Caligula - Sex and Sexual Perversions

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Caligula was sexually active from an early age and according to Suetonius had a strong libido which bordered on perversion. Cassius Dio is not nearly as graphical as Suetonius in his biography of Caligula but makes reference to incest, prostitution and adultery along the way. Did Suetonius sensationalize the sex for his own purposes or was it that Suetonius and Cassius Dio were writing biographies at different times in history, noting that Cassius Dio's version would be more contempreneous than Suetonius'. Other's have suggested that the sexual perversions, although they undoubtedly existed, were more of a metaphor for poor government. Called in those days Invective, it was the practice of libelling others and many prominent Romans besides Caligula were tainted by it. Earlier in his career Julius Caesar had applied to him the epithet The Queen of Bithynia. Cicero charges Publius Clodius Pulcher of incest with his sister and also charges Sextus Cloelius with performing cunnilingus on menstruating women (Dom.10.25) Sexual invective was routinely applied to important people (Seneca, Controv. 1.2.23), as if they were “so powerful that…” they were automatically imagined as trespassing all moral boundaries.[1]

Incest is one case in point. Incest was frowned against in Ancient Rome and often charges of incest were made to attack and destabilize a political opponent. Could some of the stories about Caligula be tittle-tattle? Mary Beard thinks so Of course, we can never be sure whether the tales of incest with his sisters are true (it’s hard enough to know what your neighbours get up to in the bedroom; it’s nigh on impossible to know what went on in the Roman imperial bedroom 2,000 years ago [2]. Although, some of the descriptions may have been exaggerated it is possible that he did enjoy sexual relations with his sisters, especially Drusilla and later had his other sisters banished perhaps to hush up the sexual exploits.

We should not forget that, increasingly, Caligula did not see himself like mortal men but that of a divine god. In such a frame of mind he was not subject to the same natural or criminal laws and could point to many examples in mythology where incestuous relationships existed. Even in more contemporary times the Egyptian royal families were rife with inbreeding in order to safeguard the royal Ptolemy lineage falling outside of the family. It also kept potentially warring siblings from murdering each other if they had children as a product of an incestuous sexual relationship.

The pharaohs of Egypt commonly MARRIED their full sister, and the Ptolemies of Egypt continued this custom (Montserrat 1996, 80–105; Ogden 1999). [3] <no wiki>Caligula felt emboldened enough to change the law so he could marry his niece but did not go further.</no wiki>

Maybe politics and history did not play as big a part in his incestuous relationships. Just possibly he had a prediliction for it. It is said that he first had sex with his sister whilst still a boy. In his position he may have had an urge and decided to satisfy it knowing that it was unlikely he would be sanctioned for it. Because of our 21st century sensibilities we find incest morally disagreeable, which may lead us to be very skeptical about his incestuous affairs but in other times we may have accepted it without much deliberation. Nevertheless proof proving or disproving incest is not and could never be available so we can make our own minds up.


  • He took his sister's virginity, Drusilla and was once caught having sex with her by his grandmother Antonia.

It is believed, that he deflowered one of them, Drusilla, before he had assumed the robe of manhood; and was even caught in her embraces by his grandmother Antonia

Incest, although quite abhorrent for most Romans to perform, may have had a quite acceptable political motive. Both Hellenistic monarchs of the Ptolemaic dynasty where marriages between jointly ruling brothers and sisters. At the very least Caligula could use this "fig leaf" reason to excuse his behaviour

We are more likely to believe the adultery, prostitution and homosexuality. Not only do we have similar tales told of other Roman Emperors of which many are based in fact but Suetonious provides names and times of his affairs. Wives would often prostitute themselves with or withour their husband's knowledge to ingratiate themselves with the emperor or at the very least ensure that they did not fall out of favour. For instance, during Nero's reign he sent Otho away and took his wife Poppaea Sabina. Homosexuality is another believable trait. We know (or least we think we know) that the ageing Emperor Galba had a relationship with his man-servant. Why shouldn't a young dillitante like Caligula do otherwise?


  • He continued to have sexual intercourse with his sister when she was married to Cassius Longinus

When she was afterwards married to Cassius Longinus, a man of consular rank, he took her from him, and kept her constantly as if she were his lawful wife.

he ordered the bride to be carried to his own house, but within a few days divorced her

  • With Lollia Paulina who was married to man high ranking Roman in charge of an army. He married her also before divorcing her

Lollia Paulina who was married to a man of consular rank

  • With Caesonia. She willingly partook in an adulterous affair although married on account of her voracious sexual appetite

He loved with a most passionate and constant affection Caesonia, who was neither handsome nor young; and was besides the mother of three daughters by another man; but a wanton of unbounded lasciviousness

  • He regularly invited males colleagues and their wives to dinner. He would have them parade in front of him and at leisure choose which wives to defile. Upon returning back with a woman after intercourse he would then humiliate the husband and wife with comments about how well or badly the wives performed the sexual acts.

Afterwards, as often as he was in the humour, he would quit the room, send for her he liked best, and in a short time return with marks of recent disorder about them. He would then commend or disparage her in the presence of the company, recounting the charms or defects of her person and behaviour in private


  • Caligula prostituted his sisters to his catamites (young homosexual lovers)

rest of his sisters he did not treat with so much fondness or regard; but frequently prostituted them to his catamites.

  • Caligula sough the company of a prostitute called Pyrallis

sides his incest with his sisters, and his notorious passion for Pyrallis, the prostitute...


  • In reference to prostituing his sisters it is said that he offered them to his catamites (young homsoexual lovers)

rest of his sisters he did not treat with so much fondness or regard; but frequently prostituted them to his catamites.

He is said to have been inflamed with an unnatural passion for Marcus Lepidus Mnester, an actor in pantomimes, and for certain hostages; and to have engaged with them in the practice of mutual pollution

  • Caligula also had sexual relations with a young man from a consular family called Valerius Catullus

Valerius Catullus, a young man of a consular family, bawled aloud in public that he had been exhausted by him in that abominable act.

Suetonious' writings are so vivid and so full of gossip we almost want to believe them but his is not a piece of closely written history but rather, sketches of the emperor's such as Caligula that give you the essence of the man not necessarily hand on the bible, strike me down if it's not all true honesty. Also it is written from a historical distance rather than contemporary events.

  1. Sex in the Ancient World from A-Z - J.G. Younger
  3. Sex in the Ancient World from A-Z - J.G. Younger
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