- Born: 1 August 10 BC, Lugdunum, Gaul
- Died: 13 October AD 54 (aged 63), Rome, Italy
- Reign: 24 January 41 – 13 October 54
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known as Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus before his accession and as Emperor Claudius historically, was the fourth Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He ruled from January 24, 41 to his death in 54. The Julio-Claudian dynasty started with Julius Caesar.
Claudius was born in Lugdunum in Gaul (modern-day Lyon, France), to Drusus and Antonia Minor, and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy. He was afflicted with some type of disability which gave him weak knees, a stammer, and confused speech. Because of this, he was excluded from public office by his family until his consulship with his nephew Caligula in 37.
This consulship saved him from the fate of many other Roman nobles during the purges of Tiberius’ and Caligula’s reigns, and resulted in him being declared emperor after Caligula’s assassination. At this point, he was the last living male of his family.
As emperor, Claudius had a very successful reign. He did not have any political experience, but was able to expand the empire through conquests, including the conquest of Britain, and also showed to be a great builder of public works. He also had interest in religious reform and legal works. Despite this, he was seen as weak throughout his rule, resulting in him constantly having to prove his position as emperor. This resulted in the deaths of many senators.
During his lifetime, Claudius was married four times. It is thought that he was murdered by poison, possibly contained in mushrooms, and died on 13 October 54. It is thought that his wife Agrippina was the instigator, possibly with the motive in ensuring the succession of her son, Nero, before Claudius’ other son, Britannicus, could gain power.
Claudius left a large legacy behind after his death. He is remembered for expanding the Roman empire, the construction of many roads, aqueducts and other infrastructure, improving the empire’s judicial system, extending Roman citizenship and giving citizens more rights.
Claudius’ Early Life
Claudius was born on August 1, 10 BC, in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern-day Lyon, France). His parents were Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia the Younger, the daughter of Mark Antony. He had two siblings; a brother, Germanicus (a famous general under Augustus), and a sister, Livilla. Claudius’ father, Drusus, died while on a military campaign after a fall from a horse in Germania during 9 BC and he was raised by his mother who never remarried.
Claudius’s maternal grandparents were Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, Augustus’s sister, and he was therefore the great-great-grandnephew of Gaius Julius Caesar. His paternal grandparents were Livia, Augustus’ third wife, and Tiberius Claudius Nero.
Claudius had several disabilities as a youngster; he stammered, limped, drooled and was partially deaf. Today, historians believe that he may have suffered from cerebral palsy or Tourette syndrome. Because of these health issues, Claudius was hidden from public view and shamed by his family. His own mother even proclaimed he was a fool.
Claudius spent time a lot of time with his grandmother Livia, who was kinder to him than his mother. In AD 7, Livy was hired to tutor Claudius in history, with the assistance of Sulpicius Flavus. He spent a lot of his time with Sulpicius Flavus, as well as the philosopher Athenodorus. Augustus, who was Emperor at the time, noticed that Claudius was becoming an excellent orator.
Tiberius, Claudius’ uncle, became the Emperor in 14 BC after the death of Augustus, and Claudius requested office, but was denied. Because of this, Claudius gave up hope of public office and retired to a scholarly, private life.
However, after the death of Tiberus, Caligula (the son of Claudius’ brother Germanicus) became Emperor. Claudius was the brunt of many jokes by Caligula, but Caligula recognized Claudius to be of some use and appointed him as his co-consul in 37. Claudius was 46 years old by this point. Since he had few responsibilities, Claudius spent his free time reading and writing histories.
Claudius’ Time As Emperor
Claudius’ Accession as Emperor
On 24 January 41, Caligula was assassinated in a broad-based conspiracy involving Cassius Chaerea – a military tribune in the Praetorian Guard – and several senators. It was thought that Cassius wanted to wipe out the Imperial family.
During the assassination, Claudius fled to the palace to hide, but was found hiding behind a curtain. The Praetorian Guard declared him Emperor, but the Senate met and began debating a change of government. Claudius refused to appear in front of the Senate for approval, fearing he would be executed. Eventually the Senate was forced to give in and Claudius was named Emperor.
In return, Claudius pardoned nearly all the assassins, but one of his first moves was to execute the assassins involved in killing Caligula.
As Emperor, Claudius claimed that his past disabilities were only an act to ensure he would live longer, as they caused him to be ignored by enemies of the imperial family. However, he wanted to change public opinion and establish himself as a strong leader. He had spent most of his childhood and young adulthood studying history and languages and was a very strong scholar, which came as a shock to most of the wider community, because they had been told that Claudius was not capable of having adult thoughts or considerations. He was the only scholar to become Roman Emperor.
