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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Emperor Caligula and his Horse Incitatus: A Wierd Tale

There are many weird tales that interest us and one of them is about Caligula the Roman emperor.  I first read about Caligula while in college and the man interested me as a maverick emperor and sometimes wonder whether he was sane. Maybe he was and was just like Nero, another emperor who played the fiddle while he had ordered the burning of Rome.
Caligula ruled the Roman empire from 37-41 AD, a good 69 years after the death of Julius Caesar. From all accounts he was a man addicted to orgies with his slaves and queens and women of Rome. He reportedly also committed incest with his sisters. These are famous and have been put on celluloid by Hollywood. I saw the movie in London, as it was banned by the censor board in India.
But there is another fact about Caligula that makes interesting reading and that concerns his horse named Incitatus.  This horse was the love of Caligula and he doted on the animal.  Many historians have brought out that Caligula was so captivated by the horse that he wanted to make him a Consul. Incidentally, a Roman consul was the highest title after the emperor and greatly respected. Many Romans aspired to be Consuls.
Caligula gifted a marble stable to Incitatus and he was fed by a retinue of valets and looked after by the Roman guard. One historian has opined that Caligula would have made his horse a consul, in case he had lived longer. Why did Caligula want to make a horse as a consul? Was he mad ? 
I will hazard a guess that Caligula was an intelligent man and certainly not insane.  He wanted to make the horse a Consul, to put the other senators and Consuls in their proper place and make them realize that were nothing. In a way he wanted to show the Consuls their place.
The legend of the horse and his elevation as a consul is detailed by the historian  Suetonius. He opines that Caligula's murder in 41AD, put an end to his making the horse Incitatus a consul. Another historian  Cassius Dio  mentions that the horse was fed with oats mixed with gold flakes. All in all it's an interesting tale.Reminds me of the Indian ruler Mohammed Bin Tughlaq.