Caligula was not quite 25 years old when he took power in 37 A.D. At first, his succession was welcomed in Rome: He announced political reforms and recalled all exiles. But in October of 37, a serious illness unhinged Caligula, leading him to spend the remainder of his reign exploring the worst aspects of his nature.
Caligula lavished money on building projects, from the practical (aqueducts and harbors) to the cultural (theaters and temples) to the downright bizarre (requisitioning hundreds of Roman merchant ships to construct a 2-mile floating bridge across the Bay of Bauli so he could spend two days galloping back and forth across it). In 39 and 40 he led military campaigns to the Rhine and the English Channel, where he eschewed battles for theatrical displays, commanding his troops to “plunder the sea” by gathering shells in their helmets).
His relationships with other individuals were turbulent as well. His biographer Suetonius quotes his oft-repeated phrase, “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.” He tormented high-ranking senators by making them run for miles in front of his chariot. He had brazen affairs with the wives of his allies and was rumored to have incestuous relationships with his sisters.
Caligula was tall, pale and so hairy that he made it a capital offense to mention a goat in his presence. He worked to accentuate his natural ugliness by practicing terrifying facial expressions in a mirror. But he literally wallowed in luxury, allegedly rolling around in piles of money and drinking precious pearls dissolved in vinegar. He continued his childhood games of dress-up, donning strange clothing, women’s shoes and lavish accessories and wigs—eager, according to his biographer Cassius Dio, “to appear to be anything rather than a human being and an emperor.”