Palatine Hill's Cryptoporticus Now Open and Caligula's Assassination

by Walter Muzzy, June 3, 2006 (original post)

Except for possibly the outdoor wooden theater location all the other *LOCATIONS ARE WRONG* I've learned, so just go with the story when you are on the Hill. However a few years ago archaeologists claim they found this cryptoporticus? It runs East from the Houses of Livia/Augustus rather that the North/south cryptoporticus I wrongly used based on 1800's excavation claims. - Walter

This Palatine Hill Cryptoporticus has recently opened (Spring '06 or earlier) after being closed for many years.

It seems to be generally accepted/believed this is the cryptoporticus that Caligula was assassinated in.

In my opinion, everything fits perfectly and it is the only possibility in that timeframe. I love to stand in locations like this and play out major historical events in my mind that happened about 2000 years ago. *But* I am only happy doing this if I know the exact location that these events took place, this cryptoporticus is 130 m long. But there is no ancient plaque or 'X' on the floor marking this location. Or any books, papers, diagrams, etc by historians or archaeologists that I have found saying where the actual assassination took place. I have also posted this question on history and archaeology Newsgroups with no luck.

I have an advantage though, I have no academic reputation to tarnish and I doubt the other truck drivers will ostracize me if I am wrong :-) . I've spent hours searching the net and reading a few history books. And these sources have given a lot of clues mainly from the ancient writers about this location. With these clues and just common sense as there are only two possible locations in this cryptoporticus :-) it really seems to be in my opinion a certainty where these events took place. But bottom line and in reality this location is just my guess as there is no *solid proof* that it is the actual location, I believe it is and my reasons are below.

I originally wrote this about one year ago, since then some links went dead and the cryptoporticus opened. I've added new links and rewritten it so sometimes I do repeat myself (especially with the 'hid' and 'ran down' info :-) .

You will most likely enter the Palatine Hill from the Roman Forum. Go to See the "You are here" next to the 'Arch of Titus'. You will turn right on the 'Nova Via' and around where the 'Via' is there is the Palatine Hill ticket office (ticket is also good for the Colosseum). To go to the Cryptoporticus, halfway up the stairs take the path on the left and it will bring you to the cryptoporticus entrance where I believe Caligula's assassination took place.


'Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus' (12 - 41 AD), 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 growing up if he ever gave Tiberius the slightest reason to suspect him of revenge, 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 were 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, as far as emperors go and probably would have gone down in history as one. Except about six months into it he became very ill, fell into a coma and was at 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 gotten him killed along with blowing through the Roman treasury on his partying and foolish building projects.

But his assassination was basically in my opinion caused by his preoccupation with sex which caused grave insult to two of the key conspirators. Caligula had a habit of inviting Senators, aristocrats and their wives to Palace feasts. And in the middle of dining, he would choose one of their wives and take her to his 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 humiliated 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 three 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 separate but very loyal ($$$) German bodyguards. So an 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, perks and respecting their profession. They are after all proud, honorable and brave soldiers who will kill and die for you.

But Caligula goes way out of his way to tick them off! There are four 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 is a proud, honorable man with a manly military appearance but he had a high or lispy voice. Caligula constantly made fun of him in front of others especially 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 humiliate him.

All the conspirators (there are others involved also) need now is a good time and good place.

The *PLACE* they choose is the Cryptoporticus, a 130 m tunnel that connects the Tiberius/Caligula Palace to the 'House of Livia' (aka 'House of Germanicus', 'House of Augustus') which is in the 'House of Augustus' complex. There are two separate side-by-side houses in this complex. One is called the 'House of Augustus' and the other the 'House of Livia'. This is the very modest palace that Emperor Augustus and his second wife Livia live in during his reign. But it seems that sometime 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 honor of the late 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 for an afternoon break back at the Palace, he wants a meal and to relax a bit in the Baths (he is also suffering from a hangover and gluttony from a feast the night before). He *Enters* the cryptoporticus with a small entourage and leaves his German bodyguards at the entrance [It *seems* the Germans guarded him at and from the crowded amphitheater but passed on their duties to the Praetorian Guard once inside the Palace cryptoporticus?].

There are conspirators within his entourage and in the cryptoporticus waiting with the two Tribunes of the Praetorian Guard (Chaerea and Cornelus Sabinus). Caligula stops to talk to some young Asian boys practicing their singing act in the cryptoporticus that they will perform later. Caligula even offers to return to the amphitheater right then to hear them perform but one of the boys complains he has a chill right now and begs off.

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 the sweetness of revenge. The first wound lands on his jaw another account says the neck and shoulder area. Caligula's screams echo through the tunnel as he tries to flee from Chaerea only to be tripped up and sent sprawling to the ground 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. Caligula has 30 wounds, a few intentionally aimed at his privates by those I assume he had humiliated 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 his 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 because he pays them very well, so they must be avoided until things calm down or they can be dealt with. 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 later 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 just like in those old movies, his feet stick out :-) betraying his hiding place. He's then taken to the Praetorian Guard's barracks and held there for a few days. Claudius is no fool, he wisely tells these soldiers that they are way underpaid and need a big raise plus a nice bonus :-) . Well the soldiers readily agree, it is exactly what they wanted to hear :-) . The soldiers then 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, 41 AD, he ruled for 3 years and 10 months. His body was secretly taken to a villa's garden and hastily burned and buried. Later this garden was haunted by his ghost until his sisters returned from exile and properly cremated him and placed his ashes in the 'Tomb of Augustus'. And the Palace where he was murdered beneath, 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 64 AD.


