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Myth or Reality: Caligula Horse as Consul (Incitatus)

When we think of mad rulers in history, one of the names that is sure to come out is Caligula Horse. 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 horse, 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 horse plan to name his favorite 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 horse was he really loved 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.

Caligula Horse (Incitatus) – Fact or Fiction?

The claim that Caligula horse planned to name his favorite horse, Incitatus, as consul originates from the works of the historian Suetonius. According to Suetonius, Caligula went to great lengths to pamper Incitatus, providing him with a marble stable, purple blankets, and a collar adorned with gemstones. The story goes that Caligula even invited dignitaries to dine with Incitatus, highlighting the horse’s elevated status. However, modern historians argue that this story might be an exaggeration meant to depict Caligula’s contempt for the Senate. Naming his horse as consul could have been a symbolic act to insult and mock the senatorial class, implying that even an animal could perform their duties better than they could.

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 horse 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 horse may not have been serious about doing this.

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