Digging up the dirt on Caligula
August 9, 2003
Caligula bust, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Palace ruins rebut the modern spin that Caligula was just a naughty boy. John Hooper reports from Rome.
Archaeologists digging in the Roman Forum have uncovered evidence that the emperor Caligula was indeed a self-deifying megalomaniac, not the misunderstood, if eccentric, ruler that modern scholars have striven to create.
For decades, historians have lifted their eyebrows at Latin authors' portrait of Caligula as a madman who believed he was a god. But Darius Arya, of the American Institute for Roman Culture, said a 35-day dig by archaeologists from Oxford and Stanford universities had reinstated a key element in the traditional account.
"We have the proof that the guy really was nuts," said Dr Arya at the excavation.
Suspicious of the very unanimity of the ancient sources, modern scholars have suggested they could have been politically biased. They have argued, for example, that Caligula's renowned plan to make his horse a consul was really a joke that his subjects failed to comprehend. And they have taken a sceptical view of a claim, by Suetonius, that he incorporated one of Rome's most important temples into his own palace.
Suetonius recorded 70 years after Caligula's assassination that the emperor "built out a part of the palace as far as the Forum, and making the temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped".
"This was so outrageous - an act of such impiety, such hubris - that a lot of historians have had great difficulty in believing it," said archaeologist Andrew Wilson, leader of the team from Oxford University.
Earlier digs showed a street had run between the two buildings in the first century AD, before Caligula's reign, and the third century. This gave rise to a theory that the emperor had merely built a connecting bridge, though another ancient source explained the apparent contradiction: the street was re-established when Caligula's successor, Claudius, destroyed his blasphemous extension.
Dr Wilson said the latest dig had uncovered no trace of a bridge but had found more and more evidence of structures within the site of Caligula's palace that ran at identical angles to others abutting the site of the temple. Sewerage lines had also run at the same angle. "The Caligulan foundations imply walls that seem to be projected across the line of the street as far as the temple," he said.
He pointed to a stretch of floor showing a corner of the palace jutting into the street.
This and other anomalies forced the team to rethink their assumptions and conclude that the ancient sources seemed to be right: that an extension was indeed built but Claudius pulled it down and restored the street.
Dr Wilson said the hypothesis had begun to take shape only a week ago. "From the Forum, what you would have seen was the palace rearing up behind the temple, which would have looked just like his lobby. There would have been no longer any distinction between the house of god and the house of the emperor."
Caligula 'thought he was a god'
The dig was carried out by Stanford and Oxford university students
The power-hungry Roman emperor Caligula may have believed himself to be a living god, according to new findings by archaeologists.
An investigation of remains found in Rome's ancient Forum indicate Caligula incorporated a holy temple into his palace, implying he himself was a deity.
Many historians have raised eyebrows at a claim by ancient Roman historian Suetonius that Caligula had extended his palace to take in one of the city's most important temples.
But Darius Arya, who led a 35-day dig by archaeologists from Oxford and Stanford universities, said their findings showed Suetonius was right and proved Caligula was "really maniacal".
Suetonius described Caligula as a madman who planned to make his horse a state official and made it a capital offence for people to stare at his bald head.
He also said Caligula "extended the Palace as far as the Forum; converted the shrine of Castor and Pollux into its vestibule; and would often stand between these Divine Brethren to be worshipped by all visitants".
"This was so outrageous - an act of such impiety, such hubris - that a lot of historians have had great difficulty in believing it," archaeologist Andrew Wilson, leader of the Oxford University team, told the UK's Guardian newspaper.
The archaeologists said an analysis of the Forum's drainage systems, walls and pavements showed the two shrines had indeed been incorporated into the palace.
Caligula was notorious for his megalomaniac behaviour
"He's saying 'I'm living with the gods, I am a god," said Mr Arya, executive director for the American Institute for Roman Culture.
He said Roman emperors could expect elevation to a god-like status after death but not before.
However, the research has been received with caution by Italian archaeological officials who will now assess the findings.
"It is necessary to verify that these are the original structures," said Adriano La Regina, Rome's archaeology superintendent.
It may be a work of fiction but check out Robert Grave's "I, Claudius" for a pretty accurate spin on Caligula. Those who "stick to the text"'s of Suetonius and Tacitus know Caligula was nuts.
For a really good look into his life check out the following books -- they are fascinating reads:
"The Twelve Caesars" Suetonius (Penguin Classics)
"The Annals of Imperial Rome" Tacitus (Penguin Classics)
Yeees...and he was rather into bigamy now wasn't he? Didn't he have an affair with his sister? Incest... :angry:
Did Caligula have a God complex?Stanford, Oxford archaeologists find evidence that depraved tyrant annexed sacred temple
BY JOHN SANFORD
Archaeologists from Stanford, Oxford and the American Institute for Roman Culture have unearthed evidence that Caligula, in an act of astonishing hubris, extended his palace to the podium of a sacrosanct temple.
The discovery, made during the final weeks of a month-and-a-half-long dig this summer in the Roman Forum, appears to support accounts by some ancient historians that the profligate but short-lived emperor was a megalomaniac.
