Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars
Book V: Claudius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
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- Book Five: Claudius (later deified)
- Book Five: I His Father, Drusus the Elder
- Book Five: II His Birth and Childhood
- Book Five: III Uncertainty as to his Abilities
- Book Five: IV Augustus’s Opinions of Young Claudius
- Book Five: V His Obscurity under Tiberius
- Book Five: VI Minor Honours under Tiberius
- Book Five: VII Promotion under Caligula
- Book Five: VIII Mocked by the Court
- Book Five: IX Exposure to Danger
- Book Five: X Accession to Power
- Book Five: XI His Immediate Actions
- Book Five: XII His Modesty and Restraint
- Book Five: XIII Acts of Treachery against Him
- Book Five: XIV His Consulships
- Book Five: XV His Inconsistencies as Judge
- Book Five: XVI His Censorship
- Book Five: XVII His Campaign in Britain
- Book Five: XVIII The Grain Supply
- Book Five: XIX His Incentives to Ship-Owners
- Book Five: XX His Public Works
- Book Five: XXI His Public Entertainments
- Book Five: XXII His Attention to Religious Procedure
- Book Five: XXIII His Attention to the Law
- Book Five: XXIV His Attention to Rank and Status
- Book Five: XXV The Influence of His Wives and Freedmen
- Book Five: XXVI His Marriages
- Book Five: XXVII His Children
- Book Five: XXVIII His Freedmen
- Book Five: XXIX His Malleability
- Book Five: XXX His Appearance and Mannerisms
- Book Five: XXXI His General Health
- Book Five: XXXII His Banquets
- Book Five: XXXIII His Habits
- Book Five: XXXIV His Cruel Nature
- Book Five: XXXV His Timidity and Insecurity
- Book Five: XXXVI His Fear of Conspiracy
- Book Five: XXXVII The Fall of Silanus
- Book Five: XXXVIII His Self-Awareness
- Book Five: XXXIX His Mental Abstraction
- Book Five: XL His Inappropriate Remarks
- Book Five: XLI His Literary Works
- Book Five: XLII His Greek Studies
- Book Five: XLIII His Regret at Adopting Nero
- Book Five: XLIV His Death
- Book Five: XLV The Aftermath
- Book Five: XLVI Omens of his Death
Book Five: Claudius (later deified)
Book Five: I His Father, Drusus the Elder
Drusus the Elder, Claudius Caesar’s father, who was first named Decimus and later Nero, was born (in 38BC) to Livia, less than three months after she wedded Augustus. Her pregnancy at the time of the marriage led to suspicions that Drusus was the result of his stepfather’s adultery with her. The following epigram certainly went the rounds:
‘Only three months in the womb, for a child of the blessed.’
Drusus, as quaestor then praetor (11BC), commanded an army against the Raetians (15BC) and later the Germans (13-9BC). He was the first Roman general to navigate the North Sea, and employed huge amounts of labour in constructing the major canals which bore his name. After defeating the native tribes in a series of battles, he drove them deep into the wilderness of the interior, and only ended his pursuit on seeing the apparition of a female barbarian of superhuman size, who warned him in Latin not to extend his conquest further.
These exploits earned Drusus an ovation, with triumphal regalia (11BC), and immediately after his praetorship ended he became consul (9BC), resuming his German campaign. However, he died at his summer headquarters, which were known thereafter as the ‘accursed’. His corpse was carried to Rome by a succession of bearers, all leading citizens of the free towns and colonies, where it was received by the guild of clerks, then cremated in the Campus Martius.
The army raised a memorial in his honour, round which the soldiers ran ceremonially each year on the appointed day, when the cities of Gaul offered prayers and sacrifices. In addition to many other honours, the Senate voted him an arch of marble on the Appian Way, decorated with trophies, and the surname Germanicus for himself and his descendants.
It was the public belief that he was as devoted to democracy as he was eager for glory. As far as glory was concerned, he longed to win personal trophies, as well as wars, and pursued German chieftains over the battlefields at great risk to himself, while as to forms of government, he made no secret of his wish to revive the past, if he should have the power to do so. This is the reason, I suspect, that some authors set him down as a source of suspicion to Augustus, and say the Emperor recalled him from his province and had him poisoned, when he refused to obey. I mention this, not because I think it true or even credible, but simply to record it, since Augustus in fact loved him so dearly while he lived, as he once stated in the Senate, that he declared him co-heir with Gaius and Lucius; and when Drusus died Augustus spoke warmly in his praise before the people, praying the gods to make Gaius and Lucius men like him, and grant them as honourable a death when their time came. Not content with the adulatory verses he had composed himself, and had inscribed on the tomb, Augustus also wrote a biography of him in prose.
Book Five: II His Birth and Childhood
Claudius was born at Lugdunum (Lyon) on the 1st of August 10BC in the consulship of Iullus Antonius and Fabius Africanus, on the day when the very first altar to Augustus was dedicated there, the child being given the name Tiberius Claudius Drusus. When his elder brother Germanicus was adopted into the Julian family (in 4AD), he added the name Germanicus also.
He lost his father when still an infant (in 9BC), and throughout his childhood and youth was severely afflicted by various stubborn ailments so that his mind and body lacked vigour, and even when he attained his majority he was not considered capable of a public or private career.
