Home Ancient History Ancient Rome Claudius, Roman Emperor (41-54 AD)

Claudius, Roman Emperor (41-54 AD)

Bust of Emperor Claudius from Naples National Archaeological Museum. Image: Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Tiberius Claudius Drusus was born in Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gaul on August 1, 10 BC, according to historical sources, as the second son of Drusus who was roman army leader in Germania, and Antonia Minor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Since his birth, his suffering from spastic paralysis and epilepsy, the boy punished by his mother and discriminated from his siblings Germanicus and Claudia and hidden from the public. Despite his disability, which made him initially a political career impossible and expressed – especially with excitement – in stuttering and uncontrolled salivation, Claudius enjoyed a sound education in the humanities, Greek rhetoric and he liked history especially to reading the works of Titus Livius. The publication of his contemporary treatise from the death of Julius Caesar (44 BC) to the First Principate (14 AD) was suppressed in Rome. Also the descriptions of the civil wars in Rome and critics the period of the Emperor Octavian Augustus did not come to the approval of his mother who immediately ordered Claudius to stop writing.

Although the symptoms of his disability as the years weakened, he was spread his knowledge in the public offices. His uncle Tiberius, adoptive successor of Augustus, granted him consular honors, but at the same time prevented the rise within the “cursus honorum”. Thus demotivated Claudius who withdrew from political life and family and concentrated as a “patronus” very successfully on the intensive study of Roman Law. His attempt of a Roman writing reform with punctual adaptations to the Greek, however, remained without practical significance. Already at the time of Octavian Augustus‘ rule, there was an disappearance of the potential successors of the throne, which could not be completely eliminated by adopting the appropriate candidates. But when the young Emperor Caligula, to whom Claudius had a rather mixed relationship, fell as a victim of the conspiracy of some senators in 41 AD and was murdered, Claudius, so far politically insignificant, but nevertheless by no means unpopular, was able to escape the turmoil of the revolution and save his life. What’s more, he uses the security of the Praetorian barracks to hide and insure the important support of the guards. 

Although Claudius was presented at the ensuing Senate meetings as an enemy of the state but the Praetorian Guard suggested him as the new emperor of the Roman Empire. In that confusion within a lack of a conventional candidate and under the pressure of the praetorians, the (actually republican-oriented) Senate bowed on 25 January 41 (the day after Caligula’s death), and declared Claudius for a new “princeps” (the first, foremost)  Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Achievements of Emperor Claudius

The position of the “princeps” apropos Roman Emperor seemed to be conducive to Claudius’ health. Moreover Claudius quickly developed a sense of the political mechanisms of Rome because he was able to observe and study roman politics during his isolation from social life.

Map of Roman Empire during Claudius reign. Map: Tony Belmonte’s Historical Atlas

Claudius not only built a solid foundation for the Empire with his administrative reforms – (learned from Greek) freedmen in leadership positions, reorganization of Fiscus (personal treasury of the emperors) and jurisdiction in fact he also conquered six new provinces including Britain (43 AD); he also took care of the infrastructure in city: Construction of aqueducts and roads across the Alps; with the expansion of the port of Ostia he managed to secure the necessary supplies for Rome with grain imports; and finally the renovation of Circus Maximus.

As “pater patriae” he organized secular games in 47 AD on the 800th anniversary of Rome. When a fire broke out in Rome, Claudius himself spent all night out and called officials to stop spreading the fire. Everyone who responded was awarded personally by Claudius. His far-sighted policy did not protect him from hostility such as from philosopher, statesmen and dramatist Seneca who wrote The Gourdification of (the DivineClaudius  (lat: Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii) a political satire about Claudius.

Perhaps Claudius was to occupied with Greek culture, the theoretical aspects learning of history, or the grounding through his physical disability, which enabled him the mentally agile to reorganize important issues of the empire. However, he tried (in vain) to constructively engage the Senate to rise his own power or giving the status of citizenship (civitates) for the Roman provinces. The state-political achievements of the Emperor Claudius were opposed his private life, because after two failed marriages he executed his unfaithful third wife Messalina and married Agrippina the Younger, great-granddaughter of Augustus and already mother of Nero. In AD 54, Claudius died under unexplained circumstances, but left behind an empire that even Nero could not destroy in megalomania delusion.

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