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  • David Woods (a1)


One of the most famous allegations made against the emperor Caligula was that he had intended to appoint his favourite horse, Incitatus, as consul. While Suetonius and Cassius Dio both preserve this allegation, neither explains the basis for it, what exactly Caligula had said or done to lead those about him to believe that this is what he had intended to do.


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1 Modern politicians and journalists have often compared what they consider to be strange political appointments to the appointment of Incitatus as consul by Caligula as if this did actually occur. See e.g. Schutz, C.E., Political Humor: From Aristophanes to Sam Ervin (Rutherford, NJ, 1977), 251. The alleged appointment is frequently mentioned in popular works also, as when Chief Judge Cal appointed a fish as his Deputy Chief Judge as part of the Judge Dredd series in the comic book 2000AD, Prog. 90, November 1978.

2 Text and translation from Rolfe, J.C., Suetonius I (Cambridge, MA, 1913), 488–9.

3 Text and translation from Cary, E., Dio Cassius VII (Cambridge, MA, 1924), 302–3.

4 Dio's claim that Caligula used to offer Incitatus barley made of gold parallels Suetonius' claim that the emperor had sometimes served his guests loaves and meats of gold (Calig. 37.1). Suetonius seems to have abstracted this detail from a common account of how Caligula treated the guests at a feast held in the name of Incitatus, and then used it as the basis for a general statement in a section devoted to the emperor's extravagance. For an explanation of this alleged serving of food made of gold, see Woods, D., ‘Seven notes on the reign of Caligula’, in Deroux, C. (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History XVI (Brussels, 2012), 437–71, at 459–62.

5 Exceptionally, Guarino, A., ‘Caligulas Pferd’, ZRG 124 (2007), 332–5, at 335, dismisses the story as a deliberate lie, a ‘tall story’.

6 Willrich, H., ‘Caligula’, Klio 3 (1903), 85118, 288–317, 397–470, at 461–2: ‘dass in Rom so mancher Esel zum Konsulat gelangt sei, warum also nicht auch einmal ein edles Ross’.

7 Barrett, A.A., Caligula: The Corruption of Power (London, 1989), 46, 217.

8 Hurley, D.W., An Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius' Life of C. Caligula (Atlanta, GA, 1993), 196–7, on Joseph, , AJ 19.256–7.

9 Wardle, D., Suetonius' Life of Caligula: A Commentary (Brussels, 1994), 351–2.

10 Alston, R., Aspects of Roman History, ad 14–117 (London, 1998), 66.

11 Adams, G.W., The Roman Emperor Gaius ‘Caligula’ and His Hellenistic Aspirations (Boca Raton, FL, 2007), 162–3.

12 Winterling, A., Caligula: A Biography, tr. Schneider, D.L., Most, G.W., and Psoinos, P. (Berkeley, CA, 2011), 103.

13 See McCartney, E.S., ‘Puns and plays on proper names’, CJ 14 (1919), 343–58; Matthews, V., ‘Some puns on Roman cognomina’, G&R 20 (1973), 20–4. On the use of puns on names in political invective, see Corbeill, A., Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic (Princeton, NJ, 1996), 5798. In the case of Caligula, while serving loaves and meats of gold to his guests, he is alleged to have declared that a man ought to be either frugal or Caesar (Suet. Calig. 37.1), an apparent pun upon the name of M. Licinius Crassus Frugi. See Barrett (n. 7), 216; Wardle (n. 9), 281.

14 See Gallivan, P.A., ‘The fasti for the reign of Gaius’, Antichthon 13 (1979), 66–9.

15 OLD 2 s.v. incitatus; TLL 7.932–3.

16 On Aquila Iulianus, see PIR 2 A 982; on Nonius Asprenas, see PIR 2 N 121; on Apronius Caesianus, see PIR 2 A 972; on Sentius Saturninus, see PIR 1 S 296.

17 On Claudius' appointment as consul, see Suet. Calig. 17.1, Claud. 7; Cass. Dio 59.6.5. On Ser. Asinius Celer, see PIR 2 A 1225.

18 OLD 2 s.v. claudus; TLL 3.1314–15.

19 Suet. Claud. 3.2, 38.3, 39–40. While he has sometimes been diagnosed as a victim of polio or cerebral palsy, another possibility is that he suffered from dystonia. See Valente, W., Talbert, R.J.A., Hallett, J.P., and Mackowiak, P.A., ‘Caveat Cenans!’, American Journal of Medicine 112 (2002), 392–8.

20 OLD 2 s.v. asinus, s.v. celer. A series of nomina gentilicia were derived from animals. See Varro, Rust. 2.1.10.

21 Cass. Dio 58.20.1–3.

22 On Caligula's subsequent mistreatment of Claudius, or encouragement of the same, see Suet. Claud. 8–9.

23 Three different sources record his purchase of the mullet, but for different amounts each time: Tert. Pall. 5 (6,000 sesterces); Macrob. Sat. 3.16.9 (7,000 sesterces); Pliny, HN 9.67 (8,000 sesterces). In general, see Andrews, A.C., ‘The Roman craze for surmullets’, CW 42 (1949), 186–8. Caligula is said to have engaged in similar culinary extravagance, even drinking pearls dissolved in vinegar: see Suet. Calig. 37.1.

24 On Asinius Gallus as a potential successor to Augustus, see Tac. Ann. 1.13.2. On the reason for his mistreatment by Tiberius, see Herbert-Brown, G., ‘C. Asinius Gallus, Ti. Claudius Nero, and a posthumous Agrippa in Ephesos (ILS 8897)’, SyllClass 15 (2004), 131–51. On the deaths of both Asinius Gallus and Drusus Caesar, see Tac. Ann. 6.23.

25 Suet. Calig. 16.2; Cass. Dio 59.9.6.

26 See Wardle (n. 9), 171–2.

27 Cass. Dio 59.20.1–3.

28 Cass. Dio 59.28.6. See e.g. Ferrill, A., Caligula: Emperor of Rome (London, 1991), 136; Barrett (n. 7), 217; Wardle (n. 9), 213.

29 Suet. Claud. 9.2. Dio (59.28.5) records the cost of the priesthood as ten million sesterces. He also notes that Caligula was a priest in his own cult, as was Caesonia. There is no other evidence that priestly colleges at Rome charged a membership fee in this manner. See Barrett (n. 7), 147.

30 Suet. Calig. 22.3. However, some may have been willing to pay this price for access to the emperor, or Caesonia.

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