The short, sordid, and violent life of the notorious Roman emperor some have compared to Donald Trump, a comparison the author explores in his final chapter.
Dando-Collins (The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told, 2017, etc.), who has published often about the ancient world, begins when Caligula (12-41 C.E.) was 2 and marches resolutely and straightforwardly to his assassination in 41, a group stabbing that, as the author points out, reminds us of the Ides of March. Dando-Collins aims at general readers, often employing contemporary allusions, diction, and comparisons (chariot drivers were the “rock stars of their day”), and he pauses occasionally to explain such things as the Roman handshake and wax writing tablets. He also informs us about shipbuilding, the types of legions, and slavery—one of Caligula’s villas had some 250 slaves. Carefully identifying his sources as he proceeds, Dando-Collins tries to come to some resolutions about the questions and controversies about Caligula: Was he mad? Did he enjoy wild orgies? The author believes that he was mostly competent at first (he became emperor at 24), a period of “wise and lauded rule”—but then there was a change, perhaps occasioned by an epidemic? From around Page 75 onward, we learn details about the man that are shocking but not surprising: multiple murders, self-aggrandizement (he ordered a statue of himself be installed in Jerusalem, outraging Jews), paranoia, profound insecurity, and jealousy. The author also discusses Caligula’s travels, his wars (his own legions refused to invade Britain), and the lives and deaths of some prominent New Testament figures, including Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. Dando-Collins argues that Caligula was probably bipolar, and he does see parallels to Trump.
A sturdy but not stylish account of blood, sexual perversion, beheadings, war, intrigue, betrayal, and assassination.