Having assumed the reins of government, the young emperor [Gaius Caesar (Caligula)] was initially for everyone an unknown, still mysterious figure. To be sure, all kinds of speculations had been circulating about him during the previous years, both favorable and unfavorable; some, we may assume, appreciated the fact that, in order to hold his own under such difficult circumstances, he had to be made of some very tough stuff; some may have feared his willfulness, the penchant for abusing such great power, the influence of his own immature ideas, and many tales could be told about a brutality that had emerged early on; above all, however, what predominated was surely the notion that, in his young years, he would be easily receptive to outside influences; there was reason to believe that the authority of the all-powerful Prefect of the Guard would initially grow even greater; after all, the young emperor, as all the world claimed, was beholden to him to a very special degree! (8)
Of all the things one had reason to fear and expect, what actually happened was well nigh the opposite. The leading statesman [Naevius Sutorius Macro] seems to have fallen into disfavor very soon, his influence receded completely, and the emperor himself took the reins of government into his hands and straightaway began his own regime. The people cheered him (9); for when power changed hands a kind of liberation coursed through all circles, an era of reforms seemed to commence, and to open for itself a path for liberal ideas (10).
These are the promising beginnings of Caligula, who, as the son of Germanicus – sacrificed too soon – and Agrippina, succeeded his great-uncle Tiberius in the year 37 A.D., and who then amazed the world with his behavior.
It has already been mentioned that Macro, who, by the end of Tiberius’ reign had risen to an all-powerful minister and commander of the praetorians, and by whose hand Caligula had in fact risen to the throne, seems to have been pushed aside very quickly. This emancipation of the young emperor appeared at the same time to amount to a change in the principles of government (11). Old demands by the liberal elements were fulfilled. Above all, political life was once again allowed greater freedom. Caligula seemed to be serious about observing certain constitutional forms that had decayed under Tiberius; when it came to determining the budget and military spending, he seemed to accord public opinion greater influence (12); the free voting rights of the popular comitia
(8) Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 6. Suetonius 12. Dio Cassius 58.28; 59.10. Tacitus, Annales 6.56.
(9) Suetonius, Tiberius 75, Caligula 13. Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 2; 6.
(10) Dio Cassius 59.3: [ . . . ].
(11) Ranke, in his Weltgeschichte 3, p. 91, also believes that the removal of the prefect Macro, which caused such a sensation in the world, seemed to amount to a change in the system.
(12) Suetonius 16. Dio Cassius 59.9.