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Emperor Caligula #3 - The Mad Emperor

Emperor Caligula #3 - The Mad Emperor

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Emperor Caligula. At the end of March 37 AD, a solemn procession of soldiers walked along the Via Appia from Naples towards Rome. The gloomy Emperor Tiberius horror reign was finally over. The Roman Empire had received a new emperor in Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, who was descendant of the founder of the empire in a straight descent - his grandmother had been Emperor Augustus' daughter. The road was lined with crowds who enthusiastically shouted "our star", "our doll" and "our darling" to the 24-year-old ruler. Gaius was already a celebrity in his time. As a two-year-old, he had been given the nicknamed Caligula, "the little boot", by the soldiers whom his father Germanicus had commanded. Now everyone was hoping for a new golden age.

On this channel we focus on Roman History and right now we're doing a video on every Roman Emperor, if you're interested in that subscribe or watch the playlist here:

Once again, Suetonius is our primary source for tales about Caligula&rsquos penchant for incest. The historian wrote that the emperor had an incredible high libido which bordered on perversion. Incestuous relationships were quite common in ancient times. For example, the Egyptian Pharaohs regularly married their sisters, and the Ptolemies continued the custom. Therefore, Caligula&rsquos relationship with his sister Drusilla, while undoubtedly perverted in the modern era, was not a big deal 2,000 years ago.

It does appear that stories of Caligula&rsquos incest are exaggerated. Suetonius suggests that the emperor had sex with his three sisters. However, historians that lived during the age of Caligula (such as Seneca and Philo) fail to mention anything about his incestuous behavior. Both chroniclers are extremely critical of Caligula, so they can&rsquot be accused of favoring him.

There seems to be no question that he loved his sister Drusilla and almost certainly committed incest with her. His obsession with her began long before he became emperor and was supposedly caught having sex with her by his grandmother Antonia. Caligula probably viewed her as the only person worthy of being his wife, and she was apparently a calming influence on him. When she died from a fever in June 38 AD, he predictably went wild with grief and had her deified as the Divine Drusilla and proclaimed her as a living descendent of the goddess Venus.

He didn&rsquot show the same level of affection towards his other sisters, so it is hard to say if he committed incest with them. Indeed, he prostituted them to his catamites (young homosexual lovers). Therefore, it seems likely that he ‘only&rsquo committed incest with Drusilla and not the other sisters.

Caligula certainly had an insatiable sexual appetite and would have sex with men or women. He had an intense relationship with an actor called Marcus Lepidus Mnester and another man from a high-class family called Valerius Catullus. When he wasn&rsquot having homosexual relationships, he was committing adultery with various women around Rome. When a woman called Olivia Orestilla was married, he ordered his men to take her to his home. Caligula also married a woman named Lollia Paulina who was already married to a Roman in charge of the army.

The emperor allegedly used his love of debauchery to make some money for the royal coffers. Caligula spent money freely but wasn&rsquot so good at earning it. However, one day, he had the idea to turn the palace into a whorehouse. He sent his pages around Rome to alert wealthy men to the opening of the brothel and encouraged young and old people to come and enjoy themselves.

Suetonius&rsquos account of Caligula was written decades after the emperor&rsquos death during the reign of Hadrian, and some of its details do seem to have been deliberately shaped to suit Suetonius&rsquos picture of Caligula as a deranged lunatic. For instance, his account of Caligula&rsquos aborted invasion of Britain ignores the fact that the Roman word for seashells &ldquoMusculi&rdquo was also a soldier&rsquos slang for an engineer&rsquos hut. This means that instead of ordering his troops to gather seashells, Caligula could have been commanding them to clear the beach of military installations.

However, other details have been proven correct. The discovery of Caligula&rsquos palace in 2003 confirms that it was indeed remodeled to join with the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Supports have also been discovered that prove a bridge was constructed from the palace over the forum to join the Capitoline temple. So, given that the events described in the sources broadly correspond with the facts, how do we assess Caligula: mad or bad?

