ACTA ACCLA, June 2009


Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Emperor 41 - 54 CE

By Robert Lattanzi

Bust of the Emperor Claudius
Bust of Claudius
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
  • Born: August 1, 10 BCE
  • Name at birth: Tiberius Claudius Drusus
  • Birthplace: Lugdunum
  • Father: Nero Claudius Drusus
  • Mother: Antonia Minor
  • Dynasty: Julio-Claudian
  • Reign: January 24, 41-October 13, 54 CE
  • Died: October 13, 54 CE
  • Predecessor: Caligula
  • Successor: Nero
  • Wives:
         1. Plaitia Ugulanilla
         2. Aelia Paetina
         3. Messalina
         4. Agrippina the Younger
  • Children: Claudius Drusus, Claudia Antonia, Claudia Octavia, Britannicus, Nero (adopted)

Tiberius Claudius Drusus was born into the Julio-Claudian dynasty in Lugdunum, Gaul in l0 BCE. His father was Nero Claudius Drusus, his mother was Antonia Minor the daughter of Marc Antony.  Claudius’ brother was the highly regarded Germanicus, father of Caligula. Emperor Tiberius was his uncle.

Denarius of Emperor Claudius minted in Lugdunum
Silver Denarius of Claudius minted in Lugdunum 46-47 CE. His laureated head right, TI CLAUD CAESAR AVG TR P VI IMP XI around / Pax-Nemesis advancing right drawing out fold of drapery from neck and holding a caduceus, snake at feet, PACI AVGVSTAE. RIC 52; BMCRE 62. Sear RCV 1846.
Claudius was born in Lugdunum (modern day Lyon) on August 1, 10 BCE.

Claudius had a difficult youth and was not accepted by his family due to conditions imposed by what modern medicine believes to be cerebral palsy, Tourette syndrome, or autism. His infirmity caused him to drag his right leg, drool, his voice cracked and his speech was often unintelligible. His mother, Antonia, frequently called him "an abortion of a man that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature".1 These weaknesses forced the family to keep him out of sight during his entire childhood and much of his youth for fear of embarrassment. He was carried to the Capitol in a litter at night where he assumed the toga virilis (normally performed in public in the Forum). His illness and seclusion served him well as he was not seen as a contender to the throne and survived the political bloodshed associated with the reigns of Tiberius and his cousin Caligula.

Suetonius' Description of Claudius:

He possessed majesty and dignity of appearance, but only when he was standing still or sitting, and especially when he was lying down; for he was tall but not slender, with an attractive face… his laughter was unseemly and his anger still more disgusting, for he would foam at the mouth and trickle at the nose; he stammered besides and his head was very shaky at all times.
He was eager for food and drink at all times and in all places. He hardly ever left the dining-room until he was stuffed and soaked; then he went to sleep at once, lying on his back with his mouth open, and a feather was put down his throat to relieve his stomach. He slept but little at a time, for he was usually awake before midnight; but he would sometimes drop off in the daytime while holding court and could hardly be roused when the advocates raised their voices for the purpose. He was immoderate in his passion for women, but wholly free from unnatural vice. He was greatly devoted to gaming, even publishing a book on the art.1

Claudius' physical condition apparently improved during his teens and he began to pursue scholarly interests. He was tutored by the historian Livy and the philosopher Athenodorus. Claudius possessed a sound and inquiring mind and spent his time in reading and writing works on history. He wrote twenty books in Greek on Etruscan history and eight about the Carthaginians and a history of Rome in Latin. It is said that he was the last person who could read Etruscan.

Augustus decided to limit Claudius' public life and his will named Claudius among his heirs of the third degree, i.e., with two heirs before him. Tiberius honored Augustus' decision until his death. As a result Claudius' political life was deferred for more than twenty years. When Gaius Caligula, his nephew, became emperor Claudius' public life changed considerably. At age 46 Claudius and Gaius were appointed consuls for a period of two months. At times Claudius presided over major events in Gaius' absence and was greeted by the people with affection in part because he was the brother of Germanicus and the emperor's uncle.1 However, embarrassments persisted. "At times as a supper guest... he fell asleep after meat, the buffoons and jesters about him made good sport, pelting him with olive and date stones... They were wont likewise to glove his hand (as he lay snoring asleep) with his shoes, that as he suddenly awaked he might rub his face and eyes therewith."1

On January 24, 41 Caligula was assassinated while at the games held in honor of Augustus. Caligula's wife, Caesonia, and his child, Julia Drusilla, were killed in the palace that same day. Meanwhile, Claudius left the games and took refuge in the palace. According to Suetonius, he was discovered hiding behind a curtain by a member of the Praetorian Guard and proclaimed emperor. In another version the Praetorian Guard believed their agreeable post in Rome was in jeopardy and they needed an emperor as opposed to a return to the Republic. They chose the Julio-Claudian, Claudius, and sent troops to find him. He was brought back to their camp and proclaimed emperor. His favor with the soldiers was likely based on the reputation of his brother Germanicus and a pledge of 15,000 sesterces to members of the Guard.

