Claudius Æ As Struck 42-43 AD
Obverse: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP, bare
Reverse: LIBERTAS AVGVSTA S-C, Libertas standing facing,
with pileus and extending left hand
RIC 97, Cohen 47, BMC 145
Claudius AE Quadrans. Struck A.D. 42
Obverse: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG around three-legged
Reverse: PON M TR P IMP P P COS II around S.C.
Claudius AE Quadrans. Struck A.D. 42
Obverse: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG around three-legged
Reverse: PON M TR P IMP P P COS II around S.C.
Obverse: GERMANICVS CAESAR TI AVG F DIVI AVG N, bare
head of Germanicus, facing right
Reverse: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR P IMP
P P, around a large S C
RCV 1905, RIC 106
Issued 42 A.D., by Claudius, in honor of his deceased
Nero Claudius Drusus AE Sestertius
Obverse: NERO CLAVDIVS DRVSVS GERMANICVS IMP, bare
Reverse: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP, Claudius,
seated left on curule chair, holding branch; arms
lying around; SC in exergue.
RIC I 93 (Claudius); Cohen 8.
Nero Claudius Drusus died in 9 BC, was the brother
of Tiberius, and the father of Claudius.
This coin was struck by Claudius during 41-42 AD.
Claudius (Latin: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August
10 BC – 13 October 54 AD) was Roman emperor from 41 to 54. A member
of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor.
He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul, the first Roman Emperor to be born outside
Italy. Because he was afflicted with a limp and slight deafness due
to sickness at a young age, his family ostracized him and excluded him
from public office until his consulship, shared with his nephew Caligula
Claudius' infirmity probably saved him from the fate of many other nobles
during the purges of Tiberius and Caligula's reigns; potential enemies
did not see him as a serious threat. His survival led to his being
declared Emperor by the Praetorian Guard after Caligula's assassination,
at which point he was the last man of his family.
Despite his lack of experience, Claudius proved to be an able and efficient
administrator. He was also an ambitious builder, constructing many
new roads, aqueducts, and canals across the Empire. During his reign
the Empire began the conquest of Britain (if the earlier invasions of Britain
by Caesar and Caligula's aborted attempts are not counted). Having
a personal interest in law, he presided at public trials, and issued up
to twenty edicts a day. He was seen as vulnerable throughout his
reign, particularly by elements of the nobility. Claudius was constantly
forced to shore up his position; this resulted in the deaths of many senators.
These events damaged his reputation among the ancient writers, though more
recent historians have revised this opinion. Many authors contend
that he was murdered by his own wife. After his death in 54 AD (at
age of 63), his grand-nephew and adopted son Nero succeeded him as Emperor.
He was a descendant of the Octavii Rufi (through Gaius Octavius), Julii
Caesares (through Julia Minor and Julia Antonia), and the Claudii Nerones
(through Nero Claudius Drusus); he was a great-nephew of Augustus through
his full sister Octavia Minor, a nephew of Tiberius through his father
Drusus, Tiberius' brother, an uncle of Caligula and finally a great-uncle
of Nero through Caligula's father and Nero's grandfather Germanicus, his
Family and early life
Claudius was born on 1 August 10 BC at Lugdunum (modern Lyon, France).
He had two older siblings, Germanicus and Livilla. His mother, Antonia,
may have had two other children who died young.
His maternal grandparents were Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, Augustus'
sister, and he was therefore the great-great grandnephew of Gaius Julius
Caesar. His paternal grandparents were Livia, Augustus' third wife,
and Tiberius Claudius Nero. During his reign, Claudius revived the
rumor that his father Drusus was actually the illegitimate son of Augustus,
to give the appearance that Augustus was Claudius' paternal grandfather.
In 9 BC, his father Drusus unexpectedly died on campaign in Germania, possibly
from illness. Claudius was then left to be raised by his mother,
who never remarried. When Claudius' disability became evident, the
relationship with his family turned sour. Antonia referred to him
as a monster, and used him as a standard for stupidity. She seems
to have passed her son off on his grandmother Livia for a number of years.
Livia was a little kinder, but nevertheless often sent him short, angry
letters of reproof. He was put under the care of a "former mule-driver"
to keep him disciplined, under the logic that his condition was due to
laziness and a lack of will-power. However, by the time he reached
his teenage years his symptoms apparently waned and his family took some
notice of his scholarly interests.
In 7 AD, Livy was hired to tutor him in history, with the assistance of
Sulpicius Flavus. He spent a lot of his time with the latter and
the philosopher Athenodorus. Augustus, according to a letter, was
surprised at the clarity of Claudius' oratory. Expectations about
his future began to increase.
His work as a budding historian damaged his prospects for advancement in
public life. According to Vincent Scramuzza and others, Claudius
began work on a history of the Civil Wars that was either too truthful
or too critical of Octavian—then reigning as Augustus Caesar. In
either case, it was far too early for such an account, and may have only
served to remind Augustus that Claudius was Antony's descendant.