Caligula Depositing the Ashes of his Mother and Brother in the Tomb of his Ancestors by Eustache Le Sueur. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Before his illness, Caligula seems to have been sane enough. He certainly navigated the tricky period after the deaths of his mother and brothers with a particular skill. Tiberius had brought the eighteen-year-old Caligula to live with him on Capri. For the next six years, Caligula walked through a minefield of intrigue. He sidestepped attempts by Tiberius&rsquos courtiers to trick him to speak against the emperor. Nor did he show any emotion over his family&rsquos deaths. This indicates a certain intelligence, self-restraint and a well-developed survival instinct. So perhaps Caligula&rsquos illness did weaken him mentally.

As crazy and cruel as Caligula&rsquos post-illness behavior was, a method can be detected beyond his madness one that speaks of a young ruler desperate to establish his authority. For by declaring himself a living god, tearing up whole streets of Rome for his own convenience to connect the palace to its temples, Caligula was acting like no emperor before him. He no longer wished to be seen merely as an emperor, a first amongst equals. He needed to set himself above all others-without taking the hated title of King. To do this effectively, Caligula had to erode the standing of the Senate. For although he had been happy enough to rule with them before his illness, his incapacity had shown all of Rome the Senate could govern without him.

Caligula set about this task without restraint because his illness, pressure or the corrupting nature of power had eroded his self-control. However, his intention remained clear. Caligula wanted to debase his rivals by emphasizing their weakness in the face of his power. So he humiliated senators, making them run for miles besides his chariot or serve as slaves at his dinners. He also terrified them. Once at a dinner party, the emperor suddenly burst into laughter. &ldquoIt occurred to me that I have only to give one nod and your throats will be cut on the spot, &rdquo Caligula replied when asked what the joke was. Seen in this light, the incident with Incitatus takes on a different perspective. It is not the action of an utterly insane man, but of a despot who was telling his government, that really, they were no more effective than a pampered pet.

Viewpoint: Does Caligula deserve his bad reputation?

The Roman emperor Caligula's name has become a byword for depraved tyranny, used as a popular benchmark for everyone from Idi Amin to Jean-Bedel Bokassa. But was Caligula really mad and bad, or the victim of a smear campaign, asks historian Mary Beard.

Our modern idea of tyranny was born 2,000 years ago. It is with the reign of the Caligula - the third Roman emperor, assassinated in 41 AD, before he had reached the age of 30 - that all the components of mad autocracy come together for the first time.

In fact, the ancient Greek word "tyrannos" (from which our term comes) was originally a fairly neutral word for a sole ruler, good or bad.

Of course, there had been some very nasty monarchs and despots before Caligula. But, so far as we know, none of his predecessors had ever ticked all the boxes of a fully fledged tyrant, in the modern sense.

There was his (Imelda Marcos-style) passion for shoes, his megalomania, sadism and sexual perversion (including incest, it was said, with all three of his sisters), to a decidedly odd relationship with his pets. One of his bright ideas was supposed to have been to make his favourite horse a consul - the chief magistrate of Rome.

Roman writers went on and on about his appalling behaviour, and he became so much the touchstone of tyranny for them that one unpopular emperor, half a century later, was nicknamed "the bald Caligula".

But how many of their lurid stories are true is very hard to know. Did he really force men to watch the execution of their sons, then invite them to a jolly dinner, where they were expected to laugh and joke? Did he actually go into the Temple of the gods Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum and wait for people to turn up and worship him?

It is probably too sceptical to mistrust everything that we are told. Against all expectations, one Cambridge archaeologist thinks he may have found traces of the vast bridge that Caligula was supposed to have built between his own palace and the Temple of Jupiter - so it was easier for him to go and have a chat with the god, when he wanted.

So the idea that Caligula was a nice young man who has simply had a very bad press doesn't sound very plausible.

All the same, the evidence for Caligula's monstrosity isn't quite as clear-cut as it looks at first sight. There are a few eyewitness accounts of parts of his reign, and none of them mention any of the worst stories.

There is no mention in these, for example, of any incest with his sisters. And one extraordinary description by Philo, a high-ranking Jewish ambassador, of an audience with Caligula makes him sound a rather menacing jokester, but nothing worse.