Gold aureus of Claudius celebrating his accession
Aureus of Claudius celebrating his accession. Gold, 19 mm, 7.66 g, struck 44/5 CE in Rome. His laureated head right, TI CLAUD CAESAR AVG PM TR P IIII around / Claudius seated left, holding scepter, signum to left, all within distyle building, IMPER RECEPT across. RIC I 25; von Kaenel Type 22; Calicó 361a. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Caligula's death provided the senate with an opportunity to restore the Republic. However, they were faced with the anger of the common people over the events surrounding Caligula's assassination and were in no mood to put power back into senatorial hands. Additionally, the senate could not prevail over the strength of the Praetorian Guard and Claudius became the fourth Julio-Claudian emperor.

Claudius was 50 when he came to power and needed to strengthen his position with the senate. He had spent a great deal of time observing Rome’s political scene and was well aware of the dangers that were prevalent in this society having experienced the murder of his brother, the assassination of his nephew, and the atrocities committed under Caligula. He therefore took the name of "Caesar" in order to associate himself with the Julio-Claudians, the name of Germanicus to invoke the positive feelings of the populous for his brother, and Augustus as had Tiberius and Caligula thus becoming Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

When his power was firmly established, Claudius "considered it of foremost importance to obliterate the memory of the two days when men had thought of changing the form of government. Accordingly he made a decree that all that had been done and said during that period should be pardoned and forever forgotten; he kept his word too, save only that a few of the tribunes and centurions who had conspired against Gaius were put to death, both to make an example of them and because he knew that they had also demanded his own death".1 Others, less implicated, were spared including members of the Senate.

Cistophorus of Claudius struck 41-42 CE in Pergamum
AR Cistophorus of Claudius. Struck 41-42 CE in Pergamum. Silver, 27 mm, 11.12 g, 7 hr. His bare head left, TI CLAUD CAES AVG around / COM ASI astride distyle temple with ROME ET AVG in entablature enclosing Claudius holding scepter being crowned by Fortuna holding a cornucopia. RIC I 120; RPC I 2221; RSC 3. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

A month after the assassination Claudius entered the senate. It was his desire that the senate become more representative and efficient, and maintain a responsible role in the governing of the empire. He treated them with respect and rose to his feet whenever they rose or approached him. The provinces of Macedonia and Achaea were put under senate control and they were allowed to issues their own coinage. Despite his efforts many in the senate remained hostile to Claudius and thus created an atmosphere in which no less than six coup attempts were uncovered. As a consequence two or more senators were put to death each year. Claudius "inflicted the death penalty on thirty-five senators and more than three hundred Roman equites with such easy indifference, that when a centurion, in reporting the death of an ex-consul, said that his order had been carried out, he replied that he had given no order; but he nevertheless approved the act, since his freedmen declared that the soldiers had done their duty in hastening to avenge their emperor without instructions".1

In addition Claudius's use of freemen in powerful positions in the administration of the empire severely limited the degree to which the senate dictated policy and essentially removing it from the center of power. The most important freemen were Narcissus, Pallas, Polybius and Callistus. Claudius also reduced the number of senators while at the same time adding others from the provinces.


Julius Caesar's expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BCE ended with some success but concerns in Gaul lead to the withdrawal of his troops from Britain.  Caligula's bizarre attempt in 40 CE to conquer Britain ended in an aborted crossing of the Channel. The political scene in Britain became unstable in 40 CE when the Catuvellauni took over the south-eastern part of the island and were threatening the Atrebates, former allies of Rome. Claudius seized the opportunity to add the wealth of the British mines to the empire and to further solidify his reign with a military campaign. Claudius sent Aulus Plautius to Britain with four legions in the summer of 43 CE totaling about 40,000 men.

Silver didrachm of Claudius struck in Caesaraea-Eusebia, Cappadocia
AR Didrachm of Claudius struck in Caesaraea-Eusebia, Cappadocia. Silver, 20 mm, 7.62 g, 12 hr. His laureated head left, TI CLAUD CAESAR AVG GERM PM TR P around / Claudius in triumphal quadriga right, holding scepter, DE BRITANNIS in exergue. RPC 3625; Sydenham, Caesarea, 55; RIC I 122. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

The conquest was to continue for several decades after Claudius' reign with the final consolidation of Roman Britannia as south of Hadrian's Wall (begun in 122 CE). Toward the end of the initial invasion Claudius traveled to the island.

