One of the more humorous stories that the Roman scholar, Suetonius, recorded about Caligula (r. 37-41) involved a certain Roman nobleman named Aponius Saturninus, presumably the very same man who would later play a significant role in the chaos after the death of Nero (d. 68). Nevertheless, in this story, Suetonius portrayed him less as a powerful player in the Roman Empire and instead gave him a less auspicious role as a drowsy theatre attendee.
According to Suetonius, Emperor Caligula liked to jump on stage after a theatre performance or gladiatorial match in order to turn the still-packed venue into an auction house. Aponius Saturninus had the misfortune of attending one of these performances, and he fell asleep either during the show or in the midst of Caligula’s auction. Regrettably for Aponius, he was apparently a restless sleeper, prone to muscle jerks and spasms. Emperor Caligula reportedly saw Aponius’ nocturnal twitching and seized the chance to make some serious money.
According to the tale, every time Aponius Saturninus’ sleepy head bobbed forward, Caligula counted the movement as a bid for whatever was being auctioned. Consequently, Aponius unwittingly became quite a high bidder in Caligula’s auction. According to Suetonius, by the time Aponius Saturninus woke up, he had bought thirteen gladiators for the grand sum of nine million sesterces.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Images of ancient Roman dress by Albert Kretschmer, c. 1882, painter and costumer to the Royal Court Theatre, Berin, and Dr. Carl Rohrbach. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.