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"I am nursing a viper for the Roman people," he said.
In March of 37 A.D., Tiberius fell ill. He died a month later, and rumors swirled that Caligula had smothered him. It didn't matter. Romans were ecstatic over his death, in part because the empire now fell into the hands of Caligula, whom citizens believed packed the same qualities as his esteemed late father. The Roman Senate fell right in line, naming 24-year-old Caligula, who had no experience in government, diplomacy or war, as sole emperor of Rome.
For a time, Caligula's efforts met with their enthusiasm. He freed citizens that had been unjustly imprisoned by Tiberius, and eliminated an unpopular tax. He also staged lavish events, including chariot races, boxing matches, plays and gladiator shows. However, six months into his rule, Caligula fell severely ill. For nearly a month, he hovered between life and death. In October of 37 A.D., he recovered, but it was quickly apparent that he was not the same person.
Tortured by headaches, Caligula wandered the palace at night. He abandoned the customary toga for silken gowns and often dressed as a woman. In addition, Caligula flaunted his power, eliminating his political rivals and forcing parents to watch the executions of their sons. Most egregious, however, was Caligula's declaration that he was a living God, ordering a bridge to be built between his palace and the Temple of Jupiter so that he could have consultations with the deity. Not even marriage and the birth of a daughter seemed to change him.
Rome soon grew to hate its leader, and citizens began a secret push to get rid of him. On January 24, 41 A.D., Caligula was attacked by a group of guardsman, following a sporting event. During the assassination, Caligula was stabbed 30 times, and killed. His body was dumped into a shallow grave, and his wife and daughter were murdered.
Caligula's death pushed the Senate to immediately order the destruction of his statues in hopes of eradicating him from Rome's history. Still, more than two millennia since his rule, Caligula's legacy is deemed a fascinating piece of Roman history.
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