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3. The Good
About this Lecture
In this lecture, we think about some of the positive aspects of Gaius’ reign, focusing in particular on: (i) his frugality, despite the claims of Suetonius (Gaius 37) and Cassius Dio (59.21) that he spent the 2.7 billion sesterces left by Tiberius in a single year; (ii) the inherent feasibility of his plan to conquer Britain, as shown by Claudius’ (successful) campaign two years later; (iii) his public building works: work on the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus; improvements to the harbour at Rhegium; completion of the Theatre of Pompey; incorporation of the Temple of Castor and Pollux into his palace on the Palatine; the ‘bridge of boats’ at Baiae; (iv) the extent to which the sources agree that the first part of Gaius’ reign represented a period of good rule; (v) his good decisions: adoption of Gemellus; abolition of treason trials; recall of exiles; good appointments in the provinces, e.g. Galba, Petronius; (vi) his amenability to good advice: reverse of policy on Jerusalem; reverse of decision to return elections to the popular comitia; (vii) his commitment to openness and transparency in public business: publication of financial accounts and lifting of censorship; annulment of Tiberius’ will (as opposed to simply supressing it); publication of the lex maiestas on bronze; publication of those condemned in in camera trials.
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.