Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born in 10 BC to Nero Claudius Drusus and his wife Antonia. Although he came from a royal blood line, his family had a very low opinion of his abilities and often ignored him. Labeled an invalid from birth because of physical disabilities including partial paralysis, stammering, slobbering, and limping, he was the last person his family thought would inherit the throne and serve as Roman Emperor. An outcast in his home environment, Claudius turned to the study of history to occupy his time. He authored various works about orthographic reform of the Roman alphabet and a work defending Cicero, a republican politician and orator. Claudius also enjoyed playing dice games.
Claudius' rise to power came after Emperor Gauis (Caligula), his nephew, was unexpectedly murdered on January 1, AD 41. Claudius became heir to the throne, to many a Roman's dismay. The soldiers, courtiers, freedman, and foreigners were his main support although the senatorial aristocracy also offered to back the new emperor. Many Romans sought to have Claudius assassinated because of his cruel and ruthless discussions and actions with members of the senate and knighthood. It is thought by some that he even executed senators on occasion. Despite this conflict Claudius did respect these agencies and gave new opportunities to them both.
Claudius' reign is marked with an expansion of the Roman Empire. He invaded and conquered Britain in AD 43 and captured Camulodunum. There he started a colony of veterans and built client-kingdoms to protect the small populated land. Claudius also took over North Africa and annexed Mauretania, where he established two provinces as well. Around AD 49 he also annexed Iturea and allowed the province of Syria to control it, trying not to come into conflict with the Germans and the Parthians.
In the area of civil administration he encouraged urbanization. The judicial system improved under his reign and he favored the modern extension by individual and collective grants in Noricum. Claudius also made many administrative innovations. He increased his control over finances and province administration and gave jurisdiction of fiscal matters to the governors under him in the senatorial provinces.
Claudius' personal life was wrought with conflicts that ultimately led to his undoing. He married three times. His first wife, Boudicca, started a revolt, and his second wife had a strong sexual appetite that led her to conspiracy and ultimately, her execution. Claudius' third time was not a charm either. He decided to stay within the family and married his niece, Aggripina. She was very influential over Claudius to the point where he adopted her son Nero. Then she fed Claudius a dinner containing poisonous mushrooms which killed him. Her main motive was that her precious son, Nero, might inherit the throne.
Although Claudius was generally thought of as a weak leader and was labeled, even by his own family, as someone not worthy to rule; he made notable contributions to the development of the Roman empire. He conquered and colonized Britain, established provinces in North Africa, and he urbanized and innovated his civil administration. He died an unnecessary and tragic death at the hand of his own wife and was succeeded by his adopted son, Nero. For more on Nero, click here
Biography thanks to North Park University, www.northpark.edu
Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, Facts on File, Inc., New York, 1994, pp. 93-94
Cook, S. A. Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, 1963, pp. 667-703
Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 7, Grolier Incorporated, Danbury, 1988, pp. 27-28.
Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford Press, New York, 1996, pp. 337-338
World History, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1994, p. 214