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Often I see this 'fun fact' thrown around:

The character Joffrey Baratheon is modeled after the Roman Emperor Caligula.
-http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/trivia?item=tr2071032.

Now I know that Joffrey is a complete brat - intentionally - and apparently so was the Emperor Caligula, but is there evidence that George R.R. Martin actually intentionally meant to make this connection?

Otherwise, if it's a show thing, then did the creators intentionally mean for this?

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    I do not believe it is true. The quote does not have a source to support it either. From what I hear, GRRM modelled Joffrey simply as a surly teenager, based on an event with an English King that was also poisoned. – TLP Apr 30 '15 at 8:34
  • I do know the actor tried to emulate Joaquin Phoenix's Caesar from Gladiator, not sure if that's where the rumor comes from. – kuhl Apr 30 '15 at 12:12
  • Comodus, the emperor portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, is also famous for his megalomania. – Taladris Apr 30 '15 at 15:20
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I can't speak to GRRM's intention, but there are some significant differences between Joffrey and the historical Caligula:

  • Joffrey is a child king, whereas Caligula assumed power at the age of 25.
  • Caligula seems to have been a reasonably competent and effective ruler at the start of his reign.
  • Caligula is notable for proclaiming himself to be a god. Joffrey did a lot of crazy things, but he never quite got around to that.

Also, there is some debate over whether Caligula actually committed the insane sexual and violent acts attributed to him. Many of these accounts were written by his enemies after his death. Caligula is known in popular culture from the books and TV series I, Claudius and film Caligula, which take many of the more lurid stories at face value.

The superficial similarities are pretty clear:

  • Both were young, physically attractive rulers
  • Both had sadistic tendencies, killing or injuring others for amusement (Joffrey definitely, and Caligula allegedly)
  • (Spoilered point of similarity below)

Both were assassinated after a relatively short reign -- although Caligula was stabbed whereas Joffrey was poisoned.

GRRM is most likely familiar with the history and dramatic depictions of Caligula, and may have used them for inspiration, but it's clear Joffrey is not very closely based on Caligula.

It's worth noting that child rulers were very common in medieval times, and not all of them were particularly pleasant or well-balanced people. The motif of the insane child ruler occurs elsewhere in ASOIAF, most obviously with Robin Arryn.

  • Excellent breakdown. Much as I thought. I wonder if it's a show thing then... – Möoz Apr 30 '15 at 11:25
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    All Roman emperors proclaimed themselves to be gods. This was not at all unique to Caligula. – Dima Apr 30 '15 at 14:44
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    @Dima: True, but Caligula emphasised it much more than his predecessors: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula#Claims_of_divinity – Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 30 '15 at 18:12
  • Royal Canadian Bandit - I would appreciate any examples you can think of bad child rulers in the middle ages since I am working on articles about "evil" historic kids. – M. A. Golding May 20 '15 at 19:47
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    Dima - Respected Emperors were defied after death. The Genius or spirit of the Emperor was sort of worshiped in Rome during his lifetime. Living emperors were worshiped in many Eastern parts of the Empire. Christian emperors from Constantine I to Constantine XI and Francis II did not encourage emperor worship. – M. A. Golding May 20 '15 at 19:55
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I could joke that Joffrey is not based on Caligula but on The Caligula, the TV Tropes trope of an insane, incompetent and cruel ruler, named after Caligula and his bad reputation.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheCaligula

By coincidence I am working on articles about allegedly evil kids in history, most of them child and teenaged monarchs. So I know that there are two dozen or more allegedly evil child and teenage rulers in history, each of whom could have been known to GRRM and been a partial inspiration for Joffrey.

I am also working on articles about historic kids whose reputations have been slandered in history - they are the same group as the allegedly evil kids in the previous articles, since I strongly suspect that most of their evil deeds were lies made up by their enemies. Thus the list of crimes actually committed by child and teenage monarchs in history should be much shorter than the lists of crimes they committed according to various websites and history books.

However, the crimes of child and teenage criminals in recent times show that it is certainly possible for children and teenagers to be as evil as those allegedly evil kids in history.

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While I'm sure the analogies could very well apply to other historical empires, and I assume my studies in Latin skew my objectivity, I see a lot of similarities between Westeros and the Roman empire in general.

I have not read the books (yet), so I can only speak to the TV show's similarities.

