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Caligula: A Biography [Kindle Edition]

Aloys Winterling , Deborah Lucas Schneider , Glenn W. Most , Paul Psoinos
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The infamous emperor Caligula ruled Rome from A.D. 37 to 41 as a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. An exceptionally smart and cruelly witty man, Caligula made his contemporaries worship him as a god. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered in gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and committed incest with his sisters. He wanted to make his horse a consul. Torture and executions were the order of the day. Both modern and ancient interpretations have concluded from this alleged evidence that Caligula was insane. But was he?

This biography tells a different story of the well-known emperor. In a deft account written for a general audience, Aloys Winterling opens a new perspective on the man and his times. Basing Caligula on a thorough new assessment of the ancient sources, he sets the emperor's story into the context of the political system and the changing relations between the senate and the emperor during Caligula's time and finds a new rationality explaining his notorious brutality.

Editorial Reviews


“Seeks to rehabilitate one of the most infamous Roman emperors, commonly believed to have been deranged.”
(New Yorker 2012-01-09)

“A persuasive new Caligula emerges from this elegant revision: not mad at all, but just as bad and dangerous to know.”
(Maclean’s 2011-10-12)

“In this lively biography of Rome’s infamous third emperor, readers will not find the wild-eyed dictator . . . but a thoughtful argument for his sanity.”
(Publishers Weekly 2011-05-30)

“A revisionist take on the man.”
(Library Journal 2011-11-18)

“An eloquent and compelling study of Roman imperial history, and especially of the difficult relations between the imperial monarch and the traditional aristocracy.”
(London Review Of Books 2012-04-26)

“Presents Roman emperor Caligula in a new light.”
(Booklist 2011-06-01)

“No Roman emperor cries out more obviously for redemption, but Aloys Winterling’s Caligula, a calm reassessment of his reign, avoids revisionist whitewashing and takes the residue of hatred as inescapable.”
(Cathnews Perspectives 2012-09-14)

“Makes it clear that the behavior of the third emperor were the acts of a diffident, slightly paranoid youth, who lacked the patience that the most quarrelsome and important of his subjects required.”
(The New Criterion 2011-09-06)

“A worthy study, which covers significant aspects of Caligula’s reign and provides some new interpretations on this fascinating subject.”
(Geoff W. Adams Ancient History Bulletin 2012-09-01)

“Winterling has produced an innovative biography which takes a novel approach to interpreting the historiography of Caligula’s reign.”
(Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR) 2012-04-10)

“[Winterling] gives us a biography that brings the man and his times to life.”
(History 2012-10-01)

“Accessible and graceful. . . . Highly recommended.”
(Choice 2011-12-01)

From the Inside Flap

“Caligula enjoys a reputation as one of the most brutal and tyrannical Roman emperors. In this accessible narrative of Caligula’s life, Winterling uses his deep knowledge of Roman society and the imperial court to investigate why contemporaries chose to assassinate Caligula’s reputation as well as his person. Caligula emerges here as rather less insane, if no less loathsome, than his posthumous reputation made him out to be.”

—Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, author of Rome’s Cultural Revolution

Product Details

  • File Size: 1437 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,656 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Caligula: A Biography April 15, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In his newest book, Aloys Winterling argues against the claim of "imperial madness" leveled against Caligula by Suetonius, Seneca, Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, Flavius Josephus, Tacitus, and Cassios Dio by revealing their inaccuracies and inconsistencies and concluding these ancient historians pursued the "clearly recognizable goal of depicting the emperor as an irrational monster" by providing "demonstrably false information to support this picture of him and omit information that could contradict it."

As its history had shown, the idea of a monarch in Rome was anathema and, in order to be one, Augustus had to pretend at something he was not. Because the "Principate died with the princeps," each new ruler had to be proclaimed emperor by the army and confirmed by the senate. Inherent within Roman society and the system established by Augustus were familial rivalries that often involved groups of aristocrats and devolved into conspiracies. Tiberius "failed to manage the paradoxical situation" that Augustus had established - a monarchy overseeing a senatorial body without any real power - and Caligula was born into a world that "could not have been less suited to fostering humanity," full of intrigues and political machinations that left both his mother and brother dead.

