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Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus was the third emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty but his rise to power was very chequered! Born in 10BC at Lugdunum (Lyons) in Gaul, he was the younger son of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia Minor, daughter of Mark Antony. As a child, he suffered from infantile paralysis which left him with a weak leg, a twitch and a stammer. His relatives assumed that he was also weak-minded but Claudius proved to be a shrewd academic, especially interested in history. He wrote several works including histories of the Carthaginians and Etruscans which, unfortunately, are no longer extant.
Britannia, New Province of the Empire
After the assassination of Caligula in January AD41, Claudius was proclaimed as emperor by the Praetorian Guard. The Senate was debating whether to restore the Republic but it was overtaken by events and, reluctantly, had to accept the decision of the Praetorians. This somewhat soured relations between Claudius and the Senate although the new emperor often consulted the senators for advice and paid the greatest respect to senatorial protocol. Claudius soon proved himself to be a very capable and clever administrator but he needed a military reputation to bolster his reputation with the army. Approximately 40,000 legionnaries and auxiliary troops crossed the Channel in AD43 under the command of Aulus Plautius, a childhood friend of the emperor. The south-east of Britain was occupied relatively quickly but Plautius paused before entering Camulodunon (Colchester), the 'capital' of the Trinovantes. Claudius himself entered the city along with 38 war elephants and accepted the surrender of 11 British kings. He was given the honorific name 'Britannicus' and the Senate gave Claudius a grand triumph through the streets of Rome. The advice of the emperor to Plautius was 'Conquer the rest!' This would prove more difficult than the Romans thought!
Claudius and his Wicked Wives
Claudius created a vast 'civil service' to assist him in the running of the Empire but he further upset the Senate by choosing freedmen for the important positions. Freedmen were freed slaves and some of his closest freedmen advisors became very powerful and rich individuals. In his personal life, Claudius was very unfortunate in his choice of wives! His first wife, Urgulanilla, was a giantess who was very physically demanding and nearly killed poor Claudius! The emperor was often reputed to be seen fleeing down the corridors of the palace from his his insatiable wife! If that was not bad enough, his next two wives were even worse.. The beautiful but corrupt Messalina was the mother to Claudius' children, Britannicus and Octavia, but her appetite for extra-marital affairs was notorious. An unsuspecting Claudius was eventually told of the scandal by Narcissus, a trusty freedman. Messalina was summarily executed in AD48 for plotting against the emperor.
Mushrooms or Toadstools, My Dear?
Claudius then married his niece, Agrippina Minor, in AD49. She already had a son (the future emperor Nero) from a former marriage to Domitius Ahenobarbus. Agrippina was the sister of Caligula and she had a similar lust for power. She schemed and plotted to make sure that Nero would succeed Claudius. When she sensed that the time was right, she made her move. Claudius suddenly fell ill and died on October 13th AD54 after eating a dish of mushrooms, reputed to have been prepared by Agrippina herself!
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Roman Emperors Portrait Gallery
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