He was supervised by a tutor until long after the normal age, which he complains about in his writings, saying the man was ‘a barbarian, an ex-transport officer who had been in charge of the mules’, put there to punish him severely on any pretext. His weak health was also the reason for his wearing a cloak, against all precedent, when he presided at the gladiatorial games he and his brother gave in honour of their father. And on the day he assumed the robe of manhood, he was carried in a litter to the Capitol at midnight, without the usual procession (of friends and relatives).
Book Five: III Uncertainty as to his Abilities
Nevertheless, he applied himself to liberal studies from his earliest youth, and often published examples of his proficiency in each area, though even so he was excluded from public office and failed to inspire any brighter hopes for his future.
His mother Antonia the Younger often condemned him as an unfinished freak of Nature, and when accusing someone of stupidity would say: ‘He’s a bigger fool than my son Claudius.’ His grandmother Augusta (Livia) always treated him with utter contempt, and rarely even spoke to him, admonishing him, when she chose to do so, in brief harsh missives, or via her messengers.
When his sister Livilla heard the prophecy that he would be Emperor some day, she prayed openly and loudly that Rome might be spared so cruel and unmerited a fate.
Finally, to show the various opinions his great uncle held of him, extracts from Augustus’s letters follow:
Book Five: IV Augustus’s Opinions of Young Claudius
‘My dear Livia, I have spoken to Tiberius at your request regarding your grandson Claudius, apropos the coming Games in honour of Mars. We both agreed that we should decide once and for all what strategy to adopt. If he is completely sound in all respects, why should he not progress through the same stages and grades as his brother? But if we consider him deficient and infirm of body or mind, we should not create opportunity for ridicule, and expose him and ourselves to public scorn and derision. We will always be in a state, surely, if we have to consider the matter every time, rather than deciding in advance as to his fitness for public office.
However, regarding this matter on which you seek present advice, I have no objection to his taking charge of the priests’ banquet at the Games, if he lets his relative, Silvanus’s son, advise him, and so avoids appearing conspicuous or foolish. I do not however approve of his watching the Games in the Circus from the Imperial box, since he would be exposed to public view in a conspicuous position fronting the auditorium. I am also opposed to his appearing on the Alban Mount or remaining in Rome, during the Latin Festival, since if he assists his brother on the Mount, why should he not be made City prefect too?
There you have my views, my dear Livia, namely that I would like the whole thing decided once and for all, to prevent this constant alternation of hope and despair. You may, if you wish, show this part of my letter to our kinswoman Antonia to read.’
Again, Augustus writes to her in a second letter:
‘I shall certainly invite young Claudius to eat here each day during your absence, to avoid him having only Sulpicius and Athenodorus as dinner companions. I do wish that he would be more selective and less capricious in his choice of someone on whom to model his gestures, bearing and manner of walking. An unfortunate little fellow, since in important matters, when his mind is focussed, the nobility of his character is visible enough.’
And in a third letter:
‘My dear Livia, I’ll be damned if your grandson Claudius hasn’t surprised and pleased me with his declaiming. How anyone who is so unintelligible in conversation can speak so intelligibly when he declaims, is beyond me.’
However, it is clear what Augustus later decided, in granting Claudius no office other than as a priest of the College of Augurs, and listing him in his will among those who were practically strangers, as entitled to a sixth of his estate but as an heir of the third degree only. The sole legacy he received was a mere eight thousand gold pieces.
Book Five: V His Obscurity under Tiberius
His paternal uncle Tiberius sent him consular regalia when he asked for office (during his reign), but when he pressed for the actual duties of office also, Tiberius simply replied ‘I have sent you forty gold pieces for the Saturnalia and Sigillaria.’ After that, Claudius finally abandoned hope of a career, and settled to a life of idleness, living in obscurity in his suburban house and gardens or sometimes at his villa in Campania. His intimacy with the lower orders brought him a reputation for drunkenness and gambling, to add to the perception of his incapacity. Nevertheless, despite this, people paid attention to him, and granted him public respect.
Book Five: VI Minor Honours under Tiberius
He was twice chosen to head a deputation as patron of the Equestrian Order; the first occasion was when they requested the privilege, from the consuls, of carrying Augustus’s corpse to Rome on their shoulders (14AD), the second when they offered the consuls congratulations after the fall of Sejanus (31AD). When he appeared at public entertainments, members of the Order would rise and doff their cloaks.
The Senate, too, voted that he be made a Priest of Augustus, though its members were normally chosen by lot; and later that his house which had been lost in a fire be rebuilt at public expense, as well as his being permitted to address the House as if he were of consular rank. Tiberius, however, repealed this second decree, promising to defray the cost of rebuilding himself, and claiming that Claudius’s disabilities precluded his participation.
When Tiberius died (AD37), Claudius was again among the heirs of third degree, though he did receive a legacy of about twenty thousand gold pieces, and a commendation, along with the other relatives, to the army, Senate and people of Rome.
Book Five: VII Promotion under Caligula
It was only under Caligula, his nephew, who sought popularity in every conceivable way at the start of his reign that Claudius’s official career finally commenced. He held the consulship as Caligula’s colleague for two months (in AD37), and when he entered the Forum for the first time with the rods of office, an eagle flew down and chanced to alight on his shoulder. He was also awarded a second consulship, drawing one by lot that would fall four years later.
He presided at the Games in place of Caligula, on several occasions, where he was greeted with shouts of: ‘Good luck to the Emperor’s uncle!’ or ‘Good luck to Germanicus’s brother!’
