Today's elections aren't the only political events with their fair share of nutty candidates. There were plenty of weird ancient rulers who pretty much had a monopoly on odd behavior, ranging from endearing quirks to more unfortunate personality problems, and often, simply being insane. Whether that meant sleeping with one’s own mother and then assassinating her after a series of unsuccessful attempts to do so or reinventing an entire country’s millennia-old religious system, these crazy ancient rulers weren’t afraid to indulge their whims.
Perhaps the most eccentric bunch of them all was the Roman emperors. There’s the uber-creepy Tiberius, a decent soldier turned weird pedophile who built a sex grotto on the island of Capri. Caligula (or, as he was properly known, Gaius; “Caligula” was a childhood nickname meaning “little boots”) planned on making his horse, Incitatus, a consul and gave him an ivory manger; he also seduced his sister, Drusilla. And then there’s dear old Commodus, he of Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator fame, who loved prancing about the arena and killing people.
Whatever your form of crazy, vote up the most insane ancient rulers here!
- Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (14-37 CE)
- Crazy Cred: The second emperor to ever rule Rome, Tiberius, stepson of Augustus, didn't improve the Julio-Claudians' reputation. Tiberius "trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles," said Suetonius. Tiberius even ordered babies to give him blow jobs. He organized secret orgies at his private residence on the island of Capri, arranging teams of "experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists" to have sex in front of him, according to Suetonius.
There, Tiberius built an erotic library so that visiting sex slaves could learn more positions. He also built a garden with little nooks where boys dressed as Pan and girls dressed as nymphs could get it on. Once when he was attending a sacrifice, Tiberius got really hot from staring at the sexy young flute player. After the ceremony, he raped both the musician and his brother. Then, when they complained about it, he broke their legs!
Tiberius also didn't mind murdering a few rivals, especially when aided by his lackey Sejanus. Among his victims were Priscus, a fellow who liked writing poems about the imperial family, and perhaps even his stepson Postumus, his chief rival for the imperial throne.
- Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (180-192 CE)
- Crazy Cred: Best known as the insane young emperor from Gladiator, Commodus was truly nuts and loved killing people. He once faked a plot against his own life so he could have an excuse to kill a bunch of his enemies, according to the Historia Augusta. Commodus loved pretending to be a gladiator and killing wild beasts in the amphitheater, even desiring to be a charioteer. Once, Commodus said he was going to war in Africa so he'd get a lot of funds; then, he used them on games.
In terms of religion and dealing with others, Commodus didn't stick to the traditional rites. He shaved his head like an Egyptian priest, ordered priests of the Roman goddess Bellona to chop off one of their arms, and carried around a club to smack people with. But he was also impious when it came to basic manners: He stuck a bird on a balding guy's head, and the critter pecked the man's scalp bloody, thinking the few remaining hairs were worms. Commodus cut a fat guy open so his intestines would spill out, made a guy with a giant penis a prominent priest, and made one of his premier officials dance naked in public.
- Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (37-41 CE)
- Crazy Cred: Where to start? Perhaps with the childhood sicknesses or love potion that supposedly drove him mad? Or with the most famous rumor of all: Caligula didn't make his horse a consul, but rumor has it he promised to do so. He invited his steed Incitatus to dinner regularly, too, and gave him tons of servants to muck out his stall and comb his forelock. Oh, and an ivory manger, along with tons of other goodies. He even built a floating bridge across the Bay of Naples and rode across it in a chariot.
Already ugly, Caligula forbade any mention of goats in his presence because he was so hairy. But he did fall in love with handsome actors; when his favorite pantomime, Mnester, was performing, Caligula would smack anyone who interrupted. Yet when he didn't like a slightly wounded gladiator, "he had the place rubbed with a poison which he henceforth called 'Columbinum'; at least that name was found included in his list of poisons." Rumor has it that Caligula also poisoned his brother and drove his father-in-law to suicide.
Some ancient accounts claim Caligula committed incest with his sister Drusilla, Suetonius noted. No evidence suggested, though, that he got Drusilla pregnant and ate her baby (though Caligula's only child by a later wife, aptly named Julia Drusilla, bit her little friends: just like Dad!) He eventually turned on all his surviving female relatives, putting his sisters on an isolated island. Cassius Dio reported, "Many who were guilty of great crimes he neglected to punish, and many who had not even incurred any suspicion of wrong-doing he slew."
- Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (54-68 CE)
- Crazy Cred: Nero may not have fiddled while Rome burned in 64 CE (in fact, he was miles away when it happened and later organized firefighting efforts), but he was a pretty reprehensible guy nonetheless. He was famous for his love-hate relationship with his mother, Agrippina, perhaps having sex with her and very probably murdering her. Nero also reportedly tortured early Christians, throwing them to the dogs to be torn apart or burning them alive to be human lamps.
When looking to off his enemies, including any who badmouthed him, Nero enlisted the help of ancient Rome's consummate poisoner, Locusta. She was convicted of murder under Nero's predecessor, Claudius, but Nero granted her a stay of execution in exchanging for helping him murder his cousin/stepbrother and rival heir, Britannicus, at a banquet. As Nero's pet poisoner, Locusta was allowed to test her concoctions on people and animals as much as she liked, even starting a school for aspiring poisoners.