Rome prospered during the reign Claudius I (10 B.C-45 A.D.), Caligula's uncle. Regarded as a crippled, uncouth scholar and characterized by some as a "dim-witted oaf" because he stuttered and had the habit of drooling, Claudius improved Rome’s administrative efficiency by centralizing the government, taking control of the treasury, and expanding the civil service. He wrote 20 books about Etruscan history and primers on gambling. He also wrote a play in Greek and added three letter to the Roman alphabet.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Rome prospered during the succeeding reign of Claudius (Caligula's uncle), who achieved administrative efficiency by centralizing the government, taking control of the treasury, and expanding the civil service. He engaged in a vast program of public works, including new aqueducts, canals, and the development of Ostia as the port of Rome. To the Roman empire, he added Britain (43 A.D.) and the provinces of Mauritania, Thrace, Lycia, and Pamphylia. Imperial expansion brought about colonization, urbanization, and the extension of Roman citizenship in the provinces, a process begun by Julius Caesar, continued by Augustus, slowed by Tiberius, and resumed on a large scale by Claudius. \ [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, ]

Suetonius wrote: “He possessed majesty and dignity of appearance, but only when he was standing still or sitting, and especially when he was lying down; for he was tall but not slender, with an attractive face, becoming white hair, and a full neck. But when he walked, his weak knees gave way under him, and he had many disagreeable traits both in his lighter moments and when he was engaged in business; his laughter was unseemly and his anger still more disgusting, for he would foam at the mouth and trickle at the nose; he stammered besides and his head was very shaky at all times, but especially when he made the least exertion. Though previously his health was bad, it was excellent while he was emperor, except for attacks of heartburn which he said all but drove him to suicide.”[Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

Claudius came under the influence of the members of his household—his wives and freedmen. The intrigues and crimes of his wife Messalina, and of his niece Agrippina, whom he married after the death of Messalina, were a scandal to Roman society. So far as he was influenced by these abandoned women, his reign was a disgrace. But the same can scarcely be said of the freedmen of his household—Narcissus, his secretary; Pallas, the keeper of accounts; and Polybius, the director of his studies. These men were educated Greeks, and although they were called menials, he took them into his confidence and received benefit from their advice. Indeed, it has been said that “from Claudius dates the transformation of Caesar’s household servants into ministers of state.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Claudius’s Early Life

Suetonius wrote: “Claudius was born at Lugdunum on the Kalends of August in the consulship of Iullus Antonius and Fabius Africanus, the very day when an altar was first dedicated to Augustus in that town [August 1, 10 B.C.], and he received the name of Tiberius Claudius Drusus. Later, on the adoption of his elder brother into the Julian family, he took the surname Germanicus. He lost his father when he was still an infant, and throughout almost the whole course of his childhood and youth he suffered so severely from various obstinate disorders that the vigor of both his mind and his body was dulled, and even when he reached the proper age he was not thought capable of any public or private business. For a long time, even after he reached the age of independence [Arkenberg: i.e., the age of his majority], he was in a state of pupillage and under a guardian, of whom he himself makes complaint in a book of his, saying that he was a barbarian and a former chief of muleteers, put in charge of him for the express purpose of punishing him with all possible severity for any cause whatever. It was also because of his weak health that contrary to all precedent he wore a cloak when he presided at the gladiatorial games which he and his brother gave in honor of their father; and on the day when he assumed the gown of manhood he was taken in a litter to the Capitol about midnight without the usual escort [of relatives and friends]. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“Yet he gave no slight attention to liberal studies from his earliest youth, and even published frequent specimens of his attainments in each line. But even so he could not attain any public position or inspire more favorable hopes of his future. His mother Antonia often called him "a monster of a man, not finished but merely begun by Dame Nature" — ; and if she accused anyone of dullness, she used to say that he was "a bigger fool than her son Claudius." His grandmother Augusta [Arkenberg: i.e., Livia] always treated him with the utmost contempt, very rarely speaking to him; and when she admonished him, she did so in short, harsh letters, or through messengers. When his sister Livina heard that he would one day be emperor, she openly and loudly prayed that the Roman people might be spared so cruel and undeserved a fortune.

“Finally, to make it clearer what opinions, favorable and otherwise, his great uncle Augustus had of him, I have appended extracts from his own letters: "I have talked with Tiberius [the future emperor], my dear Livia, as you requested, with regard to what is to be done with your grandson Tiberius [i.e., Claudius] at the games of Mars [celebrated by Augustus in 12 A.D. in honor of Mars Ultor]. Now we are both agreed that we must decide once for all what plan we are to adopt in his case. For if he be sound and so to say complete, what reason have we for doubting that he ought to be advanced through the same grades and steps through which his brother has been advanced? But if we realize that he is wanting and defective in soundness of body and mind, we must not furnish the means of ridiculing both him and us to a public which is wont to scoff at and deride such things. Surely we shall always be in a stew, if we deliberate about each separate occasion and do not make up our minds in advance whether we think he can hold public offices or not.”

“Again in another letter: "I certainly shall invite the young Tiberius to dinner every day during your absence, to keep him from dining alone with his friends Sulpicius and Athenodorus. I do wish that he would choose more carefully and in a less scatter-brained fashion someone to imitate in his movements, bearing, and gait. The poor fellow is unlucky; for in important matters, where his mind does not wander, the nobility of his character is apparent enough."

“Also in a third letter: "Confound me, dear Livia, if I am not surprised that your grandson Tiberius [i.e., Claudius] could please me with his declaiming. How in the world anyone who is so unclear in his conversation can speak with clearness and propriety when he declaims, is more than I can see." There is no doubt at all what Augustus later decided, and that he left him invested with no office other than the augural priesthood, not even naming him as one of his heirs, save in the third degree and to a sixth part of his estate, among those who were all but strangers; while the legacy that he left him was not more than eight hundred thousand sesterces.”

Claudius and Caligula


Suetonius wrote: “It was only under his nephew Gaius [Arkenberg: i.e., Caligula], who in the early part of his reign tried to gain popularity by every device, that he at last began his official career, holding the consulship as his colleague for two months; and it chanced that as he entered the Forum for the first time with the fasces, an eagle that was flying by lit upon his shoulder. He was also allotted a second consulship, to be held four years later, and several times he presided at the shows in place of Gaius, and was greeted by the people now with "Success to the emperor's uncle!" and now with "All hail to the brother of Germanicus!" [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“But all this did not save him from constant insults; for if he came to dinner a little after the appointed time, he took his place with difficulty and only after making the round of the dining-room. Whenever he went to sleep after dinner, which was a habit of his, he was pelted with the stones of olives and dates, and sometimes he was awakened by the jesters with a whip or cane, in pretended sport. They used also to put slippers on his hands as he lay snoring, so that when he was suddenly aroused he might rub his face with them.

