Evil Emperors Essay

Andew Bove
Block F

Augustus was one of the single most extraordinary emperors to ever rule the
Roman Empire, he was also the first. Augustus set a precept for emperors to come. Some
emperors followed it, some tried, and some didn’t try at all. My report is about two
emperors of Rome that didn’t rule in light of Augustus, and probably couldn’t help it,
considering they were most definitely insane.

Gaius Caesar was born in the ancient city of Antium on August 31, 12 A.D.. Gaius
had two brothers and three sisters. Gaius was devoted to his sisters, and according to
popular scandal, to the point of incest. Gaius’s father was Germanicus, nephew and
adopted son of Tiberus, the second emperor of Rome. Germanicus was an active general
for the Roman army. As a child Gaius accompanied his parents on military campaigns. On
these campaigns Gaius would wear soldiers boots around the camp, thus earning him the
name ?Caligula? which means ?little boot.?
But Caligula’s childhood was not a happy one. His father died under suspicious
circumstances when Caligula was only 9. Caligula was basically abandoned by his mother,
Agippina, granddaughter of Augustus, and sent to live with his great-grand mother Livia
at the age of 15. Following Livia’s death 2 years later, Caligula, now 17, was sent to live
with his grand mother Antonia. Caligula’s mother and two brothers would eventually
suffer demotion and eventually, violent deaths because they were thought to be, and
indeed were, conspirators against the Roman emperor, Tiberius
When Tiberius died on March 16, 37 A.D. Gaius was in perfect position to assume
power except for the obstacle of Tiberius’s will, which named his son Tiberius Gemellus
and Caligula joint heirs. Caligula didn’t like the fact that he might not become sole
emperor. To solve this problem Caligula ordered Gemellus killed within months. So Gaius,
not Gemellus became emperor of Rome.

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The people of Rome were extremely glad to see Tiberus go, and hoped that
Caligula would rule in light of Augustus. During the first six months of his reign, Caligula
gained immense popularity by publicly demoting Tiberius and destroying his personal

Six months into his reign Caligula fell ill with a fever and was near death for
weeks. When Caligula recovered he was most likely insane, and would soon show his
terrible face.

Gaius began acting in an openly autocratic behavior. He soon lost his early
popularity and earned the hatred of the Senate. Caligula exhibited excessive cruelty,
immoral sexual escapades, and disrespect toward tradition and the Senate. He declared
himself to be a god, in fact, he declared himself to be all of the gods. He set up a brothel
using senator’s wives and declared his horse a member of the senate, complete with a
golden stall. He squandered money on public entertainment, ordered many people
executed for no reason, had most of his relatives murdered or banished, ordered foolish
building projects, and had people tortured and killed while he dined. At one point he
ordered a statue of himself to be set up in the temple at Jerusalem, but later canceled his

Caligula exhibited laughable military campaigns. He ordered an attack on the
Germans, but called it off and told the army to collect seashells instead. He also ordered
an attack on the British but called it off at the last minute. He boasted of defeating the
German and British, but he never actually fought them.

By the year 41, Caligula had made too many enemies. His biggest mistake was
probably insulting the army and threatening to kill members of the senate. Caligula was
killed by his own body guard while exiting the theater on January 24th, 41 A.D. He was
28 years old, and had ruled for 3 years and 10 months. Caligula’s uncle Claudius, who was
aged and regarded as an idiot, was hailed emperor by the Praetorian Guard. Old uncle
Caludius, the family embarrassment, was now emperor.

Caligula’s reign is the one of the most poorly documented in Roman History.

Many of the surviving sources are most likely bias and inaccurate. It is at times hard to
distinguish from truth and embellishment. Such tales of sheer lunacy could most likely
have been made up, or could be the truth. The true character of the youthful emperor will
forever elude us.

Lucius Domitus Ahenobarbus or simply Nero, was born in 37 A.D. into what is
now considered a dysfunctional family. Nero lost his father at the age of three. But Nero’s
biggest disadvantage was the obsessive behavior exhibited by his mother, Agrippina the
younger, the sister of Caligula. Dispite all this Nero grew to love the arts.

