Claudius was an awkward, unsightly man believed to be unfit for rule though he was an efficient administrator who made many reforms. Before his untimely death by his wife’s hands, he managed to improve the judicial system, conquer Britain, and strengthen Rome’s infrastructure.
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus - known as Claudius - was born August 1, 10 BCE in Gaul. The imperial family apparently thought of him as an embarrassment, being unattractive and clumsy. However, he later explained his behavior as having been an act to benefit his brother Caligula. The historian Livy encouraged him to study history; he wrote many history books, including several about Etruscan history.
After his brother's murder, Claudius came to power suddenly in 41 AD. He was not preferred by the Senate, but he proved to be an effective emperor. His first act was to execute his brother's assassins and their leader. He took measures to justify his authority including adopting the "Caesar" name, as well as "Augustus."
Claudius was knowledgeable and effective in civil administration. He succeeded in establishing peace in Rome and restoring the rule of law. He expanded the Roman empire into the Balkans and the Middle East. Claudius increased the control that emperors have over the treasury, as well as provincial administration. He formed a cabinet of freedmen and gave them honors and authority to manage administrative branches.
Claudius was also paranoid, though not without reason. Many Senators supported a rebellion, and many attempts were made by knights and senators to assassinate Claudius, despite his returning Macedonia and Achaea to the Senate and providing new opportunities for knights. Cassius Dio tells us that he had every person searched for fear that they might be carrying a dagger. Dio also wrote that his unpopularity had more to do with the freedmen with whom he associated and the women he married than his infirmities.
Roman legend agrees that Agrippina, his wife at the time, poisoned Claudius on October 13, 54 AD. The politician and satirist, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who had been exiled by Claudius, was recalled from exile by Agrippina to teach her son. Seneca mocked the dead emperor in his satire Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii, (“The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius”). The work describes the unpopular side of Claudius and his administration; it claims he was an unfair judge who ordered executions often, as well as a poor speaker.
Regardless, Claudius accomplished a great deal as emperor. He reorganized Rome's grain supply, built a new harbor at Ostia, established an imperial civil service, and reclaimed land by draining the Fucine Lake in Central Italy. Additionally, he managed food riots by importing corn to feed the citizens, abolished the treason trials of Caligula, and conquered Britain. His expansion of the empire was the first major expansion since the reign of Augustus.
“He who desires is always poor.”
“Say not always what you know, but always know what you say.”
“To do no evil is good, to intend none better.”
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