English 10-4/ Latin II-7
10 November 2011
Claudius was the third Roman Emperor and he reigned from 41 A.D. to 54 A.D. He was a good ruler because he overcame his disabilities and was the first emperor to increase the size of the Roman Empire since the reign of Augustus, forty years before. Although Claudius had many disabilities and was manipulated by his wives, he was an emperor that greatly expanded Rome.
Throughout Claudius’ childhood, he had many disabilities that left him physically challenged. Among his disabilities: “he limped; he drooled, he stuttered, and was constantly ill” (Fagan). As a result, everyone thought of him as stupid. Claudius’ family saw his defects and considered them mental instabilities so they kept him inside, away from society. His family did this so they would not be shunned by society because of their deformed son. Because of this, he was unable to experience life to its fullest while he was growing up. His mother once said he was, “a ‘monster: a man whom Nature had not finished but had merely begun’” (Suetonius 187). His entire family looked down on him. When Claudius came of age when one was required to get a job, his family sheltered him and would not let him because of his “stupidity”. Claudius should not have been treated like he was. It was not his fault he was born with defects. His family should have loved him no matter what he looked like; his mother especially. This shows he did not grow up in a very happy environment and it probably lowered his self esteem and confidence. People did not realize at this time that he would one day be the emperor of Rome even though he was unfairly shunned from society as a result of his family’s embarrassment of him. Unfortunately, he was also the family member that everyone looked down upon.
While his family mocked him at home, nobility mocked him at his work. Claudius had a job with his nephew, Emperor Gaius. While he was sleeping the nobles would throw olives at him and it was said that “some jokers exercised their wit by putting slippers on his hand as he lay snoring, and then gave him a sudden blow of a whip or cane to wake him, so that he rubbed his face with them” (Suetonius 190). If they would have taken the time to get to know Claudius, they would have known that he was intelligent. This illustrates that he did not live a very happy life. Augustus stated “there was more to this idiot than met the eye” (Fagan). This was significant because no one had treated him with respect until this point.
Claudius’ wives also treated him with disrespect to the point that he married four women while he was emperor. All four of his wives influenced his life. For example, one of them even took over and succeeded in ruling the empire via Claudius. The wives could do this because he had disabilities and did not believe that his wives were controlling the country.
Claudius’ first wife was Plautia Urgularilla, whose father won a triumph—something the senate granted on behalf of a great victory—which allowed her to marry Claudius. Claudius divorced Plautia because of her “scandalous behavior and suspicion of murder” (Suetonius 203). This was important because if a Roman man’s wife was accused of scandalous behavior, it showed she was not loyal to him. This was not good because the emperor’s wife was not being loyal to him. He had to divorce her. He also divorced his second wife, Aelia Paetina, who was a daughter of an ex-consul, because of small offenses that are unknown today. These two wives were not as manipulative of Claudius as his other two wives and his marriages with Aelia and Plautia did not last long.
Claudius’ third wife, Valeria Messalina, influenced his life significantly and she was the daughter of Claudius’ cousin, Messala Barbatus. It was said that “while Claudius was away in Ostia in A.D. 48, Messalina had a party in the palace in the course of which a marriage ceremony was performed (or playacted) between herself and a consul-designate, C. Silius” (Fagan). Having Messalina marry another man while she was married to Claudius also showed she was not loyal and did not respect him. Since she was the emperor’s wife, she was expected to be faithful and courteous to the emperor. Claudius had Messalina executed and swore he would never marry another woman again. He told the Praetorian Guard to kill him if he ever went back on his word. This showed that he was through with women and he did not want an additional wife. It did not change anything though because the Praetorian Guard did not kill him even though he wanted to marry his niece soon after.
Claudius’ last wife, Agrippina the Younger, was the most power-hungry of his wives. Since she was his niece, Claudius passed a law in the senate that stated a man could marry his niece without it being incest. Agrippina was the most manipulative, influential woman Claudius had married. Later in his life, Claudius said that “he had shown some plain signs of repentance for his marriage with Agrippina” (Suetonius. 211). Claudius hated her by the end of their marriage because she became overpowering and popular with the Roman citizens. It had been said that, “in 50 AD, the senate voted her the title “Augusta”, the first prominent woman to hold this title since Livia” (Fagan). This showed her fame and power because the only other person to be given that name was Livia, Claudius’ power hungry grandmother. As a result of Agrippina’s influence, Claudius adopted her son, Nero, to be his own. Then, in 54 A.D., Agrippina thought that it was her son’s time to be emperor. She poisoned a bowl of mushrooms, Claudius’ favorite food. Miriam Griffin pointed out that “even Claudius’ death was just a means to Agrippina‘s winning of the throne for her son.” (483). Claudius was killed unjustly because of his overpowering wife. This is important because after Claudius was murdered, Agrippina’s son went into power.
Claudius “completed only a few public works, though those he undertook were both large and vital.” (Fagan). Claudius wanted to make the empire better by completing immense things that would remain for a long time. He finished building two aqueducts that Caligula started during his reign. These aqueducts brought water to the empire from the surrounding lakes and springs. Claudius also drained the Fucine Lake so there would be more land in the empire for people to settle on. This task also included “leveling mountain slopes and tunneling through rock” (Fagan) so that the people could have flat land to farm and live on. He also began building a harbor at Ostia, which Nero finished, so that boats could find their way. He included a lighthouse so sailors could see where they were going. This demonstrated that Claudius cared about the empire and he wanted to make it better.
The Annexation of Britain is said to be one of the most important events in Emperor Claudius’ life. This invasion of Rome started when Togodumnus, the British king, sent Claudius an offensive letter calling Claudius “no soldier but a cowardly old fool who wrote books” (Graves 528) and demanded the return of exiled men that were taken and the sacred regalia, which one of the exiles had brought to Rome with him. Claudius wanted to fight this king that insulted him and expand his military reputation. Claudius felt that his life before he was Gaius’s colleague sheltered him and he did not have the appropriate military image. This shows that Claudius felt he was at a disadvantage. The invasion of Britain supposedly lasted for decades. Claudius and the Romans succeeded and Britain was added to the Roman Empire. This “marked the first major addition to the territory of the Roman Empire since the reign of Augustus” (Fagan). Britain was said to be “the island that Caesar had intended to conquer but never had conquered. Again Claudius had succeeded where Caesar failed” (Levick 99). This was a remarkable feat for Claudius and when he got back to Rome he celebrated his many achievements.
Claudius did a lot for the Roman Empire, from building aqueducts to expanding the empire, overcoming his disabilities and dealing with his promiscuous wives. This emperor changed society forever because he proved that disabilities do not define a person and you should not judge someone before you get to know them.
Fagan, Garrett G. “Claudius (41-54 A.D.).” Roman Emperors. Updated 30 April 2004. Pennsylvania State University, 1998. Web. 18 October 2011.
Graves, Robert. Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina. Manchester, England: Vintage, 1989. Print.
Griffin, Miriam. “The Classical Quarterly” Claudius in Tacitus. Vol. 40. No. 2 (1990): 482-501. Print.
Levick, B.M. “the American Journal of Philology.” Antiquarian or Revolutionary? Claudius Caesar’s Conception of his Principate. Vol. 99. No. 1 (1978): 79-105. Print.
Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Trans. Robert Graves. London: Penguin group, 1957. Print.