“But he was exposed also to actual dangers. First in his very consulship, when he was all but deposed, because he had been somewhat slow in contracting for and setting up the statues of Nero and Drusus, the emperor's brothers. Afterwards he was continually harassed by all kinds of accusations, brought against him by strangers or even by the members of his household. Finally, when the conspiracy of Lepidus and Gaetulicus was detected and he was sent to Germania as one of the envoys to congratulate the emperor, he was really in peril of his life, since Gaius raged and fumed because his uncle of all men had been sent to him, as if to a child in need of a guardian. So great, indeed, was his wrath that some have written that Claudius was even thrown into the river clothes and all, just as he had come. Moreover, from that time on he always gave his opinion in the Senate last among the consulars, having the question put to him after all the rest by way of humiliation. A case involving the forgery of a will was even admitted in which Claudius himself was one of the signers. At last he was forced to pay eight million sesterces to enter a new priesthood, which reduced him to such straitened circumstances that he was unable to meet the obligation incurred to the treasury; whereupon by edict of the prefects his property was advertised for sale to meet the deficiency, in accordance with the law regulating confiscations.”

Claudius I's Ascendancy to the Emperorship

Claudius was the first emperor proclaimed by the army. The murder of Caligula had been provoked by an insult given to an officer of the praetorian guard. When the senate hesitated to choose a successor, the praetorians, accidentally finding Claudius in the palace, and recognizing him as the brother of Germanicus, assumed the right to name him as emperor. The senate was obliged to submit; and for a long time after this the praetorians continued to exercise the right of naming the prince. Claudius is usually represented as a weak imbecile; but his reign stands out in refreshing contrast to the cruel tyranny of Tiberius and the wild extravagances of Caligula. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Procaliming Claudius Emperor

Suetonius wrote: “Having spent the greater part of his life under these and like circumstances, he became emperor in his fiftieth year [41 A.D.] by a remarkable freak of fortune. When the assassins of Gaius shut out the crowd under pretense that the emperor wished to be alone, Claudius was ousted with the rest and withdrew to an apartment called the Hermaeum; and a little later, in great terror at the news of the murder, he stole away to a balcony hard by and hid among the curtains which hung before the door. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“As he cowered there, a common soldier, who was prowling about at random, saw his feet, and intending to ask who he was, pulled him out and recognized him; and when Claudius fell at his feet in terror, he hailed him as emperor. Then he took him to the rest of his comrades, who were as yet in a condition of uncertainty and purposeless rage. These placed him in a litter, took turns in carrying it, since his own bearers had made off, and bore him to the Camp in a state of despair and terror, while the throng that met him pitied him, as an innocent man who was being hurried off to execution. Received within the rampart, he spent the night among the sentries with much less hope than confidence; for the consuls with the Senate and the city cohorts had taken possession of the Forum and the Capitol, resolved on maintaining the public liberty. When he too was summoned to the House by the tribunes of the Plebeians, to give his advice on the situation, he sent word that "he was detained by force and compulsion." But the next day, since the Senate was dilatory in putting through its plans because of the tiresome bickering of those who held divergent views, while the populace, who stood about the hall, called for one ruler and expressly named Claudius, he allowed the armed assembly of the soldiers to swear allegiance to him, and promised each man fifteen thousand sesterces; being the first of the Caesars who resorted to bribery to secure the fidelity of the troops.

“Yet he did not remain throughout without experience of treachery, but he was attacked by individuals, by a conspiracy, and finally by a civil war. A man of the Plebeians was caught near his bed-chamber in the middle of the night, dagger in hand; and two members of the equestrian order were found lying in wait for him in public places, one ready to attack him with a sword-cane as he came out of the theater, the other with a hunting knife as he was sacrificing in the temple of Mars.

“Asinius Gallus and Statilius Corvinus, grandsons of the orators Pollio and Messala, conspired to overthrow him, aided by a number of his own freedmen and slaves. The civil war was set on foot by Furius Camillus Scribonianus, governor of Dalmatia; but his rebellion was put down within five days, since the legions which had changed their allegiance were turned from their purpose by superstitious fear; for when the order was given to march to their new commander, by some providential chance the eagles could not be adorned — nor the standards pulled up and moved.”

Claudius as Emperor

Suetonius wrote: “As soon as his power was firmly established, he considered it of foremost importance to obliterate the memory of the two days when men had thought of changing the form of government. Accordingly he made a decree that all that had been done and said during that period should be pardoned and forever forgotten; he kept his word too, save only that a few of the tribunes and centurions who had conspired against Gaius were put to death, both to make an example of them and because he knew that they had also demanded his own death. Then turning to the duties of family loyalty, he adopted as his most sacred and frequent oath "By Augustus." [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

20120224-774px-Proclaiming Claudius emperor.png
Claudius becoming emperor
“He had divine honors voted his grandmother Livia and a chariot drawn by elephants in the procession at the circuses like that of Augustus; also public offerings to the shades of his parents and in addition annual games in the Circus on his father's birthday, and for his mother a carriage to bear her image through the Circus and the surname of Augusta, which she had declined during her lifetime. In memory of his brothers, whom he took every opportunity of honoring, he brought out a Hellenic comedy in the contest at Naples, and awarded it the crown in accordance with the decision of the judges. He did not leave even Marcus Antonius unhonored or without grateful mention, declaring once in a proclamation that he requested the more earnestly that the birthday of his father Drusus be celebrated because it was the same as that of his grandfather Antonius. He completed the marble arch to Tiberius near Pompeius Magnus' theater, which had been voted some time before by the Senate, but left unfinished. Even in the case of Gaius, while he annulled all his acts, yet he would not allow the day of his death to be added to the festivals, although it was also the beginning of his own reign.

