distinguishing mar k , the flamines wore a cap with a piece of olive wood projecting from its top.

Haruspex: A highly specialized prophet, commonly Etruscan. Prophets tended to communicate with the gods about more distant events in the future. The haruspex did his magic by inspecting the liver of the sacrificed animal, normally a sheep. After the slave who had killed the sheep handed its liver to the haruspex, the prophet held it in his left hand, with his left foot on a stone and his right foot on the ground , and "read" the liver in a clockwise direction. Haruspices could also be personal advisors--Julius Caesar had one.

Luperci: these priests ran the Festival of the Lupercalia, when near-naked young men ran around the City, striking the young women they met with a goat thong. A fertility rite? A purification ritual?

Ordinary priests: Their job was to lead the sacrificial process, initiate the sacrifice, and watch. Evidently, they weren't expected to know what to do, even the right form of prayer to offer. Their real role was to represent their aristocratic class, to show the Roman people that the aristocratic oligarchy was at the top of the social, political, and religious orders.

Pontifex, pontifices: Their original function was to look after Rome's first bridge across the Tiber, the City's most critical crossing point. From there, the pontifices assumed oversight over other major "crossing points," for example those between life and death, or communications between the humans and the gods.

One of the pontifices' most important authority was control of the calendar, which determined many aspects of Roman life. They could be powerful decision-makers, especially in moments of crisis. Less dramatically, they kept the annual record of public events and gave legal advice on family matters, such as wills, inheritances, family property, adoptions, and burials.

Prodigy: An event which the Romans considered "unnatural," such as "rains of blood" or "monstrous births." Would-be prodigies had to be reported to the Senate for evaluation and consultation with the priests.

Vestal Virgins: The only female priesthood in Rome, its six members were chosen in childhood. They lived in a special house next to the temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum and could ride in a wagon. Their various rituals connected the fertility of the earth, the safety of the flocks of animals, and human fertility. They were the guardians of ancient, ancient talismans, including it was said, sacred objects brought by Aeneas from Troy.

With special privileges went special responsibilities: if a Virgin let the sacred fire go out, or was unchaste, she could be buried alive.

Specialized or advanced

Boatwright,Mary, Hadrian and the City of Rome (Princeton UP, 1987)

Fox, Robin Lane, Pagans and Christians (Knopf, 1986)

Potter, David S., "Roman Religion: Ideas and Actions," in Potter, D.S. and Mattingly, D.J., Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire (U of Michigan Press,

Price, Simon, The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine (Penguin, 2011)

Stamper, John, The Architecture of Roman Temples: the Republic to the Middle Empire (Cambridge U. Press, 2004)

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