Rome: Caligula's Assassination Site?

Old Jun 5th, 2005, 01:07 PM
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Rome: Caligula's Assassination Site?

On the Palatine Hill in a cryptoporticus (tunnel) Emperor Caligula was murdered in 41AD.
You can see this cryptoporticus today, it's mentioned in most guidebooks. But exactly where in this underground tunnel this event took place isn't mentioned.
I love to find the exact historical places where major events like these transpired, like Julius Caesar's assassination site or Socrates' prison cell where he drank his hemlock.
I have no prove that this is the exact location that Caligula was assassinated in. But I believe it is the most logical choice (hours on google and historical guidebooks) but you decide .
It will be in 2 parts. Regards, Walter

Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
(AD 12 - AD 41) better known as Caligula. Which was a childhood nickname given to him by his father's troops meaning 'little sandal(s)' although it's usually translated as 'little boots'.
  His great-uncle Emperor Tiberius very likely had his father poisoned and later killed his older brothers and his mother.   Caligula was just a child so he and his sisters were spared. But he knew if he ever gave Tiberius slightest reason to suspect him of vengence, he would be killed. But Caligula only showed an interest in feasts, wine, incest, kinky sex and sadism, all carried out to the extreme.
  And that is how he lived his life until the age of 24 when Tiberius died and he became Emperor.
  The army and the people are overjoyed, they really hated Tiberius and they loved Caligula's father and his family (think JFK in the 60's).   He began his reign as a decent emperor and probably would have gone down in history as one. Except ~6 months into it he became very ill (coma) to the point of death.
  When he finally recovered that which came back from death's door was a total madman, who thought himself a living God and he even had temples built to himself.
  This alone might have eventually got him killed along with blowing thru the Roman treasury on his partying and foolish building projects. But his assassination was basically caused by his preoccuption with sex which caused grave insult to two of the key conspirators.