“But in adding to his own dignity he was modest and unassuming, refraining from taking the forename Imperator, refusing excessive honors, and passing over the betrothal of his daughter and the birthday of a grandson in silence and with merely private ceremonies. He recalled no one from exile except with the approval of the Senate. He obtained from the members as a favor the privilege of bringing into the House with him the prefect of the praetorian guard and the tribunes of the soldiers, and the ratification of the judicial acts of his agents in the provinces. He asked the consuls for permission to hold fairs on his private estates. He often appeared as one of the advisers at cases tried before the magistrates; and when they gave games, he also arose with the rest of the audience and showed his respect by acclamations and applause. When the tribunes of the Plebeians appeared before him as he sat upon the tribunal, he apologized to them because for lack of room he could not hear them unless they stood up. By such conduct he won so much love and devotion in a short time, that when it was reported that he had been waylaid and killed on a journey to Ostia, the people were horror stricken and with dreadful execrations continued to assail the soldiers as traitors, and the Senate as murderers, until finally one or two men, and later several, were brought forward upon the Rostra by the magistrates and assured the people that Claudius was safe and on his way to the city.

“He held four consulships in addition to his original one [42, 43, 47, & 51 A.D.]. Of these the first two were in successive years, while the other two followed at intervals of four years each, the last for six months, the others for two; and in his third he was substituted for one of the consuls who had died, a thing which was without precedent in the case of an emperor. He administered justice most conscientiously both as consul and when out of office, even on his own anniversaries and those of his family, and sometimes even on festivals of ancient date and days of ill-omen. He did not always follow the letter of the laws, but modified their severity or lenity in many cases according to his own notions of equity and justice; for he allowed a new trial to those who had lost their cases before private judges by demanding more than the law prescribed, while, overstepping the lawful penalty, he condemned to the wild beasts those who were convicted of especially heinous crimes.

“But in hearing and deciding cases [before his own tribunal] he showed strange inconsistency of temper, for he was now careful and shrewd, sometimes hasty and inconsiderate, occasionally silly and like a crazy man. In revising the lists of the divisions of jurors [more literally, "the decuries for court duty," to distinguish them from the decuries of equites, scribes, etc.] he disqualified a man who had presented himself without mentioning that he was immune because of the number of his children [That is, he enjoyed the privileges of the Ius Trium Liberorum, one of which was freedom from jury duty.] on the ground that he had a passion for jury duty.

Claudius’s Discourse in the Senate

Claudius (ruled 41 to 54 A.D.), the third successor of Augustus had a reputation for being pedantic and long-winded. He was not without abilities as a ruler, however, and did much to equalize the condition of the Italians and the Provincials. The following speech of his in the Senate (preserved on an inscription) illustrates at once the nature of an imperial harangue before the Conscript Fathers (the members of the Senate), the interruptions that seem to have been allowed even in the speech of an Emperor, the broad personalities in which Claudius indulged, and his liberal policy withal, especially to the Gauls. A version of the speech is also reported by Tacitus. [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 186-188]

“Inscription: Claudius: "It is surely an innovation of the divine Augustus, my great-uncle, and of Tiberius Caesar, my uncle, to desire that particularly the flower of the colonies and of the municipal towns, that is to say, all those that contain men of breeding and wealth, should be admitted to this assembly." [Interruption, seemingly by a senator]: "How now? Is not an Italian senator to be preferred to a provincial senator!?"

Claudius said in A.D. 48: "I will soon explain this point to you, when I submit that part of my acts which I performed as censor, but I do not conceive it needful to repel even the provincials who can do honor to the Senate House. Here is this splendid and powerful colony of Vienna [Davis: modern Vienne in the South of France]; is it so long since it sent to us senators? From that colony comes Lucius Vestinus, one of the glories of the equestrian order, my personal friend, whom I keep close to myself for the management of my private affairs. Let his sons be suffered — I pray you — to become priests of the lowest rank, while waiting until, with the lapse of years, they can follow the advancement of their dignity. As for that robber, Valerius Asiaticus from Vienna, I will pass over his hateful name. For I detest that hero of the gymnasium, who brought the consulship into his family before even his colony had obtained the full rights of Roman citizenship. I could say as much of his brother, stamped as unworthy by this unlucky relationship, and incapable henceforth of being a useful member of your body." [Source: “Claudius (b. 10 B.C., r. 41 A.D. - d.54 A.D.).: A Discourse in the Senate, c. 48 A.D. William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 186-188,

[Interrupting shout]: "Here now, Tiberius Caesar Germanicus! It's time to let the Conscript Fathers understand what your talk is driving at — already you've reached the very limits of Narbonnese Gaul!"

“Claudius: "All these young men of rank, on whom I cast my glance, you surely do not regret to see among the number of the senators; any more than Persicus, that most high-born gentleman and my friend, is ashamed when he meets upon the images of his ancestors the name Allobrogius. And if such is your thought, what would you desire more? Do I have to point it out to you? Even the territory which is located beyond the province of Gallia Narbonnensis, has it not already sent you senators? For surely we have no regrets in going clear up to Lugdunum [Davis: Modern Lyons in France] for the members of our order. Assuredly, Conscript Fathers, it is not without some hesitation that I cross the limits of the provinces which are well known and familiar to you, but the moment is come when I must plead openly the cause of Further Gaul. It will be objected that Gaul sustained a war against the divine Julius for ten years. But let there be opposed to this the memory of a hundred years of steadfast fidelity, and a loyalty put to the proof in many trying circumstances. My father, Drusus, was able to force Germany to submit, because behind him reigned a profound peace assured by the tranquillity of the Gauls. And note well, that at the moment he was summoned to that war, he was busy instituting the census in Gaul, a new institution among them, and contrary to their customs. And how difficult and perilous to us is this business of the census, although all we require is that our public resources should be known, we have learned by all too much experience."

