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HISTORY

The day Caligula absurdly challenged the mighty god Poseidon

Caligula was so sure he was a deity, he stupidly challenged Poseidon, god of the sea.

There’s an old saying in Spanish that says: “of musician, poet, and madman, we all have a little,” but undoubtedly, there are those who take it very seriously. One of them was the Roman emperor Caligula, known for his strange and hilarious government, whose jokes, laughter, and hedonism led to the ruin of dozens of people, outraging their integrity, and their lives and disturbing the peace of one of the greatest empires in history.

Caligula developed a series of political rules that were controversial, absurd, and humiliating in the year 40 AC in Ancient Rome. The Emperor told those closest to him that he felt he was a God because every night, he had dreams that told him so. His court applauded this assertion, but the rest simply ignored him; even the population made jokes about it.

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When the Emperor realized that he was being taken for a madman, he insisted on increasing the rumor. Then he began to make public appearances dressed as a demi-God. He appeared dressed as Hercules, Mercury, Venus, and Apollo. He would walk the streets or the corridors of his palace totally immersed in his role. In important meetings, he appeared to refer to himself as a God under the name of Jupiter. At first, his court took the fact as a joke and treated him as a deity, but little by little, Caligula seemed to be more convinced that he was indeed a divine being.

He had three temples built dedicated to his figure as a supreme being, two in Rome and one in Miletus. He went out into the streets presenting himself as an envoy of the gods, as a being who had descended to Earth so that humans could enjoy and rejoice in his presence. The inhabitants did not know how to react to such an assertion, so they simply nodded and smiled; others confirmed this fallacy, while some others preferred to ignore him. However, the Emperor was not satisfied with that: he forced them to praise and worship him, or else they would face an awful fate.

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Although other emperors were worshipped as gods by his actions, Caligula went so far as to force the entire population and the senate to compulsively worship him. His actions went so far that one time he foolishly decided to declare war on Poseidon.

According to the historian Suetonius, to demonstrate his power and make his subjects tremble, Caligula decided to declare war on a being out of this world, for no one would wait for a mortal to come along and beat him in a simple battle. The emperor turned against Poseidon, the god of the sea. He hastily gathered his army and formed them into a war position. The soldiers, surprised at what was happening, came to the call of the leader, who let them know the purpose: beat the mighty Poseidon.

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Bewildered, they took the ships and ventured into the most wasteful, strange, and unusual battle ever seen. The local people, knowing that he would fight against the god of the sea, turned out expectantly. Some hoped that Caligula was really a god, others were just going to see him fall into ridicule, and still, others were there to see what kind of ruler they had.

They fought as if the world were coming to an end against the waves, but the sea never reacted. Caligula, then, assumed that Poseidon had fallen before the greatness of the mortal. He happily returned to land, but not before asking his army to bring him hundreds of shells as booty, which he later sent in chests to Rome to adorn his triumph. In this way, the man - the God or the madman - demonstrated once again that power in the wrong hands can be extremely dangerous and decadent, as would happen to him a few years later, when his army conspired against him, causing the relief of all the people.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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