Caligula had a habit of inviting Senators, aristocrats and their wives to feasts. And in the middle of dining, he would choose one of their wives and take her to a bedroom.   On his return he would comment (pro or con) on her physical traits and her lovemaking ability as part of the dinner conversation. During which the humilated husband and his wife had no choice but to just sit there.
  He had done this to M. Valerius Asiaticus who was a Senator and an ex-Consul. Valerius and 3 other Senators were key players in the assassination.
  But the Senators and others who want Caligula dead have a major problem. The Praetorian Guard. Who are the Imperial bodyguards to the Emperor. Plus to some extent Caligula's seperate but very loyal ($$$) German bodyguards.
  So the emperor has armed military men (Praetorian Guard) around him at all times, whose job it is to protect the emperor's life even at the cost of their own.
  So 'ya think' any emperor in his right mind would want to keep these boys very happy with pay raises, bonuses and respect for their profession. They are proud and brave soldiers who will kill and die for you. But Caligula goes way out of his way to tick them off!
  There are 4 high ranking Praetorian conspirators, three Tribunes (Colonel) and the co-Prefect (General) of the Guard.   One of the Tribunes named Cassius Chaerea is the mastermind of the plot and it is he who will strike the first blow.   Chaerea had a manly military appearance but he had a high or lisply voice. Caligula constantly made fun of him if front of others esp the Guards beneath his command.
  Caligula would call him a girl, a sissy, a weakling and would often choose sexually or love related passwords to be used when he was in command of the watch.
  And on the occasions when Chaerea was required to kiss the Emperor's ring, Caligula would use his finger or fingers to mimic a sex act just to humilate him.
All the conspirators (btw there are a few others involved) need now is a time and place.
 The place they choose is a cryptoporticus (130m tunnel) that connects the Tiberius/Caligula Palace to the 'House of Livia' which is in the 'House of Augustus' complex. These were modest small imperial homes of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia which at this time was a revered site.
  But it seems that after Augustus' death the 'House of Livia' becomes the 'House of Germanicus' (Caligula's father). Caligula is Augustus' great-grandson and Livia his step-great-grandmother who after the death of his parents raises Caligula and his sisters for a short time in this complex.  
  The time is during the multi-day 'Ludi Palatina' which are scenic plays held in the honor of Emperor Augustus. These plays are being held in a large wooden amphitheater on the Palatine Hill.   They choose the day when Ghaerea will be on duty in this cryptoporticus.
  Caligula leaves the amphitheater [afternoon break for a bath & meal] and enters the cryptoporticus with a small entourage, he leaves his German bodyguards at the entrance [It seems the Germans guarded him at the crowded amphitheater but passed on their duties to the Praetorian Guard inside the cryptoporticus to the Palace]. There are conspirators in his entourage and in the tunnel plus the two Tribunes of the Praetorian Guard (Chaerea and Cornelus Sabinus). He stops to talk to some young boys practicing their singing act. Either at that moment or seconds later when he gives the password to Chaerea he is struck by Chaerea's sword or dagger. Chaerea only wants to wound Caligula just so he'll suffer and know he is about to die also for sweetness of revenge. The 1st wound lands either on his jaw or neck & shoulder area.   Caligula's screams echo thru the tunnel as he tries to flee from Chaerea only to be tripped-up and sent sprawling by Sabinus who also stabs him.
  Now the other conspirators fall upon him with their daggers, in their frenzy some are even biting into his flesh (these might have been those who were unarmed and unaware of the plot just getting revenge now that he is dying).
  Caligula has 30 wounds, a few intentionally aimed at his privates by those I assume he had humilated sexually.   Even though he is dead, the honor of administering final 'coup de grace' thrust is given to a man named Aquila, history records his name but not the reason.   During the attack Caligula's 'litter bearers' try to come to his aid using their litter poles as weapons. But to no avail.
 Now the assassins must escape, the German bodyguards are still at the cryptoporticus entrance and will soon enter the tunnel when they hear what has happened. They are loyal to Caligula, he pays them very well, so they must be avoided until things calm down.   The assassins run down the tunnel to the 'House of Livia/Germanicus' and hide there. This is part of the Palace complex and under the Praetorian Guard's control.