His mother and grandmother quickly put a stop to it, and this may have
convinced them that Claudius was not fit for public office. He could
not be trusted to toe the existing party line.
When he returned to the narrative later in life, Claudius skipped over
the wars of the second triumvirate altogether. But the damage was
done, and his family pushed him to the background. When the Arch
of Pavia was erected to honor the Imperial clan in 8 BC, Claudius' name
(now Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus after his elevation to paterfamilias
of Claudii Nerones on the adoption of his brother) was inscribed on the
edge—past the deceased princes, Gaius and Lucius, and Germanicus' children.
There is some speculation that the inscription was added by Claudius himself
decades later, and that he originally did not appear at all.
When Augustus died in 14 AD, Claudius — then 23 — appealed to his uncle
Tiberius to allow him to begin the cursus honorum. Tiberius, the
new Emperor, responded by granting Claudius consular ornaments. Claudius
requested office once more and was snubbed. Since the new Emperor
was no more generous than the old, Claudius gave up hope of public office
and retired to a scholarly, private life.
Despite the disdain of the Imperial family, it seems that from very early
on the general public respected Claudius. At Augustus' death, the
equites, or knights, chose Claudius to head their delegation. When
his house burned down, the Senate demanded it be rebuilt at public expense.
They also requested that Claudius be allowed to debate in the Senate.
Tiberius turned down both motions, but the sentiment remained.
During the period immediately after the death of Tiberius' son, Drusus,
Claudius was pushed by some quarters as a potential heir. This again
suggests the political nature of his exclusion from public life.
However, as this was also the period during which the power and terror
of the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Sejanus, was at its peak, Claudius
chose to downplay this possibility.
After the death of Tiberius the new emperor Caligula (the son of Claudius'
brother Germanicus) recognized Claudius to be of some use. He appointed
Claudius his co-consul in 37 in order to emphasize the memory of Caligula's
deceased father Germanicus. Despite this, Caligula relentlessly tormented
his uncle: playing practical jokes, charging him enormous sums of
money, humiliating him before the Senate, and the like. According
to Cassius Dio Claudius became very sickly and thin by the end of Caligula's
reign, most likely due to stress. A possible surviving portrait of
Claudius from this period may support this.
Assassination of Caligula (41 AD):
On 24 January 41, Caligula was assassinated in a broad-based conspiracy
involving the Praetorian commander Cassius Chaerea and several senators.
There is no evidence that Claudius had a direct hand in the assassination,
although it has been argued that he knew about the plot — particularly
since he left the scene of the crime shortly before his nephew was murdered.
However, after the deaths of Caligula's wife and daughter, it became apparent
that Cassius intended to go beyond the terms of the conspiracy and wipe
out the Imperial family.
In the chaos following the murder, Claudius witnessed the German guard
cut down several uninvolved noblemen, including many of his friends.
He fled to the palace to hide. According to tradition, a Praetorian
named Gratus found him hiding behind a curtain and suddenly declared him
princeps. A section of the guard may have planned in advance to seek
out Claudius, perhaps with his approval. They reassured him that
they were not one of the battalions looking for revenge. He was spirited
away to the Praetorian camp and put under their protection.
The Senate quickly met and began debating a change of government, but this
eventually devolved into an argument over which of them would be the new
princeps. When they heard of the Praetorians' claim, they demanded
that Claudius be delivered to them for approval, but he refused, sensing
the danger that would come with complying. Some historians, particularly
Josephus, claim that Claudius was directed in his actions by the Judaean
King Herod Agrippa. However, an earlier version of events by the
same ancient author downplays Agrippa's role so it remains uncertain. Eventually
the Senate was forced to give in and, in return, Claudius pardoned nearly
all the assassins.
Claudius took several steps to legitimize his rule against potential usurpers,
most of them emphasizing his place within the Julio-Claudian family.
He adopted the name "Caesar" as a cognomen, as the name still carried great
weight with the populace. In order to do so, he dropped the cognomen
"Nero" which he had adopted as paterfamilias of the Claudii Nerones when
his brother Germanicus was adopted out.
While Claudius had never been formally adopted either by Augustus or his
successors, he was nevertheless the grandson of his sister Octavia, and
so he felt that he had the right of family. He also adopted the name
"Augustus" as the two previous emperors had done at their accessions.
He kept the honorific "Germanicus" to display the connection with his heroic
brother. He deified his paternal grandmother Livia to highlight her
position as wife of the divine Augustus. Claudius frequently used the term
"filius Drusi" (son of Drusus) in his titles, in order to remind the people
of his legendary father and lay claim to his reputation.
Since Claudius was the first Emperor proclaimed on the initiative of the
Praetorian Guard instead of the Senate, his repute suffered at the hands
of commentators (such as Seneca). Moreover, he was the first Emperor
who resorted to bribery as a means to secure army loyalty and rewarded
the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard that had elevated him with 15,000
sesterces. Tiberius and Augustus had both left gifts to the army
and guard in their wills, and upon Caligula's death the same would have
been expected, even if no will existed. Claudius remained grateful
to the guard, however, issuing coins with tributes to the Praetorians in
the early part of his reign.