Book Five: VIII Mocked by the Court
Nevertheless, he was constantly the butt of insults. If he arrived late to a meal he was forced to do the rounds of the dining room to find a place, and if he fell asleep after dinner, as was his wont, he was pelted with olive and date stones, or woken by the jesters with a whip or cane, in mock sport. And they would put slippers on his hands too while he lay there snoring, so that he rubbed his face with them on suddenly waking.
Book Five: IX Exposure to Danger
Then he was continually harassed by diverse allegations brought against him by members of his household, or third parties.
And when he was sent to Germany, with other envoys, by the Senate, to convey their congratulations to the Emperor after the exposure of the conspiracy led by Lepidus and Gaetulicus (in AD40), he went in grave danger of his life, since Caligula was so wild with rage that his uncle of all people had been sent, as if to a child needing a guardian, that some say, in his anger, he threw Claudius into the river, just as he was, fully clothed.
Moreover, from that moment on, Caligula humiliated him, by ensuring that, among those of consular rank, he was called on last when the Senators gave their views. And then a case involving a fraudulent will was brought, despite Claudius being one of the signatories, followed by his having to find a fee of eighty thousand gold pieces to enter Caligula’s newly founded College of Priests. Reduced by this to straightened circumstances, he borrowed the sum from the Treasury but, failed to meet the obligation incurred, so that his property had to be advertised for sale in the meantime, by order of the Treasury prefects, in accordance with the law on appropriations.
Book Five: X Accession to Power
Having spent the larger part of his life in such circumstances, he became emperor at the age of fifty (in AD41) by a remarkable stroke of fate. Caligula’s assassins had dispersed the crowd on the pretext that the Emperor wished for solitude, and Claudius, shut out with the rest, retired to a room called the Hermaeum, but shortly afterwards, terrified by news of the murder, crept off to a nearby balcony and hid behind the door-curtains. A Guard, who was wandering about the Palace at random, spotting a pair of feet beneath the curtain where Claudius was cowering, dragged the man out to identify him, and as Claudius fell to the ground in fear, recognised him, and acclaimed him Emperor. He took him off to find his comrades, whom they discovered in a state of confusion and undirected anger. They set Claudius in a litter, and in the absence of his own bearers who had run away, carried him in relays to their Camp. The crowds he met pitied him, thinking him an innocent man being carried off to his execution, while he himself was filled with terror and despair. Once inside the ramparts, he passed the night among the sentries, with even less hope than confidence, since the consuls and city cohorts had occupied Forum and Capitol, determined to restore the Republic and its freedoms.
Summoned to the House by the tribunes of the commons, to give his views on the situation, he replied that ‘he was detained by force and necessity.’ The Senate however was tardy in effecting its plans, due to the endless bickering between those with opposing opinions, while the crowds surrounding the building demanded a sole leader, and named Claudius, expressly. Eventually therefore he allowed the gathering of armed Guardsmen to swear him allegiance, and promised every man one hundred and fifty gold pieces, which made him the first of the Caesars to secure his troops’ loyalty with a bribe.
Book Five: XI His Immediate Actions
Once his authority was established, he judged it of vital importance to obliterate the memory of those two days when there were thoughts of changing the form of government. He issued a general amnesty covering all actions and statements during that period, pardoning them and condemning them to oblivion, and adhered to it himself apart from executing a number of the tribunes and centurions who had conspired to assassinate Caligula, to make an example of them, and because they had demanded his own death too.
Turning to matters of family loyalty, he adopted ‘By Augustus’ as his most sacred and frequently used oath, and voted his grandmother Livia divine honours, including an elephant-drawn chariot for her image, to match that of Augustus, in the sacred procession round the Circus. He instigated public sacrifices to the shades of his parents and also annual Games in the Circus on his father’s birthday with a carriage to bear his mother’s image, also voting her the title of Augusta which she had refused while living. And seizing every opportunity to honour his brother’s memory, he produced a Greek comedy of Germanicus’s in the contest at Naples, and in accordance with the judges’ decision granted it the first prize.
He made sure his grandfather Mark Antony was honoured also, and received grateful mention, once declaring in a proclamation that the request for his father Drusus’s birthday to be celebrated was the more earnest on his part because it was his grandfather Mark Antony’s too.
He completed the arch of marble near Pompey’s Theatre, which the Senate had voted Tiberius some time before, but which had been left unfinished. Even with regard to Caligula, though he annulled all his decrees, he would not allow the day of his own accession to be regarded as a festival, since it was also the day of his predecessor’s death.
Book Five: XII His Modesty and Restraint
He was modest and unassuming in refusing excessive honours, refraining from assuming the title Imperator, and allowing his daughter’s betrothal, and his grandson’s birthday to be celebrated quietly, with private ceremonies only. He sought Senate approval before recalling exiles, and requested as favours the privilege of allowing the Guard’s commander and military tribunes to accompany him to the House, and of having the judicial acts of his provincial agents’ ratified. And he also asked consular permission to hold fairs on his private estates.
He often appeared as one of the advisers during trials in the magistrates’ courts, and at the Games would rise with the rest of the audience and show his approval with shouts and applause. And when he sat on the tribunal and the commons’ tribunes appeared before him, he would apologise to them that the lack of room meant that he could not hear them unless they were standing.