When Claudius, the emperor, executed his wife, Agrippina seduced her uncle and
became his wife. She persuaded him to adopt Nero as his son, thrusting his own son
Britannicus aside. Agrippina then poisoned her husband with mushrooms so he could not
appoint Britannicus emperor.

After Claudius’ death in 54 Nero was appointed emperor at the age of 17. For the
first part of Nero’s reign he was guided by Burrus, who Nero would later poison, and the
philosopher Seneca, who Nero would later force to commit suicide. This was called
Nero’s ?good period.? He cut taxes, and organized fairs and festivals. This period was
short lived.

As Nero reached his early twenties he began to resent his mother. He threw her
out of the palace and considered her an outcast. Agrippina became angry with her son and
threatened to make Britannicus emperor. So Nero poisoned Britannicus at his birthday
party. Agrippina, as a last resort to reconcile with her son, seduced him. Although Nero
soon broke off these incestuous relations. These relations served as a mental torment,
perhaps the reason that the emperor began to act more oddly.

Nero would walk the streets at night, says Dio the historian ?insulting women,
practicing lewdness on boys, stripped people he encountered, beating, wounding, and
murdering.? On one occasion Nero assaulted a young man, and in defense the man gave
Nero a black eye. Although the man apologized, Nero forced him to commit suicide.

Nero loved the arts. He also loved the circus. Nero put on spectacular shows. He
held circus’ that consisted of as many as 400 bears and 300 lions, elephants, and
gladiatorial shows. He gave immense prizes to people in attendance. At one time he even
constructed an artificial lake. Nero ordered Brothels and taverns to be built in the center
of this lake.
At one time Nero outlawed the selling of anything boiled except for pea soup and
vegetables. If one failed to obey they were executed.

On March 22, 59 A.D. Nero decided to kill his mother. He sent his mother out to
sea in a small wooden boat that soon fell apart in the harbor. Sailors then were ordered to
beat her with thier wooden oars until death. When the sailors brought the body of his
mother before Nero he is quoted in saying ?I did not know I had such a beautiful mother.?
He regretted the death of his mother and he began acting more bizarre.

Soon after Nero killed his wife Octavia and married Poppaea. He began
cross-dressing when he attended the Senate and forced senators to dance in public. He
made nobles chant songs of praise to him.

In July 64, a fire broke out that would eventually burn 2/3rds of Rome. Rumor has
it that while Rome was burning Nero stood on the roof of his palace and composed a song
with his lyre. After the fire was finnaly put out rumors were flying. People thought that
Nero had set the fire in order to provide inspiration to a song he was composing called
?The Sack of Troy.? Nero’s advisors told him to lay the blame on the Christians, a small
minority at the time. The Christians were disliked by most Romans because they wouldn’t
worship Roman gods. They served as the perfect scapegoat for Nero.
Nero spread the rumor that the Christians were to blame and he made a big show
of arresting and executing them. Most of the Christians that were arrested and suffered
cruel and horrifying deaths. They served as human torches in the streets and Nero’s
parties. The Church declared Nero the anti-Christ.

The following year Nero flew into a rage. He kicked his pregnant wife to death.

He found a male slave named Sporus, had him castrated, renamed him Sabina and used
him as if he were a wife. Nero would tie girls and boys to stakes, and then putting on an
animal hide he would ?satisfy his lusts while appearing to devour parts of their bodies.?
says Dio the historian.

In April 65 Nero uncovered a plot against him. He personally presided over each
of the convicted. After the tria,l Nero, living in fear of perpetual assassination, left for
Greece where he participated in the Olympic Games. He returned to Rome with 1,808
crowns he had won for poetry and racing.
Upon his return, discontent was growing. A revolt began in Gaul and Germany,
before spreading to Italy. Nero panicked and fled to the house of an ex-slave. He begged
someone to kill him because he lacked the nerve to do it himself . But when he heard the
sound of horsemen coming for him he stabbed himself in the throat. As he bled to death he
said ?What an artist dies within me.?
Nero and Caligula, both early emperors of Rome, both well educated men with the
capability to be extraordinary rulers. But both were corrupted by power and brought up by
Roman government. Their first words as children were probably ?senate? and ?emperor?
rather then ?mommy? and ?daddy.? Being brought up in the imperial household of ancient
Rome is enough to make anyone go mad.


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