Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is it or is it not Caligula?

This is pretty cool:
Officials on Tuesday unveiled a massive statue believed to be that of Roman emperor Caligula sitting on a throne and said it came from an illegal dig south of Rome that may have been the site of one of his palaces.
The statue, which had been broken in several large pieces and a head, was first found last January when Finance Police stopped it from being smuggled out of the country by boat at a port near Rome.
The statue, now cleaned of the earth that had covered it for 2,000 years, shows parts of a robed man sitting on an elaborate throne like the Greek god Zeus.
Significantly, it shows a man wearing a "caliga," shoes worn by Roman legionaries and from where the emperor got the name by which he is known. His real name was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.
Caligula, who reigned from 37 to 41 A.D., has gone down in history as a crazed and power-hungry sex maniac who demanded that his horse, Incitatus, be made a consul.
He was far worse than that.  Caius or Caligula (I noticed when I was in Italy that they are very careful to refer to him by his given name "Caius," listing "Caligula" afterwards.) was mentally deranged, the reasons for which remain under dispute.  He was thug who had murders committed both for sport and for monetary gain, to refill imperial coffers that he had depleted.  He had a loyal ally, King Ptolemy of Mauretania (descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt) executed because he was jealous of his cloak, causing a major rebellion in Mauretania.

Caius' damaging reign ended only when the Praetorian Guard and the Senate, bothsic of and horrified by his antics, successfully conspired to have him assasinated. While Caius' murder was necesary for the good of the Empire, the results were messy, both literally and figuratively. But I digress.

There do seem to be questions as to whether this statue is actually of Caius.  RogueClassicist suggests that this may be of one Caius Julius Silanus, who is identified with the statute, supposedly as a "first owner."  Rogue Classicist notes that the Julii Silanii (same clan as the famous Julius Caesar but different family) were prominent in the late Republic and early Empire.

I must agree with RogueClassicist inasmuch as the basis for the identification as Caius/Caligula -- the caligae -- is a fairly thin reed.  Caius was among the first to impose worship of the emperor on the Roman people.  But there are usually indices in the artwork that the emperor or some other public figure was considered divine, which, admittedly, is not the same thing as being worshipped.  Many statues of Octavius Caesar Augustus, for example, show him in full body armor but barefoot.  In the ancient world, lack of shoes was often a sign of divinity. 

In that context, its odd that an emperor who required his subjects to worship him would allow a statue suggesting he was not worthy of that worship.

In any case, this is an interesting find.

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