His behaviour, over a very short space of time, won him so much respect and devotion that a rumour he had been attacked and murdered on a journey to Ostia, was received with horror, and crowds milled about abusing the soldiers as traitors and the Senators as assassins, until the magistrates brought a couple of witnesses, and later others to the Rostra to swear that Claudius was safe and on his way back to the City.
Book Five: XIII Acts of Treachery against Him
Nevertheless he experienced various acts of treachery, carried out by individuals, as well as in the form of a conspiracy, and even an attempt at Civil War.
On one occasion a commoner was arrested at night near his bedroom, dagger in hand. And members of the Equestrian Order twice tried to ambush him in public places, one with a sword-cane as he left the theatre, another with a hunting knife as he sacrificed in the Temple of Mars.
The fomenting of Civil War was instigated by Furius Camillus Scribonianus, governor of Dalmatia (in 42AD). However the action was crushed within five days, the rebellious legions involved being overcome by superstitious fear when the eagle emblems could not be dressed correctly nor the standards pulled from the ground when the orders to march were given.
The conspiracy against him was mounted by Asinius Gallus and Statilius Corvinus (in 46AD), grandsons of the orators Pollio and Messala respectively, and also involved a number of his own freedmen and slaves.
Book Five: XIV His Consulships
Claudius held four consulships after his initial one, two in successive years (AD42 and 43) and two more at four-yearly intervals (AD47 and 51). The last was for six months, the others for two months each. In an unprecedented step for an Emperor, he took over the third consulship from a consul who had died.
He administered justice conscientiously, both as consul and Emperor, sitting in court even on his own birthday and those of his family, and on occasions even on traditional festival days, and days of ill-omen. He did not always follow the letter of the law, but used his own ideas of justice and fairness to act more or less leniently or severely in specific cases. For example he allowed a re-trial in situations where plaintiffs had lost their cases in lower courts by asking for greater damages than the law allowed, but overruled the lighter penalty prescribed by law when condemning to the wild beasts those convicted of heinous crimes.
Book Five: XV His Inconsistencies as Judge
He showed, however, marked inconsistency in his hearing of individual cases and his judgements on them, sometimes appearing shrewd and precise, at other times hasty and thoughtless, and even on occasions downright foolish and almost crazed.
He disqualified one man from the jury-list who presented himself for service, even though he could claim exemption due to the number of his children, on the grounds that he loved jury-duty too much. Another juror challenged with having a case of his own pending, said that it was before the lower court and not relevant, but Claudius forced him to bring the case before him at once, since how he appeared in his own case would reveal how good a juror he might be in another’s. And when a woman refused to admit she was the mother of a party to a case, and there was a conflict of evidence, Claudius ordered her to marry the young man and thereby revealed the truth.
But whenever a party to a suit did not appear, Claudius tended to decide in favour of the one who was present, without caring whether the missing man was at fault, or circumstances had prevented his attendance. And when a defendant was convicted of forgery, and someone called out that his hands should be cut off, Claudius immediately summoned the executioner with knife and block.
And in a citizenship case, when a pointless dispute began among the lawyers as to whether the defendant had the right to appear dressed in a Roman toga or should wear a Greek mantle, the Emperor made him change his clothes several times depending on whether he was being addressed as the accused or as the defendant, so as to demonstrate absolute impartiality! And in one case his decision was written out before the case even started, and read: ‘I decide in favour of whoever told the truth’!
He so discredited himself by these vagaries that he aroused widespread public contempt. One lawyer, explaining that a witness Claudius had summoned could not appear, would only give the reason after a lengthy series of questions: ‘Well! The fact is he’s dead: I trust his excuse is legitimate.’ Another thanked the Emperor for allowing him to defend his client, but added: ‘Though that is the usual practice.’ I have heard older men say myself that plaintiffs took advantage of his good nature and would not only call on him to return when he left the chamber, but would tug at the hem of his robe, and sometimes his foot, to detain him.
Though it all sounds incredible, I would add that one Greek lawyer, who was of no great status, remarked in Greek in the heat of debate: ‘You’re an old man, and you’re a foolish one.’ And everyone has heard of the knight who was in court on trumped-up charges of abusing women, brought by his unscrupulous enemies, who finding that the witnesses against him were common prostitutes, and that their testimony was deemed acceptable, hurled the tablets and stylus in his hand at Claudius with such force as to cut his cheek deeply, while denouncing aloud his harshness and stupidity.
Book Five: XVI His Censorship
He re-assumed the office of Censor (in 48AD) which had been discontinued seventy years earlier (in 22BC) after the term of Munatius Plancus and Aemilius Paulus, but even in that office he showed unpredictability, proving inconsistent in both theory and practice. When reviewing the knights, he avoided public censure of a son of dubious character, since the father said he was perfectly happy with him, commenting that the young man had a censor of his own. As for another who was notoriously corrupt, and guilty of adultery, he merely told him to show some restraint in his indulgences, or at any rate to be more circumspect, adding: ‘Why should I have to be concerned with what mistress you keep?’
When he yielded to the entreaties of one individual’s close friends, and cancelled the censor’s mark against his name, he nevertheless added: ‘But let the erasure be clearly visible.’ One nobleman’s name was struck from the jury list because though a prominent Greek citizen he knew no Latin, and Claudius even cancelled his citizenship. Nor would he allow any man to explain who he was except in his own words, as best he could, without the help of a lawyer.
