Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Little Boots"

Caligula, AE As, 28mm (11.75 gm). Rome mint, struck AD 37-38.

Bare head left, C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT / Vesta, veiled, draped, seated left on throne with ornamental back and legs, holding patera in right hand and long transverse sceptre in left; VESTA above, S-C to left and right. RIC I 38 (pg. 111); BMCRE I 46 (pg. 154).

Gaius, better known as Caligula, is best known to history as one of Rome's most eccentric and maniacal emperors. Michael Grant, in the Introduction to his, The Twelve Caesars, states that "Those dozen men were a fabulous series, the theme of countless legends." Caligula, no doubt, features in many of the more sensational of these legends!

Gaius and his mother accompanied his father, Germanicus, while he was stationed with the Rhine legions on the German frontier. It was during this time that Gaius was dubbed 'Caligula'. This nickname was given young Gaius when he was between the ages of 2 and 4 because he wore a miniature version of the same military boots, or caligae, that the soldiers wore. Tacitus, in his Annals I.1, wrote: "There was also her little son, born in camp and bred the playmate of the legions; whom soldier-like they had dubbed 'Bootkins' because, as an appeal to the fancy of the rank and file, he generally wore the footgear of that name."

Suetonius, in his De Vita Caesarum ("Lives of the Caesars"), wrote: "He was sound neither of body nor mind." This unstable mental state was the source of Gaius' legendary exploits. Stories of incest with his sisters, opening a brothel in the imperial palace to raise much needed money, claims of divinity and other bizzare behavior paint the history we all remember about this, Rome's third emperor.

It is this 'history' that draws our fascination. And, owning a coin of this fascinating character allows a tangible connection with that history.

Locating a coin of Caligula that I would welcome into my collection taught me patience. While asses such as this issue are relatively common, those worthy of his prominence and notoriety are not. The great thing about his hobby, though, is that there are so many other coins to collect while waiting for that one example to surface!

One of the features I like best about this coin is the portrait of Caligula. It follows the Julio-Claudian formula for portraiture, but also manages to provide a glimpse into the tortured soul of lost innocence. Though my primary collecting focus is the coinage of Domitian, this is without a doubt, my favorite coin! Can you tell?!

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