As I suspected a few posts back, Roman historians like Suetonius were pretty biased against Caligula, and had a tendency to write down the most outrageous rumours without assessing their validity in any way. So whilst what I have written so far is stuff a bit like:
Had to have a consul executed today. He forgot to announce my birthday in the public records. Seriously. A child of five could have remembered to do that.
Now I’m wondering whether he was actually as bad as all that. The gaps in historical evidence make it hard to judge, but it seems pretty clear that it was in the interests of all the sources that survive from the time (Suetonius, Dio, Claudius, Seneca) to make Caligula out to be an evil nutjob. So, the question is really whether to go with them and write him in a sort of cartoony, madder than a box of snakes type of way, or to take on board the revisionist work available and write him with a bit of empathy.
My answer to this is to try both.
Perhaps I should use Incitatus [the horse he was meant to have made a consul, according to Suetonius] to upset senate a bit more. That’s always fun – I still get a kick out of the time I made them run alongside my litter for ten miles in the blazing sun. Served them right – all that time feasting and sitting indoors and conspiring to kill me makes them pasty and unfit. They should try going to battle, see what that does for them.
I think I will commission a legion of men to carve Incitatus a stable of marble. And he will have a collar blazing with precious jewels, and a manger of ivory. I’ll have the grooms mix flakes of gold into his food, too. He will live in as lavish and decadent a manner as the gods themselves. Senate will be furious! But frankly that horse is twice as clever as all of them put together. Self important, plotting dunderheads that they are. They’ll soon learn that they can’t have any effect on me.