10 B.C – 54 A.D.
Emperor By Accident; Conqueror of Britainby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Idiot! Monstrosity! Retard! These words were commonly associated with Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, better known as Claudius, during the early stages of his life. Having been born with several defects, Claudius did not have the opportunity to enjoy the carefree childhood that most of the patrician children of that age took for granted. His peers mocked him. Fearing embarrassment, his family essentially disowned Claudius by keeping him in complete seclusion.1 No one who knew young Claudius could have ever guessed how successful he would one day become. As emperor, he achieved more militarily than any Roman Emperor since Julius Caesar, conquering most of the British isle. Is it really possible that this major event in history occurred as the result of an accident?
Most of Claudius’s relatives would probably have said that his whole life was an accident. This future emperor of Rome was born in Lugdunum, Gaul on August 1, 10 B.C., to Drusus and Antonia Minor.2 Apparently, this family was highly regarded in the empire, as Drusus was the son of Augustus’s wife Livia, and Antonia was the daughter of Mark Antony. Unfortunately, Claudius was born with several “defects”. It is commonly believed that he was a victim of “congenital cerebral palsy involving spasticity”.3 The main symptoms visible in Claudius were that his head and hands often shook, and his right leg would drag when he walked, causing a limp. Also, his speech was unintelligible, for Claudius often stuttered. These slight defects were viewed as weaknesses by his mother, who showed disgust towards her son. She had expected her son to grow up to be like Drusus, but when Claudius exhibited the aforementioned defects, this hope was crushed. Ironically, the way his family and peers viewed him is what saved Claudius from the fate of his siblings. In an age when internal chaos occurred often, many patrician families were targeted and done away with. This occurred with Claudius’s two siblings – Germanicus and Livilla. The former was killed under suspicious circumstances in AD 19, while the latter became involved in politics and was killed in AD 31.4 The reason for Claudius’s survival through all this is probably because everyone viewed him as worthless. However, Claudius was far from worthless. His early years were spent mostly in reading and writing. The subjects he learned from these books, which included military tactics and the different types of government, would aid him tremendously in his later years.
Unlike his patrician peers, Claudius was never summoned to public office or to military service during his early adult life. This, however, would all change when his nephew, Gaius, more commonly known as Caligula, came to power. At the age of 46, Claudius was finally appointed to public office, when Caligula appointed him to a suffect consulship.5 This might have been a victory for Claudius, if not for the fact that the sole reason he was appointed was because Caligula enjoyed making fun of his fragile uncle. Even with this setback, Claudius would soon get the opportunity to prove his worth to the world.
Perhaps the most interesting detail of Claudius’s reign as Emperor was the way in which he acquired the role. During a ceremony honoring the late Augustus, Caligula was struck down by traitorous members of his own bodyguard.6 Claudius was present at this ceremony, but took his leave just minutes before the assassination. When he heard the news of his nephew’s death, Claudius ran to the palace and hid behind a curtain, only to be found by members of the Praetorian Guard. Recognizing Claudius as the brother of Germanicus, the guards immediately declared him the emperor of Rome and carried him off to their barracks. What followed was total chaos. While the Praetorian guard undoubtedly supported Claudius as emperor, the Senate was split on the matter. Many senators wished to restore the Republic, while others argued over who should become the next princeps. However, there is little the Senate could do, as Claudius was backed by the military. On the 25th of January, 41 A.D, the Senate reluctantly declared Claudius the new emperor.7 How far the power of the Senate had diminished since the days of the Republic!
Now known as Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar Drusus, the new emperor did everything in his power to bring justice to Caligula’s assassins. It has been suggested that Claudius knew more about the conspiracy than he let on, but any rumors that he had played a part in it died with the capture and execution of the assassins.
His next order of business as emperor was a military expedition into Britain to thwart an attempted revolt. However, the campaign, which Claudius himself took part in, went much farther than originally planned. When all was said and done, there was very little of the island that was still independent. What started out as an attempt to prove his worth as emperor ended up being the largest addition to the Roman Empire since the reign of Augustus.8 During his reign, Claudius managed the provinces of the Roman Empire well and provided a stability that had not been seen in Rome for many years. It is said Claudius inadvertently paved the way for Christianity to spread to Great Britain. When the Apostle Paul witnessed to the Roman soldiers that were chained to him, these in turn evangelized the barracks and thus Christianity marched up to Hadrian's Wall (construction of which began in 122 AD).
Many construction projects were also carried out during Claudius’s reign, including a new aqueduct. It appeared that everything was going well for Claudius. However, his reign would soon take a turn for the worse with the appearance of one person – Aggripina.
Claudius never had much success with marriage, and this shows clearly in his fourth wife. This deceiver successfully managed to take control of her husband’s mind. Instead of allowing Claudius’s son, Britannicus, to become the future emperor, Aggripina convinced Claudius to appoint her son, Nero, as heir. This was only the first of many hasty decisions Claudius made in the latter half of his reign, but it proved to be fatal. Losing patience, Agrippina decided to hasten Claudius’s demise. On October 13, 54 A.D., Cladius was fed a poisoned mushroom. The first mushroom did not do the job, so he had to be fed another before finally succumbing.9 That same day, Nero was named the new emperor of Rome.
Although usually described as an intelligent and calm human being, a closer look at Claudius reveals that he had a somewhat sadistic personality. This cruel side is shown in his addiction to gladitorial games and his delight in watching executions.10 Another glimpse of his cruelty was shown in his unfair treatment of his foes. They were given unfair trials and on occasion, Claudius would conduct closed-door trials on these foes, which would sometimes end with their death.11 Another low point in Claudius’s reign was the exiling of all Jews from Rome. “There (Paul) met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come to Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.”12 However, Claudius’s evil deeds are usually overshadowed by the positive accomplishments of his reign. The conquest of Britain alone made Claudius, with all his handicaps13, one of the most successful Roman emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
1 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
2 Unknown Author, “Claudius”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudius (September 30, 2005)
3 Wend, David A., “The Claudius Page” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/7094/claudius.html (October 1, 2005)
4 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
5 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
6 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
7 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
8 Wend, David A., “The Claudius Page” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/7094/claudius.html (October 1, 2005)
9 Wend, David A., “The Claudius Page” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/7094/claudius.html (October 1, 2005)
10 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
11 Fagan, Garrett G., “Roman Emperors – DIR Claudius”, http://www.roman-emperors.org/claudius.htm (September 30, 2005)
12 Acts 18:2, New International Version
13 With such bodily defects, if Claudius had been born in the culture of the Spartens, he might have been thrown over a cliff.
If he had been born in the culture of ultra sound and amniocentesis testing, he might have been aborted.