Claudius and the Conquest of Britain
Under Claudius, the empire underwent its first major expansion since the reign of Augustus. The provinces of Thrace, Mauretania, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia, and Judea were annexed during Claudius’ term. However, one of Claudius’ most notable achievements as Emperor was the conquest of Britannia.
Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with four legions to Britain (Britannia) in 43. Britain was an attractive target for Rome because of its material wealth (mines and slaves), as well as being a haven for Gallic rebels. After the initial battles of the campaign, he joined the troops with reinforcements.
The conquest of Brittania had been attempted by earlier emperors, including Caligula, but Claudius was the one who succeeded.
The Senate granted him a triumph for his efforts, and an arch, known as Arch of Claudius was constructed. Only members of the imperial family were allowed such honours. He was also granted the honorific “Britannicus” but only accepted it on behalf of his son, never using the title himself.
When the British general, Caractacus, was finally captured in 50, Claudius granted him clemency. Caractacus lived out his days on land provided by the Roman state, which was unusual for an enemy commander.
Claudius and Legal Works
Claudius held a great interest in the legal system and judged many of the legal cases tried during his reign. Despite his interest and close attention to the operation of the judicial system, historians claim that Claudius was often easily swayed and his rulings did not always follow the law.
He brought changes to the judicial system during his reign, including extending the summer court session, as well as the winter term, by shortening the traditional breaks. He also made a law requiring plaintiffs to remain in the city while their cases were pending, as defendants had previously been required to do, and raised the minimum age for jurors to 25. This allowed the jury to be more experienced.
Claudius was also responsible for settling disputes in the provinces. For example, he reaffirmed Jewish rights in Alexandria, and then followed by reaffirming the rights and freedoms of all the Jews in the empire. He also freed the island of Rhodes from Roman rule for their good faith and exempted Troy from taxes. Furthermore, Claudius issued a declaration that old Roman citizens, who were found to actually not be legal citizens, could be considered to hold citizenship, since to strip them of their status would cause major problems.
Claudius felt strongly about protecting the weak and defenseless. For example, he reformed how sick slaves were treated. Masters had been abandoning sick slaves at the temple of Aesculapius to die, and then reclaiming them if they lived. Claudius ruled that slaves who recovered after abandonment would be free. Furthermore, masters who chose to kill sick slaves instead would be charged with murder.
Claudius and Population
Claudius was responsible for taking a census of Roman citizens during his reign, which he did in 48. It showed that there were 5,984,072 Roman citizens (although only adult males with Roman citizenship were counted; women, children, slaves, and free adult males without Roman citizenship were not counted). This was an increase of around a million since the census conducted at Augustus’ death.
Claudius had managed this increase in citizens through the foundation of Roman colonies that were granted blanket citizenship. These colonies were often made out of existing communities, and were placed in new provinces or on the border of the Empire to secure Roman holdings as quickly as possible.
Claudius and Religion
Claudius felt very strongly about religion and wanted to institute some reforms. He opposed proselytizing in any religion, even in those regions where he allowed natives to worship freely. Alexandrian Greeks requested to dedicate a temple to his divinity, but Claudius refused. He claimed that only gods may choose new gods.
He removed many irrelevant celebrations added by Caligula and restored lost days to festivals, as well as reinstating old observances and archaic language. He also emphasized the Eleusinian mysteries, and expelled foreign astrologers, rehabilitating the old Roman soothsayers (known as haruspices) as a replacement.
Claudius and the Senate
Claudius wanted to please the Senate because of the circumstances of his accession. He sat among the Senate body regularly and sat on a bench between the consuls in his position as holder of the power of Tribune when introducing a law. He also put the Imperial provinces of Macedonia and Achaea back under Senate control, and allowed the Senate to issue its own bronze coinage. This was the first time this had been allowed since the reign of Augustus.
Furthermore, Claudius refused to accept all his predecessors’ titles (including Imperator) at the beginning of his reign, preferring to earn them in due course.
He wanted to reform the Senate into a more efficient body. In 47, he assumed the office of censor with Lucius Vitellius and struck the names of many senators and equites who no longer met qualifications. However, he tried to show respect to these senators by allowing them to resign in advance. In replacement of these senators, he wanted admit eligible men from the provinces.
Despite all of these actions, many in the Senate still remained hostile towards Claudius. Because of this, Claudius reduced the Senate’s power for the sake of efficiency, and many administrations were turned over to other bodies. These included the administration of Ostia, which was turned over to an Imperial procurator after construction of the port, and the administration of many of the empire’s financial concerns, which were turned over to Imperial appointees and freedmen.
Many plots were made on Claudius’ life from within the Senate. These plots resulted in the deaths of many Senators. For example, Claudius’ son-in-law Pompeius Magnus was executed for his part in a conspiracy with his father Crassus Frugi. Another plot involved the consulars Lusiius Saturninus, Cornelius Lupus, and Pompeius Pedo. In 46, Asinius Gallus, the grandson of Asinius Pollio, and Statilius Corvinus were exiled for a plot hatched with several of Claudius’ own freedmen. Valerius Asiaticus was executed without public trial for unknown reasons, as was Appius Silanus.