  The Germans enter the tunnel and see their Emperor dead. They start killing the assassins that have stayed, the blood on their clothing gives them away. Although one Senator is killed mistakenly because he has blood on his toga either by an earlier animal sacrifice or was just unluckily standing near Caligula when stabbed.   The Germans hold the others in the tunnel and seal off the amphitheater's exits, so no one can escape while they search for other assassins and conspirators.   Finally they realize that with their sugar-daddy Emperor dead they are in a no-win position and stand-down.
 Praetorian Guards enter the palace, Caligula's wife Caesonia is stabbed to death and their young daughter is picked-up and has her head bashed against a wall.
Caligula's uncle Claudius fearing for his life hides behind some curtains in the palace. And like in those old movies his feet stick out betraying his hiding place. He taken to the Praetorian Guard's barracks for a few days.
  Where he wisely tells these soldiers that they are way underpaid and need a big raise plus a nice bonus .   Well the soldiers readily agree and they go down to the Senate House and *TELL* the Senators "We have a new Emperor".   This is the first time the Praetorian Guard have ever done this but it will not be the last.
 Caligula was 28 on Jan 24, 41AD, he ruled for 3yrs and 10 months. His body was secretly taken to villa garden and hastily burned and buried. The garden was haunted by his ghost until his sisters returned from exile and properly cremate him and place his ashes in the 'Tomb of Augustus'.
  And the Palatine Palace where he was murdered, it's claimed that not a night passed without some fearsome apparition appearing. It remained haunted until it was finally destroyed in Nero's Great Fire in 64AD.
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Old Jun 5th, 2005, 01:11 PM
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  Ok now, we know he was murdered in the cryptoporticus but where??? I have posted this question on soc.history.ancient and sci.archaeology with no luck. I have also searched for hours in google with no luck either also nothing in any of my guides and history books.   There are 3 possible entrance locations in this tunnel and I think we can eliminate 2 of them. Mainly by playing detective using info ancient writers have left us and common sense.
Go to;spalace.jpg This mainly shows Domitian's Palace which was built over Nero's Palace but both of these palaces were built after Caligula's death.   Now somewhere in the center of this plan was the 'Area Palatina' which was like the Roman Forum Square, a large open space like today's piazzas. You can see that after the palaces are built the 'Area Palatina' is moved to the left and a forecourt for the palace.   In the older Area Palatina a large wooden amphitheater was built, these were popular before the Colosseum was built. They were big, I recall reading about one collapsing and killing 1000's.   They were used for bloodsports and other entertainment, at the time of Caligula's death the 'Ludi Palatina' (5 days of scenic plays in honor of Augustus) were being performed there.
  Ok see the Cryptoporticus at the bottom of the plan. To the left of it (off screen) is the main Palace (Domus Tiberiana) where Caligula is heading for a mid-day break (meal & bath) from the amphitheater plays.     Notice the ====== section going *up* from the Crytptoporticus, then a space and then this ||||||||||||. The ===== is an offshoot tunnel and the ||||||||| are stairs leading up to ground level.
  That would be the best route for an Emperor leaving the amphitheater and going to the palace. And the ideal location for the assassination.
  Except it was built by Domitian over 50yrs later to connect his new palace to the older palace. So 1 down, 2 to go .
  See how the Cryptoporticus turns at the 'House of Augustus', it ends in ~20m either in the House's Atrium or alongside the House or both.   That house is actually the 'House of Livia' who was Augustus' wife and her house was in the 'House of Augustus' complex.   This house later became the 'House of Germanicus' (Caligula's father) and it is where the assassins hid after the murder.   Ancient writers say they "ran down the cryptoporticus and hid it this house".   Three reasons why I doubt this is the location:
  Caligula would be taking the *long way* around to go from the amphitheater to the palace.
 Why were his litter bearers carrying their poles and not carrying him it his litter from the amphitheater to the cryptoporticus entrance and then to the palace (I'll get into this later)?
  The assassins kill him there and hide in the house that is *right there* and attached to the cryptoporticus??? Just meters from the German bodyguards and witnesses who could betray their hiding place??? It would be better to escape and run thru the tunnel towards the palace putting distance between them and the German bodyguards plus alot more better places to hide. Plus again "they *ran down* the tunnel to the 'House of Germanicus"!
  That entrance just doesn't make sense for the murder site.   Before I go to the 3rd entrance I'd like to say be sure to visit the above location. Where you can see the stairs and a couple of nice sections of the cryptoporticus like this but only from groundlevel.

