Caligula: 3 Reasons He Is Known As The Mad Emperor

Born31st of August, 12 AD
Died24th of January, 41 AD
Famous Quote“A man ought to be either frugal or Caesar.”
Known ForBuilt several large scale public structures, lavish display of gladiatorial games, and annexing the kingdom of Mauretania as a Roman province
Region of WorldRome, Italy, 1st century AD
Further ReadingEmperor Tiberius: His 3 Major Accomplishments As Emperor

One of the most famous Roman Emperors of all time was Caligula. This fame was not due to the fact that Caligula was a good emperor, rather that he was insane with power. Here are the 3 reasons that the Roman Emperor Caligula is known today as the mad emperor.

There are 3 reasons that Caligula today is called the Mad Emperor. First, Caligula would embark on a series of expensive building projects which almost financially ruined the whole Empire. Second, When Caligula and the Roman Senate became bitter enemies he promised to make his horse a sitting senator to humiliate them. Third, Caligula became known around Rome for a series of stunts which defined him as mad.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If at the end you enjoyed this content then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons that Caligula is called the Mad Emperor of Rome.

Caligula Would Embark On A Series Of Expensive Building Projects Which Almost Financially Ruined The Whole Empire

One of the main reasons that Caligula is called the mad emperor is because he almost financially ruined the Roman Empire.

Instead of providing for the Roman Citizens when they were starving, Caligula instead decided money was best spent financing several large scale building projects.

Caligula would begin to build two huge aqueducts called the Agua Claudia and the Anio Novus. These massive aqueducts stretched for 69 kilometers (43 miles) and supplied water to the Imperial forum. Caligula would not live to see this massive aqueduct built, it was finished in 52 AD by Emperor Claudius.

On top of this Caligula wanted to rebuild the ancient palace of Polycrates and found a new city high in the Alps. Both of which would have been massive endeavors. After these feats of engineering were done Caligula planned to dig a 6 km (4 miles) channel across the Isthmus of Corinth.

If this was not enough Caligula in 39 AD stole grain ships coming from Egypt to feed the people of Rome to build a 2 mile long pontoon bridge across a bay near Rome. The purpose of this was to prove the prophet Thrasyllus of Mendes wrong in a prediction that he could not ride a horse across the Bay of Baiae.

Finally, Caligula had two massive floating palaces built for him. These palaces were the largest ships in the world up until the modern era and had marble floors and plumbing.

All of these endeavors essentially ruined the Roman economy. Caligula had managed to drain the wealth of the Roman Empire to finance his lavish ideas and buildings.

This remains one of the main reasons why Caligula today is called the mad emperor of Rome.

When Caligula And The Roman Senate Became Enemies He Promised To Make His Prized Horse A Senator To Humiliate Them

One of the main reasons that Caligula is called the mad Emperor of Rome was because he either did or promised to make his horse not only a senator, but the consul.

To give you an idea this would be akin to a horse becoming the president of a major nation today.

According to the Roman historian Seutonius Caligula had a favorite horse he named Incitatus. This horse went with Caligula nearly everywhere. Seutonius details how Caligula’s horse would ‘invite’ senators and foreign dignitaries to meet him in a special house where the staff and horse were waited on.

In fact this horse lived a better life than nearly everyone but Caligula. There are reports of Incitatus having an ivory manger, purple blankets, a collar of jewels, and a stable made of marble. While this was infuriating enough it was Caligula’s promise to make his horse consul that pushed the Senate over the edge.

In 39 AD Caligula and the Roman Senate were in bitter opposition to each other. The Roman Senate wanted to reel in Caligula’s spending spree and begin to restore order to the Roman Empire. It was during this time that Caligula threatened to remove several Senatorial families and replace the consul with his horse.

As history has demonstrated this probably was not the best idea for Caligula as he would lose support from the Senate and be ‘replaced’ only a couple years later.

As such one of the 3 reasons why Caligula today is called the mad Emperor of Rome is because he attempted to make his horse a senator.

Caligula Became Known Around Rome For A Series Of Stunts Which Defined Him As Mad

One of the main reasons that Caligula is known as the mad Emperor of Rome was because of a series of stunts he pulled over the course of his reign.

Over the course of Caligula’s reign he was known to have pulled a series of stunts which either sought to demonstrate his divinity or secure his imperial power.

Sometime around 39 AD Caligula ordered his legions to march to the English Channel. Historians debate the exact nature of this march but ancient sources tell us that Caligula declared war on the sea. His soldiers were ordered to collect sea shells and return to Rome with their spoils.

If that was not crazy enough between 40-42 AD Caligula began to refer to himself as a divine being. Roman Emperors were worshiped in the east as living divines but in the city of Rome they were treated as a Roman citizen until after death, when they would ascend.

Not Caligula.

Caligula would start referring to himself in 3rd person and dress up as various gods and demigods while shouting ancient poetry. This would happen quite often as we have accounts of several client kingdoms having to come to Rome to pay their respects to Caligula.

On top of this Caligula in late 40 AD started to go around Rome and knock the heads off various statues of Roman Gods and replace them with his own.

Caligula was known to force senators to refer to him as the Roman God Jupiter in various documents. This would have greatly offended a large portion of the Roman People as the Roman Religion was extremely active during these times.

The list goes on and on. We don’t have many primary sources surviving from the time of Caligula due to ancient sources simply rewriting him out of existence.

However, this never-ending list of stunts that Caligula pulled towards the end of his reign forever remains one of the 3 reasons why he is known as the mad emperor of Rome.


There you have it; an entire article on the 3 reasons why Caligula is known as the mad emperor of Rome.

Caligula remains one of my favorite Roman Emperors to study. Unfortunately most of what we know about him comes from very biased sources. Still by critically reading them against later sources we can begin to uncover just how insane Caligula was for the normally conservative Roman Empire.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you liked this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.



How The American Revolution Changed The World

Here is how the American Revolution changed the world. Many people are not aware of just how important this[…]

Why The Roman People Loved Chariot Racing

Why did the Roman people love chariot racing? Well it all comes down to these 3 reasons.

The Design and Color of Roman Chariots

What was the design and color of Roman Chariots? Were they faster or slower then normal chariots? Well here[…]

Written By