Expansion of the Empire:
Under Claudius, the Empire underwent its first major expansion since the
reign of Augustus. The provinces of Thrace, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia,
and Judea were annexed (or put under direct rule) under various circumstances
during his term. The annexation of Mauretania, begun under Caligula,
was completed after the defeat of rebel forces, and the official division
of the former client kingdom into two Imperial provinces. The most
far-reaching conquest was the conquest of Britannia.
In 43 AD, Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with four legions to Britain (Britannia)
after an appeal from an ousted tribal ally. Britain was an attractive
target for Rome because of its material wealth – particularly mines and
slaves. It was also a haven for Gallic rebels and the like, and so
could not be left alone much longer. Claudius himself travelled to
the island after the completion of initial offensives, bringing with him
reinforcements and elephants. The latter must have made an impression
on the Britons when they were displayed in the large tribal centre of Camulodunum,
modern day Colchester. The Roman colonia of Colonia Claudia Victricensis
was established as the provincial capital of the newly established province
of Britannia at Camulodunum, where a large Temple was dedicated in his
He left after 16 days, but remained in the provinces for some time.
The Senate granted him a triumph for his efforts. Only members of
the Imperial family were allowed such honours, but Claudius subsequently
lifted this restriction for some of his conquering generals. He was
granted the honorific "Britannicus" but only accepted it on behalf of his
son, never using the title himself. When the Briton general Caractacus
was captured in 50 AD, Claudius granted him clemency. Caractacus
lived out his days on land provided by the Roman state, an unusual end
for an enemy commander.
Claudius conducted a census in 48 that found 5,984,072 Roman citizens (adult
males with Roman citizenship; women, children, slaves, and free adult males
without Roman citizenship were not counted), an increase of around a million
since the census conducted at Augustus' death. He had helped increase
this number through the foundation of Roman colonies that were granted
blanket citizenship. These colonies were often made out of existing
communities, especially those with elites who could rally the populace
to the Roman cause. Several colonies were placed in new provinces
or on the border of the Empire to secure Roman holdings as quickly as possible.
Judicial and legislative affairs:
Claudius personally judged many of the legal cases tried during his reign.
Ancient historians have many complaints about this, stating that his judgments
were variable and sometimes did not follow the law. He was also easily
swayed. Nevertheless, Claudius paid detailed attention to the operation
of the judicial system.
He extended the summer court session, as well as the winter term, by shortening
the traditional breaks. Claudius also made a law requiring plaintiffs
to remain in the city while their cases were pending, as defendants had
previously been required to do. These measures had the effect of
clearing out the docket. The minimum age for jurors was also raised
to 25 in order to ensure a more experienced jury pool.
Claudius also settled disputes in the provinces. He freed the island
of Rhodes from Roman rule for their good faith and exempted Troy from taxes.
Early in his reign, the Greeks and Jews of Alexandria sent him two embassies
at once after riots broke out between the two communities. This resulted
in the famous "Letter to the Alexandrians", which reaffirmed Jewish rights
in the city but also forbade them to move in more families en masse.
According to Josephus, he then reaffirmed the rights and freedoms of all
the Jews in the Empire.
One of Claudius's investigators discovered that many old Roman citizens
based in the modern city of Trento were not in fact citizens. The
Emperor issued a declaration, contained in the Tabula clesiana, that they
would be considered to hold citizenship from then on, since to strip them
of their status would cause major problems. However, in individual
cases, Claudius punished false assumption of citizenship harshly, making
it a capital offense. Similarly, any freedmen found to be laying
false claim to membership of the Roman equestrian order were sold back
Numerous edicts were issued throughout Claudius' reign. These were
on a number of topics, everything from medical advice to moral judgments.
A famous medical example is one promoting yew juice as a cure for snakebite.
Suetonius wrote that he is even said to have thought of an edict allowing
public flatulence for good health. One of the more famous edicts
concerned the status of sick slaves. Masters had been abandoning
ailing slaves at the temple of Aesculapius on Tiber Island to die instead
of providing them with medical assistance and care, and then reclaiming
them if they lived. Claudius ruled that slaves who were thus abandoned
and recovered after such treatment would be free. Furthermore, masters
who chose to kill slaves rather than take care of them were liable to be
charged with murder.
Claudius embarked on many public works throughout his reign, both in the
capital and in the provinces. He built two aqueducts, the Aqua Claudia,
begun by Caligula, and the Anio Novus. These entered the city in
52 AD and met at the famous Porta Maggiore. He also restored a third,
the Aqua Virgo.
