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12 Books in 12 Months

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suetonius

The Britons Are Coming

There will now follow my suggestion as to the origins of the story where Caligula was meant to have had his troops collect lots of shells.  Some historians reckon he was nuts at that stage and did it so he could claim victory over Neptune, the ocean and Great Britain; others suggest he was pissed off with the soldiers and did it to humilate or punish them; and still others reckon it very probably didn’t happen at all.  I’m with the latter group, I think, but in the context of the blog decided to relate it to Caligula’s meeting with exiled Catuvellauni prince, Adminius.

In the previous entry Caligula is wondering the best way to greet the prince, who has promised to swear allegiance to Rome if Caligula in turn supports his efforts to become king of Britain.  Or the bits of Britain his tribe runs, anyway.  This would pave the way for invasion quite nicely, and Caligula was looking for ways to prove himself militarily.

Vercingetorix_BC42, you are a genius!  Thanks for the comment you left about greeting Adminius!

As per your suggestion, I got the troops to collect piles of seashells to decorate the beach with.  Work with what you have, right?  It made the place look tres dramatic – loads of shells shining in the sun, a fearsome army at my back clad in red and gold… Adiminius seemed impressed with the picture anyway!  Not quite as good as our marble columns and jeweled finery back home, perhaps, but military men have different aesthetic values.

Someone said it looked a bit like the end of a battle, all that detritus lying in piles everywhere. Maybe that’s what I’ll tell the senate – “I fought Neptune and won!  Here’s the evidence!  In your face, crusty old guys…”  Yeah, I’m totally doing that.  All the shells can come back to Rome with us as the ‘spoils of war’.  The looks on their faces will be priceless.

Some of the men felt a bit silly collecting up lots of seashells like  a bunch of little girls, but I reckon by the end most of them agreed with me that it was totally worth it.  And they can’t really complain, they got some pretty decent donatives for their trouble.  A third of their annual wages, in most cases.

In other news, whilst we were waiting for Adminius to turn up I explored a bit, and I was wondering – why they haven’t had a lighthouse built at Itium?  Anyone know?  It’s a pretty dodgy area, all jaggy rocks and rough waters and potential for horrible death by drowning.  A lighthouse would be useful, and building it would give people something to do other than hanging around on the beach looking for pretty shells all day… (JK – how self referential am I?!  LOL.)

Some of the sources – mainly original, hostile ones like Suetonius – say Caligula built a lighthouse at Itium at around the same point as the shell debacle, but there doesn’t seem to be much compelling evidence that this was actually the case.  Thought I should mention it anyway, for those people who know their Ancient Roman source material!

Revisionism and Excerpts

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.

Caligula’s Adiatrepsia

As January’s book is Caligula’s Blog, today I have mostly been reading a book about Caligula by a Roman historian called Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.  It’s essentially a massive list of the crazy stuff he did, which is very handy from my point of view because each item can be a blog entry (or several).

I haven’t finished it yet, but some of the highlights have included:

– Caligula having a gold statue made of himself.  Every day some lucky slave got to dress it up in clothes identical to whatever the man himself had thrown on that morning.

– Inviting the moon to go to bed with him every time it was full.  Well, I assume he was after the goddess of the moon rather than the lump of rock, although he pretty much seemed to do anything and anyone that stayed still long enough…  I will look into that.

– On meeting handsome men with good hair, he had the backs of their heads shaved to make them look daft.  He wanted to be the sexiest, you see.  Perhaps making other men look bad would detract from the fact he was a terrifying, all-powerful sex pest.

– He apparently described his maternal grandmother as “Ulysses in a dress.”  He didn’t like her very much.

– He referred to signing execution lists as “clearing his accounts.”  As you may have gathered, he was a sensitive soul.

– He liked to get members of Senate to run alongside his litter for several miles at a time.  A bit like having a performing animal, I suppose.

– Lots more things, but I’m not going to list them all.  They’ll be in the blog…

I don’t know much about Suetonius himself yet, so won’t be 100% sure how reliable he is as a source till I’ve done some more research on him.  I do know that the man had some lovely turns of phrase and that several subsequent biographies of the Caesars were based on his works.  Also, he was mates with Pliny The Younger, which is interesting in the sort of way that makes you say, “oh really?” because you’ve vaguely heard of him.

Which is nice.

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