Claudius's Public Works


Claudius followed the example of Augustus in the execution of works of public utility. He constructed the Claudian aqueduct, which brought water to the city from a distance of forty-five miles. For the purpose of giving Rome a good harbor where the grain supplies from Egypt might be landed, he built the Portus Romanus at the mouth of the Tiber near Ostia. To improve the agriculture of the Marsians, he constructed a great tunnel to drain the Fucine Lake, a work which required the labor of thirty thousand men for eleven years. He celebrated the completion of this work by a mimic naval battle on the waters of the lake. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Suetonius wrote: “The public works which he completed were great and essential rather than numerous; they were in particular the following: an aqueduct begun by Gaius; also the outlet of Lake Fucinus and the harbor at Ostia, although in the case of the last two he knew that Augustus had refused the former to the Marsyans in spite of their frequent requests, and that the latter had often been thought of by the Deified Julius, but given up because of its difficulty. He brought to the city on stone arches the cool and abundant founts of the Claudian aqueduct, one of which is called Caeruleus and the other Curtius and Albudignus, and at the same time the spring of the new Anio, distributing them into many beautifully ornamented pools. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“He made the attempt on the Fucine Lake as much in the hope of gain as of glory, inasmuch as there were some who agreed to drain it at their own cost, provided the land that was uncovered be given to them. He finished the outlet, which was three miles in length, partly by leveling and partly by tunneling a mountain, a work of great difficulty and requiring eleven years, although he had thirty thousand men at work all the time without interruption. He constructed the harbor at Ostia by building curving breakwaters on the right and left, while before the entrance he placed a mole in deep water. To give this mole a firmer foundation, he first sank the ship in which the great obelisk had been brought from Egypt [This had been brought by Caligula from Heliopolis and set up in the spina of his circus, near the Vatican Hill. It now stands before St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The great ship in which it was transported to Rome from Alexandria is described by Pliny, Nat. Hist. 16.201], and then securing it by piles, built upon it a very lofty tower after the model of the Pharos at Alexandria, to be lighted at night and guide the course of ships.

Claudius's Shows, Games and Gladiator Contests

Suetonius wrote: “He very often distributed largesse to the people. He also gave several splendid shows, not merely the usual ones in the customary places, but some of a new kind and some revived from ancient times, and in places where no one had ever given them before. He opened the games at the dedication of Pompeius Magnus's theater, which he had restored when it was damaged by a fire, from a raised seat in the orchestra, after first offering sacrifice at the temples [Pompeius Magnus placed the double Temple of Venus Victrix at the top of his theater, so that the seats of the auditorium formed an approach to it] in the upper part of the auditorium and coming down through the tiers of seats while all sat in silence. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“ He also celebrated secular games [See Aug. xxxi.4] alleging that they had been given too earths by Augustus and not reserved for the regular time; although he himself writes in his own History that when they had been discontinued for a long time, Augustus restored them to their proper place after a very careful calculation of the intervals. Therefore the herald's proclamation was greeted with laughter, when he invited the people in the usual formula to games "which no one had ever seen or would ever see again"; for some were still living who had seen them before, and some actors who had appeared at the former performance appeared at that time as well. He often gave games in the Vatican Circus [Built by Caligula] also, at times with a beast-baiting between every five races. But the Circus Maximus he adorned with barriers of marble and gilded goals [The carceres were compartments closed by barriers, one for each chariot. They were probably twelve in number and were so arranged as to be at an equal distance from the starting point of the race. When the race began, the barriers were removed. The metae, or "goals", were three conical pillars at each end of the spina, or low wall which ran down the middle of the arena, about which the chariots had to run a given number of times, usually seven; see Dom. iv.3], whereas before they had been of tufa and wood, and assigned special seats to the senators, who had been in the habit of viewing the games with the rest of the people. In addition to the chariot races he exhibited the game called Troy and also panthers, which were hunted down by a squadron of the Praetorian cavalry under the lead of the tribunes and the prefect himself; likewise Thessalian horseman, who drive wild bulls all over the arena, leaping upon them when they are tired out and throwing them to the ground by the horns.

“He gave many gladiatorial shows and in many places: one in yearly celebration of his accession, in the Praetorian Camp without wild beasts and fine equipment, and one in the Saepta of the regular and usual kind; another in the same place not in the regular list, short and lasting but a few days, to which he was the first to apply the name of sportula, because before giving it for the first time he made proclamation that he invited the people "as it were to an extempore meal, hastily prepared." Now there was no form of entertainment at which he was more familiar and free, even thrusting out his left hand [Instead of keeping it covered with his toga, an undignified performance for an emperor] as the Plebeians did, and counting aloud on his fingers the gold pieces which were paid to the victors; and ever and anon he would address the audience, and invite and urge them to merriment, calling them "masters" from time to time, and interspersing feeble and far-fetched jokes. For example, when they called for Palumbus [The "Dove", nickname of a gladiator] he promised that they should have him, "if he could be caught." The following, however, was both exceedingly timely and salutary; when he had granted the wooden sword [The symbol of discharge; cf.. Hor. Epist. 1.1.2] to an essedarius [See Calig. xxxv.3], for whose discharge four sons begged, and the act was received with loud and general applause, he at once circulated a note, pointing out to the people how greatly they ought to desire children, since they saw that they brought favor and protection even to a gladiator.

He gave representations in the Campus Martius of the storming and sacking of a town in the manner of real warfare, as well as of the surrender of the kings of the Britons, and presided clad in a general's cloak. Even when he was on the point of letting out the water from Lake Fucinus he gave a sham sea-fight first. But when the combatants cried out: "Hail, emperor, those who are about to die salute you," he replied, "Or not," and after that all of them refused to fight, maintaining that they had been pardoned. Upon this he hesitated for some time about destroying them all with fire and sword, but at last leaping from his throne and running along the edge of the lake with his ridiculous tottering gait he induced them to fight, partly by threats and partly by promises. At this performance a Sicilian and a Rhodian fleet engaged, each numbering twelve triremes, and the signal was sounded on a horn by a silver Triton, which was raised from the middle of the lake by a mechanical device.

Claudius's Military Campaigns

relief from the Arch of Claudius

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “In A.D. 39, Caligula amassed a large army on the Rhine in preparation for an invasion of Britain. However, at the last minute, he changed his mind and ordered the troops to gather cockle shells from the beach instead, claiming in his Quixotic way to have won a great triumph over Neptune. The story is probably apocryphal but I like to think that the cabal of officers who assassinated him two years later still bore a grudge from this embarrassment on the Rhine. In his place they elevated his uncle, Claudius, who by virtue of his stutter had been passed over as a fool. Claudius was no such thing and he understood that in order to survive he needed a triumph. In the monolithic nature of Roman military bureaucracy, the army assembled for Caligula's abortive invasion was still largely intact and kicking its heels on the Rhine, so it made perfect sense to use it for its original purpose. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Suetonius wrote: “He made but one campaign and that of little importance. When the Senate voted him the triumphal regalia, thinking the honor beneath the imperial dignity and desiring the glory of a legitimate triumph, he chose Britain as the best place for gaining it, a land that had been attempted by no one since the Deified Julius and was just at that time in a state of rebellion because of the refusal to return certain deserters. On the voyage there from Ostia he was nearly cast away twice in furious north-westers, off Liguria and near the Stoechades islands. Therefore he made the journey from Massilia all the way to Gesoriacum by land, crossed from there, and without any battle or bloodshed received the submission of a part of the island [44 A.D.].” [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