There are three outside entrance locations into the cryptoporticus and one doesn't exist in our timeline. Go to this photo. 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 becomes a forecourt for the palace. In the older Area Palatina a large wooden amphitheater was built which seems to have been built at the upper or eastern end of the old Area Palatina by one account. These wooden amphitheaters were popular before the Colosseum was built and they were big. I recall reading about one collapsing and killing 10,000+. They were used for bloodsports and other entertainment but at the time of Caligula's death the 'Ludi Palatina' (five days of scenic plays in honor of the late Emperor Augustus) were being performed there.

Ok, see the Cryptoporticus at the bottom of the plan. To the left of it (far off screen) is the main living section of the Palace (Domus Tiberiana) where Caligula is heading for a mid-day break (meal and 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 a possible route for leaving the amphitheater and heading to the palace. Except it was built by Domitian over 50 years later to connect his new palace to the older (rebuilt) palace. So one down, two to go :-) .

See how the Cryptoporticus turns at the 'House of Augustus', it ends in about 25 m between this House's Atrium and the Temples. That house is actually called the 'House of Livia' who was Augustus' wife and a few meters south was what is called the 'House of Augustus'. So there are two separate houses (one called Livia and the other called Augustus) within this (once) walled complex. This complex was Augustus' home when he was Emperor. He wanted to keep it simple and not live in a Palace to show the people that he was like any other Roman citizen. This house later became the 'House of Germanicus' when it was his family's home (Germanicus was Caligula's father - a very popular General and Royalty. He was also Augustus' second heir to the Empire by adoption. Augustus adopted Tiberius and Tiberius adopted Germanicus at the same time on Augustus' orders. A few years later Germanicus was possibly poisoned on Emperor Tiberius' orders, everyone hated Tiberius and everyone loved Germanicus which probably was his downfall).

This is where the assassins hid after the murder. Ancient writers say they "ran down the cryptoporticus and hid in the House of Germanicus".

Three reasons why I doubt this entrance is the actual *assassination location*:

So that entrance just doesn't make sense for the assassination site. Ok, That website above just showed a detailed portion of the Palatine Hill and the cryptoporticus. And I wanted to keep it here it case my other links go dead in the future.

Go to: (sorry, broken link) [Backup maps: and] This shows the entire Hill and Cryptoporticus. GREEN Section is the Domus Tiberiana (Palace of Tiberius) which is now Caligula's Palace in our timeline, he was Emperor Tiberius' successor. The YELLOW and ORANGE sections do not exist in our timeline.

#13 is the Cryptoporticus --------.

#14 is the 'House of Livia' (aka Augustus).

The cryptoporticus' entrance is to the left of the 'House of Livia' #14.

This was an outside entrance within the Augustus complex, actually it was in the House of Livia's front yard.

The cryptoporticus then runs alongside this house and then turns 90° straight up.

The first branch ===== on the right is Domitian's 50 year later addition, so not in our timeline.

The second branch |||||||||| on the left are stairs leading into the Palace's huge atrium/courtyard, no bearing with the assassination or assassins.

But the section at the top of the cryptoporticus that turns 90° to the right ===== is the third *outside* entrance.

That entrance is at ground level facing *the main street* that leads into the Palatine Hill off the Via Sacra.

That ==== section is beneath the Palace, in the Palace's basement. In the middle of that section are stairs ==||== leading up the Palace's ground floor which you can see on the right in the photo below (There *might* also be stairs at that 90° turn, the rooms there are closed-off so I couldn't see but in one diagram it looks like a staircase but I don't know for sure. Either way they are just meters apart and no big deal).

Remember when you actually see this section (sorry, broken link) it was completely built over by the Palace with a guarded door at the entrance ====||===] .

And the wooden amphitheater that Caligula left that day to return to the Palace was probably in the area to the right of #6 or at #6 on the map.

In my opinion this third entrance is the only logical cryptoporticus assassination site. You can see it's the shortest and easiest route plus it is on the main street that leads from the possible site of this wooden amphitheater right by this entrance heading to the Via Sacra.

Caligula's litter bearers: These are Imperial Slaves who would live in the palace's slave quarters, almost certainly in the basement. The litter and it's carrying poles are separate. The litter has four upside-down 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. I mention this because the litter bearers were in the cryptoporticus with Caligula (he was walking at this point) and carrying their poles which they used to attack the assassins. I believe their job was done, they had 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 (15 m) from the entrance to the stairs leading up to the palace, makes no sense to bring the litter through the guarded gate and into the cryptoporticus, much more hassle than it's worth.

Also another ancient author says that the boys who were practicing their singing (Caligula spoke to them just before he was attacked) in the cryptoporticus were in a section *beneath* the palace.

This third entrance hallway is the *only* section that is actually beneath the Palace. The rest of the cryptoporticus actually runs alongside the Palace with the top arched section above ground, this top section has small windows in it for sunlight .

But the biggest clue is that ancient writers say the assassination was *in* the cryptoporticus. And the assassins *ran down* the cryptoporticus and *hid* in the 'House of Germanicus (Livia, Augustus)'. In this timeline there are only two outside entrances to this cryptoporticus, one is at the 'House of Germanicus' and the other is at the far end of the cryptoporticus beneath the Palace. "Ran down" and "Hid" eliminates the former in my opinion as the assassination site, it is where they escaped to not from. Now the assassins have five choices to escape from this third entrance location.

Although it is still part of the general Tiberius/Caligula Palace complex, it is a separate distant section and guarded by men under their command.


Caligula's approaching murder was foretold by many omens.

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