Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus (b. 10 BC, d. 54 A.D.; emperor, 41-54 A.D.) was the third emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. His reign represents a turning point in the history of the Principate for a number of reasons, not the least for the manner of his accession and the implications it carried for the nature of the office. During his reign he promoted administrators who did not belong to the senatorial or equestrian classes, and was later vilified by authors who did. He followed Caesar in carrying Roman arms across the English Channel into Britain but, unlike his predecessor, he initiated the full-scale annexation of Britain as a province, which remains today the most closely studied corner of the Roman Empire. His relationships with his wives and children provide detailed insights into the perennial difficulties of the succession problem faced by all Roman Emperors. His final settlement in this regard was not lucky: he adopted his fourth wife's son, who was to reign catastrophically as Nero and bring the dynasty to an end. Claudius's reign, therefore, was a mixture of successes and failures that leads into the last phase of the Julio-Claudian line. Early Life (10 BC - 41 A.D.)
Claudius was born on 1 August 10 BC at Lugdunum in Gaul, into the heart of the Julio-Claudian dynasty: he was the son of Drusus Claudius Nero, the son of Augustus's wife Livia, and Antonia, the daughter of Mark Antony. His uncle, Tiberius, went on to become emperor in AD 14 and his brother Germanicus was marked out for succession to the purple when, in AD 4, he was adopted by Tiberius. It might be expected that Claudius, as a well-connected imperial prince, would have enjoyed the active public life customary for young men of his standing but this was not the case. In an age that despised weakness, Claudius was unfortunate enough to have been born with defects. He limped, he drooled, he stuttered and was constantly ill. His family members mistook these physical debilities as reflective of mental infirmity and generally kept him out of the public eye as an embarrassment. A sign of this familial disdain is that he remained under guardianship, like a woman, even after he had reached the age of majority. Suetonius, in particular, preserves comments of Antonia, his mother, and Livia, his grandmother, which are particularly cruel in their assessment of the boy. From the same source, however, it emerges that Augustus suspected that there was more to this "idiot" than met the eye. Nevertheless, Claudius spent his entire childhood and youth in almost complete seclusion. The normal tasks of an imperial prince came and went without official notice, and Claudius received no summons to public office or orders to command troops on the frontiers How he spent the voluminous free time of his youth is revealed by his later character: he read voraciously. He became a scholar of considerable ability and composed works on all subjects in the liberal arts, especially history; he was the last person known of who could read Etruscan. These skills, and the knowledge of governmental institutions he acquired from studying history, were to stand him in good stead when he came to power. His father died on campaign when Claudius was only one year old, and his brother, Germanicus, succumbed under suspicious circumstances in AD 19. His only other sibling to reach adulthood, Livilla, became involved with Sejanus and fell from grace in AD 31. Through all this turmoil Claudius survived, primarily through being ignored as an embarrassment and an idiot. Claudius's fortunes changed somewhat when his unstable nephew, Gaius (Caligula), came to power in the spring of 37 A.D. Gaius, it seems, liked to use his bookish, frail uncle as the butt of cruel jokes and, in keeping with this pattern of behavior, promoted him to a consulship on 1 July 37 A.D. At 46 years of age, it was Claudius's first public office. Despite this sortie into public life, he seemed destined for a...
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