He “returned to Rome within six months after leaving the city, and celebrated a triumph of great splendor. To witness the sight he allowed not only the governors of the provinces to come to Rome, but even some of the exiles; and among the tokens of his victory he set a naval crown on the gable of the Palace beside the civic crown, as a sign that he had crossed and, as it were, subdued the Ocean. His wife Messalina followed his chariot in a carriage, as did also those who had won the triumphal regalia in the same war; the rest marched on foot in fringed togas, except Marcus Crassus Frugi, who rode a caparisoned horse and wore a tunic embroidered with palms, because he was receiving the honor for the second time.”

Claudius I's Conquest of Britain

The most important event of the reign of Claudius was the invasion and partial conquest of Britain. Britain was conquered in A.D. 43 by four Roman legions under the Claudius. In A.D. 51 the native leader Cartatcus was captured and taken to Rome. Later an insurrection led by Boudicca, queen of Iceni, was brutally put down.

Since the invasion of Julius Caesar a hundred years before, the Romans had taken little interest in this island. With the aid of his lieutenants, Aulus Plautius and Vespasian, Claudius effected a permanent landing in Britain. He was opposed by the famous Celtic chief Caractacus, but succeeded in subduing the southern part of the island. Britain was thus opened to Roman conquest. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Dr. Neil Faulkner of the University of Bristol wrote for the BBC: “A century before, in both 55 and 54 B.C., Julius Caesar had invaded Britain with the aim of conquest. But revolt in Gaul (modern-day France) had drawn him away before he had beaten down determined British guerrilla resistance. Britain had remained free – and mysterious, dangerous, exotic. In the popular Roman imagination, it was a place of marsh and forest, mist and drizzle, inhabited by ferocious blue-painted warriors. Here was a fine testing-ground of an emperor's fitness to rule. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

Claudius’s Invasion of Britain

coin commemorating Claudius's return from Britain

Dr. Neil Faulkner of the University of Bristol wrote for the BBC: ““For the Claudian invasion, an army of 40,000 professional soldiers - half citizen-legionaries, half auxiliaries recruited on the wilder fringes of the empire - were landed in Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius. Archaeologists debate where they landed - Richborough in Kent, Chichester in Sussex, or perhaps both. Somewhere, perhaps on the River Medway, they fought a great battle and crushed the Catuvellauni, the tribe that dominated the south east. | [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

Then, in the presence of Claudius himself, they stormed the enemy capital at Camulodunum (Colchester). But resistance continued elsewhere. Pushing into the south west of Britain, the Romans fought a war of sieges to reduce the great Iron Age hill forts of the western tribes. Driving through and beyond the Midlands, they encountered stiffening opposition as they approached Wales, where the fugitive Catuvellaunian prince, Caratacus, rallied the Welsh tribes on a new anti-Roman front. |::|

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “When Claudius became Roman emperor in A.D. 41, he understood that in order to survive he needed a triumph. He used the appeal of the British chieftain, Verica, as his excuse for action. Verica was a king of the Atrebates who had been driven out by Cunobelin's successor, Caratacus. The Roman legions under Aulus Plautius landed at Richborough, surprised the British army at the River Medway and pushed Caratacus back to his stronghold at Camulodunum (Colchester). [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“There, Plautius waited for the Emperor Claudius to arrive from Rome, bringing additional troops including a force of elephants with him. Claudius himself led the final storming of the Catuvellauni stronghold, which went very like Caesar's earlier assault. Caratacus and his followers escaped in their chariots from the back of the fort and went on the run. He was eventually betrayed by Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes and handed over to Rome, to be paraded in chains through Rome. |::|

“As the royal stronghold of the major tribe in the south-east, Camulodunum was of immense strategic importance, which is why a legionary fortress was immediately begun on an spur of flat land nearby. Britain had never seen anything like it. Vast quantities of timber, sand, gravel and clay were brought from the surrounding area to create a huge, regimented settlement completely unlike the sprawling hill-forts the Britons were used to. For the first time, bricks and mortar were used in Britain to create buildings which we would not find unfamiliar today. |::|

Why Britain?

Dr. Neil Faulkner of the University of Bristol wrote for the BBC: “Why did the Romans invade Britain in 43 AD? Their empire already extended from the Channel coast to the Caucasus, from the northern Rhineland to the Sahara. The great age of conquest had ended a few decades before. Three legions had been destroyed in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest by rebellious German tribesmen in 9 AD, and the emperor Augustus concluded that the empire was overextended and called a halt to new wars of conquest. “Britain was an afterthought. It was not about economics. Rome's rulers were already the richest men in history. Nor was it about military security. The Channel was as effective a frontier as one could wish for. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::| ]

“The invasion of Britain was a war of prestige. The 'mad' emperor Caligula had been assassinated in 41 AD, and an obscure member of the imperial family, Claudius, had been elevated to the throne. The new emperor faced opposition from the Senate, Rome's House of Lords. Claudius needed a quick political fix to secure his throne. What better than a glorious military victory in Britain? |::|

The army was the core of the Roman state. In a few centuries, it had transformed Rome from a small city-state into the greatest empire of antiquity. Its conquests more than paid for themselves in booty, slaves and tribute. War was highly profitable. Roman culture reflected this, valuing military achievement above all else. Roman leaders had to prove themselves first and foremost as army commanders. And where better for Claudius to prove himself than in Britain? |::|

