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Caligula: A Biography Hardcover – September 1, 2011

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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; F First Edition edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520248953
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520248953
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #533,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jared Branch on 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 By Amazon Customer on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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 By Arch Stanton on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Siobhan on February 15, 2015
Format: Hardcover
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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