Winterling uses only ancient sources and, while digging deep to reveal the inaccuracies in Caligula's story, he accepts at face value all of the horrors perpetrated by Tiberius. While I can allow the conclusions he reaches with Caligula, I find his treatment of Tiberius lacking, especially given that he establishes Caligula's cruelty as an outgrowth of the inhospitable nature of Tiberius's regime.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating new look at a possibly not-so-mad emperor January 21, 2012
A scholarly but interestingly new approach to a fascinating topic, this accessibly written book is thought-provoking and paradigm-changing. The author's unique theory, that Caligula was not insane but painted that way by historians and others who were burnt by his disregard for established aristocratic niceties, is convincingly argued and ultimately intriguing. Highly recommended!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strictly No-Nonsense Narrative History March 2, 2012
I rather liked this book, though it has its limitations. It sets out to be a strictly narrative history of the reign of Caligula. There is no room here for discussions of the state apparatus or social problems. This is just a straight biography of Caligula's career. The kind that was written by every ancient historian. This is the sort of book that isn't written anymore, and it's very interesting to see someone attempt it.

This book sets off with one major goal: to show that the Emperor Caligula was not insane. In doing this it goes against all of the sources, who are highly polemical and not very picky about accusations of insanity. Towards this end it features a good deal of questioning of sources. Earlier sources get greater credibility while the later ones who report the more outrageous stories are shown to be contradicted by contemporary writers. Since everybody hated Caligula, the earlier writers would have reported every last bit of slander. If he truly had been sleeping with his sisters then somebody would have mentioned it before Suetonius. After all, Tacitus considers one of them willing to sleep with her son Nero, so why wouldn't he say the same of her brother? The only problem with this approach is that it spends so much time deconstructing the madness myth that it neglects to put anything else in its place. Perhaps there is no getting around that and his true personality is lost forever, but it would have been nice to see more of an attempt.

The use of sources in this book is rather simple. It is almost entirely an interpretation of the original sources. Very little is added in from more recent scholars. It is easy to see why he did this considering his goal, but it is unfortunate that he never accesses more recent scholarship.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, though brief February 15, 2015
By Siobhan
Winterling's Caligula is more of a long essay than a biography. His goal is to prove that the eponymous emperor wasn't insane, but rather rational and indeed quite clever. At this, he succeeds admirably, thought not without controversy. A general overview of Caligula's reign, however, this is not: Caligula is short and selective in content. If you're only going to read one book on early Imperial history, this shouldn't be it.

Winterling's argument hinges on a highly nuanced reading of the few sources we have from the period, all of whom were unreliable and had incentives to obscure pieces of the story. Ultimately, I think it's impossible to know for sure that he gets it right: we simply lack the requisite information. But his interpretation is well-written, original, and makes a lot more sense to me than other characterizations of Caligula I've read, which generally posit that he managed to survive six years at the vicious and intrigue-filled Tiberian court (which destroyed his mother and two brothers) and another five on the imperial throne despite complete mental incompetence.

Winterling comes to the subject with immense knowledge of the culture and sources. As a result, Caligula is both an exemplary work of original scholarship and a window onto the bizarrely fascinating world of the Roman aristocracy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
Published 3 months ago by DAVE
5.0 out of 5 stars Caligula, history and personality
Caligula was not, as generally considered, insane but an intelligent, though cruel, administrator and politician. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Gderf
5.0 out of 5 stars Redefining a Tyrant in context of his times...
The extant history of Caligula is a short list of infamous deeds. This book creates a plausible and highly readable account of events based upon the context of Roman society and... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mike Dobran
5.0 out of 5 stars Offer a different point of view
Overall, I thought this was a very good book and offered a different point of view of Caligula. For example, he wasn't a mad man and all of his actions were done on purpose to... Read more
Published 13 months ago by P. Greco
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart Read
I read a good bit in this area and the author makes a compelling case. I have always been troubled by the portrayal of Caligula in other books, both fiction and history. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Thomas Vaughn
4.0 out of 5 stars Caligua not mad
Very interesting book. Examines Roman political culture and inconsistencies in historical texts to build arguments Caligua was not as "mad" (mentally ill) as classic historians... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Marc Thibault
4.0 out of 5 stars A new approach towards the supposed Caligula's madness.
A quite interesting reading for those who like Roman history. In a very well fundamented narrative, Mr Winterling develops the idea that, nonetheless a cruel despot as other Roman... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Roberto Tadeu D. Almeida
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff
If you've heard any of the stories painting Caligula as nothing but a sadistic lunatic (maybe the one about him making his favorite horse a senator or the one where he marches his... Read more
Published on October 8, 2012 by Tyler
4.0 out of 5 stars Caligula Unmaligned
The advent of the History Channel's Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror underscored the need for well-considered biographies of the emperor Gaius such as the book from Aloys Winterling. Read more
Published on October 5, 2012 by David A. Wend
4.0 out of 5 stars `He had held up a mirror to the Roman aristocracy and showed them the...
Gaius Caesar Germanicus, the Emperor Gaius, is known to many of us as the mad emperor Caligula (a childhood nickname meaning `little boots'), who ruled Rome from 37 to 41 CE. Read more
Published on July 8, 2012 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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