A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the Roman Emperor Augustus. I was going to write about the first twelve Roman emperors as they tend to be the most well-known, but after doing some browsing on Etsy it turns out that there aren't many products about the Emperors on there. But I thought I'd at least do a piece on Claudius as I always felt a bit sorry for him when we studied him during my degree, and if I had to pick an Emperor as my favourite then Claudius would be it.
Born in Gaul in 10 BC, Claudius was related to the Roman imperial family by blood and marriage. His paternal grandmother Livia was the second wife of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, while his maternal grandmother was Augustus' sister Octavia. These connections should have led to him having a glittering political career from a young age, but an illness in childhood left him with partial hearing and a limp. He was dismissed by his family, who believed that his physical problems meant that he was a lazy, good for nothing idiot. He dedicated himself to studying and appears to have had a passion for history, Livia hired a tutor in that subject for him.
He was turned down for various honours and political positions during the reign of Tiberius, despite his apparant popularity with the general public and the Senate, but he was promoted to power when Tiberius died and Claudius' nephew Caligula came to power. He was appointed as Caligula's co-consul, but the joke was on Claudius, literally. He was his nephew's favourite person to torment, including playing practical jokes and humiliating him in front of the Senate. Claudius became ill and lost a lot of weight, the stress of his nephew's torment having a massive physical effect on him. However it was probably what saved his life, Caligula had a short temper and no real sense of self-control, had Claudius been less of a source of amusement he may have been executed on his nephew's orders. His relatives overlooked him constantly, but in the cut-throat world of the Imperial family their belief that he was an idiot meant that they didn't see him as a threat, and that enabled him to survive the constant in-fighting and assassination attempts they directed at each other.
When Caligula was murdered in AD 41, Claudius once again became a survivor. He was protected by a group of Praetorian Guards, who declared him Emperor, and the Senate soon agreed.
Claudius' had spent his entire life researching and studying, and now it was time for him to put everything he had learned in to practise. He worked to make the Senate more efficient, including removing those who no longer met the legal requirements to be Senators and promoting others from different families. He arranged the construction of many public works, building roads and canals to improve transport throughout the Empire, and building several new aquaducts. He personally judged legal cases, and set a law declaring that a master who killed a sick or injured slave would be charged with murder.
There were various attempts on his life throughout his reign, and he was finally poisoned in AD 54, after 13 years in power. The sources that refer to him describe him in harsh tones, alternating between portraying him as a man with a harsh temper and love of violence and death, to a man who was easily led and controlled by his wives and freedmen. At the end of the day I think that his actions speak louder than words, while he certainly came down hard on those that betrayed his trust, or who committed treason against the Empire, he seems to have been a diligent, hard working Emperor. He was certainly less of a murderous nutter than Caligula before him, or Nero after. Perhaps he was so vilified by contemporary writers because they couldn't get past his physical problems. He lived in a society that demanded physical perfection, especially from their leaders, and his limp and stammer reminded people that he was merely a mortal, one that they had raised above all others, but still mortal.
Have a nice day everyone!