He placed black marks against large numbers of people on the census list, much to the surprise of some who were censured on the novel charge of going abroad without consulting him or asking leave of absence: in one case the man involved had simply escorted a king to his province, Claudius citing the case of Rabirius Postumus, who had been tried for treason (in 54BC) because he followed Ptolemy XII to Alexandria to recover a loan.
When Claudius moved to mark others down in a similar way, he was ashamed to discover they were most often blameless, owing to his agents’ indifference to the evidence, so that the celibate, childless, and poor proved to be married, fathers, and rich. Indeed, one fellow charged with having stabbed himself, stripped off his clothing to show his unblemished body.
Among his other memorable acts as Censor was the purchase of an expensively-worked silver chariot, offered for sale in the Sigallaria Quarter, which he had broken to pieces before his eyes. And he issued twenty proclamations in a single day, including: ‘It’s a fine vintage so coat your wine-jars well with pitch,’ and ‘Nothing is as sovereign against snake-bite as juice from the yew-tree.’
Book Five: XVII His Campaign in Britain
Claudius only fought one campaign, which was of small importance. The Senate had voted him triumphal regalia, but he thought accepting them beneath his dignity, and sought the glory of a legitimate triumph. He decided Britain was the optimum place for gaining one, as no one had attempted a conquest since Caesar’s ventures (55/54BC), and the place was in a state of rebellion because the Romans had refused to return certain deserters.
He sailed from Ostia and was nearly shipwrecked by north-westerly gales, firstly off Liguria and then near the Stoechades Islands (Hyéres Islands). Landing at Massilia (Marseilles), therefore, he travelled cross-country to Gesoriacum (Boulogne), crossed the Channel from there, and received the submission of part of the island in very few days without battle or bloodshed (AD43). He was back in Rome within six months, and there celebrated a splendid triumph. He summoned the provincial governors to Rome to witness the spectacle, and even certain exiles. To mark his success, he set one of the victory tokens, the naval crown, on a gable of the Palace next to the civic crown, signifying that he had crossed and conquered, so to speak, the Ocean. Messalina, his wife, followed his chariot in a carriage, with the generals who had won triumphal regalia in the campaign marching behind in purple-fringed togas, all except Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi, who rode a caparisoned charger and wore a palm-embroidered tunic since he was receiving the honour for the second time.
Book Five: XVIII The Grain Supply
Claudius paid constant attention to the City’s upkeep, and the effectiveness of the grain supply.
When a stubborn fire in the northern Aemiliana district could not be quenched, he stayed in the Election House (the Diribitorium) on the Campus Martius for two nights in a row, and since a force made up of soldiers and his own slaves proved inadequate to fight the blaze, he had the magistrates summon people from all over the City, and sat there with bags of coins at his side urging them to help, and paying them a bounty there and then for their efforts.
And his experience during a prolonged period of drought leading to grain shortages, when he was surrounded by a crowd in the Forum and showered with bits of mouldy bread and abuse, and regained the Palace with difficulty by a side entrance, led him to explore every means of improving the supply to Rome, even in winter months.
Book Five: XIX His Incentives to Ship-Owners
He assured the merchants a profit by underwriting any losses due to storms at sea, and offered major incentives to those who financed new grain ships, dependent on their situation. If the financier was a Roman citizen he was exempted from the Papian-Poppaean Law against celibacy; if he was Latin he was granted citizenship; and if the finance was raised by a woman she was allowed the varied privileges granted to mothers with four children. All these provisions are still in force.
Book Five: XX His Public Works
He completed only a few public works, though those he undertook were both large and vital. As well as finishing the construction of two aqueducts begun by Caligula, he initiated the draining of the Fucine Lake and the building of a new harbour at Ostia. Augustus had turned down the Marsian’s frequent requests regarding the drainage scheme, while Julius Caesar had considered the harbour project more than once, but abandoned the idea because of its difficulty of execution.
He completed the stone-arched Claudia aqueduct to bring the cool and copious waters of the Caerulean, and Curtian or Albudignan, springs to Rome, and also the New Anio aqueduct, distributing the flows via finely-ornamented reservoirs (AD52).
The Fucine Lake project (AD42-53) was undertaken in hopes of profit as well as for glory, the drainage being undertaken at private cost, the financiers receiving reclaimed land in return. The construction of the outlet, three miles in length, involved great difficulties, such as levelling mountain slopes and tunnelling through rock, and took three years with thirty thousand labourers continuously employed.
The harbour at Ostia (started 42AD, completed by Nero in 64) was created by building curved breakwaters at the sides, and a deepwater mole at the entrance, the mole being given a firm foundation by sinking a vessel there, the very ship which had brought Caligula’s tall obelisk from Alexandria (in 37AD), and securing it by piles. On that foundation a high tower was erected modelled on the Pharos, to act as a lighthouse for shipping.
Book Five: XXI His Public Entertainments
Claudius frequently distributed largesse to the people, and gave several splendid entertainments, not merely the customary ones, but novelties, as well as revivals from previous times, mounting them in unusual places.
He opened the Games at the re-dedication of Pompey’s Theatre, the restoration of which he completed after it had been damaged by fire. He did so from a raised seat in the orchestra, to which he descended through the tiers of seats, after offering sacrifice at the shrines sited at the top of the auditorium, while the spectators sat in silence.