Suetonius states that a total of 35 senators and 300 knights were executed for offenses during Claudius’ reign. Despite his willingness to please the Senate, these deaths, and many of his other actions, caused resentment from the Senate and he was accused of allowing the freedmen to rule him.
It is true he used his freedmen to help with the day-to-day running of the empire. Despite not being the first Emperor to do this, he greatly increased his freedmen’s tasks and power as his own power and burden’s grew. This was partly due to the hostility from the Senate and also his respect for the Senators, as he didn’t believe that they should serve under him, as if they were not his peers.
The secretariat was divided into bureaus, with each being placed under the leadership of one freedman. Narcissus was the secretary of correspondence, Pallas was the secretary of the treasury, and Callistus became secretary of justice. There was a fourth bureau for miscellaneous issues, which was put under Polybius.
The Senators did not like the fact that the freedmen, who were former slaves, were in these important positions and technically above them. The freedmen had control of money, letters, and law and Claudius gave them due credit for policies where he had used their advice. The freedmen could also officially speak for the Emperor and also amassed a lot of wealth through these positions, with several of them richer than Crassus, the richest man of the Republican era.
Claudius and Public Infrastructure
Throughout his reign, Claudius was responsible for many public works, both in the capital and in the provinces. He built two aqueducts, the Aqua Claudia, begun by Caligula, and the Anio Novus. He also restored a third, the Aqua Virgo. He also built many roads and canals throughout Italy and the provinces. He hoped to be able to reduce flooding in Rome.
He built a road from Italy to Germany and a large canal leading from the Rhine to the sea. He also built a canal on the Tiber, leading to Portus, his new port just north of Ostia. This port was constructed in a semicircle with two moles and a lighthouse at its mouth.
Portus was Claudius’ solution to the constant grain shortages that occurred in winter, after the Roman shipping season. It also insured the ships of grain merchants who were willing to risk traveling to Egypt in the off-season. What’s more, he also gave the sailors privileges including citizenship and exemption from the Lex Papia-Poppaea, which was a law that regulated marriage.
Claudius repealed the taxes that Caligula had instituted on food, and further reduced taxes on communities suffering drought or famine. He also wanted to increase the amount of arable land in Italy, which was to be achieved by draining the Fucine lake. This would have the added benefit of making the nearby river navigable year-round. A tunnel was dug through the lake bed, but the plan did not work.
Claudius’ Marriages and Children
Claudius has been accused of being a womanizer. He married four times, and had two failed engagements.The first failure was to his distant cousin Aemilia Lepida, which was broken off for political reasons, and the second was to Livia Medullina Camilla. Livia died suddenly on their wedding day.
Claudius’ first marriage was to Plautia Urgulanilla, who was the granddaughter of Livia’s confidant Urgulania. They had a son together, Claudius Drusus, who died from asphyxiation in his early teens, shortly after becoming engaged to Junilla, the daughter of Sejanus.
Claudius divorced Urgulanilla for adultery and on suspicion of murdering her sister-in-law Apronia. Soon after, in 28, he married Aelia Paetina, a relative of Sejanus. Together, they had a daughter, Claudia Antonia, but they later divorced because their marriage became a political liability.
In 38 or 39, Claudius married for the third time, to Valeria Messalina. Messalina was his first cousin once removed and they had a daughter together, Claudia Octavia. They also had a son together, Tiberius Claudius Germanicus, who was later known as Britannicus, and who was born just after Claudius’ accession.
In 48, Messalina married Gaius Silius in a public ceremony while Claudius was at Ostia. It is thought that Silius may have convinced Messalina that Claudius was doomed. Under Roman law, the spouse needed to be informed that he or she had been divorced before a new marriage could take place, and sources state that Claudius did not know about the divorce until after the marriage. Because of this, Silius, Messalina, and most of her circle were executed.
Claudius married once more — to Agrippina the Younger. Claudius may have realized the weakness of his position as a member of the Claudian after the acts of Silius, coupled with the fact that he did not have an obvious adult heir as Britannicus was still just a boy. Agrippina was one of the few remaining descendants of Augustus, and her son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (later known as Nero) was one of the last males of the imperial family.
When they were married, Claudius adopted Nero as his son. The adoption of adults or near adults was an old tradition in Rome when a suitable natural adult heir was unavailable, and Nero was made joint heir with the underage Britannicus. Nero was also more popular with the general public as the grandson of Germanicus and the direct descendant of Augustus.
Claudius has been described by ancient historians as very quick to anger, which he actually acknowledged, and apologised for publicly. He has also been described as bloodthirsty and cruel, and fond of violence and executions.
