The Reign of Emperor Claudius

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Claudius became the Emperor of Rome following the assassination of Caligula in 41 AD. 

After Claudius’s claim was recognized by the Senate, he took a number of steps to secure his position. He dropped the name Nero and adopted the name Caesar, which still resonated with the public. He continued the tradition begun by the two previous Emperors and adopted the name Augustus. Claudius also adopted the name Germanicus in order to emphasize the connection with his brother.

Claudius and the Invasion of Britain

In 43 AD, Claudius sent Aulus Plautius to Britain with a force of four Legions, after a request for aid by a deposed tribal ally. Britain had attracted the interest of the Romans ever since the time of Julius Caesar, mainly for its great mineral wealth and its slaves. Britain was also a haven for Gallic rebels who rejected the authority of Rome. After the initial campaigns were complete, Claudius visited Britain, bringing with him reinforcements and elephants, which made an impression on the native Britons at the Battle of Colchester. Following the conquest of Britain, the Senate granted Claudius the honour of a Triumph. Only members of the Imperial family could be given a Triumph, however, Claudius waved this restriction for several of his conquering generals. Following the capture of the British tribal leader Caractacus, in 50 AD, Claudius granted him clemency. Caractacus spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Rome.

During his reign as Emperor, Claudius sat in personal judgement over many of the legal cases that were tried in Rome. Some ancient writers complained about this, saying that Claudius deliberately flouted Roman law. In spite of these allegations, Claudius paid careful attention to the operation of the Roman legal system. He extended both the winter and summer terms by shortening the yearly breaks. He also increased the minimum age of jurors to 25, in order to provide a more experienced jury pool.

The Rule of Emperor Claudius

Claudius issued numerous decrees and edicts during his reign, sometimes as many as 20 a day. One of his more famous measures concerned the treatment of sick slaves. It was common practice at the time for slave owners to abandon sick or dying slaves on the steps of the Temple of Aesculapius, which was located on an island in the River Tiber. Claudius ruled that if the slaves left there recovered, they were to gain their freedom. He also ruled that slave owners who killed their slaves rather than taking the risk of losing them, would be charged with murder.

Claudius devoted significant energy to improving transportation in the Roman Empire. He built roads and canals throughout Italy and the provinces. The projects overseen by Claudius included the completion of a canal linking the Rhine River to the sea, as well as a road linking Italy and Germania. He also built a canal from Rome to the port city of Ostia, that by passed the shallow stretches of the Tiber.

Claudius tried to increase the amount of arable farmland in Italy. The plan was to drain the Fucine Lake. A tunnel was dug under the lake bed, but the tunnel was crooked and not large enough for the volume of water.

Due to the manner of his ascension, Claudius went out of his way to please the Senate. He refused to accept the titles of his office at the start of his reign, preferring to earn them in turn. He also transferred the provinces of Macedonia and Achea, which had been ruled directly by the Emperor, back to Senate control

In 47 AD, Claudius assumed the office of Censor with Lucius Vitellius. He struck the names of Senators and Equites who no longer met the qualifications for these strata in the Roman social order. However, he also showed them respect by allowing them to resign in advance. At the same time, Claudius sought to admit worthy men from the provinces and increased the number of Patricians in Rome, adding new families to the shrinking number of noble lines.

Claudius instituted a number of religious reforms. He refused to allow the Greeks in Alexandria to worship him. He also discontinued many of the extraneous festivals and holy days instituted by Emperor Caligula. Claudius also encouraged the worship of the Eleusian Mysteries and expelled the Jews from Rome after repeated conflicts with the Christians.

The Death of Emperor Claudius

Claudius died in the early hours of October 13, 54 AD. There is a general consensus among the primary sources that Claudius was poisoned, however, the primary sources disagree as to where Claudius was at the time of his death. They also disagree as to the identity of Claudius’s killer, alternately claiming his taster Halotus, his doctor Xenophon, or the serial poisoner Locusta.

After his death, Claudius was deified by his adopted son, Emperor Nero. His ashes were placed in the tomb of Augustus on October 24, 54 AD.

Sources

Levick, Barbara. Claudius. Yale University Press. New Haven, 1990.

Suetonius.The Life of Claudius. Apr.13/10

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