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- For other Romans named Claudius see Claudius (gens).
Claudius was considered a rather unlikely man to become emperor. He reportedly walked with a heavy limp his entire life and spoke with a stammer, and his despairing family had virtually excluded him from public office until his consulship with his nephew Caligula in 37. This infirmity may have saved him from the fate of many other Roman nobles during the purges of Tiberius and Caligula's reigns.
Claudius' Scholarly Works
Exclusion from public life suited his inclination towards the academic. Whilst still a boy Claudius started work on a Roman history which opened with the murder of Julius Caesar, then skipped a few years and started again at the close of the Civil Wars in forty-three volumes. He also wrote twenty volumes on Etruscan History and eight volumes on Carthaginian History. Lamentably none of these have survived.
Accession as Emperor
After a conspiracy of officers, including Cassius Chaerea, and Senators assassinated Caligula, a group of regular soldiers "appointed" Claudius his successor, thinking that in Claudius they would have a pliant benefactor. Although Claudius had no intention of becoming Emperor, shortly after the Senate confirmed his status he embarked on several ambitious projects, one of which was the expansion of the Roman harbor at Ostia. Rome enjoyed military success under Claudius as well. In 47, his legions finally subdued Britannia, bringing the restive province into the Empire for the next 350 years.
Claudius married four times. His first two marriages, to Plautia Urgulanilla and Aelia Paetina, ended in divorce. His third wife, Messalina, was put to death on his orders. His last wife was his niece Agrippina, who was the mother of his successor, the notorious Nero.
Urgulanilla gave birth to two children: a son, Claudius Drusus, and a daughter, Claudia. According to Suetonius, Claudius Drusus had just been betrothed to Junilla, the daughter of Sejanus, when he choked to death on a pear he had thrown into the air and caught in his mouth. There was some doubt as to Claudia's parentage, and Claudius eventually repudiated her. His second marriage produced one child, a daughter named Claudia Antonia. Messalina gave birth to two children: a son, Britannicus, and a daughter, Octavia.
Claudius and the Praetorian Guard
Because he was proclaimed emperor on the initiative of the Prętorian Guard instead of the Senate – the first emperor thus proclaimed – Claudius's repute suffered at the hands of commentators (such as Seneca) with axes to grind. Nevertheless, his general approbation, in contrast to that of predecessors Tiberius and Caligula, is attested by his apotheosis and the raising of the temple to Divus Claudius, on the Caelian Hill in Rome, following his death. Those who regard this homage by Agrippina as cynical should note that, cynical or not, such a move would hardly have benefited those involved, had Claudius been "hated," as some commentators (even modern commentators) characterize him. Moreover, though Claudius's divinity was annulled by Nero, it was later restored by the "good" emperor Vespasian.
Claudius was also the first emperor to be titulated "Caesar" purely as an honorific. (He had no legal claim to the name.) Caesar would thus become part of the nomenclature of every succeeding Roman emperor and would be adopted as the title of the German (Kaiser) and Russian (Czar) emperors.
The emperor Claudius was the protagonist of the books I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. The books are written from a first-person perspective, giving the impression of having been written by Claudius himself as his autobiography. Graves's conceit that they were translations of writings by Claudius that had been recently discovered extended even to the point for Claudius to relate that his visit to an oracle predicted that they would be discovered "nineteen hundred year or near" later. Those books were the basis for a thirteen-part BBC series, first broadcast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre in 1977, also titled I, Claudius and starring Derek Jacobi in the title role.
- Life of Claudius (Suetonius; English translation and Latin original)
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