Emperor Gaius Dies
by Jeff Provine
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Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in
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October 16th 37 A.D.,
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the Roman Emperor Gaius died on this
day. According to historian Philo of Alexandria, only months into his
rule, young Emperor Gaius became ill with a terrible fever.
The populace of Rome was driven to public mourning at the dark news of
their beloved new emperor. After years of heavy taxes and harsh discipline
under Tiberius, the young Gaius had been a breath of fresh air.
As soon as he was named emperor, he freed many of Tiberius's captives
accused of treason, gave bonuses to the military, and began reforms
throughout the empire. He was friendly with his family, such as keeping
his oaf uncle Claudius around him despite the man's clear deformities.
Gaius even adopted his former co-heir and grandson of Tiberius, Gemellus,
as his own son.
"Reestablishment of the Republic would have been
popular with the upper classes, but without some serious reforms of the
problems inherent in Roman-style republicanism, eventually they\'d go back
to something like the Principate. " - reader's commentsGaius had
picked up the nickname "Caligula" from his youth following his father in
the German campaigns. He had been given a miniature uniform complete with
armor, and the much-amused troops called him "Little Boots". As he had
come to adulthood, he had shed the nickname, and only those most
disrespectful toward the emperor used it. Instead, the people loved their
emperor. When word of his illness spread, people waited patiently every
morning outside the palace gate for news. Each day, a black flag was hung
to show that he had not yet recovered. Temples were flooded with
sacrifices, and well-wishers picketed the palace holding signs that read,
"Gods, take my life for his!"
Shortly before his death, Gaius proclaimed his sister Drusilla (with whom
there were horrid rumors of incest, but surely only rumors) as heir. When
he succumbed to the fever, Drusilla herself announced to the people and
proclaimed a week of mourning. Temples were closed, the Senate would not
meet, and market days were canceled. During this time, Drusilla worked to
secure her position. Rome had never had an empress or queen, and when the
Senate reconvened, there would be much intrigue against her. Instead, she
pushed political maneuvering so that she would step aside from direct rule
(though inheriting great wealth), which would set up Gemellus as emperor.
The grandson of Tiberius was much lauded, though few knew anything about
him. He had been kept distant from the rest of the highly political
family; his coming of age ceremony had not even been celebrated until he
turned 18, four years after it should have. Gemellus was not much used to
attention and fell on the support of many advisers. They pulled his
attention in many different directions, and it was Drusilla who kept him
most in power. Upon her death of fever, like her brother, in the spring of
38, Gemellus became something of a rubber stamp.
The weak emperor led a push from the Senate for a return to the Republic.
Seneca, one of their leaders, conducted a plan where Gemellus cut back on
the payment of soldiers while Senate bills began to grant bonuses. With
the army's loyalty changed to the Senate, the senators began to strip his
powers, breaking the rule of imperator into the many offices it had been
before Julius and Augustus had collected them. Taxes notoriously increased
to pay for the growing bureaucracy, causing people to wish again for the
rule of the lost Gaius, which caused Gemellus to make a sudden push to
retake power. The political maneuver failed, and Gemellus was stripped of
his final title, the family name Caesar, and made senator in a bill to
reestablish rule by many.
With its focus of power upon internal affairs, the empire began to
disintegrate. Britons remained independent when many in Rome felt a single
campaign could take hold of the whole island. Conquered German barbarians
from the north declared an end to their tribute, and the Senate debated
the issue to death. War in the east allowed the Parthians to march into
Roman Syria, which finally spurred action from the General Titus, son of
General Vespasian who had helped defend the border from Briton raids.
After years of fighting, Titus made great demands on the Roman coffers if
he were to win this war, and the Senate instead opted to sue for peace.
Armenia was granted to the Parthians, and Titus set about building forts
in the east to protect Asia Minor as well as the Judaeans, who had held
close to Rome in fear of Parthian invasion. Over the next few generations,
the Jews would rebel as well, winning their freedom and reestablishing
Rome would decline, breaking off piecemeal as a province became
unprofitable with defense outgrowing taxes and income. Germans expanded
through Europe, as did the Huns, and later Arabs arising from the Middle
East. When the German horde began to encroach into Italy itself, the
Romans turned back to their old system of dictators in time of troubles,
electing the famous Constantine to defend the city. Constantine would
manage to secure the oldest provinces, but much of the rest of the empire
had already fallen. Instead, he consolidated and fortified Italy, which
would remain a united force through the Middle Ages. Because of his
fanatical support of Christianity, it would be dubbed the "Holy Roman
says in reality Caligula survived his illness. His reign would be listed
among the cruelest in human history with him openly mocking the Senate,
torturing innocent citizens, and performing unbelievable acts of violence
toward his own family. His evil would be balanced with generous festivals
and keeping the army well paid, thus loyal. Finally conspiracies would form
against him, succeeding as Cassius Chaerea of the Praetorian Guard stabbed
Caligula for too many insulting nicknames. In the chaos, the soldiers would
elect Claudius, who would prove a competent ruler and secure the rule of
emperor in Rome for centuries. To view guest historian's comments on this
post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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