cover image Caligula: A Biography

Caligula: A Biography

Aloys Winterling. Univ. of California, $34.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-520-24895-3

In this lively biography of Rome's infamous third emperor, readers will not find the wild-eyed dictator the public has, for nearly two millennia, come to expect. Offering not an apology for the "mad" emperor but a thoughtful argument for his sanity, Winterling, ancient history professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland (Aula Caesaris), debunks Caligula's most grotesque and oft repeated crimes. Accounts of his incestuous relationship with his sisters and his creation of a brothel on palace grounds (with senators' wives as prostitutes) were slander by biased historical sources such as Suetonius. Caligula's supposed plan to appoint his favorite race horse as consul (the highest ranking position below emperor) and his claim to be in direct contact with various gods, says Winterling, were cruel jokes misinterpreted over time. The emperor's crossing of the Bay of Baiae on a bridge of ships was not an expensive folly but an unprecedented display of power to the Germanic tribes he was targeting. Like a police interrogator, Winterling plays his ancient sources off each other, identifying holes in their accounts, "blatant contradictions," and conflicts of interest. In this brisk and well-measured biography, Caligula emerges a troubled and cruel man, but not a crazy one. Photos. (Sept.)