On the voyage there from Ostia he was nearly cast away twice in furious north-westers, off Liguria and near the Stoechades islands. Therefore he made the journey from Massilia all the way to Gesoriacum by land, crossed from there, and without any battle or bloodshed received the submission of a part of the island, returned to Rome within six months after leaving the city, and celebrated a triumph of great splendor. To witness the sight he allowed not only the governors of the provinces to come to Rome, but even some of the exiles; and among the tokens of his victory he set a naval crown on the gable of the Palace beside the civic crown, as a sign that he had crossed and, as it were, subdued the Ocean.1

Suetonius description is short and lacks much of the details that are available from other sources such as Dio and Tacitus. The expansion of the empire into Britain was the first significant expansion since Augustus. Claudius also undertook the annexation of Judea, Thrace, Noricum, Pamphyia, Lycia, and completed Caligula’s annexation of Mauretania.


Claudius completed the Aqua Claudia aqueduct begun by Caligula and the Anio Novus and restored the Aqua Virgo. "He brought to the city on stone arches the cool and abundant founts of the Claudian aqueduct, one of which is called Caeruleus and the other Curtius and Albudignus, and at the same time the spring of the new Anio, distributing them into many beautifully ornamented pools". 1 He attempted to drain Lake Fucine to alleviate flooding and increase the amount of arable land. A tunnel was dug to provide an exit for water from the lake to the Liris River. Apparently the tunnel was crooked and not large or deep enough to drain the lake. It was re-dug and celebrated with a gladiatorial show. When the sluices were opened the rushing waters caused Claudius and other spectators to run for their lives.

Work began on a new port for Rome in order to eliminate grain shortages. "He constructed the harbor at Ostia by building curving breakwaters on the right and left, while before the entrance he placed a mole in deep water. To give this mole a firmer foundation, he first sank the ship in which the great obelisk had been brought from Egypt by Caligula and then securing it by piles, built upon it a very lofty tower after the model of the Pharos at Alexandria, to be lighted at night and guide the course of ships."1


Claudius "gave several splendid shows, not merely the usual ones in the customary places, but some of a new kind and some revived from ancient times and in places where no one had ever given them before".1 He rose with the crowd at gladiatorial matches and gave high praise to the participants. "He often gave games in the Vatican Circus also, at times with a beast-baiting between every five races… the Circus Maximus he adorned with barriers of marble and gilded goals. In addition to the chariot races he exhibited the game called Troy and also panthers, which were hunted down by a squadron of the Praetorian cavalry under the lead of the tribunes and the prefect himself; likewise Thessalian horseman, who drive wild bulls all over the arena, leaping upon them when they are tired out and throwing them to the ground by the horns".1 At the first attempt to release the waters of Lake Fucine, Claudius gave an orchestrated sea-fight. "At this performance a Sicilian and a Rhodian fleet engaged, each numbering twelve triremes, and the signal was sounded on a horn by a silver Triton, which was raised from the middle of the lake by a mechanical device".1 Nineteen thousand combatants were said to have taken part in this show. Claudius instituted new holidays, spectacular shows to commemorate the conquest of Britain and rededicated the Theater of Pompey.


Claudius' first marriage was to Plautia Urgulanilla. They had two children, a son, Claudius Drusus, and a daughter named Claudia. The boy accidentally died of asphyxiation while attempting to catch a pear in his mouth. Claudius divorced Plautia on grounds of adultery. He next married Aelia Paetina and had a daughter, Antonia. They divorced when the marriage no longer suited Claudius' political position. In 38 CE he married Valeria Messalina who bore him a daughter, Octavia, and a son, Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus, later called Britannicus. Messalina sought to keep Britannicus in line for the position of emperor by destroying anyone she considered a threat. As an example, she conspired to kill Nero, son of Agrippina the Younger. Some historians allege that she was a nymphomaniac. She was young and Claudius was nearing 50 when they married. One account tells of a competition between her and a prostitute to see who could rack up the most sexual partners in one night. Pliny states that Messalina won with a score of 25 partners.2

Messalina fell in love with Gaius Silius, persuaded him to divorce his wife and plot to assassinate Claudius. On one occasion when Claudius was in Ostia inspecting the harbor Messalina and Silius married in a full ceremony in front of witnesses. Another version of this story is that freedmen fabricated the marriage in order to eliminate Messalina. Regardless of the reasons and various versions of the couples relationship they were put to death. When Claudius was informed of Messalina’s death he was said to have shown no emotion and asked for more wine.