The Porta Maggiore aqueduct in Rome:
He paid special attention to transportation. Throughout Italy and
the provinces he built roads and canals. Among these was a large
canal leading from the Rhine to the sea, as well as a road from Italy to
Germany – both begun by his father, Drusus. Closer to Rome, he built a
navigable canal on the Tiber, leading to Portus, his new port just north
of Ostia. This port was constructed in a semicircle with two moles
and a lighthouse at its mouth. The construction also had the effect
of reducing flooding in Rome.
The port at Ostia was part of Claudius' solution to the constant grain
shortages that occurred in winter, after the Roman shipping season.
The other part of his solution was to insure the ships of grain merchants
who were willing to risk travelling to Egypt in the off-season. He
also granted their sailors special privileges, including citizenship and
exemption from the Lex Papia-Poppaea, a law that regulated marriage.
In addition, he repealed the taxes that Caligula had instituted on food,
and further reduced taxes on communities suffering drought or famine.
The last part of Claudius' plan was to increase the amount of arable land
in Italy. This was to be achieved by draining the Fucine lake, which
would have the added benefit of making the nearby river navigable year-round.
A tunnel was dug through the lake bed, but the plan was a failure.
The tunnel was crooked and not large enough to carry the water, which caused
it to back up when opened. The resultant flood washed out a large
gladiatorial exhibition held to commemorate the opening, causing Claudius
to run for his life along with the other spectators. The draining
of the lake was revisited many times in history, including by Emperors
Trajan and Hadrian, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the Middle Ages.
It was finally achieved by the Prince Torlonia in the 19th century, producing
over 160,000 acres (650 km2) of new arable land. He expanded the
Claudian tunnel to three times its original size.
Claudius and the Senate:
Because of the circumstances of his accession, Claudius took great pains
to please the Senate. During regular sessions, the Emperor sat among
the Senate body, speaking in turn. When introducing a law, he sat
on a bench between the consuls in his position as holder of the power of
Tribune (the Emperor could not officially serve as a Tribune of the Plebes
as he was a Patrician, but it was a power taken by previous rulers).
He refused to accept all his predecessors' titles (including Imperator)
at the beginning of his reign, preferring to earn them in due course.
He allowed the Senate to issue its own bronze coinage for the first time
since Augustus. He also put the Imperial provinces of Macedonia and
Achaea back under Senate control.
Claudius set about remodeling the Senate into a more efficient, representative
body. He chided the senators about their reluctance to debate bills
introduced by himself, as noted in the fragments of a surviving speech:
"If you accept these proposals, Conscript Fathers, say so at once and simply,
in accordance with your convictions. If you do not accept them, find
alternatives, but do so here and now; or if you wish to take time for consideration,
take it, provided you do not forget that you must be ready to pronounce
your opinion whenever you may be summoned to meet. It ill befits
the dignity of the Senate that the consul designate should repeat the phrases
of the consuls word for word as his opinion, and that every one else should
merely say 'I approve', and that then, after leaving, the assembly should
announce 'We debated'."
In 47 he assumed the office of censor with Lucius Vitellius, which had
been allowed to lapse for some time. He struck the names of many
senators and equites who no longer met qualifications, but showed respect
by allowing them to resign in advance. At the same time, he sought
to admit eligible men from the provinces. The Lyon Tablet preserves
his speech on the admittance of Gallic senators, in which he addresses
the Senate with reverence but also with criticism for their disdain of
these men. (He even jokes about how the Senate had admitted members
from beyond Gallia Narbonensis (Lyons, France), i.e. himself). He
also increased the number of Patricians by adding new families to the dwindling
number of noble lines. Here he followed the precedent of Lucius Junius
Brutus and Julius Caesar.
Nevertheless, many in the Senate remained hostile to Claudius, and many
plots were made on his life. This hostility carried over into the
historical accounts. As a result, Claudius reduced the Senate's power
for the sake of efficiency. The administration of Ostia was turned
over to an Imperial Procurator after construction of the port. Administration
of many of the empire's financial concerns was turned over to Imperial
appointees and freedmen. This led to further resentment and suggestions
that these same freedmen were ruling the Emperor.
Plots and coup attempts:
Several coup attempts were made during Claudius' reign, resulting in the
deaths of many senators. Appius Silanus was executed early in Claudius'
reign under questionable circumstances. Shortly after, a large rebellion
was undertaken by the Senator Vinicianus and Scribonianus, the governor
of Dalmatia and gained quite a few senatorial supporters. It ultimately
failed because of the reluctance of Scribonianus' troops, which led to
the suicide of the main conspirators.
Many other senators tried different conspiracies and were condemned. Claudius'
son-in-law Pompeius Magnus was executed for his part in a conspiracy with
his father Crassus Frugi. Another plot involved the consulars Lusiius
Saturninus, Cornelius Lupus, and Pompeius Pedo.
In 46, Asinius Gallus, the grandson of Asinius Pollio, and Titus Statilius
Taurus Corvinus were exiled for a plot hatched with several of Claudius'
own freedmen. Valerius Asiaticus was executed without public trial
for unknown reasons. The ancient sources say the charge was adultery,
and that Claudius was tricked into issuing the punishment. However,
Claudius singles out Asiaticus for special damnation in his speech on the
Gauls, which dates over a year later, suggesting that the charge must have
been much more serious.