"It's the equivalent of Queen Elizabeth taking over St. Paul's Cathedral as an anteroom," said Jennifer Trimble, an assistant professor of classics. "It's outrageous."
In late June, Trimble led a team of three graduate and nine undergraduate students to Rome. They were joined by Darius Arya, executive director of the American Institute for Roman Culture (AIRC), and a team of British students headed by Andrew Wilson, the project's field director and a senior lecturer in Roman archaeology at Oxford.
The goal of the dig was to explore the interaction of ancient commercial, religious and monumental space around the edge of the Forum. While excavating an area immediately to the south of the Temple of Castor and Pollux (a shrine dedicated to the mythological twin sons of Jupiter), the archaeologists say they discovered the remains of walls and a floor foundation that almost certainly belonged to Caligula's palace. What's more, the walls appear to have at one time connected with the temple, they say.
Caligula was the nickname (it means "little boots") of Gaius Caesar, who ruled from 37 to 41. According to Suetonius, a Roman biographer and antiquarian born in 69, the emperor transformed the temple into his vestibule. Dio Cassius, a historian born about 150, wrote that Caligula made the temple the entrance to his palace.
But modern historians have been hard-pressed to believe this and other accounts of the tyrant's despotic excesses, sexual perversity and sadism.
"It's very hard to evaluate all these scurrilous stories," Trimble said. "He's been condemned in memory as a lunatic and a really bad emperor."
Scholars also point to more tangible evidence for their incredulity: Remains dating to the last centuries B.C. and early second century indicate that a street once divided the palace from the temple. Excavations of the street have turned up no evidence of Caligulan walls or foundations. Hence, most historians have assumed that the street remained intact throughout the first two centuries.
The Stanford, Oxford and AIRC archaeologists found compelling evidence that Suetonius and Dio Cassius were right.
Trimble gives Wilson, an authority on Roman hydraulics, much of the credit for having understood the significance of a drain that runs northward from the site of Caligula's palace and cuts across the street just south of the Temple of Castor. Because the street already had a drain that ran to the west, Trimble and her colleagues wondered why it would have been necessary to construct another one along a different alignment. Their theory: Caligula destroyed the street to connect his palace with the temple and, as a result, had to build a new drainage system. To Trimble, such an act points to someone with no sense of constraints. "Caligula associated himself with the gods," she said. "He played fast and free with the public streets of Rome."
However, she cautioned that even though evidence points to Caligula's divine pretensions, it does not necessarily mean he was insane. Rather, he may have taken a cue from Eastern Mediterranean notions of royalty. "In what is now Turkey and Egypt, there was a tradition of rulers setting themselves up as apart from mortals," she said. "But in Rome, this didn't work at all. Power there was articulated in mortal terms."
In any case, "clearly something is very, very wrong" with the way Caligula conceived of his authority, she added. His contemporaries, it seems, felt the same way. A group of conspirators, including members of his own guard, murdered him just four years after he had assumed power.
Trimble, Wilson and Arya believe that Claudius, Caligula's successor, demolished the palace extension to the temple and restored the street. The scholars said they hope to return to the site, possibly next year, to continue the excavation. Their success in doing so depends on securing the necessary permits and funding, according to Trimble.
Puzzle within a puzzle
In addition, the three scholars assert that what they found during the dig may complicate efforts to interpret the third-century marble map of Rome -- the Forma Urbis Romae -- which now exists only in incomplete fragments. (The fragments have been scanned and cataloged into a computer database by a Stanford team led by Trimble and Marc Levoy, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering. The URL for the Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project is http://formaurbis.stanford.edu.)
The map portrays the ancient city in astounding detail. However, as Trimble and her colleagues, who were digging in the area of fragment 18a, have discovered, it may not actually portray the city at one uniform time period. Rather, different aspects of the map appear to correspond to different periods.
The scholars suggest that the map may have been compiled using archive records and surveys from different dates. These records were perhaps updated from time to time, but the changes may not have been very complete.
The map is one of the most important sources of information about the ancient city's layout, and its apparent lack of temporal uniformity likely will compel historians to re-examine key assumptions about third-century Rome.
Dog days of summer
The archaeologists labored outdoors during some of the hottest days Europe has experienced in decades. Outfitted with hats, sunscreen and large supplies of water, they would begin at 7:30 a.m. and work until 4 p.m. "The students were great," Trimble said. "They worked heroically in unbearable conditions."
Matthew Shulman, a classics and anthropological sciences major who plans to graduate in 2005, said it was a "fantastic team." "We had great supervisors on site whose expertise helped those, like myself, with no archaeological experience to learn the necessary skills like troweling and cleaning a context, taking measurements on a grid, and cleaning and sorting pottery," Shulman said.
Danielle Steen, a graduate student in classics who has participated in digs in Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean, said she was thrilled to be working "in what was the heart of the [Roman] Empire."
"The heat was difficult, and I believe that some of the students were not so enthusiastic about answering the questions of tourists all day," Steen said. "But generally I have to say that this was one of the smoothest, most friendly excavations I have ever participated in or heard about."
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