He also celebrated Secular Games (in 47AD), on the basis that Augustus had staged them (in 17BC) before they were due, though his own History relates that Augustus took great care to have the correct interval and the new date calculated, since they had been long discontinued. The herald’s proclamation, which took its traditional form, inviting the public to Games ‘which no one present had seen or would see again’ was therefore met with laughter, since there were members of the audience who had indeed seem them presented before, and some of the participants had appeared at the prior performance into the bargain.
He often gave Games in the Vatican Circus too, with a wild beast show sometimes after every fifth race, and he gave the Great Circus marble starting-compartments (carceres) for the chariots instead of ones made of tufa, and gilded metal turning posts (metae) to replace the wooden ones. He also reserved seats for the Senators, who had previously sat with the commoners.
In addition to chariot races, he staged the Troy Game, and wild panther-hunts involving a squadron of the Guards Cavalry led by their military tribunes and commanded by their prefect, as well as bull fights where Thessalian horsemen pursued the creatures round the arena, leaping on their backs when they tired, and wrestling them to the ground by their horns.
Among the many gladiatorial shows he presented in various places was the annual celebration of his accession performed in the Praetorian Guards Camp, without wild beasts or fancy equipment; one of the usual kind in the Enclosure; and a third there, of a brief and irregular nature, lasting a few days, which he dubbed a sportula (gift-basket) because he proclaimed on first holding it that he was inviting everyone to an impromptu feast, hastily got together. These were the shows at which he behaved most informally and casually, even thrusting his left hand free of his toga like a commoner, and noisily counting the victors’ gold pieces on his fingers. He kept inviting the audience to enjoy themselves, prompting them, and addressing them as ‘my lords’, and making feeble and outlandish jokes. For example when the spectators called out for Palumbus (The Dove) he promised they should have him if he could be netted.
Yet sometimes his responses were well-timed and salutary. After granting the wooden sword to a chariot-fighter, because his four sons had begged for him to be discharged, and noting the loud and generous applause, he immediately issued a proclamation pointing out to the crowd how useful having children could prove, since it brought even a gladiator favour and blessings.
In the Campus Martius, presiding dressed in a general’s cloak he staged the mock siege and storming of a town, in realistic detail, as well as the surrender of the British kings. Even when he was about to inaugurate the draining of the Fucine Lake, he first mounted a sham naval battle. Unfortunately, when the combatants gave the customary shout of: ‘Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you!’ he joked: ‘Or not, as the case may be!’ so they all refused to fight maintaining that his words amounted to a pardon. He dithered for a while as to whether to have them all massacred in their burning ships, but at last leapt from his throne and hobbling ridiculously up and down the shoreline, in his shambling manner, induced them, by threats and promises combined, to fight. Twelve Sicilian triremes then fought twelve from Rhodes, the signal being given by a mechanical Triton, made of silver, which emerged from the middle of the lake and blew its horn.
Book Five: XXII His Attention to Religious Procedure
As regards religious ceremony, civil and military procedures, and the conditions of all ranks whether at home or abroad, he corrected abuses, and revived previous customs while establishing some new ones.
He never admitted a priest to any of the various colleges without first taking an oath as to the man’s suitability. He scrupulously observed the custom, whenever there was an earthquake that affected the City, of having the praetor call a gathering and proclaim a public holiday. And whenever a bird of ill-omen was seen on the Capitol, he would offer up a supplication himself, in his capacity as Chief Priest, reciting the customary form of words from the Rostra, after ordering all workmen and slaves to leave.
Book Five: XXIII His Attention to the Law
He abolished the division of the legal year into winter and summer terms, making the proceedings continuous. He delegated jurisdiction in trust cases to the City magistrates, and as an innovation to provincial Governors, on a permanent basis. He annulled Tiberius’s amendment to the Papian-Poppaean Law which implied that men of sixty or over could not legally beget children; he legislated to allow the consuls to appoint guardians for orphans, contrary to the previous procedure; and he extended the law regarding banishment from a province by its magistrates to also debar the guilty party from Rome and the rest of Italy. He also imposed a new form of sentence which required the offender to stay within three miles of the centre of Rome.
When he was called on to conduct important business in the House, he would take his seat between the two consuls or on the tribunes’ bench, and he reserved the right to deal with applications to travel, which had formerly been handled by the Senate.
Book Five: XXIV His Attention to Rank and Status
He granted consular regalia to the second rank of Imperial administrators, and if anyone refused Senatorial rank he stripped them of their knighthood. Though he had stated at the start of his reign that only someone whose great-great-grandfather had been a Roman citizen could be made a Senator, he waived that for a freedman’s son if a Roman knight first adopted him. Fearing criticism, he pointed out that the Censor, Appius Claudius Caecus, who had founded the Claudian family, had allowed the sons of ‘freedmen’ to be Senators, not realising that in those days and later the term for freedman used designated not those who were ex-slaves themselves but only the next generation, their freeborn sons.
Claudius relieved the college of quaestors of their duty to pave the roads, but made them give a gladiatorial show instead; and while depriving them of their official duties at Ostia and in Gaul, he restored their custodianship of the Public Treasury, housed in the Temple of Saturn (in the Forum) which had been held by praetors and ex-praetors, as it is once more in our day.
He gave the triumphal regalia to Lucius Junius Silanus, his daughter Octavia’s prospective husband, while still under age, and to elderly men so often and so readily, that the legions circulated a joint petition asking for the emblems to be granted consular governors on appointment, to prevent their seeking pretexts for war in order to win them in battle.
