Mad for Caligula

Time for a look at the 12 Cae­sars again– one in par­tic­u­lar– Caligula, though it’s hard to beat Sue­to­nius’ account and Michael Graves’.  Part of the fas­ci­na­tion with this Roman emperor is from pre­vi­ous “clas­sic” films (i.e., Caligula, I Claudius) and part from his some­what enig­matic (not much remains of his actions in the archae­o­log­i­cal record) and out­ra­geous, brief reign (37–41).  I’ve cov­ered Gaius (as he was prop­erly known) before in Ancients Behav­ing Badly (His­tory Chan­nel– Blink pro­duc­tions), a riff on antiquity’s worst rulers, but there’s so much more to say– and I was glad when North­South Pro­duc­tions con­tacted me about the two hour spe­cial they are pro­duc­ing for His­tory Channel.


Of course a  good area to start is the Roman Forum– and place dear to my heart– with our past dig– though the true expert on site of the “Domus Gai” (Caligula’s noto­ri­ous pad) is Henry Hurst of Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity (recently retired) whom I hap­pily ran into a few days ago in Campo de’ Fiori.  Our work (exca­va­tion: post aedem Cas­toris with col­leagues from clas­sics depart­ments at Stan­ford and Oxford) near Hurst’s site did launch AIRC and its even­tual study abroad pro­gram, and for­mal­ized our rela­tion­ship with the Ital­ian soprint­en­dency and Min­istry of Cul­ture.  So we owe a lot to the domi­cile of Caligula. Our work revealed, in con­junc­tion with Hurst’s study, that the pro­ject­ing struc­tures under the Domi­tianic por­tico of the so-called Augusteum/ library com­plex did indeed come very close to the back end of the Cas­tors’ tem­ple. Among bonuses to the dig were the remains of 7th cen­tury BC hous­ing! Need­less to say there are few places in the world with the com­plex­ity of the Forum’s stratigraphy!

So, it was a nice pro­duc­tion this Novem­ber– with film­ing on the Pala­tine, as well as a full day at Her­cu­la­neum, a beau­ti­ful set­ting for dis­cussing antiq­uity, espe­cially after the con­clu­sion of the Her­cu­la­neum Con­ser­va­tion Project.   I was pleased that a fel­low local Roman– Katie Parla is also in the pro­duc­tion, film­ing in Poz­zuoli. Looks like a great show– due out this spring!

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4 Responses to Mad for Caligula

  1. I have been a Julio Clau­dian numis­ma­tist for 25 years and have an exper­tise in Caligu­lan coinage. I find him inter­est­ing mainly because of his short reign and the pro­pa­ganda regard­ing his coins. My goal is to iden­tify a “pre-principate” por­trait of Caligula in the round, as of yet no art his­to­rian schol­ars agree on one. I have found one can­di­date that Prof. John Pollini had as a can­di­date, I feel it is Caligula before his acce­sion in 37 A.D. and needs fur­ther schol­ary atten­tion. The only coins minted of Caligula under Tiberius are from the provin­cial mint of Carthago Nova and are usu­ally crude por­traits. Here is the por­trait in the round I sug­gest is a pre-principate por­trait of Caligula:

    I also have a photo site with over 35,000 Julio Clau­dian related items at my edu­ca­tional only site.

    We also have a dis­cus­sion group recard­ing Julio Clau­dian Iconog­ra­phy at

    Multa Cum Amici­tia
    Joe Geranio
    Julio Clau­dian Icono­graphic Association

    • Great to hear from you. I am not an expert like J. Pollini– but your iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is very inter­est­ing. I know just how hard it is to iden­tify the young por­traits of the J-Cs, esp. Gaius, for whom we have such few remain­ing. Are you aware of the recently scanned Caligula statue in VA? B. Frischer’s funded project, with experts like E. Varner, J. Pollini. I believe a pub­li­ca­tion is com­ing out soon.
      Best– and I’ll be sure to check on all the resources you listed, thanks.

    • Yes, Eric Varner is also a great Julio Clau­dian por­trait spe­cial­ist and a expert on Damna­tio Memo­riae of Roman por­traits and stat­ues. The VMFA in fact is hav­ing a sym­po­sium on the VMFA statue tomor­row. Your on top of all of this!! Impres­sive. What is your next TV Spe­cial? I look for­ward to them.

  2. Thanks Dar­ius, I love your pas­sion on the “Under­ground Rome” show. I hope you keep up the won­der­ful work you are doing and I hope to see more of you regard­ing 1st cen­tury Rome. The qual­ity of the Julio Clau­dian and Fla­vian archi­tec­ture, archae­ol­ogy, and por­traits are won­der­ful and would love to see more from these two dynas­ties on T.V. I would love to see a TV seg­ment on the Domus Tiberi­ana , and Domus Tran­si­to­ria (Nero’s first res­i­dence). Thanks for Keep­ing Ancient Rome alive and front and center.

    Multa Cum Amicitia

    Joe Geranio

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