He banters with the Jews about their refusal to eat pork (while confessing that he himself doesn't like eating lamb), but the imperial mind is not really on the Jewish delegation at all - he's actually busy planning a lavish makeover for one of his palatial residences, and is in the process of choosing new paintings and some expensive window glass.

But even the more extravagant later accounts - for example the gossipy biography of Caligula by Suetonius, written about 80 years after his death - are not quite as extravagant as they seem.

If you read them carefully, time and again, you discover that they aren't reporting what Caligula actually did, but what people said he did, or said he planned to do.

It was only hearsay that the emperor's granny had once found him in bed with his favourite sister. And no Roman writer, so far as we know, ever said that he made his horse a consul. All they said was that people said that he planned to make his horse a consul.

The most likely explanation is that the whole horse/consul story goes back to one of those bantering jokes. My own best guess would be that the exasperated emperor one day taunted the aristocracy by saying something along the lines of: "You guys are all so hopeless that I might as well make my horse a consul!"

And from some such quip, that particular story of the emperor's madness was born.

The truth is that, as the centuries have gone by, Caligula has become, in the popular imagination, nastier and nastier. It is probably more us than the ancient Romans who have invested in this particular version of despotic tyranny.

In the BBC's 1976 series of I Claudius, Caligula (played by John Hurt) memorably appeared with a horrible bloody face - after eating a foetus, so we were led to believe, torn from his sister's belly.

This scene was entirely an invention of the 1970s scriptwriter. But it wrote Hurt into the history of Caligula.

The vision even spread to comics. Chief Judge Cal in Judge Dredd was based on Hurt's version of the emperor - and appropriately enough Cal really did make his pet goldfish Deputy Chief Judge.

But if the modern world has partly invented Caligula, so it also has lessons to learn from him and from the regime change that brought him down.

Caligula was assassinated in a bloody coup after just four years on the throne. And his assassination partly explains his awful reputation. The propaganda machine of his successors was keen to blacken his name partly to justify his removal - hence all those terrible stories.

More topical though is the question of what, or who, came next. Caligula was assassinated in the name of freedom. And for a few hours the ancient Romans do seem to have flirted with overthrowing one-man rule entirely, and reinstating democracy.

But then the palace guard found Caligula's uncle Claudius hiding behind a curtain and hailed him emperor instead. Thanks to Robert Graves, Claudius has had a good press, as a rather sympathetic, slightly bumbling, bookish ruler.

But the ancient writers tell a different story - of an autocrat who was just as bad as the man he had replaced. The Romans thought they were getting freedom, but got more of the same.

Considering what happened then, it's hard not to think of the excitements and disappointments of the Arab Spring.

Caligula with Mary Beard is broadcast at 21:00 BST on 29 July 2013 on BBC Two

Emperor Caligula Didn’t Go To War With Poseidon

There is an often quoted fact that Roman Emperor Caligula once went to war with Poseidon, ordering his troops to throw spears into the sea. While crazy Roman Emperors appear not to be that rare, Caligula has gone down, along with Nero, as one of the most nutty among them. As if he had lost his brain. So what makes us, Unreal Facts, say that Caligula didn’t go to war with Poseidon when so many references say he did?

Firstly, and most obviously, Poseidon was a Greek god, not a Roman one. While Poseidon and Neptune were both gods of the sea, and for all intents and purposes the same, their names are somewhat different. Most people would have noticed this irregularity immediately. But we understand that there can be little in a name, and many will say we are just nitpicking. So lets delve a little further into this myth.

There’s no doubt Caligula was as mad as a hatter, but how mad would Caligula have to be to go to war with Poseidon? By all accounts he may have been crazy enough, after all his own body guards assassinated him due to his deranged demeanor. This was a man who apparently cross dressed in public, impregnated his own sister and declared himself a god. But as mad as all of that sounds, Caligula didn’t go to war with Poseidon. He did however do something with his army that would be described a weird, if it was true that is.

