Was Caligula, the Roman Emperor, popular with the general Roman population after his illness a few months into his reign?

  • What answer do you expect? There was no elections, and the results of opinion polls did not survive.
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 22:35
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    @Alex the idea that popular opinion could not be expressed or gauged outside polls is a modern Western fiction. In Caligula's case, at least before his illness, he was extremely popular, as evidenced by public jubilation and the observations of contemporary historians. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 1:34
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    @congusongus: Is Kim Il-sung popular in N Korea? Was Stalin popular in Soviet Union? Judging by "public jubilations" they are/were. Also according to some "contemporary historians".
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 5:02
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    @Alex yes, yes they were. In Kim Il-sung's case, extremely popular. Granted, the popularity was largely a product of coercion but that's a separate issue. Again, you seem to have conflated democracy with the concept of popularity. The definition of popularity is whether a lot of people like you, and people outside democracies can hold opinions too. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 6:01

1 Answer 1


When Caligula first became emperor, he was very popular with the people because he reduced taxes and instituted a few public reforms. After his illness, however, Caligula became increasingly paranoid and started to kill off those around him. He also began throwing lavish parties at his palace, and used up all the money in the Treasury in the process.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula#Early_reign

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    Thanks for the response. I know that he was popular before his illness. Can you find any information about his actual popularity after his illness though? The actions that you have described may well have made people close to him (especially politically) dislike him but I do not know whether knowledge of these actions reached the general Roman population...
    – LJD200
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 16:28
  • The only surviving contemporary sources are from Philo and Seneca, but they only briefly mention Caligula. But it was a pretty well-known fact that he liked to host lavish parties and waste money. Of course, like nearly all empires, the common people couldn't speak out against the emperor or they would get themselves killed.
    – Ducks
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 14:38
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    There's no strong reason to doubt the general outline of Caligula's rise and fall, but it is critical to remember that all our surviving sources are from the Senatorial class (including their dependents). This was the aristocracy, and had a point of view that sometimes diverged greatly from that of the man-in-the-street. E.g., Caligula's killings were concentrated among the political types and the wealthy. This is very unpopular with them, but not necessarily so with the populace in general.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 15:25

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