Asiaticus had been a claimant to the throne in the chaos following Caligula's
death and a co-consul with the Titus Statilius Taurus Corvinus mentioned
above. Most of these conspiracies took place before Claudius' term
as Censor, and may have induced him to review the Senatorial rolls.
The conspiracy of Gaius Silius in the year after his Censorship, 48, is
detailed in the section discussing Claudius' third wife, Messalina.
Suetonius states that a total of 35 senators and 300 knights were executed
for offenses during Claudius' reign. Needless to say, the responses
to these conspiracies could not have helped Senate-emperor relations.
Secretariat and centralization of powers:
Claudius was hardly the first emperor to use freedmen to help with the
day-to-day running of the Empire. He was, however, forced to increase
their role as the powers of the princeps became more centralized and the
burden larger. This was partly due to the ongoing hostility of the
Senate, as mentioned above, but also due to his respect for the senators.
Claudius did not want free-born magistrates to have to serve under him,
as if they were not peers.
The secretariat was divided into bureaus, with each being placed under
the leadership of one freedman. Narcissus was the secretary of correspondence.
Pallas became the secretary of the treasury. Callistus became secretary
of justice. There was a fourth bureau for miscellaneous issues, which
was put under Polybius until his execution for treason. The freedmen
could also officially speak for the Emperor, as when Narcissus addressed
the troops in Claudius' stead before the conquest of Britain.
Since these were important positions, the senators were aghast at their
being placed in the hands of former slaves. If freedmen had total
control of money, letters, and law, it seemed it would not be hard for
them to manipulate the Emperor. This is exactly the accusation put
forth by the ancient sources. However, these same sources admit that
the freedmen were loyal to Claudius.
He was similarly appreciative of them and gave them due credit for policies
where he had used their advice. However, if they showed treasonous
inclinations, the Emperor did punish them with just force, as in the case
of Polybius and Pallas' brother, Felix. There is no evidence that
the character of Claudius' policies and edicts changed with the rise and
fall of the various freedmen, suggesting that he was firmly in control
Regardless of the extent of their political power, the freedmen did manage
to amass wealth through their positions. Pliny the Elder notes that
several of them were richer than Crassus, the richest man of the Republican
Claudius, as the author of a treatise on Augustus' religious reforms, felt
himself in a good position to institute some of his own. He had strong
opinions about the proper form for state religion. He refused the
request of Alexandrian Greeks to dedicate a temple to his divinity, saying
that only gods may choose new gods. He restored lost days to festivals
and got rid of many extraneous celebrations added by Caligula. He
re-instituted old observances and archaic language.
Claudius was concerned with the spread of eastern mysteries within the
city and searched for more Roman replacements. He emphasized the
Eleusinian mysteries which had been practiced by so many during the Republic.
He expelled foreign astrologers, and at the same time rehabilitated the
old Roman soothsayers (known as haruspices) as a replacement. He
was especially hard on Druidism, because of its incompatibility with the
Roman state religion and its proselytizing activities.
It is also reported that at one time he expelled the Jews from Rome, probably
because the Jews within the city caused continuous disturbances at the
instigation of Chrestus. Claudius opposed proselytizing in any religion,
even in those regions where he allowed natives to worship freely.
The results of all these efforts were recognized even by Seneca, who has
an ancient Latin god defend Claudius in his satire.
Public games and entertainments:
According to Suetonius, Claudius was extraordinarily fond of games.
He is said to have risen with the crowd after gladiatorial matches and
given unrestrained praise to the fighters. Claudius also presided
over many new and original events. Soon after coming into power,
Claudius instituted games to be held in honor of his father on the latter's
birthday. Annual games were also held in honour of his accession,
and took place at the Praetorian camp where Claudius had first been proclaimed
Claudius organised a performance of the Secular Games, marking the 800th
anniversary of the founding of Rome. Augustus had performed the same
games less than a century prior. Augustus' excuse was that the interval
for the games was 110 years, not 100, but his date actually did not qualify
under either reasoning. Claudius also presented naval battles to
mark the attempted draining of the Fucine Lake, as well as many other public
games and shows.
At Ostia, in front of a crowd of spectators, Claudius fought a killer whale
which was trapped in the harbour. The event was witnessed by Pliny
"A killer whale was actually seen in the harbour of Ostia, locked in combat
with the emperor Claudius. She had come when he was completing the
construction of the harbour, drawn there by the wreck of a ship bringing
leather hides from Gaul, and feeding there over a number of days, had made
a furrow in the shallows: the waves had raised up such a mound of sand
that she couldn't turn around at all, and while she was pursuing her banquet
as the waves moved it shorewards, her back stuck up out of the water like
the overturned keel of a boat. The Emperor ordered that a large array
of nets be stretched across the mouths of the harbour, and setting out
in person with the Praetorian cohorts gave a show to the Roman people,
soldiers showering lances from attacking ships, one of which I saw swamped
by the beast's waterspout and sunk. — "Historia Naturalis" IX.14–15."