Roman Empire Under Claudius with the purple areas added by Claudius

Claudius Governance of the Provinces

It is to the credit of Claudius that he was greatly interested in the condition of the provinces. He spent much time in regulating the affairs of the East. The kingdom of Thrace was changed into a province, and governed by a Roman procurator. Lycia, in Asia Minor, also was made a province, as well as Mauretania in Africa. One of the most important changes which he made was the restoration of the kingdom of the Jews to Herod Agrippa. This he did out of respect for this people, and to allay the bad feeling which had been stirred up during the previous reign. But Claudius especially showed his interest in the provinces by extending to them the rights of Roman citizenship. The civitas was granted to a large part of Gaul, thus carrying out the policy which had been begun by Julius Caesar. If we except the scandals of the court, the reign of Claudius may be regarded as inspired by prudence and a wise regard for the welfare of his subjects. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Suetonius wrote: “Jurisdiction in cases of trust, which it had been usual to assign each year and only to magistrates in the city, he delegated for all time and extended to the governors of the provinces. He annulled a clause added to the Lex Papia Poppaea by Tiberius, implying that men of sixty could not beget children. He made a law that guardians might be appointed for orphans by the consuls, contrary to the usual procedure, and that those who were banished from a province by its magistrates should also be debarred from the city and from Italia. He himself imposed upon some a new kind of punishment, by forbidding them to go more than three miles outside of the city [The "relegatio" was a milder form of exile, without loss of citizenship or confiscation of property, but in this case the offenders were not banished, but confined to the city and its immediate vicinity]. When about to conduct business of special importance in the Senate, he took his seat between the two consuls or on the tribunes' bench. He reserved to himself the granting of permission to travel, which had formerly been requested of the Senate. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“He gave the consular regalia even to the second grade of stewards [The procuratores were the emperor's agents, who performed various administrative duties throughout the empire. They were members of the equestrian ordo and were ranked on the basis of their annual stipend as trecenarii, ducenarii, centenarii, and sexagenarii, receiving, respectively, 300,000, 200,000, 100,000, and 60,000 sesterces]. If any refused senatorial rank [A common reason for this was the desire to engage in commerce, which senators were not allowed to do], he took from them the rank of eques also. Though he had declared at the beginning of his reign that he would choose no one as a senator who did not have a Roman citizen for a great-great-grandfather, he gave the broad stripe even to a freedman's son, but only on condition that he should first be adopted by a Roman eques.

Claudius I's Parties and Love of Gambling

Claudius loved gambling. He wrote a treatise on how to be a top dice player and is said to have wagered 400,000 sesterces on a single role of the dice ( the annual salary of a soldier was around 1,200 sesterces). He also reportedly had a special board built into his chariot that allowed him to play dice and other games even on the bumpiest of roads. The politician Seneca said that his gambling was such a vice that he deserved to rot in a hell where he would eternally pick up dice and place them in a cup that has no bottom.

Roman dice

Suetonius wrote: “He gave frequent and grand dinner parties, as a rule in spacious places, where six hundred guests were often entertained at one time. He even gave a banquet close to the outlet of the Fucine Lake and was well-nigh drowned, when the water was let out with a rush and deluged the place. He always invited his own children to dinner along with the sons and daughters of distinguished men, having them sit at the arms of the couches as they ate, after the old time custom. When a guest was suspected of having stolen a golden bowl the day before, he invited him again the next day, but set before him an earthenware cup. He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“He was eager for food and drink at all times and in all places. Once, when he was holding court in the Forum of Augustus and had caught the savor of a meal which was preparing for the Salii [Their feasts were proverbial for luxury; see Hor. Odes I.37.2] in the temple of Mars hard by, he left the tribunal, went up to where the priests were, and took his place at their table. He hardly ever left the dining-room until he was stuffed and soaked; then he went to sleep at once, lying on his back with his mouth open, and a feather was put down his throat to relieve his stomach. He slept but little at a time, for he was usually awake before midnight; but he would sometimes drop off in the daytime while holding court and could hardly be roused when the advocates raised their voices for the purpose. He was immoderate in his passion for women, but wholly free from unnatural vice. He was greatly devoted to gaming, even publishing a book on the art, and he actually used to play while driving, having the board so fitted to his carriage as to prevent his game from being disturbed.

Claudius’s Cruelty and Suspicion

Suetonius wrote: “That he was of a cruel and bloodthirsty disposition was shown in matters great and small.He always exacted examination by torture and the punishment of parricides at once and in his presence. When he was at Tibur and wished to see an execution in the ancient fashion, no executioner could be found after the criminals were bound to the stake. Whereupon he sent to fetch one from the city and continued to wait for him until nightfall. At any gladiatorial show, either his own or another's, he gave orders that even those who fell accidentally should be slain, in particularly the net-fighters [Their faces were not covered by helmets] so that he could watch their faces as they died. When a pair of gladiators had fallen by mutually inflicted wounds, he at once had some little knives made from both their swords for his use [According to Pliny, Nat. Hist. 28.34, game killed with a knife with which a man had been slain was a specific for epilepsy]. He took such pleasure in the combats with wild beasts and of those that fought at noonday that he would go down to the arena at daybreak and after dismissing the people for luncheon at midday, he would keep his seat and in addition to the appointed combatants, he would for trivial and hasty reasons match others, even of the carpenters, the assistants, and men of that class, if any automatic device, or pageant [A structure with several movable stories, for show pieces and other stage effects; see Juv. 4.122], or anything else of the kind, had not worked well. He even forced one of his pages to enter the arena just as he was, in his toga. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“But there was nothing for which he was so notorious as timidity and suspicion. Although in the early days of his reign, as we have said, he made a display of simplicity, he never ventured to go to a banquet without being surrounded by guards with lances and having his soldiers wait upon him in place of the servants; and he never visited a man who was in without having the patient's room examined beforehand and his pillows and bed-clothing felt over and shaken out. Afterwards he even subjected those who came to pay their morning calls to search, sparing none the strictest examination. Indeed, it was not until late, and then reluctantly, that he gave up having women and young boys and girls grossly mishandled, and the cases for pens and styluses taken from every man's attendant or scribe. When Camillus began his revolution, he felt sure that Claudius could be intimidated without resorting to war; and in fact when he ordered the emperor in an insulting, threatening, and impudent letter to give up his throne and betake himself to a life of privacy and retirement, Claudius called together the leading men and asked their advice about complying.

“He was so terror-stricken by unfounded reports of conspiracies, that he tried to abdicate. When, as I have mentioned before, a man with a dagger was caught near him as he was sacrificing, he summoned the Senate in haste by criers and loudly and tearfully bewailed his lot, saying that there was no safety for him anywhere; and for a long time he should not appear in public. His ardent love for Messalina too was cooled, not so much by her unseemly and insulting conduct, as through fear of dangers, since he believed that her paramour Silius aspired to the throne. On that occasion he made a shameful and cowardly flight to the camp [Of the Praetorian Guard, in the northeastern part of the city], doing nothing all the way but ask whether his throne was secure.