During one of his attempts to conquer Britannia, Caligula apparently ordered his army to collect sea shells from the beach. This is where the myth of Caligula declaring war on Poseidon (or Neptune if you prefer) came from. The Roman historian Suetonius, who was actually born 28 years after the death of Caligula, is source of which the acts of this deranged emperor come from. It was part of his book, “The Twelve Caesars.” But even this can be proven to be incorrect and a possible fabrication, or at least a misunderstanding by Suetonius. After all, Suetonius was well known for not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

The final part to unraveling this myth comes from the slang language used in the Roman army at the time. The word for seashells, musculi was also solders slang for the engineers’ huts. So when Caligula, who was on campaign with the soldiers and had spent nearly his entire life with them, and thus would have picked up soldiers slang, said pick up the musculi, he most likely meant pick up the huts, not seashells.

So if Caligula never went to war with Poseidon, where did this myth begin?

It actually began in more modern times, and we have entertainment, well literature as a matter of fact, to thank for it. The first reference of this war came from the book I, Claudius, published in 1934 and written by Robert Graves. In the book, which was later adapted to stage, radio and film, he took the writings of Suetonius and embellished them to make Caligula seem just that little bit more crazy. It was I, Claudius that first saw emperor Caligula go to war with the god of the sea Poseidon.

So while it may have been worth slandering his name, at least he never did this.

“I only have to give the word…”

Before we go any further, there’s something you need to understand about this period in Roman history.

So many sources have been lost over the years that we have barely any contemporary accounts of Caligula.

The information we have on his life generally comes from Suetonius’s book on the emperors, and Cassius Dio’s biography of Caligula. Both aren’t exactly great historians, and both lived long after Caligula had died, with Dio not even being born until 120-odd years after his death.

The eloquence contest under Caligula in Lyon

To put it another way, expecting either of these guys to give a pinpoint accurate account of Caligula’s reign is like expecting someone born this very year to give an eyewitness account of the life of Otto von Bismarck.

That being said, there’s likely a kernel of truth in their otherwise suspect accounts, and even a kernel would be enough to rank Caligula as one of the maddest rulers in history.

It’s said that post-illness Caligula liked to humiliate the Senate. Senators would be made to run along beside his carriage for miles at a time through the streets of Rome.

Those that refused would be humiliated in other ways. Caligula would throw dinner parties for the senators and their wives. Mid-way through the meal, he’d pick a wife he liked the look of, take her into a backroom and force himself on her. He’d then return her to her husband, who’d be forced to act like nothing had happened.

Speaking of women, Caligula’s sexual appetites were both enormous, and enormously cruel.

In AD 37 or 38, for example, he went to the wedding of Gaius Calpurnius Piso and Livia Orestilla. The emperor was so taken with Livia that he ordered her to marry him instead. She did, he had his way with her, then divorced her the next morning. As a final kicker, he forbade her to ever marry Gaius.

Livia wasn’t the only one. Lollia Paulina was also forced to divorce her husband and marry Caligula, only to be ditched after barely six months.

Then there are the other rumors, that Caligula slept with everyone from whores, to young boys, to the male actor Mnester.

But the most famous affair Caligula had was, of course, with his sister.

Remember Julia Drusilla? Back near the start of this video, we mentioned it was rumored Caligula was sleeping with her.

Well, once he became emperor, Caligula seems to have gone out of his way to confirm those rumors.

Drusilla was elevated to the status of emperor’s wife. The army was required to take a loyalty oath to her. The two were never apart.

When Drusilla died in June, 38 AD, the heartbroken Caligula had her declared a Goddess and forced people to worship her.

Even with this weird relationship, though, much of what you may have heard is untrue. That shocking scene in I, Claudius where Caligula eats the fetus torn from Drusilla’s body? We’re extremely pleased to tell you that was fiction.

Still, Caligula’s cruelty and his insanity were becoming hard to ignore. Cassius Dio has it that the emperor practiced pulling terrifying facial expressions purely to put the fear of God into his subjects. At one party, he allegedly burst out laughing. When guests asked him what was funny, Caligula replied:

“I’ve just thought that I’ve only to give the word and you’ll all have your throats cut.”

It was more than just an idle threat.