  • They worship a pantheon of Gods, while still acknowledging an older pantheon. The Romans still acknowledged some people prayed to the Greek gods, even though they had their own version.
  • The relation between Westeros and Dorne is very unique. They are still allowed to call their own rulers king/queen/prince/princess, even though that it not the case for the "regular" houses that bend the knee to the Iron Throne. This is very reminiscent of the Pax Romana, as the Romans left much of their new allies' government in place, with the exception left in place that Rome can intervene or ask for aid when needed.
  • The free folk are analogous to the Gauls, in that they were separated tribes who only united to fight their common enemy (Westeros/Rome), and generally didn't get along too well. Julius Caesar specifically used his famous "divide et impera" (divide and conquer) to break this strenuous Gaulish alliance. Part of the reason some tribes yielded was to receive Roman aid through the Pax Romana. Some of them literally made peace because winter was coming. Many Roman encampments existed in Gaul, to keep the population in check. Due to the harsher region and the distance from Rome, criminals were given a second chance to join a legion in Gaul, much like how the Crows man Castle Black.
  • The lands across the Narrow Sea very much resemble the North African regions during the time of the Roman empire. Very city-state like in government, and geographically very separated from one another. Also, there is a very notable city in those lands, whose rule is based on economic power and an counsel of rich men, with their armies mainly consisting of mercenaries paid for by the coin they make. For Rome, it was Carthage, for Westeros, it's Qarth (the similarity in the name is what gets me).
  • Daenerys' campaign across the lands across the Narrow Sea is very similar to how both Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius led their campaigns; in an attempt to solidify their claim to Rome. The only difference being Daenerys later decided to settle instead of returning with the newly recruited troops. Then again, both Caesar and Antonius also stayed in Egypt longer than expected due to Cleopatra.
  • Nero burnt down Rome (although the specifics regarding this event are still widely discussed today), much like how the Mad King seemingly turned on his own people (and burned them) in the end. Both Nero and the Mad King have caused the downfall of their lineage as rulers. Both would after their demise be actively used as a warning for future rulers, showing how not to rule. This is actually somewhat analogous to our modern usage of using Hitler as an example of pure evil. It's just the most recent event of the most evil deeds we can think of (as it was for the Westerosi, and the Romans).

While your analogy of Caligula and Joffrey is somewhat correct, it would seems most of the similarity boils down to "young narcissist with a penchant for sadism". This can easily be attributed to how their enemies spoke of them (though we have seen Joffrey be exactly that), or simply their youth leading to naive leadership decisions which in turn led to dissent among the people.
Selfishness is a trait many teens experience some way or another, whether they're ruler of an empire or not. If anything, them wielding supreme power leads them to being more selfish as no one has the power to correct them on it.

I would add, though, that Tommen currently reminds me of Augustulus, the last Roman emperor. He was very young (roughly 12), and did not actually wield his monarchical power because he was too weak for it.
Augustulus was easily deposed by the invading armies, and I would expect a similar fate for Tommen should there be another invasion of King's Landing (just an educated guess, since I haven't read the books).

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I don't think this has ever been answered by George himself and the only reference I've found of him talking about Caligula is the following about Littlefinger. Note that he doesn't bring up Joffrey as a more suitable comparison but that doesn't really mean anything.

[Is Littlefinger based on Caligula?]
Definitely not. Gaius Caligula was nuts, and Petyr Baelish is as sane as can be. Caligula was flamoyant and drew attention to himself. Littlefinger is more subtle.
So Spake Martin, LITTLEFINGER, CALIGULA, AND TYRION

I think it's worth noting though that even if Joffrey is based on Caligula he isn't a direct representative as George has said himself.

I don't like to just take a character from history, whoever it is, and just change his name, kind of file off the serial number and present him as my own character. What I much prefer to do is perhaps take 2 or 3 characters from history and mix them up together or do juxtapositions that are original; I mean I don't want…I love historical fiction as a reader, but one of the problems with historical fiction, if you read a lot of history, you're always going to know how it's comes out. If you read a novel that’s actually set during the Wars of the Roses, you know what’s going to happen to those two little boys in the tower; you know who's going to win the Battle of Bosworth Fields. You know the ultimate fate of the mad King Henry VI. So I don't like that, I don’t want someone to just look at my book and know what happens because they're recognizing historical analogues, I like the stories to be unpredictable.
So Spake Martin, SECOND LIFE APPEARANCE

Lastly, I think it's worth pointing out that the main reason people think Joffery was based on Caligula is the similarity between the actors appearance and Caligula's. George R. R. Martin couldn't have known this when writing the books so that also goes against the theory.

Joffery and Caligula comparison

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The Caesar line produced blondes. According to Suetonius Caligula had a golden beard. He threw citizens into the gladiator arenas to be eaten alive by lions. Nero had blonde hair. He burned Christians alive for "hatred of humanity" according to Tacitus. Both were accused of incest and so was Nero's father. Nero was the 5th Emperor of Rome who "fiddled while Rome burned." It is believed his mother poisoned the Emperor to secure for him the seat of power. Who does that sound like to you?

http://throughpassion.weebly.com/joffrey-is-nero-caesar-is-the-beast.html

In this article I prove not only is Joffrey based off of Nero Caesar, but Nero Caesar is the identity of The Beast from the Bible's Book of Revelations.

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