Cassius Chaerea: The Man who killed Caligula

By: The Scribe on Monday, July 25, 2011

Iimagef you know your Roman history, you know that Caligula wasn’t exactly the most well loved emperor. Oh sure, in the beginning he was moderate and won the love of the Roman people by building aqueducts and other structures in the city. The crowds called him their baby and their star due to the fact that he was the son of Germanicus.

In the beginning, he won the support of the powerful Praetorian Guard. He gave them bonuses and if there is one thing that professional soldiers like, its extra money. If you were the Emperor, the Praetorian Guard was definitely one group of people you wanted to have on your side. In their earliest days they simply acted as bodyguards for the Emperor. Later, however, the Praetorians decided to get political. They worked with the senate in order to remove Caligula and other emperors from power and were key political players during the Year of the Four Emperors.

Caligula then started to get a swelled head. After all, he was the Emperor, wasn’t he? The people loved him and he was able to make any of his detractors vanish. Many of them were accused of various crimes and were fined in order to get his hands on their estates. He also decided to raise money by auctioning off the lives of the gladiators who fought in the Coliseum. Suddenly, Centurions were told that they had to hand over the spoils that they had acquired during plundering and while on military campaigns. This did not sit well with the Praetorian Guard or the rest of the Roman population.

In the middle of all of this was Cassius Chaerea. He was known for his bravery and skill in battle. He had seen some hard action and was part of the military that managed to subdue a mutiny that popped up on the German frontier following the death of Augustus. Did Caligula honor this soldier for his deeds? No. Instead, he decided to mock Cassius Chaerea’s voice and to call him offensive names. That mockery, combined with Caligula’s increasingly unstable behavior helped Chaerea decide to kill Caligula.

Now, he wasn’t the only one to have planned this. There were quite a few plots that centered on ending Caligula’s life. Over time, the plots slowly melded into one larger plot that involved not only Chaerea but members of the senate, the Equestrians and other members of the Praetorian Guard.

imageOn the 24th of January, 41 CE, Caligula was in a cryptoporticus or underground corridor beneath the palaces on the Palatine Hill. Caligula was speaking with a troupe of young male actors when a group of individuals approached him. That group included Cassius Chaerea. The men surrounded Caligula and began to stab him. It is generally believed that Chaerea struck first. The position in the cryptoporticus made it impossible for Caligula’s loyal bodyguards to reach him in time. Caligula was dead.

After killing the Emperor, the men moved on. They searched out Caligula’s wife, Caesonia and a daughter named Julia Drusilla. Both were killed. They would have killed Caligula’s uncle, Claudius but he had already been spirited away to a Praetorian camp. Claudius later became Emperor of Rome.


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