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Marcus Aurelius Claudius Gothicus (May 10, 213/214 - January, 270), more often referred to as Claudius II, ruled the Roman Empire for less than two years (268 - 270), but during that brief time, he was so successful and beloved by the people of Rome that he attained divine status.
His origin is uncertain. Claudius was either from the Sirmium region (in Pannonia Inferior) or from Dardania (in Moesia Superior). He attained the throne in September of 268, amid charges, never proven, that he murdered his predecessor Gallienus. However, he soon proved to be less than bloodthirsty, as he asked the Roman Senate to spare the lives of Gallienus' family and supporters. He was less magnanimous toward Rome's enemies, however, and it was to this that he owed his popularity.
Claudius, like Maximinus I before him, was of barbarian birth. After an interlude of failed artistocratic Roman emperors since Maximinis's death, Claudius was the first in a series of tough soldier-emperors who would eventually restore the Empire from the Crisis of the third century.
Claudius as Emperor
At the time of his accession, the Roman Empire was in serious danger from several incursions, both within and outside its borders. The most pressing of these was an invasion of Illyricum and Pannonia by the Goths. Not long after being named emperor (or just prior to Gallienus' death, depending on the source), he won his greatest victory, and one of the greatest in the history of Roman arms.
At the Battle of Naissus, Claudius and his legions routed a huge Gothic army. Together with his cavalry commander, the future Emperor Aurelian, the Romans took thousands of prisoners, destroyed the Gothic cavalry as a force and stormed their chariot laager (a circular alignment of battle-wagons long favored by the Germans). The victory earned Claudius his surname of "Gothicus" (conqueror of the Goths), and that is how he is known to this day. More importantly, the Goths were soon driven back across the Danube River, and a century passed before they again posed a serious threat to the empire.
While this was going on, the Germanic tribe known as the Alamanni had crossed the Alps and attacked the empire. Claudius responded quickly and swiftly, routing the Alamanni at the Battle of Lake Benacus in the late fall of 268, a few months after the battle of Naissus. He then turned on the "Gallic Empire", ruled by a pretender for the past 15 years and encompassing Britain, Gaul and Spain. He won several victories and soon regained control of Spain and the Rhone river valley of Gaul. This set the stage for the ultimate destruction of the Gallic Empire under Aurelian.
However, Claudius did not live long enough to fulfill his goal of reuniting all the lost territories of the empire. Late in 269 he was preparing to go to war against the Vandals, who were raiding in Pannonia. However, he fell victim to an epidemic of plague and died early in January of 270. Before his death, he is thought to have named Aurelian as his successor, although Claudius' brother Quintillus briefly seized power.
The Senate immediately deified Claudius as "Divus Claudius Gothicus", making him one of the few Roman emperors of the period to be so honored.
Death of St. Valentine
Claudius II Gothicus is also known to history for his execution of a little-known Christian monk named Saint Valentine, who secretly married Claudius' soldiers in defiance of an order from him that professional soldiers were not to marry. This execution is said to have taken place on February 14, 269, and when Valentine was later sainted, February 14 became his feast day.
Historia Augusta reports Claudius and Quintillus having another brother named Crispus and through him a niece. Said niece Claudia reportedly married Eutropius and was mother to Constantius Chlorus. Historians however suspect this account to be a genealogical fabrication by Constantine the Great.
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