Claudius - List of Roman Emperors

Emperor Claudius

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (1 August 10 BC – 13 October 54 AD) was Roman Emperor from 41 AD to 54 AD. He was representative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and son of Drusus and Antonia Minor (daughter of Mark Antony). Claudius was born at Lugdunum, Gaul and became the first emperor to be born out of borders of Italy. Because he was stunned by weakness and deafness due to illness at a young age, his family excluded him from public service before his consulate, which he shared with his nephew Caligula at 37 years old.

Potential enemies did not see Claudius as a serious treat because of his infirmity

His survival led to the reign for 13 years. Praetorian Guard declared him an emperor after the assassination of Caligula because he was the last male member of his family. He did not have any experience, but still, Claudius proved to be an efficient administrator. During his reign many new roads, aqueducts, and canals across the Roman Empire were built. Moreover, the Empire began the conquest of Britain. Claudius presided over open trials and issued up to twenty edicts a day. Throughout his reign, he was considered vulnerable, especially by nobles. Claudius was constantly forced to strengthen his position, which led to the deaths of many senators. According to historians, he was murdered by his wife. After death, Nero succeeded Claudius as Emperor, his grand-nephew, step-son and adopted son.

Early Life

Emperor Claudius

Claudius was Caligula’s uncle and brother to Germanicus. His maternal grandparents were Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, sister of Augustus, so that he was the great-great grandnephew of Gaius Julius Caesar. Parental grandparents of Claudius were Livia, the third wife of Augustus, and Tiberius Claudius Nero. In 9 BC, his father Drusus died during the campaign in Germania and Claudius was left to be raised by mother. In addition, his mother never married again. Claudius’ disability became evident over short period of time and his mother started to use him as an example of stupidity. Moreover, for the reason of his weakness, he lived with his grandmother Livia for several years. When Claudius became teenager, his symptoms waned and he acquired scholarly interests. 

In 7 AD, Livy started to teach him history with the assistance of Sulpicius Flavus. Expectations about his future began to grow

Public Life

Emperor Augustus died in 14 AD, when Claudius was 23 years old. Tiberius became new emperor, who allowed Claudius to begin the cursus honorum and granted consular ornaments to him. Despite contempt from the Imperial family, most probably from the very beginning the public respected Claudius. Moreover, after the death of Augustus, the knights (equites) chose Claudius to become the head of their delegation. When his house burned down, the Senate offered its reconstruction at public expense. Moreover, they also allowed Claudius to debate in the Senate.

When Drusus died, Claudius became considered as a potential heir. However, it was the period of the terror and power of Sejanus, the Praetorian Guard, and Claudius decided to downplay this opportunity. When Tiberius died, the new Emperor Caligula (the son of Germanicus, Clausius’ brother) made Claudius his co-consul in 37. However, cruel and insane in terms of reign Caligula relentlessly humiliated his uncle: played jokes, took huge sums of money from him, and oppressed in front of the Senate. Later, in 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated because of the conspiracy, which included the Praetorian leader Cassius Chaerea and senators. It is not clear today if Claudius took part in the assassination. Moreover, Caligula’s wife and daughter were also murdered as a sign that Cassius wanted to wipe out the Imperial family.

Emperor and Expansion of the Empire

Despite the fact that the Senate did not really want it, Claudius became an efficient emperor, who proved his skills and was proclaimed on the initiative of Praetorian Guard. The first act that he had to make as an emperor was to execute Cassius Chaerea and other conspirators, the assassins of Caligula. Claudius managed to bring peace to Rome. Moreover, he built a new harbour at Ostia, created an imperial civil service, and made an agrarian reform.

Claudius abolished the treason trials of Caligula and expanded territories of the Empire further into the Middle East and the Balkans

Finally, he completed the conquest of Mauritania, started by Caligula and conquered Britain. Claudius also wanted to have a military glory, so he led his army through Gaul and across the Channel into Britain. As a result, with little opposition, he turned the island into submission. Like all his predecessors, Claudius was paranoid, angry and put many of his enemies to death. Like Caligula, he had problems with Jews who lived in Rome and to prevent their riot, he expelled them from the city.

Judicial and Legislative Issues

Emperor Claudius personally judged many of the legal issues. However, historians claim that there were many judgements with strange verdicts that sometimes did not follow the law. Nevertheless, since law was his personal interest, he paid a lot of attention to the operation of judicial system. During his reign, Claudius prolonged the summer and winter court sessions and shortened the traditional breaks. The minimum age for jurors became from 25 years old to ensure a more experienced and professional candidate. The emperor settled disputed in the provinces of Rome. He freed the island of Rhodes from Roman rule for their good faith and Ilium (Troy) from taxes. At the beginning of his reign, he had difficult relationships with the Greeks and Jews of Alexandria. Lately, famous “Letter to the Alexandrians” confirmed Jewish rights in the city. 

Claudius issued many edicts with different topics. For instance, one of the most famous edicts concerned the condition of sick slaves. Masters left sick slaves in the temple of Aesculapius on Tiber Island to die instead of helping them with medical care, and then return them back if they stayed alive. Claudius ordered that slaves who were thus abandoned and restored after such treatment would be free. In addition, masters who decided to kill slaves rather than take care of them could be blamed for the murder.