He granted Aulus Plautius an ovation, going to greet him on entry to the City, and walking on his left as he ascended and descended the Capitol. And he awarded Gabinius Secundus the surname Cauchius after his conquest of the Cauchi, a Germanic tribe.
Book Five: XXV The Influence of His Wives and Freedmen
But the following acts, not to say the whole conduct of his reign, were dictated not so much by his own judgement as the influence of his wives and freedmen, since he almost always acted in accord with their interests and wishes.
He altered the stages in the knights’ military career, assigning them a division of cavalry after an infantry cohort, followed by the tribunate of a legion. He also instituted what he called ‘supernumerary’ military service, creating virtual posts which could be filled in absentia, in name only. And he had the Senate pass a decree forbidding soldiers to enter Senators’ houses to pay their respects.
He confiscated the property of any freedman who tried to pass himself off as a knight, and reduced those who showed ingratitude or annoyed their patrons to slavery, telling the lawyers it was not acceptable to be suing one’s own freedmen. But when certain individuals exposed their sick and worn-out slaves on the Island of Aesculapius (in the Tiber) rather than pay for their treatment, he decreed that the slaves were now free, and no longer obliged to return to their masters if they recovered, and that if anyone killed a sick slave to avoid this, he would be charged with murder.
Claudius decreed that travellers could only journey through the streets of an Italian town on foot, in a sedan-chair, or in a litter. He also stationed troops at Puteoli (Pozzuoli) and Ostia to deal with any fires that occurred.
Foreigners were forbidden from adopting the names of Roman families, and those who usurped the privileges of Roman citizenship were executed in the Esquiline Field.
He restored the provinces of Achaia and Macedonia to Senate control, reversing Tiberius’s decision (of AD15). He deprived the Lycians of their independence (in 43AD) because of their internal feuding, and restored that of the Rhodians who had embraced reform. He allowed the Trojans, as founders of the Roman people, exemption from tribute in perpetuity, and read an ancient letter written in Greek from the Senate and People of Rome to King Seleucus of Syria, promising him friendship and alliance if he left Rome’s Trojan kin free of taxes.
The German envoys, seeing that the Parthian and Armenian envoys were seated with the Senators in the orchestra of the theatre, promptly moved from their places among the commoners to join them, claiming their rank and merits were in no way inferior, and Claudius, taken with their naïve self-confidence, endorsed their action.
Augustus had prohibited Roman citizens in Gaul from participating in the savage and inhuman rites of the Druids, but Claudius now banned the religion completely. However he attempted to transfer the Eleusinian rites to Rome from Attica, and restored the Temple of Venus Erycina in Sicily which had deteriorated through time, the cost being paid from the treasury. And he concluded treaties with foreign princes in the Forum, sacrificing a sow, and using the ancient formula of the Fetial priests.
Book Five: XXVI His Marriages
He was twice betrothed at an early age; firstly to Aemilia Lepida, great-granddaughter of Augustus, the engagement being broken off (c8AD) because of her parents’ disgrace, and the offence given to Augustus; and secondly to Livia Medullina, surnamed Camilla, descended from the ancient family of Camillus the dictator, though she died of illness on the very day that had been assigned for their wedding.
He subsequently married Plautia Urgulanilla whose father had been voted a triumph, but divorced her because of her scandalous behaviour, and suspicion of her involvement in murder. His second wife was an ex-consul’s daughter, Aelia Paetina, whom he also divorced, though on more trivial grounds.
He then married (c38AD) Valeria Messalina, the daughter of his cousin Valerius Messala Barbatus. But on learning that, among other vile and shameful actions, she had bigamously married Gaius Silius, and a formal contract had been signed in the presence of witnesses, he had her put to death (in 48AD), telling the assembled Praetorian Guard that since his marriages had turned out badly he would remain a widower, and if he failed to keep his word they might kill him!
Nevertheless, he determined to marry again, even considering a re-marriage with Aelia Paetina whom he had divorced, or wedding Lollia Paulina, who had been Caligula’s wife (38AD). But it was Agrippina the Younger, his brother Germanicus’s daughter, who ensnared him, assisted by a niece’s privilege of exchanging kisses and endearments. At the next Senate meeting, he primed a group of Senators to propose that he ought to marry Agrippina, as it was in the public interest, and that such marriages between uncle and niece should from then on be regarded as lawful, and no longer incestuous. He married her (AD49) with barely a day’s delay, but only one freedman and one leading centurion married their respective nieces, to follow suit. Claudius himself, with Agrippina, attended the centurion’s wedding.
Book Five: XXVII His Children
Claudius had children by three of his four wives.
Urgulanilla bore him Drusus, and Claudia. Drusus died before he came of age, choked by a pear he had thrown in the air, in play, and caught in his mouth. This was only a few days after he had been betrothed to Sejanus’s daughter, so it puzzles me that some claim Sejanus was involved in his death. Claudia was really the daughter of his freedman, Boter, and though she was born within five months of Claudius’s divorce from her mother, and he had begun to rear her, he disowned her, and had her set down naked at her mother’s door.
By Messalina, he had a daughter Octavia, whom he gave in marriage to his stepson Nero (in AD53) after she had previously been betrothed to Silanus; and a son Germanicus, later named Britannicus who was born on the twenty second day of his reign, in his second consulship. Claudius would often take little Britannicus in his arms, and holding him on his lap or at arm’s length, commend him with auspicious gestures, to the troops, or the spectators at the Games, to great acclaim. Of his three sons-in-law, Claudius adopted only Nero. He not only declined to adopt Pompeius and Silanus, but ultimately was responsible for having them put to death.