Silver didrachm of Claudius struck in Caesaraea-Eusebia, Cappadocia
Aureus of Claudius with Agrippina, minted in Rome circa 42 CE. Gold, 7.69 g. His laureated head right, TI CLAVD CAESAR AVG GERM P M TRIB POT P P around / Diademed bust of Agrippina right, AGRIPPINAE AVGVSTA around. RIC I 80; BMCRE 72; BN 76; CNR 4; Cohen 3. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

After Messalina's death Pallas, the freeman, convinced Claudius to marry Agrippina the Younger, the daughter of his brother Germanicus and sister of Caligula. Agrippina has been described as beautiful, ruthless, ambitious, and domineering. She quickly became very influential in imperial politics and dominated Claudius. The Senate gave her the title of "Augusta." Prior to her marriage to Claudius she had a son by Domitius whose name was L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, later called Nero. Claudius adopted Nero as his son. It is likely that Agrippina strongly influenced Claudius's choice to advance Nero toward the imperial succession over his natural son, Britannicus.


Pliny the Elder and Seneca, contemporaries of Claudius, assume he was murdered. However, Claudius was seriously ill, talked of death and may have died of natural causes. Tacitus gives us this entertaining version:

Under the weight of anxiety, his health broke down, and he left for Sinuessa, to renovate his strength by the gentle climate and the medicinal springs. At once, Agrippina - long resolved on murder, eager to seize the proffered occasion, and at no lack for assistants - sought advice upon the type of poison... What commended itself was something recondite, which would derange his faculties while postponing his dissolution... So notorious, later, were the whole proceedings that authors of the period have recorded that the poison was sprinkled on an exceptionally fine mushroom; though, as a result of his natural sluggishness or intoxication, the effects of the drug were not immediately felt by Claudius. At the same time, a motion of his bowels appeared to have removed the danger. Agrippina was in consternation: as the last consequences were to be apprehended, immediate infamy would have to be braved; and she fell back on the complicity - which she had already assured - of the doctor Xenophon. He, it is believed, under cover of assisting the emperor's struggles to vomit, plunged a feather, dipped in a quick poison, down his throat: for he was well aware that crimes of the first magnitude are begun with peril and consummated with profit.3

In Senecas' Apocolocyntosis, a satire, the end of Claudius' life was depicted as follows:

The last words he was heard to speak in this world were these. When he had made a great noise with that end of him which talked easiest, he cried out, 'Oh dear, oh dear! I think I have made a mess of myself.' Whether he did or no, I cannot say, but certain it is he always did make a mess of everything.4
He died on the third day before the Ides of October in the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in the sixty-fourth year of his age and the fourteenth of his reign. He was buried with regal pomp and enrolled among the gods, an honor neglected and finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian.1

After his funeral Claudius' ashes were interred in the Augustus Mausoleum. The sixteen year old Nero became emperor.

Britannicus, heir-designate of the empire at birth, died suddenly the day before becoming an adult. His death occurred a few months after Nero became emperor. Nero ordered the execution of his own mother, Agrippina, in 59 CE. She may have been implicated in a plot to assassinate him.


All coin photographs shown below are courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Sestertius of Claudius struck 41-42 CE in Rome
Æ Sestertius of Claudius struck 41-42 CE in Rome. Bronze, 30.81 g. His laureated head right, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP around / EX S C OB CIVES SERVATOS within oak wreath. RIC I 96; cf. Von Kaenel 1261; BMCRE 115; BN 152; Cohen 39. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
As of Claudius struck in Rome
As of Claudius. Æ, 12.38 g. His bare head right, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP P P around / Libertas standing right holding pileus, S C across field, LIBERTAS AVGVSTA around. RIC I 113; Cohen 47. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Denarius of Claudius struck 49-50 CE at Lugdunum
AR Denarius of Claudius struck 49-50 CE at Lugdunum. Silver, 3.63 g. His laureated head right, TI CLAVD CAESAR AVG P M TR P VIIII IMP XVI around / S P Q R P P OB C S within oak wreath. RIC I 49; BMCRE pg. 171, note; RSC 89. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Denarius of Claudius struck 41-42 CE at Rome
AR Denarius of Claudius struck 41-42 CE at Rome. Silver, 18 mm, 3.50 g, 3 hr. His laureated head right, TI CLAVD CAESAR AVG P M TR P VIIII IMP XVI around / Constantia seated left on curule chair, feet on footstool. RIC I 14; von Kaenel 181; BMCRE 13; RSC 6. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.


1 Suetonius: De Vita Caesarum--Divus Claudius, c. 110 CE. Rolfe translation, Loeb Classical Library.
2 Pliny the Elder, Natural History.
3 Tacitus, Annals. Loeb Classical Library.
4 Seneca, Apocolocyntosis. Rouse translation.


Levick, Barbara, Claudius, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990.
Grant, Michael, The Twelve Caesars, Barnes and Noble, 1996.
Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars.


Claudius on Wikipedia
Claudius on De Imperatoribus Romanis
Coins of Claudius (WildWinds)
Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars - The Life of Claudius (English) Rolfe Translation
Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum - CLAUDIUS (Latin) Loeb Edition


ACTA ACCLA edited by Michael J. Connor.