Caligula, Ptolemy of Mauretania, and the danger of long hair

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Woods, David
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Klassillis-filologinen yhdistys–Klassisk-filologiska föreningen (The Classical Association of Finland)
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The purpose of this note is to offer a new interpretation of the passage where Suetonius claims that Caligula had king Ptolemy of Mauretania executed simply because the splendour of his cloak (abolla) had attracted popular attention during the games one day (Calig. 35,1–2). While the testimony of Dio (59,25,1) allows us to date this execution to AD40, it throws no light on the substance of Suetonius' allegation since it merely asserts that Caligula had Ptolemy executed because he was rich. Hence most scholars have traditionally dismissed this tale as a typically fanciful product of the hostile source used by Suetonius for much of his material on the Julio-Claudians, and have sought to explain Ptolemy's death in political terms instead. It is arguable that this anecdote derives from a Greek source which had described Ptolemy in reference to his full head of hair, but that a subsequent Latin translator misunderstood this term to describe the wearing of an abolla instead. In reality, Ptolemy was probably put to death because of a witticism by the mob at the games punning upon his long hair (caesaries) and the office of emperor (Caesar), and his reaction to the same.
Caligula , Suetonius , Dio , Ptolemy of Mauretania , Roman history
Woods, D., 2005. Caligula, Ptolemy of Mauretania, and the danger of long hair. Arctos Acta Philologica Fennica, 39, 207-214.
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