Claudius also restored and adorned many public venues in Rome. At
the Circus Maximus, the turning posts and starting stalls were replaced
in marble and embellished, and an embankment was probably added to prevent
flooding of the track. Claudius also reinforced or extended the seating
rules that reserved front seating at the Circus for senators. Claudius
rebuilt Pompey's Theatre after it had been destroyed by fire, organising
special fights at the re-dedication which he observed from a special platform
in the orchestra box.
Marriages and personal life:
Suetonius and the other ancient authors accused Claudius of being dominated
by women and wives, and of being a womanizer.
Claudius married four times, after two failed betrothals. The first
betrothal was to his distant cousin Aemilia Lepida, but was broken for
political reasons. The second was to Livia Medullina, which ended
with Medullina's sudden death on their wedding day.
Plautia Urgulanilla was the granddaughter of Livia's confidant Urgulania.
During their marriage she gave birth to a son, Claudius Drusus. Drusus
died of asphyxiation in his early teens, shortly after becoming engaged
to Junilla, the daughter of Sejanus.
Claudius later divorced Urgulanilla for adultery and on suspicion of murdering
her sister-in-law Apronia. When Urgulanilla gave birth after the
divorce, Claudius repudiated the baby girl, Claudia, as the father was
allegedly one of his own freedmen. This action made him later the
target of criticism by his enemies.
Soon after (possibly in 28), Claudius married Aelia Paetina, a relative
of Sejanus, if not Sejanus's adoptive sister. During their marriage,
Claudius and Paetina had a daughter, Claudia Antonia. He later divorced
her after the marriage became a political liability, although Leon (1948)
suggests it may have been due to emotional and mental abuse by Paetina.
Some years after divorcing Aelia Paetina, in 38 or early 39, Claudius married
Valeria Messalina, who was his first cousin once removed and closely allied
with Caligula's circle. Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to a daughter
Claudia Octavia. A son, first named Tiberius Claudius Germanicus,
and later known as Britannicus, was born just after Claudius' accession.
This marriage ended in tragedy. The ancient historians allege that
Messalina was a nymphomaniac who was regularly unfaithful to Claudius —
Tacitus states she went so far as to compete with a prostitute to see who
could have the most sexual partners in a night — and manipulated his
policies in order to amass wealth. In 48, Messalina married her lover
Gaius Silius in a public ceremony while Claudius was at Ostia.
Sources disagree as to whether or not she divorced the Emperor first, and
whether the intention was to usurp the throne. Scramuzza, in his
biography, suggests that Silius may have convinced Messalina that Claudius
was doomed, and the union was her only hope of retaining rank and protecting
her children. The historian Tacitus suggests that Claudius's ongoing
term as Censor may have prevented him from noticing the affair before it
reached such a critical point. Whatever the case, the result was
the execution of Silius, Messalina, and most of her circle. Claudius
made the Praetorians promise to kill him if he ever married again.
Agrippina the Younger:
Claudius did marry once more. The ancient sources tell that his freedmen
put forward three candidates, Caligula's third wife Lollia Paulina, Claudius's
divorced second wife Aelia Paetina and Claudius's niece Agrippina the Younger.
According to Suetonius, Agrippina won out through her feminine wiles.
The truth is probably more political. The attempted coup d'état
by Silius and Messalina had probably made Claudius realize the weakness
of his position as a member of the Claudian but not the Julian family.
This weakness was compounded by the fact that he did not yet have an obvious
adult heir, Britannicus being just a boy.
Agrippina was one of the few remaining descendants of Augustus, and her
son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (the future Emperor Nero) was one of the
last males of the Imperial family. Coup attempts could rally around
the pair and Agrippina was already showing such ambition. It has
been suggested that the Senate may have pushed for the marriage, to end
the feud between the Julian and Claudian branches. This feud dated
back to Agrippina's mother's actions against Tiberius after the death of
her husband Germanicus (Claudius's brother), actions which Tiberius had
gladly punished. In any case, Claudius accepted Agrippina and later
adopted the newly mature Nero as his son.
Nero was married to Claudius' daughter Octavia, made joint heir with the
underage Britannicus, and promoted; Augustus had similarly named his grandson
Postumus Agrippa and his stepson Tiberius as joint heirs, and Tiberius
had named Caligula joint heir with his grandson Tiberius Gemellus.
Adoption of adults or near adults was an old tradition in Rome, when a
suitable natural adult heir was unavailable as was the case during Britannicus'
minority. Claudius may have previously looked to adopt one of his
sons-in-law to protect his own reign.
Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix, who was married to Claudius's daughter Claudia
Antonia, was only descended from Octavia and Antony on one side – not close
enough to the Imperial family to prevent doubts (although that did not
stop others from making him the object of a coup attempt against Nero a
few years later). Besides which, he was the half-brother of Valeria
Messalina and at this time those wounds were still fresh. Nero was
more popular with the general public as the grandson of Germanicus and
the direct descendant of Augustus.
Claudius' affliction and personality:
The historian Suetonius describes the physical manifestations of Claudius'
affliction in relatively good detail. His knees were weak and gave
way under him and his head shook. He stammered and his speech was
confused. He slobbered and his nose ran when he was excited. The
Stoic Seneca states in his Apocolocyntosis that Claudius' voice belonged
to no land animal, and that his hands were weak as well.
However, he showed no physical deformity, as Suetonius notes that when
calm and seated he was a tall, well-built figure of dignitas. When
angered or stressed, his symptoms became worse. Historians agree
that this condition improved upon his accession to the throne. Claudius
himself claimed that he had exaggerated his ailments to save his life.
Modern assessments of his health have changed several times in the past
century. Prior to World War II, infantile paralysis (or polio) was
widely accepted as the cause. This is the diagnosis used in Robert
Graves' Claudius novels, first published in the 1930s. Polio does
not explain many of the described symptoms, however, and a more recent
theory implicates cerebral palsy as the cause, as outlined by Ernestine
Leon. Tourette syndrome has also been considered a possibility.
As a person, ancient historians described Claudius as generous and lowbrow,
a man who sometimes lunched with the plebeians. They also paint him
as bloodthirsty and cruel, overly fond of gladiatorial combat and executions,
and very quick to anger; Claudius himself acknowledged the latter trait,
and apologized publicly for his temper. According to the ancient
historians he was also overly trusting, and easily manipulated by his wives
and freedmen. But at the same time they portray him as paranoid and
apathetic, dull and easily confused.
The extant works of Claudius present a different view, painting a picture
of an intelligent, scholarly, well-read, and conscientious administrator
with an eye to detail and justice. Thus, Claudius becomes an enigma.
Since the discovery of his "Letter to the Alexandrians" in the last century,
much work has been done to rehabilitate Claudius and determine where the
Scholarly works and their impact:
Claudius wrote copiously throughout his life. Arnaldo Momigliano states
that during the reign of Tiberius – which covers the peak of Claudius'
literary career – it became impolitic to speak of republican Rome.
The trend among the young historians was to either write about the new
empire or obscure antiquarian subjects. Claudius was the rare scholar who
Besides the history of Augustus' reign that caused him so much grief, his
major works included an Etruscan history and eight volumes on Carthaginian
history, as well as an Etruscan dictionary and a book on dice playing.
Despite the general avoidance of the Republican era, he penned a defense
of Cicero against the charges of Asinius Gallus. Modern historians
have used this to determine the nature of his politics and of the aborted
chapters of his civil war history.
He proposed a reform of the Latin alphabet by the addition of three new
letters, two of which served the function of the modern letters W and Y.
He officially instituted the change during his censorship but they did
not survive his reign. Claudius also tried to revive the old custom
of putting dots between successive words (Classical Latin was written with
no spacing). Finally, he wrote an eight-volume autobiography, that
Suetonius describes as lacking in taste. Since Claudius (like most
of the members of his dynasty) harshly criticized his predecessors and
relatives in surviving speeches, it is not hard to imagine the nature of
None of the works survive but live on as sources for the surviving histories
of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Suetonius quotes Claudius' autobiography
once and must have used it as a source numerous times. Tacitus uses
Claudius' arguments for the orthographical innovations mentioned above
and may have used him for some of the more antiquarian passages in his
annals. Claudius is the source for numerous passages of Pliny's Natural
The influence of historical study on Claudius is obvious. In his speech
on Gallic senators, he uses a version of the founding of Rome identical
to that of Livy, his tutor in adolescence. The speech is meticulous
in details, a common mark of all his extant works, and he goes into long
digressions on related matters. This indicates a deep knowledge of
a variety of historical subjects that he could not help but share.
Many of the public works instituted in his reign were based on plans first
suggested by Julius Caesar. Levick believes this emulation of Caesar
may have spread to all aspects of his policies.
His censorship seems to have been based on those of his ancestors, particularly
Appius Claudius Caecus, and he used the office to put into place many policies
based on those of Republican times. This is when many of his religious
reforms took effect, and his building efforts greatly increased during
his tenure. In fact, his assumption of the office of Censor may have
been motivated by a desire to see his academic labors bear fruit.
For example, he believed (as most Romans did) that his ancestor Appius
Claudius Caecus had used the censorship to introduce the letter "R" and
so used his own term to introduce his new letters.
The consensus of ancient historians was that Claudius was murdered by poison
– possibly contained in mushrooms or on a feather – and died in the early
hours of 13 October 54 AD.
Nearly all implicate his final wife, Agrippina, as the instigator. Agrippina
and Claudius had become more combative in the months leading up to his
death. This carried on to the point where Claudius openly lamented
his bad wives, and began to comment on Britannicus' approaching manhood
with an eye towards restoring his status within the imperial family.
