Claudius, 25 January 41 - 13 October 54 A.D.
Claudius was one of the most capable, yet unlikely of emperors. Shunned by his family because his many infirmities were the antithesis of the idealized patrician of Rome, Claudius spent the first decades of his life absorbed in scholarly studies although he did serve one term as Consul during the reign of his nephew Caligula. After Caligula's murder the Praetorian Guard found him hiding behind a curtain in the Imperial Palace, expecting to be murdered with the rest of the imperial family. Instead the guard proclaimed him emperor. His reign was marred by personal catastrophes, most notably promiscuity and betrayal by his third wife, the notorious Messalina. He governed well and conquered the troublesome island of Britain. He was poisoned by his fourth wife, Agrippina Jr., mother of Nero.
Princeps Claudius Ruled From: 41-54 A.D. - Joe Geranio
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (August 1, 10 BC – October 13, 54) (Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus before his accession) was the fourth Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruling from January 24, 41 to his death in 54. Born in Lugdunum in Gaul (modern-day Lyon, France), to Drusus and Antonia Minor, he was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italia.
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 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 improved upon his accession to the throne. Claudius himself claimed that he had exaggerated his ailments to save his own life.
Family and early life
Claudius was born Tiberius Claudius Drusus on August 1, 10 BC, in Lugdunum, Gaul, on the day of the dedication of an altar to Augustus. His parents were Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia, and he had two older siblings named Germanicus and Livilla. Antonia may have had two other children as well, but these died young.
Accession as emperor
On January 24, 41, Caligula was assassinated by a broad-based conspiracy (including 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 the event. 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 friends of his. Concerned for his survival, he fled to the palace to hide himself. According to tradition, a Praetorian named Gratus found him hiding behind a curtain and suddenly declared him imperator. 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.
Expansion of the empire
Under Claudius, the empire underwent its first major expansion since the reign of Augustus. The provinces of Thrace, Mauretania, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia, and Judea were annexed during his term. The most important conquest was that of Britannia.
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 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 and met at the famous Porta Maggiore. He also restored a third, the Aqua Virgo.
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 amongst 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.
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 Lyons 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 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.
The 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.
Religious reforms and games
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 reinstituted 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 appearance of Christianity had caused unrest within the Jewish community. 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.
Death, deification, and reputation
The general consensus of ancient historians was that Claudius was murdered by poison — possibly contained in mushrooms — and died in the early hours of October 13, 54. Accounts vary greatly. Some claim Claudius was in Rome while others claim he was in Sinuessa. Some implicate either Halotus, his taster, Xenophon, his doctor, 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. 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 royal family. Agrippina had motive in ensuring the succession of Nero before Britannicus could gain power. 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 universality of the accusations in ancient texts lends credence to the crime. Claudius' ashes were interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus on October 24, after a funeral in the manner of Augustus.
Marriages and personal life
Claudius' love life was unusual for an upper-class Roman of his day. As Edward Gibbon mentions, of the first fifteen emperors, "Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct"—the implication being that he was the only one not to take men or boys as lovers. Gibbon based this on Suetonius' factual statement that "He had a great passion for women, but had no interest in men." Suetonius and the other ancient authors actually used this against Claudius. They accused him of being dominated by these same women and wives, of being uxorious, and of being a womanizer.
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 covered both. 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 imperatorial era, he penned a defense of Cicero against the charges of Asinius Gallus. Modern historians have used this to determine both 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 different 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) heavily criticized his predecessors and relatives in surviving speeches, it is not hard to imagine the nature of Suetonius' charge.
The Claudian letters
Unfortunately, none of the actual works survive. They do 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' own 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 History.
Claudius in fiction
Claudius has been represented several times in ficton, both in literature and in film and television. The most famous modern representation is in the novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves, and the consequent BBC television series adaptation.
Emperor Claudius who ruled from 41- 54 A.D.
Emperor Claudius of the Julio Claudian dynasy. Joe Geranio
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