Julio – Claudian dynasty in Roman empire (14 – 69 AD)

Octavian Augustus had only one child, a daughter, Julia, because his two sons had died when they were young boys. Octavian last wife, Livia Drusilla persuaded him to adopt her son Tiberius Claudius Nero and to designate him as his successor to the throne. Since Tiberius mother came from a family of Claudians and her son was also Claudians, the entire dynasty in Roman empire is named Claudian dynasty.

After the death of Octavian Augustus, Tiberius Claudius Nero became Roman Emperor, and as such he was recognized even by the Senate.

 A Lot of bad things could be said about Julian – Claudian dynasty, because Tiberius  Claudius Nero (14 – 37 AD) was a morbid, paranoid ruler, suspicious of everyone and vindictive.  He passed a Law on insult of the rulers. This law meant that anyone, who would say something negative about Tiberius even if it was a joke, could be strictly punished. He even organized a real network of agents which all suspects placed in jail. Because of the constant fear that someone will assassinate him, he retreated to his summer residence on the island of Capri near Naples, and he rarely came to Rome.

Tiberius’s heir, Gaius Caligula (37 – 41 AD) earned the nickname “Caligula” meaning “little soldier’s boot. He did not have the patience to wait for the Tiberius to die, so he ordered his murder. At the beginning of his reign Caligula acted normally, he abolished Tiberius Laws about suspects; he freed political prisoners, reduced taxes and staged great games to entertain people. The situation started to change over time, and Caligula began to show a completely different character. He declared himself as a deity. Caligula also ordered to cut off heads to every  statues of the gods and to put his head instead.

Denarius of Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula
Denarius of Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula

Caligula appointed his favorite horse as a Consul and he even dressed him in royal purple toga when he presented him to the Senate. The highlight of his madness took place during the attack on the Britain. When Caligula arrived with his army to La Mancha he realized that he does not have the boats to cross the Channel. Then Caligula ordered the soldiers to fill their helmets with shells, and in Rome he prepared a triumph in the glory of conquering the sea! Praetorian Guard organized a conspiracy in which Caligula was murdered, and since he had no heir, Praetorian Guard set his uncle Tiberius Claudius for the Roman Emperor. His uncle was found mortally frightened hiding in the palace behind the curtain.

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (41–54 AD), although he had exceptional intellectual abilities, he suffered from physical disabilities and he was manipulated by his wife and many “advisors”. One of his wives –Valeria Messalina, was probably the most immoral person in Rome, about whose sex scandals were talking all Romans. Claudius killed her when he learned that she was plotting on setting her lover on the imperial throne. Then he married Agrippina, his niece and Caligula’s sister, which managed to convince him to designate her son from a previous marriage – Nero as his heir to the throne. Agrippina perhaps poisoned Claudius with mushrooms filled with poison. She wanted in this way to be sure that Claudius will not change his mind.

Nero Claudius Caesar (54 – 68 AD), the last Emperor of this dynasty, and he was one of the worst Emperors whose tyranny led to many rebellions throughout the Empire. Similarly like Caligula, Nero began his reign in a decent way. He cared about the poor; he was righteous judge, allowed talented and capable people to participate in policy decisions, reduced taxes,…

Nero's Torches oil on canvas by painter Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902)
Nero’s Torches oil on canvas by painter
Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902)

The reason was probably in his youth, because at the time he was still under the control of his teacher and advisor, Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca. And then something completely different. Nero convinced himself that he is excellent actor and musician, and he began performing on the stage, which was a scandal for the decent Romans. His main ambition became building of his palace which was worthy of the reputation of the world’s greatest ruler. In 64 AD, an opportunity was given to him when a huge fire broke out in Rome, which destroyed almost half of Rome. Nero ordered the construction of the stage. On the ashes he had built a magnificent palace, which he named Domus Aurea (The Golden House). The palace had huge statue and gorgeous park. Many Romans have accused emperor Nero that he set Rome on fire in order to realize his architectural wishes. Nero said that it was Christians fault. A lot of Christians died in the persecution that started after Nero declared that they set Rome on fire.

The Nero extravagance cancelled some of the good things he did. Nero even accused his most trusted adviser Seneca, who tried to bring some sense into him, that he is working behind his back, and Seneca as a response to his accusations committed suicide.

Soon after that Nero committed suicide as well, because he did not want to fall in the hands of Praetorian Guard.  Apparently his last words were: “What an artist dies in me!”

Despite of all that, such Roman Emperors from Julio-Claudian dynasty not only did they preserve Octavian Augustus heritage but they even made heritage bigger. Emperor Claudius, for example in 47 AD conquered Great Britain and turned it into the new Roman province, and with this act he finished the job Julius Caesar started with his invasion at Britain in 55/54 BC.

Centralization of power was more advanced. Roman Emperors allowed less and less for the Senate to make state decisions. Emperors started to take the matter into their own hands.

Claudius for example almost all state affairs entrusted to his assistants, and they were mostly freed slaves who were educated Greeks. Claudius system was in fact the beginning of a professional bureaucracy.

A factor that has further weakened the power of the Senate was the Praetorian Guard, which was quite often involved into politics by forcing the Senate to recognize their candidates as an Emperor. This is how Claudius and Nero came to the throne. The Senate did not have the force with which they could stand up to the Praetorian Guard.