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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 1: Emperor Caligula--Bankrupting Rome By Appointing Your Horse Senator

00:00 46:22
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When Salvador Dali set out to paint a depiction of the infamous Roman Emperor Caligula in 1971, he chose to depict the thing nearest and dearest to the emperor's heart: his favorite racehorse, Incitatus. The painting “Le Cheval de Caligula” shows the pampered pony in all his royal glory. It is wearing a bejeweled crown and clothed in purple blankets and a collar of precious stones. While the gaudy clothing of the horse is historically correct, the Spanish surrealist artist managed perhaps for the only time to understate the strangeness of his subject matter.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Caligula) was born in 12 A.D. and reigned from 37-41. He was the first emperor with no memory of the pre-Augustan era, that is, before emperors were deified—and had no compunction about being worshipped as a god. As the object of a cultus, the boy emperor believed in his own semi-divine status and saw no reason not to follow whatever strange desire entered his mind, such as treating his horse better than royalty. The Roman historian Suetonius writes that he gave the horse eighteen servants, a marble stable, an ivory manger, and rich red robes. He demanded that it be fed oats mixed with flex of gold and wine delivered in fine goblets. Dignitaries bowed and tolerated Incitatus as a guest of honor at banquets. Caligula repeatedly mocked the system of imperial decorum in Roman upper crust society in incidents such as these. His actions led to his violent death at the hands of political rivals.
May 14, 2020
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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