Agrippina had motive in ensuring the succession of Nero before Britannicus
could gain power.
Some implicate either his taster Halotus, his doctor Xenophon, or the infamous
poisoner Locusta as the administrator of the fatal substance. Some
say he died after prolonged suffering following a single dose at dinner,
and some have him recovering only to be poisoned again. Among contemporary
sources, Seneca the younger ascribed the emperor's death to natural causes,
while Josephus only spoke of rumors on his poisoning.
In modern times, some authors have cast doubt on whether Claudius was murdered
or merely succumbed to illness or old age. Some modern scholars claim
the near universality of the accusations in ancient texts lends credence
to the crime. Claudius' ashes were interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus
on 24 October 54 AD, after a funeral in the manner of Augustus.
Already, while alive, he received the widespread private worship of a living
Princeps and was worshipped in Britannia in his own temple in Camulodunum.
Claudius was deified by Nero and the Senate almost immediately. Those
who regard this homage as cynical should note that, cynical or not, such
a move would hardly have benefited those involved, had Claudius been "hated",
as some commentators, both modern and historic, characterize him.
Many of Claudius' less solid supporters quickly became Nero's men.
Claudius' will had been changed shortly before his death to either recommend
Nero and Britannicus jointly or perhaps just Britannicus, who would have
been considered an adult man according to Roman law only a few months later.
Views of the new regime:
Agrippina had sent away Narcissus shortly before Claudius' death, and now
murdered the freedman. The last act of this secretary of letters
was to burn all of Claudius' correspondence — most likely so it could not
be used against him and others in an already hostile new regime.
Thus Claudius' private words about his own policies and motives were lost
to history. Just as Claudius had criticized his predecessors in official
edicts (see below), Nero often criticized the deceased Emperor and many
of Claudius' laws and edicts were disregarded under the reasoning that
he was too stupid and senile to have meant them.
Seneca's Apocolocyntosis reinforces the view of Claudius as an unpleasant
fool and this remained the official view for the duration of Nero's reign.
Eventually Nero stopped referring to his deified adoptive father at all,
and realigned with his birth family. Claudius' temple was left unfinished
after only some of the foundation had been laid down. Eventually
the site was overtaken by Nero's Golden House.
Flavian and later perspectives:
The Flavians, who had risen to prominence under Claudius, took a different
tack. They were in a position where they needed to shore up their
legitimacy, but also justify the fall of the Julio-Claudians. They
reached back to Claudius in contrast with Nero, to show that they were
good associated with good. Commemorative coins were issued of Claudius
and his son Britannicus, who had been a friend of the Emperor Titus (Titus
was born in 39, Britannicus was born in 41). When Nero's Golden House
was burned, the Temple of Claudius was finally completed on the Caelian
However, as the Flavians became established, they needed to emphasize their
own credentials more, and their references to Claudius ceased. Instead,
he was lumped with the other emperors of the fallen dynasty. His
state cult in Rome probably continued until the abolition of all such cults
of dead Emperors by Maximinus Thrax in 237–238. The Feriale Duranum,
probably identical to the festival calendars of every regular army unit,
assigns him a sacrifice of a steer on his birthday, the Kalends of August.
And such commemoration (and consequent feasting) probably continued until
the Christianization and disintegration of the army in the late 4th century.
Views of ancient historians:
The main ancient historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio all wrote
after the last of the Flavians had gone. All three were senators
or equites. They took the side of the Senate in most conflicts with
the Princeps, invariably viewing him as being in the wrong. This
resulted in biases, both conscious and unconscious. Suetonius lost
access to the official archives shortly after beginning his work.
He was forced to rely on second-hand accounts when it came to Claudius
(with the exception of Augustus' letters, which had been gathered earlier).
Suetonius painted Claudius as a ridiculous figure, belittling many of his
acts and attributing the objectively good works to his retinue.
Tacitus wrote a narrative for his fellow senators and fitted each of the
emperors into a simple mold of his choosing. He wrote of Claudius
as a passive pawn and an idiot in affairs relating to the palace and often
in public life. During his censorship of 47-8 Tacitus allows the reader
a glimpse of a Claudius who is more statesmanlike (XI.23-25), but it is
a mere glimpse. Tacitus is usually held to have 'hidden' his use
of Claudius' writings and to have omitted Claudius' character from his
works. Even his version of Claudius' Lyons tablet speech is edited
to be devoid of the Emperor's personality. Dio was less biased, but
seems to have used Suetonius and Tacitus as sources. Thus the conception
of Claudius as the weak fool, controlled by those he supposedly ruled,
was preserved for the ages.
As time passed, Claudius was mostly forgotten outside of the historians'
accounts. His books were lost first, as their antiquarian subjects
became unfashionable. In the 2nd century, Pertinax, who shared his
birthday, became emperor, overshadowing commemoration of Claudius.
Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
at this URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudius