Photograph by Dagli Orti/Art Archive
Photograph by Dagli Orti/Art Archive
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What made Caligula different?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

Everybody is talking about authoritarian leaders these days.

But no one was quite like Caligula.

Although he ruled only four years, the Roman emperor left a mark, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports. He taxed. He extorted. He confiscated. He humiliated. He spread fear and chaos, and nothing exceeded like his excess.

“Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” the biographer Suetonius quoted him as saying.

What made Caligula stand out was his outrageousness. He openly squired the wives of Roman senators. He gave his favorite horse a marble stall, an ivory manger, a jeweled collar, and even a house. (Fact check: There is no evidence that Caligula appointed the horse a Roman consul.)

Consequently, enemies abounded. Plots thickened. When the all-powerful emperor met a swift end, did an emboldened Rome return to a more representative republic? Alas, the army moved in, and picked another emperor.

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Today in a minute

Goodbye Columbus: The Chicago Public Schools represent the latest U.S. school district to bid arrivederci to the Italian explorer, changing the name of its Monday holiday in October to Indigenous Peoples Day, the Chicago Tribune reported. The city still promotes a Columbus Day Parade.

Taxation without representation: Sure, blame the drunken mob. That’s one reason why Washington, D.C., hasn’t become a U.S. state. In June 1783, an enthusiastic mob of former soldiers demanding back pay chased Congress out of Philadelphia, prompting the founders to dream up the idea of a federal city. Their plan gave no role for that city’s residents in governing a state; nor, until an amendment in 1963, the right to vote for president. D.C. residents still cannot choose a voting member of Congress, Erin Blakemore recounts for Nat Geo.

Secret weapon: Why did the Montgomery bus boycotts work? The key early event in the U.S. civil rights movement, sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to take a seat in the back of the bus, coincided with the rise of the automobile, Smithsonian reports. People used a carefully orchestrated carpool system to help smash the Alabama city’s segregated bus system, says author Gretchen Sorin. Her book is prompting a PBS documentary this fall.

Hatshepsut who? Get a quick fill on Egypt's female pharoah and a cadre of women leaders to hold your own during Women's History Month. BTW, Hatshepsut ruled ably for decades, but was usually represented as a man in art of the time. It would be another 1,400 years before another woman, Cleopatra, ascended to the throne.

Instagram photo of the day

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Rediscovered in 1812: Petra, the “Rose City,” is a honeycomb of hand-hewn caves, temples, and tombs carved from blushing pink sandstone in the high desert of Jordan some 2,000 years ago. Hidden by time and shifting sand, Petra tells of a lost civilization. Archaeologists have explored less than half of the sprawling site, and in 2016, with the help of satellite imagery, a monumental structure was found still buried in the sand. It’s no wonder that Petra remains Jordan’s top tourist attraction and one of the most revered of the World Heritage sites.

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The big takeaway

Haunted: "As a child you don't understand how poverty can make a person mean. .... My mother didn't hate me, even if I felt like she did at the time. She was frustrated with the world and her inability to give me a secure place in it." Wisdom from Meng Jin in her stunning debut novel, Little Gods. In China, the restoration of the standardized test known as the gaokao in 1977 led to the uprooting of smart kids from poverty-laden villages to prestigious urban schools—and was seen as a ticket to success. But some of those kids could not fully leave the trauma of their past, and many worked to mask their rough-hewn origins and imperfect Mandarin among cosmopolitan colleagues. Like works such as Jordan Peele’s movie Us or Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning drama Sweat, set half a world away, Jin’s novel portrays how hard it can be not to be haunted by a family’s economic hardship.

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Come back tomorrow for George Stone on travel. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, Rachael Bale on animal news, and Whitney Johnson on photography.

The last glimpse

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Homeland: Descendants of the recently discovered Clotilda, the ship that carried enslaved people to the United States in 1860, know their ancestors came from Benin and Nigeria. Photographer Elias Williams, who took images of the descendants in the Alabama community of Africatown, spoke for many African Americans when he said he envied that aspect of their lives. “I don’t know my history the way the descendants of the Clotilda do,” Williams told a crowd at Nat Geo HQ on Thursday night. (Above, an illustration of a cross-section of the Clotilda, with the gender-separated holds for enslaved people below.)

Subscriber exclusive: America’s last slave ship stole them from home. It couldn’t steal their identities.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? I'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.