“No suspicion was too trivial, nor the inspirer of it too insignificant, to drive him on to precaution and vengeance, once a slight uneasiness entered his mind. One of two parties to a suit, when he made his morning call, took Claudius aside, and said that he had dreamed that he was murdered by someone; then a little later pretending to recognize the assassin, he pointed out his opponent, as he was handing in his petition. The latter was immediately seized, as if caught red-handed, and hurried off to execution. It was in a similar way, they say, that Appius Silanus met his downfall. When Messalina and Narcissus had put their heads together to destroy him, they agreed on their parts and the latter rushed into his patron's bed-chamber before daybreak in pretended consternation, declaring that he had dreamed that Appius had made an attack on the emperor. Then Messalina, with assumed surprise, declared that she had had the same dream for several successive nights. A little later, as had been arranged, Appius, who had received orders the day before to come at that time, was reported to be forcing his way in, and as if this were proof positive of the truth of the dream, his immediate accusation and death were ordered. And Claudius did not hesitate to recount the whole affair to the Senate next day and to thank the freedman [Narcissus] for watching over his emperor's safety even in his sleep.”

Claudius I's Wives


Claudius I had four wives. One was the famed nymphomaniac Messalina. Another was his Agrippina, who claimed the emperorship for her son Domitius Ahenobarbus (Nero). Despite rules against incestuous marriages, Claudius convinced the Senate to approve his marriage to Agrippina "for the good of the state."

Suetonius wrote: “He was betrothed twice at an early age: to Aemilia Lepida, great-granddaughter of Augustus, and to Livia Medullina, who also had the surname of Camilla and was descended from the ancient family of Camillus the dictator. He put away the former before their marriage, because her parents had offended Augustus; the latter was taken in and died on the very day which had been set for the wedding. He then married Plautia Urgulanilla, whose father had been honored with a triumph, and later Aelia Paetina, daughter of an ex-consul. He divorced both these, Paetina for trivial offences, but Urgulanilla because of scandalous lewdness and the suspicion of murder. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“Then he married Valeria Messalina, daughter of his cousin Messala Barbatus. But when he learned that besides other shameful and wicked deeds she had actually married Gaius Silius, and that a formal contract had been signed in the presence of witnesses, he put her to death and declared before the assembled Praetorian guard that inasmuch as his marriages did not turn out well, he would remain a widower, and if he did not keep his word, he would not refuse death at their hands. Yet he could not refrain from at once planning another match, even with Paetina, whom he had formerly discarded, and with Lollia Paulina, who had been the wife of Gaius Caesar [Arkenberg: i.e., Caligula]. But his affections were ensnared by the wiles of Agrippina, daughter of his brother Germanicus, aided by the right of exchanging kisses and the opportunities for endearments offered by their relationship; and at the next meeting of the Senate he induced some of the members to propose that he be compelled to marry Agrippina, on the ground that it was for the interest of the State; also that others be allowed to contract similar marriages, which up to that time had been regarded as incestuous. And he married her with hardly a single day's delay; but none were found to follow his example save a freedman and a chief centurion, whose marriage ceremony he himself attended with Agrippina.

Claudius's Wife Messalina

Outdoing even Caligula in terms of decadence was Empress Valeria Messalina, the wife of Claudius I. While her emperor husband was leading military campaigns across Europe to shore up the empire she was having scandalous affairs with palace courtiers, entertainers and soldiers. When a handsome actor refused to leave the stage to be her full-time lover the empress got her husband to order the actor to leave. After threes years of lovemaking the actor was covered with scars for which the empress rewarded him with statue of his attributes. [People's Almanac]

Messalina, the prostitute

During one drunken escapade Messalina danced naked on top of a wooden platform at the forum. On another occasion she gilded her nipples, decorated her bedroom in the palace like a brothel, and invited all comers. And, on yet another occasion she challenged Rome's leading prostitute to a contest, which the empress won by "cohabiting 25 times...within the space of 24 hours." Later she slept with men with large real estate holding and condemned them to death afterwards so she could claim their property. Finally Claudius had enough — when she married another man in a public ceremony in which the newlyweds entertained the guest with some bedroom acrobatics — and ordered her killed. [People's Almanac]

Suetonius wrote: “Among other things men have marveled at his absent-mindedness and blindness. When he had put Messalina to death, he asked shortly after taking his place at the table why the empress did not come. He caused many of those whom he had condemned to death to be summoned the very next day to consult with him or game with him, and sent a messenger to upbraid them for sleepy-heads when they delayed to appear. When he was planning his unlawful marriage with Agrippina, in every speech that he made he constantly called her his daughter and nursling, born and brought up in his arms. Just before his adoption of Nero, as if it were not bad enough to adopt a stepson when he had a grownup son of his own, he publicly declared more than once that no one had ever been taken into the Claudian family by adoption. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

Claudius’s Children

To pave the way for her son, Agrippina had Claudius's son Britannicus married off to Octavia, Claudius's daughter. With the help of the famous poisoner Locusta, Agrippina then tried to get rid of Claudius by arranging for him to be served a stew filled with poisonous mushroom. According to Tacitus Claudius began gasping almost immediately after eating the stew and lost his ability to speak. He was taken to bed and suffered through the night. When it became clear the dossage was not large enough, another dose of poison was administered either in his food or possibly by an enema. Claudius was dead by the next day.

Britannicus was later killed while dining with Nero and the entire royal family. Killing only Britannicus was a difficult task because the food of each member of the royal family was tasted first by a servant. Locusta devised a powerful poison that was given to Britannicus in a glass of cold water that was delivered after he complained about his first drink being too hot. After drinking the poison he fell backwards gasping for air. Some members of the family ran from the dinner table in horror while Nero looked on coolly, explaining that Britannicus was only having a epileptic seizure and would soon recover.

Suetonius wrote: “He had children by three of his wives: by Urgulanilla: Drusus and Claudia; by Paetina: Antonia; by Messalina: Octavia and a son, at first called Germanicus and later Britannicus. He lost Drusus just before he came to manhood, for he was strangled by a pear which he had thrown in the air in play and caught in his open mouth. A few days before this he had betrothed him to the daughter of Seianus, which makes me wonder all the more that some say that Drusus was treacherously slain by Seianus. Claudia was the offspring of his freedman Boter, and although she was born within five months after the divorce [Of Claudius from Urgulanilla; 20 A.D.] and he had begun to rear her, yet he ordered her to be cast out naked at her mother's door and disowned.

