Claudius in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Caesar GermanÄ­cus, more commonly known by his historical name of Claudius, succeeded to the Roman Empire on the death of Caligula. He was the second son of Drusus and Antonia, and consequently grand- nephew to Augustus. When the assassination of Caligula was made known, the first impulse of the court party and of the foreign guards was to massacre all who had participated in the murder. Several persons of distinction, who imprudently exposed themselves, became, in consequence, the victims of their fury. This violence subsided, however, upon their discovering Claudius, who had concealed himself in an obscure corner of the palace, and who, being dragged from his hiding-place, threw himself at their feet in the utmost terror and besought them to spare his life. The soldiers in the palace immediately saluted him emperor, and Claudius, in return, set the first example of paying the army for the imperial dignity by a largess from the public treasury. It is difficult to assign any other motive for the choice which the army made of Claudius than that which they themselves professed, "his relationship to the whole family of the Caesars." Claudius, who was now fifty years old, had never done anything to gain popularity, or to display those qualities which secure the attachment of the soldiery. He had been a rickety child, and the development of his faculties was retarded by his bodily infirmities; and although he outgrew his complaints, and became distinguished as a polite scholar and an eloquent writer, his spirits never recovered from the effects of disease and of severe treatment, and he retained much of the timidity and indolence of his childhood. During the reign of Tiberius he gave himself up to gross sensuality, and consoled himself under this degradation by the security which it brought with it. Under Caligula also he found The Emperor Claudius. (Bust in the Vatican.) his safety consist in maintaining his reputation for incapacity, and he suffered himself to become the butt of court parasites and the subject of their practical jokes. The excitement of novelty, on his first accession to the throne, produced efforts of sagacity and prudence of which none who had previously known him believed him capable; and during the whole of his reign, too, we find judicious and useful enactments occasionally made, which would seem to show that he was not in reality so foolish and incompetent as historians have generally represented him. It is most probable, therefore, that the fatuity which characterizes some parts of his conduct was the result, not of natural imbecility, but of the early and unlimited indulgence of sensuality. Coin of Claudius. Claudius embellished Rome with many magnificent works; he made Mauritania a Roman province; his armies fought successfully against the Germans; and he himself triumphed magnificently in victories over the Britons, and obtained, together with his infant son, the surname of Britannicus. But in other respects he was wholly governed by worthless favourites, and especially by his empress, the profligate and abandoned Messalina (q.v.), whose cruelty and rapacity were as unbounded as her licentiousness. At her instigation it was but too common for the emperor to put to death, on false charges of conspiracy, some of the wealthiest of the nobles, and to confiscate their estates, with the money arising from which she openly pampered her numerous paramours. When the career of this guilty woman was terminated, Claudius was governed for a time by his freedman, Narcissus, and Pallas, another manumitted slave, until he took to wife his own niece, Agrippina, daughter of Germanicus, a woman of strong natural abilities, but of insatiable avarice, extreme ambition, and remorseless cruelty. Her influence over the feeble emperor was boundless. She prevailed on him at last to set aside his own son Britannicus, and to adopt her son, Domitius Ahenobarbus, by her former husband, giving him the name by which he is best known, Nero, and constituting him heir to the imperial throne. Claudius having afterwards shown a disposition to change the succession and restore it to Britannicus, fell a victim to the ambition of Agrippina, who caused him to be poisoned. A dish of mushrooms was prepared for the purpose, a kind of food of which the emperor was known to be especially fond, and the effects of the poison were hastened by the pretended remedies administered by Xenophon, the physician of the palace. It was given out that Claudius had suffered from indigestion, which his habitual gluttony rendered so frequent that it excited no surprise; and his death was concealed till Domitius Nero had secured the guards, and had quietly taken possession of the imperial authority. Claudius died in the sixty-fourth year of his age and the fourteenth of his reign, A.D. 54. His biography is to be found in the Lives of Suetonius. See BaringGould, The Tragedy of the Caesars, vol. i. (London, 1892).

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