The Impact of Caligula's Principate on Rome

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Caligula’s brief reign as princeps stripped away the illusion of the Augustan restoration of the republic and exposed the truth of the principate being nothing less than autocratic rule. His reign saw some significant historical changes in the imperial system. He ensured that upon his immediate accession his reign would not model that of his predecessor, a step that secured his popularity. His dutiful display of recovering his mother and brother’s ashes not only served out the purpose of securing the populace’s favour, but also his right to rule. However, Caligula’s behaviour spiralled out of control months later, contributing to the deterioration of his relationship with the senate and the Praetorian Guard, his embarkation of expansionism and change in provincial administration and causing some financial strain resulting from his lavish expenditure.

As the new princeps, Caligula showed real signs of promise when he treated the senate with deference. What Grant calls a ‘cooperative and courteous’ approach, was an essential change that removed the senate from the state of servility that characterised their relationship with Tiberius. Supposedly at the advice of his grandmother Antonia, Gaius attempted to conciliate with the senatorial nobility, through the abolition of the delatores (informers) and maiestas trials that tainted the memory of Tiberius’ reign, as well as recalling senators whom had been exiled. Caligula also became increasingly popular with the Roman populace during the first months of his reign, holding games in honour of family members and to celebrate his accession. He held gladiatorial fights, boxing, plays, chariot races, and beast baiting, even adding an extra day to the Saturnalia (Festival of Saturn), ‘Juvenalis’. Caligula also paid a donativum of 500 Denarii to the Praetorian Guard who were fundamental to his accession, as well as giving generous bonus’ to many other groups and officials around Rome. Cassius Dio comments on Caligula’s...
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