Public Projects

Aqua Claudia

Claudius worked on many public projects during his 13 years of reign. He built two aqueducts: the Aqua Claudia, begun by Caligula, the Anio Novus, and restored the Aqua Virgo. The emperor paid special attention to transportation by building canals and roads throughout Italy. Among the canals was the one that led from the Rhine to the sea. Moreover, a road from Italy to Germany was finished by him, where both these projects were initiated by his father, Drusus. Also, a navigable canal nearby Rome on the Tiber was built by Claudius. It led to Portus, located just north of Ostia. At the same time, the port of Ostia was one of his main projects, which acted as a solution to the frequent grain shortages during the winter time. He granted special privileges to sailors, including citizenship and exemption from the Lex Papia-Poppaea (law that regulated marriage). It was made to ensure the ships of grain dealers who were ready to risk going to Egypt in the off-season.

Relationship with The Senate

Since the emperor was chosen by the Praetorian Guard, he put lots of efforts to please the Senate. Claudius refused from all his predecessors’ titles, including Imperator, at the start of his reign. He wanted to earn them by himshelf and prooved his skills of successful emperor. Moreover, Claudius allowed the Senate to issue its own bronze coinage, which happened for the first time since emperor Augustus’ reign. Under the Senate control, Claudius put the Imperial provinces of Macedonia and Achaeca back.

Secretariat

During the reign of Claudius, the secretariat was divided in bureaus, where each was under the reign of one freedman. The emperor had to increase their role as the powers of the princeps became more centralized. Of course, one of the reasons was the hostility of the Senate. After the new law, the freedmen could officially speak for the Emperor. However, since they had total control of money, letters and law, they could manipulate the Emperor. The senators were shocked that they were placed in the hands of former slaves. However, according to some historians, the freedmen were loyal to the emperor.

Despite the fact of the extent of the political power, the freedmen managed to accumulate wealth through their positions

Reforms Connected to Religion

Claudius had strong opinions about the new form of state religion. He refused the request of Alexandrian Greeks to build a temple dedicated to his divinity, by replying that only gods may choose new gods. Claudius re-instituted observance and archaic language. Moreover, he wanted to spread the Eleusinian mysteries which had been practiced by many people during the Republic time. Thus, the emperor expelled many astrologists ad rehabilitated the old Roman soothsayers. He was particularly cruel to Druidism because of its differences with the Roman state religion and its proselytic activity.

Entertainments

Emperor Claudius

Claudius loved games. Moreover, it is said that he rose with a crowd after gladiator fights and impetuously praised the fighters. During his reign, he also created many new events. For example, he instituted games that took place in honor of his father on the day of his birthday. Other games took place annually in honour of his accession at the Praetorian camp since it was the place where he had been proclaimed Emperor. Famous naval battles also were organized by the emperor to mark the attempted draining of the Fucine Lake. 

Personal Life

Claudius was married four times. Undoubtedly, he wasn’t lucky with women. He married twice during his reign where Messalina and Agrippina had an influence over him to accomplish many of their own purposes

  • His first wife, Plautia Urgulanilla, was the granddaughter of Livia’s confidant. She gave a birth to a son, Claudius Drusus, who died of asphyxiation when he was a teen. Claudius later divorced Urgulanilla because he suspected her in murdering her sister-in-law Apronia
  • Soon after, Claudius Married Aelia Paetina, who was a relative of Sejanus. They had a daughter, Claudia Antonia. They were divorced since the marriage became a political liability. However, historians claim that the reason of the divorce could be her emotional and mental abuse
  • Claudius’ marriage to Valeria Messalina finished with her premature death. They had a son, Britannicus, but his ex-wife wasn’t faithful. She and her lover Gaius Silius wanted to kill Claudius and make Britannicus a new emperor, but Narcissus (one of the freedmen) convinced Claudius that Messalina had to die
  • Agrippina the Younger became his last wife, who was one the few remaining descendants of Augustus. Probably the Senate may have pushed them to marry, to finish the feud between the Juliand and Claudian dynasties

Death

Claudius’ marriage to Agrippina wasn’t the best decision. The manipulative wife was insane about the idea of having her son Nero named the next emperor. At the beginning, she wanted her son to Marry Claudius’s daughter, Claudia Octavia, but changed her plans when Nero became adopted by Claudius. Thus, he became his successor. Consequently, Agrippina became suspected in his death since the emperor died shortly after eating poisoned food given to him by lovely wife. As she wanted, Nero ascended to the throne, but she did not expect what can happen to her life in coming future.

I, Claudius TV series

I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC Television version of Rober Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God. The main protagonist is starred by Derek Jacobi with Sian Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Margaret Tyzack, John Hurt, Patricia Quinn, Ian Ogily, Kevin MvNally, Patrick Stewart, and John Rhys-Davies. The episodes show the history of early Roman Empire from the perspective of Roman Emperor Claudius.

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Author: Kate Zusmann

For the last five years I live in Rome, Italy. Recently, I've graduated from the American university of John Cabot with major in communication and minor in entrepreneurship. I have a passion for writing, traveling, and exploring new things.