Can Numismatics Prove Gaius Caligula was Balding?

By Joe Geranio

As we all know and have heard the story of Suetonius bringing up Caligula's physical characteristics in the book, "The Life of Gaius Caligula", when he gets to the topic of his scalp he states he was "almost hairless, especially on the top", Now, when we look at his sculpted portraits and statues we see this nice thick of hair on the top as well as that wonderful Germanican hair on the nape of the neck.  He hated anyone who had more hair on his head than he did.  I wonder just how bad was his baldness and receding hairline?  My thought is that maybe the Caligula Vesta As can shed some light on this question?

As I was trying to work with a professor to help me identify a possible pre-princiapte portrait of Caligula, which is my holy grail by the way, I was doing my usual profile agreement with the Vesta aes photos in my data bank', and I have thought about this before, and I started noticing a consistency with any legend that read " DIVI AVG PRON AVG P M TR P IIII P P",  I thought is his hair actually receding more on these TRP IIII issues?  What about TRP III?   This is what I have noticed. Remember:  One thought may be that his hair got so bad, that they had to make a change to the hairline on the obverse portrait of the Vesta ae's? Now if they knew he was going to be assassinated January 24th 41 A.D. I do not think this would have been any kind of issue. I just thought this would be interesting to observe.  Below lets look at these TRP IIII issues first- (5 examples).  Note how there are 4 strands of hair from the center of the head that fork out in a backwards j shape, on the largest example here you can clearly see the 4 backward j's.

GAIUS (CALIGULA). Rome mint. Struck 40-41 AD. C CAESAR DIVI AVG PRON AVG P M TR P IIII P P, bare head left / VESTA, S C across field, Vesta seated left on throne, holding patera and scepter. RIC I 54; BMCRE 73; Cohen 29.

There is some change on the 40-41 dies. I do not believe they are putting less hair on his forehead but making the forehead more foreboding, which; appears to make Caligula have a receding hairline?Was this in part done that his baldness was so bad, they had to appear to make a slight change as not to offend the sensitive princeps on his hair?  (Suetonius 50)  On the last 2 examples of the 40-41 A.D. vesta issue you can see that the hair has stayed the same, with the 4 backward curl j's from the center out, but as mentioned before,the forehead is more pronounced, giving the perception of receding hair and a little more baldness to not keep pretending that Caligula had a full head of hair, but not to make it to realized.

TRP III, RIC I 47, 39-40 A.D.

Now one thing I have noted on the C CAESAR DIVI AVG PRON AVG P M TR P III P P legend is: They are much harder to come by at auction or in my researching, I have over 271 specimens (photos) and only have two issues from 39-40 A.D. I also look for them at coin shows and have come upon zero.

Gaius (Caligula). AD 37-41. As (28mm, 11.09 g, 6h). Rome mint. Struck AD 39-40. Bare head left / Vesta seated left, holding patera and scepter. RIC I 47. cngcoins.com

I really do not have enough issues from 39-40 to make a judgement? But I see little change from the 37-38 issues as far as the head and hair goes. I will update as I run across these issues.

T R POT, 37-38 A.D., RIC 38

The most common of the dated Vesta issues is by far the year 37-38 A.D. coin. The other interesting thing I have noticed is that the detail on some of these issues, and this issue below shows the crease in his forehead that exists on "some" of his sculpted portraits in stone and bronze and is mentioned by Pollini in " A Possible Pre-Principate Portrait of Gaius Caligula" JWAG (1982).

This last issue shown above here, shows the crease in his forehead that exists on his sculpted portraits in stone and bronze and is mentioned by Pollini in " A Possible Pre-Principate Portrait of Gaius Caligula" JWAG (1982). Note how the head is covered to give appearance of full head of hair.

Conclusion: As we don't see a gradual baldness issue with Caligula's hair from the years 37-40 A.D., but we see the perceived balding quickly in 40-41 A.D of the issues involved in this small study, I believe there was a change in die variation to show a change in Caligula's hair. I do not know why or how this would have been ordered and I think if we look at the historical record we have to know he was very sensitive to his baldness, I think that it may have been so bad, that they made the gradual change on the common Vesta aes and it was to be struck in time for the 40-41 A.D. issue?  I would like to make more of a scientific study in the future, but I will need to attain more photos of TRP III and TRP IIII Vesta issues.