January 24, 41: Caligula is assassinated.
Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, nicknamed “Caligula”, succeeded his moody great-uncle Tiberius as Roman Emperor in the year 37 AD. He was, at first, a popular ruler (mostly thanks to the popularity of his father), but Caligula soon proved himself an extravagant spender, in stark contrast to his predecessor, and unstable; contemporary accounts list among the many scandals associated with his name his attempt to appoint his horse to the Senate, his casual torture and execution of those who displeased him, and his supposed incestuous encounters with his sisters. Caligula’s decadence, cruelty, heavy spending, laughable military campaigns, and heavy taxation transformed him from a popular young emperor into a hated tyrant.
During a sporting event, a member of Caligula’s own Praetorian Guard, Cassius Chaerea, led a group of officers to corner the emperor and assassinate him in a premeditated conspiracy that probably directly involved members of the Senate. Cassius attacked first, and he and the assassins stabbed Caligula around thirty times. According to legend (and artistic depictions), the assassins found Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, hiding in a curtain and proclaimed this pliant, infirm, and most unlikely of men Roman emperor. Hours later, Caligula’s wife, Milonia Caesonia, was killed along with their fiery-tempered infant daughter, Julia Drusilla, whose head was dashed against a wall.
After becoming emperor, Claudius sentenced Cassius to death, and he was executed soon after Caligula.