Caligula Horse

Myth or Reality: Caligula Named His Horse Consul

When we think of mad rulers in history, one of the names that is sure to come out is Caligula. Compared to his illustrious grandfather, Agustus Ceasar, Caligula’s reign was filled with stories of madness. From sending an army to collect seashells to building a bridge of boats simply to ride across, it seemed like Caligula was ill-equipped to rule the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most bizarre story was his plan to name his favorite horse Incitatus, as consul of Rome. However recent historians have questioned the validity of these claims and raised the question of how true this story is.

Origins of This Claim

Caligula, Emperor of Rome from 37 AD to 41 AD, was the third emperor of Rome and the Julio-Clouian dynasty. Being the grandson of Ceasar Agustus the founder of the Roman Empire, his reign with promise but quickly descended into tyranny and madness. He exhibited extravagant spending, declared himself a god, and engaged in perverse behavior. His rule was marked by cruelty, paranoia, and erratic decisions, ultimately leading to his assassination by his guards.

In particular, he was hated by the senate whom he refused to grant the customary honors and began promoting men of non-senatorial rank to positions of power. This angered the Senate and the many historians who were under their employment.

These men began writing countless claims about Caligula, talking about his madness, violence, and fool-hardy decisions. While some of these were undoubtedly true, others were exaggerations or outright fantasies. One example of this was Caligula’s plans to name his favorite horse, Incitatus as consul.

This story came from the historian Suetonius, in the Lives of the Twelve Caesars. He said that Caligula took this seriously and he would invite dignitaries to dine with Incitatus in his own house which was complete with servants and banqueting halls. Caligula loved his horse so much that he gave him a stable of marble, purple blankets (purple is the color of royalty in Rome), and a collar studded with gemstones.

Many pointed to this as evidence of how insane Caligula was at the height of his rule, but some people have taken a new view of this and believe the story is an exaggeration. Caligula indeed lavished gifts upon Incitatus, but this was more akin to how people today shower their pets with gifts.

As for the claim that he wanted Incitatus to become a consul, it seems like this was not meant to be taken literally. At the time, Caligula hated the senate and often looked for ways to mock and insult them. His plan to name his horse consul, a position normally reserved for senators, may have been his way to demean them, saying that his horse was more capable of doing their jobs than them.

Alternatively, he might have also been using this as a way to flex his power. In the days of the Republic, being a consul was like being elected president and having many responsibilities and privileges. With the Roman Empire, the position became entirely ceremonial. Naming Incitatus a consul may have been Caligula’s way of showing that and saying that the senate had no power.

Perhaps most importantly, we have a list of consuls at the time and Incitatus was never mentioned, showing that Caligula may not have been serious about doing this.

Caligula Incitatus

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