Despite this, historians have also painted him as friendly, generous and lowbrow. Claudius has been called excessively trusting, and easily manipulated by his wives and freedmen. His afflictions may have meant that he paranoid and easily confused.
Extant works of Claudius, however, paint a different picture and he is seen as intelligent, scholarly, well-read, and a conscientious administrator with an eye to detail and justice.
Claudius’ Death And Successor
Claudius died in the early hours of October 13, 54. The exact nature of Claudius’ death is unknown, but it is widely considered that he was murdered by poison, which was possibly contained in mushrooms. There are a few different accounts of how this happened, with some saying he was killed after a single dose of poison at dinner, while others say the poisoning happened over time.
Some theories implicate Halotus, his taster, and some Xenophon, his doctor as the administrator of the poison, but all theories implicate his final wife, Agrippina, as the instigator. It is thought she may have murdered him as Britannicus was approaching the age of majority, there was no need for Nero to be heir in case of Claudius’ death. Therefore, Agrippina acted so that Nero would become the successor rather than Britannicus.
While it has been theroized that Claudius simply died from old age, his grandmother Livia died at 85 or 86, his uncle Tiberius reached age 77, and his mother Antonia committed suicide at 72, dying at 63 seems fairly young. However, the average age of death at this time was around 30 to 35 years of age.
Following his death, Claudius was deified by Nero and the Senate almost immediately. However, with Nero as the new Emperor, he often criticized Claudius and many of Claudius’ laws and edicts were disregarded under the reasoning that he was too stupid and senile to have meant them.
Agrippina had sent away Narcissus shortly before Claudius’ death, and now murdered the freedman. All of Claudius’ correspondence was burnt and his private words about his own policies and motives were lost.
Claudius’ Greatest Achievements and Historical Significance
Claudius is historically significant and has been remembered for his achievements. While many thought he was not going to be a successful ruler due to his disabilities, he was responsible for many accomplishments throughout his time.
Arguably his most remembered achievement was the expansion and of the empire with the conquest of Britain. The conquest of Britannia had been attempted by earlier emperors, including Caligula, but was finally accomplished under Claudius’ reign. There was even an Arch of Claudius to honor the success of Claudius’ military campaign in Britannia. Not to mention, the entire population of Rome grew by over 1 million citizens since the death of Augustus under his reign.
He also contributed greatly to public works, building aquaducts, roads, ports and canals in both Rome and other regions. Claudius also built a harbor at Ostia to help gain faster access to grain during the food shortage.
Claudius is known for his juridical reforms which helped to protect the weak and defenseless. He personally presided over many legal cases during his reign and had a reputation for handling them fairly. He increased rights for slaves and punished their masters if they were killed unlawfully, and extended citizenship to free men in newly acquired territories and provinces.
Further actions taken by Claudius included religious reform and reform in the way in which the Senate was treated, although this was not popular with Senators at the time.
Claudius is also remembered for his scholarly works. He wrote throughout his life, with one of his earliest works being the history of Augustus’ reign. However, this was either too truthful or too critical and his mother and grandmother quickly put a stop to it. Claudius’ other major works included Tyrrhenica, a twenty-book Etruscan history, and Carchedonica, an eight-volume history of Carthage, as well as an Etruscan dictionary. He also wrote a book on dice-playing.
During his reign, he tried to add three new letters to the Latin alphabet, but they did not survive his reign. He also wanted to revive the old custom of putting dots between successive words.
Emperor Claudius FAQs
Who was Emperor Claudius?
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known historically as Emperor Claudius, was the fourth Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He ruled from AD 41 to 54.
What was Emperor Claudius’ greatest achievements?
Claudius has many achievements, but by far some of his greatest were the expansion of the Roman Empire with military conquests, the extension of citizenship to the provinces of the empire, and the construction of aqueducts, ports, canals, and roads for Rome. He also helped to reform the judicial system and gave rights to those who were poor or defenseless.
Why is Emperor Claudius historically significant?
Emperor Claudius is remembered for most of his achievements, such as the expansion of the empire, his public works, and his judicial and citizenship reforms. However, the conquest of Britain is his greatest legacy. This was one of the most important military invasions of the 1st century, and he dispatched 40,000 troops and a series of war elephants across the English Channel, and eventually overthrew the Catuvellauni tribal leader Caratacus.
Was Emperor Claudius disabled?
Claudius was disabled, although the exact details and diagnosis of his affliction are unknown. It is thought by historians that he may have suffered from cerebral palsy or Tourette syndrome. His speech was often confused and he stammered. He also slobbered and his nose ran when he was excited. His head shook and his knees often gave out under him, too. Because of these health issues, he was hidden from public view by his family for many years. Claudius, however, himself claimed that he had exaggerated his ailments to save his life.
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