Roman Propaganda techniques and the Story of Emperor Caligula

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By Agha Iqrar Haroon

 “Kill him, kill them all. Nobody shall place two coins for boatman on Senator’s eyes. Let him die without the opportunity of sailing out of this world and return back”.

These words are cited referring to the brutality of Roman Emperor Caligula. The writer of these words was historian Suetonius who said that Caligula was exceptionally ruthless and he showed no mercy even to his deceased opponents. Placing two coins on eyes is a myth of Charon and the deceased had a moral right of having two coins on his eyes in Roman culture because when he would wake up out of the dream of death, he would give one coin to the sailor of life to bring him back to the human world.

Roman Propaganda techniques, Suetonius and Caligula
Roman Propaganda techniques, Suetonius and Caligula

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus is popularly known as “Caligula” who was the third Roman emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. The son of the Roman general Germanicus and granddaughter of Emperor Augustus Agrippina the Elder, Caligula was born into the first ruling family of the Roman Empire, known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

“Caligula” (meaning little soldier’s boot) is known for his constant feuds with the Roman Senate till he was assassinated at the age of 28 years. Historians say that for him, everybody around him was a cheater, liar, and corrupt. He is also known in history for one-sided judicial trials against friends and foes.

Historian Suetonius documented that the habit of Caligula calling everybody corrupt and cheater made his close circle always in trouble but they used to justify his conduct by saying that he is (was) young and mostly under the influence of substance therefore he called his friends and foes cheater otherwise he is (was) a kind-hearted man. When his habit became extremely dangerous then his mentors used to say that he is (was) a patient of Schizophrenia therefore he should be ignored when he has schizophrenia fits of rage (sudden outbursts of anger and aggression). So Suetonius established that Caligula was a drug addict, erratic and patient of Schizophrenia before Suetonius could establish that Caligula was a beast in the human body. Whosoever has an interest in history, philosophy, or sexuality in ancient Rome cannot miss knowing about Caligula— the most hatred ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

The name of Caligula is a byword for incest, homosexuality, barbarism, ruthlessness, sexual perversion, and Schizophrenia. His name is included in the most dangerous Schizophrenic rulers of the world.

A boy who ruled Rome for less than four years (37 to 41 AD) and was killed at the age of 28, has over 16,000 documented folklores and all of them narrate him as a beast with a face of a human. Interestingly, a man who was known to kill everybody he felt important around him left his potential successor Claudius alive to replace him.

Students of history cannot find a single story or citing that can narrate Caligula as a normal human. Readers of Roman history feel that only Caligula was the only perverted beast in Roman society.

Roman that had a free sex society where homosexuality was allowed officially and where incest was common has nobody as morally degenerated as Caligula.

Archeological remains and literature documented about Roman society clearly indicate that Roman religion promoted sexuality as an aspect of prosperity for the state and magic was performed to enhance sexual powers and erotic ideas. Prostitution was legal and pornographic paintings were in high demand. It was considered natural and unremarkable for men to be sexually attracted to teen-aged youths of both sexes, and pederasty was overlooked and even animal sex (bestiality) was accepted in villages.

Students of History fail to find independent data to know the real-life story of Caligula because whatever we find about his life and era is documented during the reign of Claudius— his successor.

History written under Claudius era indicates that relations between Caligula and the Roman Senate were bitter and Caligula through judicial trials killed several senators.

A painstaking exercise in quest of finding the truth about stories of Caligula shows that Historian Suetonius was hired by Roman Senate to write the history of Caesars. His book “The Twelve Caesars” covers the lives of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Reading chapters of this book one can understand that Suetonius made heroes and villains.  Caligula and Nero are villains while Claudius is the top hero for Suetonius.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was hired by Roman emperor Caesar Nerva Trajanus (Trajan) (and then his successor Caesar Traianus Hadrianus –Hadrian) for writing the history of Caesars under the title of “De Vita Caesarum”.

Emperor Trajan made Suetonius as secretary of studies (a kind of Minister for Education and Archives). By pleasing royal families, Suetonius became so strong that he got access to the private lives of princes and queens. He was dismissed by Emperor Hadrian due to his alleged extramarital relations with the wife of Emperor Hadrian– empress Vibia Sabina.

While finding references for barbaric acts of Caligula, Suetonius found Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger who described Caligula as an insane emperor who was self-absorbed, short-tempered, killed on a whim, and indulged in too much spending and sex.

While repeating the earlier stories, the later sources of Suetonius and Cassius Dio accuse Caligula of incest with his sisters, Agrippina, Drusilla, and Livilla, and say he prostituted them to other men and turned the palace into a brothel.

Further study of works and life of Historian Suetonius indicates that he (Suetonius) hired over 10,000 storytellers to spread the stories out of his book “De Vita Caesarum” (history of Caesars). He also asked the emperor to hire over 3,000 painters and dramatists for defaming Nero and Caligula. On his (Suetonius) advice, the emperor did special arrangements to spread the stories of De Vita Caesarum almost everywhere Roman traders used to travel. According to a rough estimate, 90 percent of stories about Nero and Caligula available today in all living languages comes from “De Vita Caesarum”.

The propaganda design of Suetonius indicates he used the theory of “Approximate Truth” and the concept of “Rhetoric” from the Aristotelian Model of Communication. Approximate Truth represents a truth that is not testified 100 percent but is accepted and acknowledges.

While Aristotelian “Rhetoric” was used for defaming Nero and Caligula as corrupt, cheater, barbaric, and whatnot.

“Rhetoric” was used to portray Caligula as sexual manic in paintings, stories, statues, and wall carvings.

Rhetoric had been in use to develop the “Perception of Choice” since Aristotle’s era. Aristotle says that humans perceive an object by receiving its form (eidos) with our sense organs therefore paintings and statues are very important for changing someone’s Perception.  This is the reason that Greek and Roman rulers left thousands of paintings and statues behind that still influence our perceptions about characters of bygone eras. Aristotle says that a house changes from blue to white when acted upon by applying paint, so “perception comes about with being changed and affected. Aristotle treats perception as a case of interaction between two suitable agents: objects capable of acting and capacities capable of being affected. Caligula and Nero are seen what Suetonius wanted us to see in them.

Propaganda writes history.

Central Desk
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