41 - 54 CE
one was more surprised than Claudius when he was proclaimed
Emperor. A club-footed stutterer with a tendency to drool
at inopportune times, he was believed to be an idiot.
That may have saved his life, since no one took him
seriously enough to bother to assassinate him. His mad
nephew, Caligula, had kept him around as much for comic
relief as anything else.
So who would have thought he'd make a pretty good Emperor ... ?
|About this coin: This bronze "as" features a portrait of Claudius that is much less unflattering than average. The reverse features "Libertas", the Roman personification of Liberty, and the model for "Lady Liberty" on U.S. coins.|
Claudius was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard on the day his nephew, Caligula, was assassinated. The Senate saw in Caligula's assassination an opportunity to eliminate the office of Emperor and restore the Republic, but the Praetorian Guard (the Emperor's elite guard unit) recognized that their services would not be much in demand if there were no Emperor to guard, so they cast hurriedly about for a viable Imperial candidate -- and guess who they found hiding behind a curtain ... ?
Intellectually, there was nothing wrong with Claudius. He was quite learned, avidly pursuing historical research, and himself wrote historical works as well as an autobiography.
His reaction to Caligula's murder was restrained. He executed only two, including the one who had murdered Caligula's wife and daughter. He then reversed many of the most hated aspects of Caligula's reign, eliminating treason trials and returning much of what Caligula had confiscated. He did, however, react strongly whenever he feared that his life was threatened, and his experience living in the households of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula left him with much reason to be fearful.
Despite not being a military man, Claudius managed to successfully bring most of Britain under Roman control, a prize that had eluded his predecessors. Also added to the empire under Claudius were Thrace, Lycia, Mauretania and Noricum. He also proved to be a fairly astute politician, avoiding the acrimony with the Senate that Caligula had enjoyed, even while reducing the Senate's power.
Claudius's third wife, the notorious Messalina, used his fear of assassination to settle personal scores, leveling false accusations at her enemies to get them exiled or executed. Her adulteries were manifold, but Claudius turned a blind eye to them. Finally, she married one of her lovers, probably intending for him to stage a coup. Only the quick actions of Claudius's chief secretary, Narcissus, saved him. Narcissus got Claudius to safety in the Praetorian camp, then had Messalina's lover dragged in and executed. Narcissus also arranged to have Messalina executed without allowing her to see Claudius, since there was a good chance he might have forgiven her even this had she been able to speak to him.
After Messalina, he married Caligula's sister, the scheming Agrippina; she focused her efforts on elevating Nero, her son by a previous marriage, over Britannicus, son of Claudius and Messalina. It was remarkably easy. Finally, with Nero clearly in line for the succession, Agrippina conspired with the Imperial taster, Halotus, and an expert poisoner named Locusta to feed Claudius a mushroom that had been sprinkled with poison. Not surprisingly, Britannicus died just four months later, another victim of poison.