In AD 38, Caligula finally ordered Gemellus executed. Incredibly, he had Macro, the Praetorian Guard prefect who’d helped him seize power, executed shortly after.

It was Caligula’s first major taste of blood. Evidently, he liked it enough to go back for more.

6. If Caligula was indeed crazy, a physical ailment might have been to blame.

These days, many historians reject the notion that Caligula terrorized Rome with his unbridled madness, talking to the moon, ordering arbitrary executions and trying to make his horse a consul. For one thing, his fellow lawmakers would likely have whisked him out of power for such conduct. But assuming the much-maligned emperor was the loon his chroniclers describe, some scholars have suggested that an illness made him come unhinged—possibly temporal lobe epilepsy, hyperthyroidism or Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder that can cause mental instability.

Caligula Was an Asshole, Generally Speaking

While items one through five illustrate Caligula’s insanity via narcissism pretty well, they don’t really give you an idea of how malignant the guy was.

Caligula really enjoyed watching other people suffer. That includes a boilerplate fascination with torturing and murdering people, sure. But he was also a disturbed, antisocial prankster.

He’d have new laws written in tiny letters, then hang them up very high, so people couldn’t read them. He did this so he could punish people for breaking laws that were technically posted, but that they could not have known about.

During games at the arena, on especially hot days, he’d order the awnings retracted and forbid spectators from leaving, just so he could watch them sweat. Another favorite pastime: shuttering the granaries so he could watch his own people starve. As you can see, Caligula liked to punch down, probably so his victims couldn’t see his bald spot. 8

The wreckage from one of Caligula’s famous “pleasure barges”, discovered in the 1920s

Caligula built two lavish barges to be situated on lake Nemi. Sometimes called “pleasure barges”, they were said to have marble décor, mosaic floors, statues and there he held a succession of wild, debaucherous parties. Uncovered during the 1920s and 30s, they had mostly been destroyed during the Second World War, but a lead pipe was found bearing the inscription “Property of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.”

Emperor Caligula #3 - The Mad Emperor - History

Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody — Caligula

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and thus we have Emperor Joe.

That is the way they think.

I come from a line of Jacobite Scots and ex-Brits who participated in the “Fuck You Mad King George” Rebellion.

Guy Clark

Hmm. we may be headed for some of the same before too long.

And Malcolm McDowell knew d**n well what the film “Caligula” was all about and enjoyed it. He’s lying to protect his “reputation”.

Well it’s been a while and sources can be flaky at times in this Age of the Great Media Freak-Out, but the version I’ve seen is that Little Boots was wildly popular with the common folk.

His alleged craziness involved the elites of the patrician class - guess what you’d call Rome’s version of Rodeo Drive.

“At some games, he ordered an entire section of the audience to be thrown to the wild beasts because there were no more prisoners to be used and he was bored”

I hope at least he picked those sections that were doing ‘the wave’.

But seriously, if that’s true, one would think the word would get around, and that would put a serious dent in attendance at the games.

As America sinks deeper into decadence, such vile monsters as Caligula, Nero, and Tiberius appear more and more reasonable to those sick with decay. We can expect them to proclaim contemporary vile monsters as heroes.

However those of us capable of resisting the decadence and remaining true to truth see all this monstrosity for exactly what it is. We remain aware of the hideousness of these monsters and the monstrous decadence that empowered them, and we see it all in the monstrous decadence of the 21st century and its adherents.

It's worth reading the article about the Emperor Elagabalus at the same site:

Elagabalus, a transsexual monster, was ridiculed and vilified during the 19 centuries after his reign but resurrected as some sort of hero by those wallowing in the 21st-century decadence of Western Civilisation. The final remark of the article: "Today, Elagabalus is one of the historical icons of the LGBTQ movement."

If present trends continue, expect Caligula, Nero, and Tiberius to be resurrected as some kind of heroes to those sick with decadence.

Then what? Hitler? Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot?

There's nothing new about monsters or decadence. Only the stupid think there is.

Personally I liked John Hurt in I CLAUDIUS from 40 years ago on PBS. Go tit on DVD.

I also read the books by Robert Graves.

I tried to set through the X rated version of that film. It was so bad I fast forwarded through the last of it.

