Caligula occupied the Roman throne for just four years, between 37 and 41 AD. He was the son of the glamorous imperial prince Germanicus (who died in mysterious circumstances in Syria in 19 AD), and spent much of his childhood on military campaigns with his father. Hence his name: although he was born Gaius Caesar Germanicus (and his official title was the Emperor Gaius), the soldiers nicknamed him ‘Caligula’ or ‘Little Boots’, after the mini-military uniform, boots included, in which he used to be dressed – and it stuck. At the death of the elderly Emperor Tiberius, he was eased onto the throne, aged 24, ahead of Tiberius’ natural grandson, who was murdered not long afterwards. The popularity of his father – plus the fact that, through his mother, Agrippina, he was a direct natural descendant of Augustus, the first emperor – provided a convenient veil for what must have been a nasty power struggle, or coup. But another coup soon followed. Four years later Caligula was assassinated, and the throne passed to his uncle Claudius, found, as the story goes, hiding behind a curtain in the palace, so terrified was he in the confusion that followed the murder.

more from Mary Beard at the LRB here.