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8. Gaius and the Senate
About this Lecture
In this lecture, we think about why the senate allowed someone as completely appropriate as Gaius to become princeps, focusing in particular on: (i) the view of A. Barrett that the senate were at fault for allowing supreme power to fall into the hands of “a personable but totally inexperienced young man”; (ii) the importance of the senate as a court of opinion, at both Gaius’ accession and his assassination; (iii) the extent to which the senate would have been able to prevent Gaius becoming princeps, even if they had wanted to: the importance of other agents of change beyond the senate, e.g. the army, the praetorian guard, the people of Rome; the lack of credible alternative candidates; and (iv) the strength and stability of the imperial system of government, despite the failings of individual emperors.
In this course, Dr Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the third Roman emperor, Gaius, also known as Caligula. After a brief introductory module, we begin by thinking about the sources for Gaius’ short reign, his family background and the events of his reign itself. In the third module, we think about some of the positive aspects of Gaius’ reign (e.g. his investment in public buildings such as the Aqua Novus and the Theatre of Pompey) before turning in the fourth module to the more negative aspects. In the fifth module, we try to get to the bottom of one of the most infamous moments in Gaius’ reign – his decision to appoint his horse as consul – before turning in the sixth module to explore Gaius’ religious self-presentation, another aspect of his reign which drew heavy criticism in the later sources. In the seventh module, we consider the impact of Gaius’ reign in the provinces, before turning in the eighth module to think about his relationship with the senate, in particular whether the senate should be blamed for handing supreme power to “a personable but totally inexperienced young man” (Barrett 1989, p. xiv). In the ninth module, we consider the end of Gaius’ reign – his assassination and the appointment of his successor, Claudius.
Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.
Cite this Lecture
Nicholls, M. (2022, August 01). Gaius (Caligula) - Gaius and the Senate [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/caligula/gaius-and-the-senate
Nicholls, M. "Gaius (Caligula) – Gaius and the Senate." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Aug 2022, https://massolit.io/courses/caligula/gaius-and-the-senate