I will take I, CLAUDIUS any time over CALIGULA.

Lol. Sorry Sans-Culotte. I work for a person now that fits the Peter Principle to a T. But I’m not worried about him forcing me to commit

Yup. A two-bit Mussolini for sure.

You are absolutely correct. He had a good first year. But then he got sick supposedly and the crazy came out. You can only take some of the stories with a grain of salt. Supposedly two Senators visited his bedside and said they would give their own lives to have him back. He miraculously recovered. And then had them commit suicide. He told them the Gods would be offended if they didn’t keep their word. They committed suicide. They tried to truly “cancel” him and remove any and all references to his name and banned any Roman citizen from naming their child Caligula. But he must have been so bad it didn’t matter. Truly infamous.

Elagabalus . Good example. Are you familiar with Hadrian’s tranny lover from Bithinia? While Hadrian is considered one of the better Emperors he was a little to Greek for the Roman sensibilities.

Keep in mind he was a grandson of Mark Antony and probably shared the hatred of the Julians for the patricians and senate.

The senate was slowly strangling the republic with their greedy ways - they owned and farmed most land in Italy with slaves, making it near impossible for plebs to farm, forcing them to rely on the bread and circuses lifestyle of the common Romans.

Caligula’s fondness for yoking patrician elites and senators was one of his redeeming qualities - in my book at least.

A bold defense of Caligula. However, Caligula was a Julio-Claudian himself, son of Germanicus and Aggripina the Elder. Neither have any relation to Marc Antony. Not sure if that is typo.

Totally agree with the 2nd paragraph in your comment. But after he fell ill he was literally insane. And by most’s estimation the worst Roman Emperor of the entire Empire. Though I think there are some other contenders.

I’m not sure what “yoking” means but the needless arbitrary blood and death and sleeping with Senator’s wives at dinners, is not a redeeming quality - in my book.

“Octavia the Younger (Latin: Octavia Minor 69/66–11 BC) was the elder sister of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (known also as Octavian), the half-sister of Octavia the Elder, and the fourth wife of Mark Antony. She was also the great-grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, maternal grandmother of the Emperor Claudius, and paternal great-grandmother and maternal great-great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero.”

great omitted for brevity sake

Julius was the “Bald Lecher”
Augustus regularly deflowered virgins for sport.
Tiberius’ villa at Capri was debauchery central.
Mark Anthony - married to Octavia while consort of Cleopatra.

Sulla’s butcheries make Caligula seem tame by comparison.

The history of Caligula was written by those who worshipped Brutus, Cato, Cicero, Cassius, Pompey et al.

In Roman times surrendered soldiers were marched “under the yoke” before being paroled.

It was considered a disgrace worse than death.

Something moderns will never understand.

Thanks for the info. I stand corrected. Keeping up with these family trees is insane. Thanks for the clarification. I actually think Sulla was bloody but it was because of Marius’ ego. And he, like Cincinattus, went home to farm after he cleaned up the mess Marius made. You could call George Washington bloody too, but it was for a good reason. While Caligula on the other hand was an insane murderer, considering the life he lived it is no wonder. Glad I found you Hank, I’ve never met anyone who put up a staunch defense of Caligula. I don’t know how to do ping lists yet. But I prefer to be contradicted on my views. The only way you learn. And you got the juevos to buck 2000 years of consensus. Nice to meet you. I intend on posting about Cincinattus this today, time permitting.

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According to ancient historians such as Suetonius in Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Tiberius indulged in the most morbid sexual perversions in his reclusive gardens on the Island of Capri. Suetonius records disturbing tales of perversity and cruelty, of violent sado-masochism and pederasty, and most of all, extreme paranoia in the diseased emperor's mind. According to Suetonius, he raped very young girls and also enjoyed snapping the necks of boys with his bare hands. While perhaps sensationalized, the stories at least paint a picture of how Tiberius was perceived by the Roman people, and what his impact on the Principate was during his 23 years of rule.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mad emperors of Rome" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Watch the video: Fürchten Lehren Podcast Folge 3: Caligula (August 2022).