Caligula, we all know the name, whether from high school history books or that god awful movie, but do we know the story behind this madman?
Gaius Caesar Germanicus, nicknamed Caligula, ruled the Roman Empire from 37 AD until the time of his death in 41 AD. His life and actions during this time and during his childhood have been analyzed for years by many different scholars and researchers.
Nearly all who study Caligula come to different assumptions about him, whether it is about his life or his health. It is well known that Caligula was an unstable madman, but there are different theories as to what made him that way. A few scholars argue for plain and simple mental illness while others make a case for a physical illness leading to mental issues. In all cases, they attribute to his life experiences before the time of his reign.
Caligula's reign was said to have gone fairly well in the first 6 months; he put an end to the treason trials of Tiberius’s reign where many people were killed. However, after those first six months, he fell ill and hovered between life and death for months. He recovered eventually but was not the same man that he had been before he was sick. Suetonius once wrote, “what remains to be said of him bespeaks him rather a monster than a man”.
Following his brush with death, Caligula began to exhibit some behavioral changes. He suffered greatly from insomnia and would often wander the palace at night, apparently awaiting the daylight hours. When he did sleep, it was not for very long; Suetonius writes that he “never rested more than three hours at night” and it was a restless sleep tortured by nightmares." He was said to have seen spirits and apparitions and would cry out for daylight night after night. The changes were not only inside the palace, however. In 39 AD he brought back the treason trials that were such a terror in the time of Tiberius and kept journals containing the names of the people that he had condemned to death called “The Sword” and “The Dagger.” One scholar writes “torture and executions were the order of the day."
The reality of what ailed this 'crazy' Roman emperor is possibly being solved by modern psychologists. His symptoms could indicate any number of mental health illnesses, from schizophrenia to personality disorder, to an anxiety disorder. Even Suetonius admitted that "he was sound neither of body nor mind," constantly running in fear of thunder and lightning, and from the gods he claimed not to believe in. In his time, he was diagnosed with falling sickness, known in modern times as epilepsy, which very well could have led to mental illness later on in his lifetime.
The truth is, we still don't know what was going on in that madman's head, but it very well could have been an example of historical mental illness.