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Gaius (Caligula)

6. Religious Self-Presentation

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In this lecture, we think about Gaius’ religious self-presentation, focusing in particular on: (i) Gaius’ appearances dressed as a range of different gods and goddesses (Cassius Dio 59.26); (ii) his receipt of divine cult in Miletus; (iii) his setting aside of two temples for his worship in Rome itself, and his attempt to incorporate the Temple of Castor and Pollux into a new palace he built for himself on the Palatine; (iv) the extent to which previous and later emperors approached the idea of their own divinity: worship of Augustus’ numen or genius, but not of Augustus himself; the deification of several emperors after their deaths; (v) the possible reasons for Gaius’ self-presentation in this way, including the influence of the model of Hellenistic kingship, where rulers were worshipped as living gods.


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.

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APA style

Nicholls, M. (2022, August 01). Gaius (Caligula) - Religious Self-Presentation [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Gaius (Caligula) – Religious Self-Presentation." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Aug 2022,

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