 The 3rd entrance makes the most sense as the assassination site and this is the section I believe he was murdered in. And the good news is, you can walk into that section.   Go to Now if you enter the Palatine Hill from the Roman Forum this is how you will go using this diagram.
  You will walk-up and past the 'Boog van Titus' (Arch of Titus). Directly in front of you is the ancient road up to the Palatine but this today is an exit only.
  So turn right on that path you see on the diagram. The 2nd and smaller '||' section going up is the main entrance and ticket booth to the Palatine Hill.
  You climb the stairs and at the top is a Renaissance bldg with a garden in front of it. To the left of the garden are stairs leading down to that short left-to-right section of the cryptoporticus (beneath the 'C' in Cryptoporticus). You can also enter it at groundlevel at the left end of the tunnel but this area is still below you. That main ancient road to the Palatine is in a valley between your location and those 2 churches on the diagram (S. Bona.. & S. Seb..).  But the long cryptoporticus section going up & down is closed-off.
  Ok let's put the amphitheater between the 4 and the 6 on the diagram. And the palace is basically in that section from where you entered the Palatine at that Renaissance bldg (shown as 3 small connecting squares "[ ][ ][ ]" on the diagram and as seen from the Forum and extending over to the right.
  So you can plainly see it's the shortest and easiest route plus it is on the main street that leads from the Forum to the Area Palatina.   That entrance would be like a palace backdoor basement entrance leading into the higher main palace complex upstairs.
  Caligula's litter bearers: These are slaves who would live in the palace's slave quarters, almost certainly in the basement.   The litter and it's carrying poles are seperate. The litter has 4 upsidedown U's at each corner. The person enters the litter and the slaves come over and put the poles under the U's to lift it and when exiting the slaves put the litter down and remove the poles. This is so the VIP doesn't have to high-step over them entering and exiting.
  So why were the litter bearers in the cryptoporticus with Caligula carrying their poles which they used to attack the assassins??? How about, there job was done! They carried the Emperor from the amphitheater to the palace's entrance, left the litter at the tunnel entrance and were taking themselves and their poles to the slave's area to await their next assignment. It's a very short distance from the entrance to the stairs leading up to the palace, makes no sense to bring the litter into the cryptoporticus more hassle than it's worth.
  Now the assassins have 3 choices to escape. The entrance where Caligula entered has the German bodyguards outside, not a wise choice .   The other is upstairs into the palace, but it's too close by and you would basically be cornering yourself in that corner of the Hill.   The 3rd is "run down the cryptoporticus" (130m) and hide in the 'House of Germanicus'. Part of the palace complex and guarded by men under your command.
  Also another ancient author hints that those boys practicing singing in the cryptoporticus were in a section *beneath* the palace.
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Old Jun 5th, 2005, 01:36 PM
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Walter, thank you again for another learned historical travelogue.
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Old Jun 5th, 2005, 08:53 PM
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Thank you so much for posting this. Please do more when you can. I have printed this, thanks again!
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Old Jun 6th, 2005, 12:04 AM
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Thank you! This is fascinating. I just saw the marvelous BBC TV series "I Claudius" which portrays this event, and look forward to seeing he tunnel at the Palatine Hill during trip to Rome next month.
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Old Jun 6th, 2005, 05:45 AM
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Walter, this is intriguing. I had such a good time tracking down Socrates' cell in Athens using your directions, and this makes me want to go to Rome to embark on a new treasure hunt.
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Old Jun 6th, 2005, 05:59 AM
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Have read this in great detail, but it seems like you're the sort who'd be interested in tracing the foundation walls of Rome dating back to 753 BC (traditional date of founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus).