Messalina and Britannicus

"He gave Antonia in marriage to Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, and later to Faustus Sulla, both young men of high birth, and Octavia to his stepson Nero, after she had previously been betrothed to Silanus. Britannicus was born on the twenty-second day of his reign and in his second consulship [42 A.D.]. When he was still very small, Claudius would often take him in his arms and commend him to the assembled soldiers, and to the people at the games, holding him in his lap or in his outstretched hands, and he would wish him happy auspices, joined by the applauding throng. Of his sons-in-law he adopted Nero; Pompeius and Silanus he not only declined to adopt, but even put to death. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“Of his freedmen he had special regard for the eunuch Posides, whom he even presented with the headless spear [A common military prize] at his British triumph, along with those who had served as soldiers. He was equally fond of Felix, giving him the command of cohorts and of troops of horse, as well as of the province of Judaea; and he became the husband of three queens [Only two of these are known, both named Drusilla. One was the daughter of Juba II, King of Mauretania, and the other of Herod Agrippa I of Judaea; the latter was previously married to Azizus, King of Emesa]. Also of Harpocras, to whom he granted the privilege of riding through the city in a litter and of giving public entertainments [Otherwise restricted to the equites]. Still higher was his regard for Polybius, his literary adviser, who often walked between the two consuls. But most of all he was devoted to his secretary Narcissus and his treasurer Pallas, and he gladly allowed them to be honored in addition by a decree of the Senate, not only with immense gifts, but even with the insignia of quaestors and praetors. Besides this he permitted them to amass such wealth by plunder, that when he once complained of the low state of his funds, the witty answer was made that he would have enough and to spare, if he were taken into partnership by his two freedmen.

“Wholly under the control of these and of his wives, as I have said, he played the part, not of a prince, but of a servant, lavishing honors, the command of armies, pardons or punishments, according to the interests of each of them, or even their wish or whim; and that too for the most part in ignorance and blindly. Not to go into details about less important matters (such as revoking his grants, rescinding his decisions, substituting false letters patent, or even openly changing those which he had issued), he put to death his father-in-law Appius Silanus and the two Julias, daughters of Drusus and Germanicus, on an unsupported charge and giving them no opportunity for defense; also Gnaeus Pompeius, the husband of his elder daughter, and Lucius Silanus, who was betrothed to his younger one. Of these Pompeius was stabbed in the embraces of a favorite youth, while Silanus was compelled to abdicate his praetorship four days before the Kalends of January and to take his own life at the beginning of the year, the very day of the marriage of Claudius and Agrippina. He inflicted the death penalty on thirty-five senators and more than three hundred Roman equites with such easy indifference, that when a centurion, in reporting the death of an ex-consul, said that his order had been carried out, he replied that he had given no order; but he nevertheless approved the act, since his freedmen declared that the soldiers had done their duty in hastening to avenge their emperor without instructions. But it is beyond all belief, that at the marriage which Messalina had contracted with her paramour Silius he signed the contract for the dowry with his own hand, being induced to do so on the ground that the marriage was a feigned one, designed to avert and turn upon another a danger which was inferred from certain portents to threaten the emperor himself.

Claudius I's Last Years and Death

Suetonius wrote: “Towards the end of his life he had shown some plain signs of repentance for his marriage with Agrippina and his adoption of Nero; for when his freedmen expressed their approval of a trial in which he had the day before condemned a woman for adultery, he declared that it had been his destiny also to have wives who were all unchaste, but not unpunished; and shortly afterwards meeting Britannicus, he hugged him close and urged him to grow up and receive from his father an account of all that he had done, adding in Hellenic, "He who dealt the wound will heal it"[A proverbial expression, derived from the story of Telephus, who when wounded by Achilles was told by the oracle that he could be cured only by the one who dealt the blow. Achilles cured him by applying rust from his spear to the wound]. When he expressed his intention of giving Britannicus the gown of manhood, since his stature justified it — though he was still young and immature, he added: "That the Roman people may at last have a genuine Caesar" [That is, a legitimate heir to the throne]. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum:Claudius” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Claudius”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

Claudius Apoteosis

“Not long afterwards he also made his will and sealed it with the seals of all the magistrates. But before he could go any farther, he was cut short by Agrippina, who was being accused besides of many other crimes both by her own conscience and by informers. That Claudius was poisoned is the general belief, but when it was done and by whom is disputed. Some say that it was his taster, the eunuch Halotus, as he was banqueting on the Citadel [The northern spur of the Capitoline Hill] with the priests; others that at a family dinner Agrippina served the drug to him with her own hand in mushrooms, a dish of which he was extravagantly fond. Reports also differ as to what followed. Many say that as soon as he swallowed the poison he became speechless, and after suffering excruciating pain all night, died just before dawn. Some say that he first fell into a stupor, then vomited up the whole contents of his overloaded stomach, and was given a second dose, perhaps in a gruel, under pretense that he must be refreshed with food after his exhaustion, or administered in a syringe, as if he were suffering from a surfeit and required relief by that form of evacuation as well.” There is another report that Claudius choked to death on a feather. His physician stuck the feather down his throat to induce vomiting after he had been served the poisoned mushrooms.

“His death was kept quiet until all the arrangements were made about the succession. Accordingly, vows were offered for his safety, as if he were still ill, and the farce was kept up by bringing in comic actors, under pretense that he had asked to be entertained in that way. He died on the third day before the Ides of October in the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in the sixty-fourth year of his age and the fourteenth of his reign [October 13, 54 A.D.]. He was buried with regal pomp and enrolled among the gods, an honor neglected and finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian.

“The principal omens of his death were the following: the rise of a long-haired star, commonly called a comet, the striking of his father Drusus' tomb by lightning; and the fact that many magistrates of all ranks had died that same year. There are, besides, some indications that he himself was not unaware of his approaching end, and that he made no secret of it; for when he was appointing the consuls, he made no appointment beyond the month when he died, and on his last appearance in the Senate, after earnestly exhorting his children to harmony, he begged the members to watch over the tender years of both; and in his last sitting on the tribunal he declared more than once that he had reached the end of a mortal career, although all who heard him prayed that the omen might be averted [The formula was "Di meliora diunt!" or "May the Gods grant better things!", i.e., "The Gods Forbid!"].

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.