Did you see this article from NYT? (May 6)

It's now premium but with luck you can probably find it free somewhere.
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Old Jun 6th, 2005, 06:47 AM
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Very interesting, PL.
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Old Jul 24th, 2005, 07:53 PM
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The crytporticus had to be between the Doumus Augustus and the Domus Tiberiana, by the Clivus? True it is near or below the palace of Domitian, but it may still be the same tunnel or pasageway? Do we know if the whole lower part of Tiberius' and Caligula's palace was torn down? No, it was not, and the cryptoporticus I saw in Rome seemed to be between the hous of Livia coming down from the Domus Tiberiana? There are some minor historians that speak to the Ludi of the period. If you are really interested I can take the time to look it up for you. Great article/comments. I have a website at, it is non-profit and is dedicated to the iconography of Princeps Gaius Caligula.

Joe Geranio
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Old Jul 26th, 2005, 03:17 PM
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Hi Joe, Thanks for responding. I assume seeing it's your 1st post you came across this on a 'google search'?
 If so, thanks again for taking the time to register and respond. Also a very nice website, I saved it for future reference.

Ok, so all we really know for sure is that Caligula left the Games and was killed in the cryptoporticus on his way to the Palace.

<<<"The crytporticus had to be between the Domus Augustus and the Domus Tiberiana, by the Clivus?">>>
 But why does it have to be that section that Caligula was killed in? No ancient writers have pinpointed it nor have modern archaeologists & historians ever proved exactly where the assassination took place.   It could very well be the location though, I always thought it was and tried hard to make it fit in my mind. But as I read more about it there were little clues that made me doubt that location.

But why do we want that location to fit?   Because it is the longest, best preserved, most viewed, with mosiac floor, stairs, skylights and pretty cool looking ? And because it's the one always shown in photos when talking about the assassination and mentioned in guidebooks?

Go back to And follow the Cryptoporticus, at the bottom we have that short left-to-right leg '_I '. It is part of the cryptoporticus and allows entrance & exit from the main street (Clivus Palatinus).   Next the long up & down ' _I ' section and then the right turn at the top which is the other entrance/exit in front of the rectangular 'House of Livia' (I have also read there was an entrance/exit in the atrium of the 'House of Livia').
So we have 2 possible entrances. But where exactly is the arena/stage where the Plays are being held?
The 'Area Palatina' which is a large piazza was generally from (on the map) #3 to #4 to the areas below #9 & #5. And the wooden arena was in that piazza.
If the arena was very near the #3 end it would make sense to use the cryptoporticus in or near the 'House of Livia' (but it would be right in front of the Temple of Apollo & Livia's House).

But if it was below #5? I have read one account saying the "arena was near the Pal". Meaning the small summit called the Palatium which is where #6 is, the other small summit is called the Cermalus in the #1 & #2 area.
  This is why I am interested in the exact location of the arena because I believe it will show which cryptoporticus entrance Caligula possibly used while going to his Palace on the NW corner of the Palatine Hill.

 If the arena is below #5 and he's being carried in a litter, a couple of things interest me.
The distance from that arena location to the Clivus Palatinus entrance and to where the cryptoporticus does that dog-leg '_| ' is ~260m. It's a downhill and a straight 45deg shot. At the entrance get out of the litter and walk into that short cryptoporticus right into the substructure/basement of Caligula's Palace.

Or would they from the arena go 90deg out of the way, to the 'House of Livia', take that short leg and then the long corridor down to the dog-leg. It's ~440m going that route. And why would he be walking into the cryptoporticus and not still in his litter? You could drive a car in the cryptoporticus .
Even if the arena was where #4 is it's still shorter, direct and faster to use the Clivus Palatinus entrance.  

Add the other little things I mentioned in my post like "assassins running down the cryptoporticus", a report saying the choir boys were practicing *below* the Palace which basically is what that Clivus Palatinus section was below, killing the Emperor by or in the House of Livia entrance and then hiding in that same house?, the litter bearers carrying their poles and not the Emperor.

Today Tiberius' and Caligula's Palaces are gone except for the lowest levels still buried. But the cryptoportius is still intact, it still goes from the Palace substructures to the Clivus Palatinus and the 'House of Livia'. So I think it a good bet that Caligula got it in a section that is visible today, wherever that may be .

Once again Joe thanks for taking time to respond. I know you just popped-in here and if you don't respond I'll email this response to you.
 Now do you want to hear my theory about Caligula's Skybridge ? Regards, Walter
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Old Jul 28th, 2005, 06:11 PM
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My Friend Walter!!

In all honesty I agree with you! I doubt very much if the cryptoprticus is the same that was used by Caligula when he was murdered. But I wish it was!

My interest in Caligula is purely iconographical. I am in no way an expert in archaeolgy, have you looked at Lanciani's book on the buildings of Ancient Rome? I find Caligula fascinating for 2 reasons: He ruled for a very short time and his Portraits are very difficult to identify (inscribed bases are very rare with statues, etc.), because of the propaganda of wanting to look like others and there are portraits of his brothers which look very familiar.

Very interesting about the cryptoporticus, I know when I was there I had much second thoughts on it being genuine? If I find something scholarly on the cryptoporticus I will forward it.

Multa Cum Amicitia,

Joe Geranio
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