Book Five: XXVIII His Freedmen
Among Claudius’s freedmen, he had particular regard for Posides the eunuch, whom he awarded the headless spear at his British triumph, alongside those who had fought. He was as fond of Felix, whom he placed in charge of infantry cohorts and cavalry squadrons, and made Procurator of Judaea. Felix was three times married to royalty. There was Harpocras, also, who was granted the privilege of riding through the City in a litter, and mounting public entertainments.
Higher still was his regard for Polybius, his literary researcher, who was often allowed to take his place in procession between the two consuls.
But his greatest devotion was to his secretary Narcissus, and his treasurer Pallas, whom he was pleased to honour by Senate decree, not only with immense wealth, but with insignia as quaestors and praestors also. He tolerated their acquisition of riches by fair means and foul, such that on complaining on one occasion about his lack of funds, he received the witty reply that he would have more than enough if only his two freedmen would take him into partnership.
Book Five: XXIX His Malleability
He was so easily manipulated, as I have said, by these freedmen, and by his wives, that he was more servant than prince, granting honours, army commands, punishments or pardons, according to their aims and wishes, or even simply their whims, for the most part blindly and unknowingly.
Ignoring the less important matters, such as his revoking grants he had made, cancelling decrees, and quietly substituting or openly amending letters he had written, he also served sentence of death on Appius Silanus, his father-in-law, and Julia Drusi the daughter of Drusus the Younger as well as Julia Livilla, daughter of his brother Germanicus, in each case on unsupported charges and without benefit of defence. He also did away with Gnaeus Pompeius, his elder daughter Antonia’s husband, and Lucius Silanus who was betrothed to the younger, Octavia. Pompeius was stabbed to death in the presence of his favourite catamite, while Silanus was forced to relinquish his praetorship four days before the New Year, and take his own life on New Year’s Day (AD49), the very same day on which Claudius married Agrippina the Younger.
Moreover he put thirty-five Senators to death, and more than three hundred Roman knights, with such a blatant lack of concern, that when a centurion reported the death sentence on an ex-consul as having been carried out, Claudius replied that he had given no such order, yet he approved the action when his freedmen maintained the soldiers had done their duty in hurrying to avenge their emperor, despite having no formal instruction to do so.
The idea however that he signed the marriage contract between Messalina and Silius her lover with his own hand is rather too much to credit. The claim is that he did so on being persuaded the marriage was really a sham, designed to avert some danger which threatened him, as had been inferred from certain portents, and transfer it elsewhere.
Book Five: XXX His Appearance and Mannerisms
Claudius possessed a certain majesty and dignity as Emperor, best appreciated when he was reclining, but also when he stood still, or was seated, since he was tall, well-built, with attractive features, a fine head of white hair, and a firm neck. But he walked erratically, due to weakness in his knees, and had several disagreeable mannerisms, not only when relaxing but in his serious moments also. He had an unpleasant way of laughing, and when angered of slobbering and running at the nose, he stammered as well, and had a nervous tic of the head, at all times but especially when he exerted himself to any degree.
Book Five: XXXI His General Health
Though his health before becoming Emperor was poor, it was excellent during his reign, except for severe attacks of stomach-ache which, he said, made him feel suicidal.
Book Five: XXXII His Banquets
His banquets were many and frequent, and magnificently presented, in large halls where six hundred or more guests could be entertained at a time. He held one on the day the Fucine Lake drainage outlet was opened, and so close to it that when the water rushed out the deluge nearly drowned him.
He always invited his children to dine with him, as well as the sons and daughters of distinguished men, seating them according to ancient custom on the pillowed ends of the couches.
On one occasion when a guest was suspected of having stolen a golden bowl the previous day, he invited him again on the following evening, but had an earthenware dish placed before him.
They say that he thought of issuing a decree to make it acceptable to break wind, quietly or even loudly at dinner, after hearing of someone so polite that he endangered his health by his restraint.
Book Five: XXXIII His Habits
He was always hungry and thirsty, wherever he happened to be. One day, while judging a case in Augustus’s Forum, he smelt a meal being cooked for the priests of the Salii in the Temple of Mars nearby. He immediately left the tribunal, and joining the priests sat down to dinner.
He hardly ever left the table before his appetite and thirst were fully quenched; then he would lie down straight away, on his back with his mouth open, while a feather was put down his throat to make him vomit.
He slept in brief snatches, and seldom before midnight, sometimes nodding off during the daytime in court, and hard to rouse even though the lawyers raised their voices deliberately to wake him.
He had immoderate desires towards women, but was wholly disinterested in male partners. He was passionate about gambling, even publishing a book on the game of dice, and would play while being driven, on a specially rigged board in his carriage that prevented the dice once thrown being overturned.
Book Five: XXXIV His Cruel Nature
That he was cruel and bloodthirsty by nature is shown in matters great and small. Examination by torture, and punishment for parricides, were always carried out in his presence and without delay.
He was once at Tibur (Tivoli), and wished to see an execution carried out in the ancient way. The criminals had already been bound to the stake, but no executioner could be found with the necessary skills. He therefore sent for one from the City, and waited for his arrival until nightfall.
At gladiatorial shows, whether his own or staged by others, he decreed that those who fell accidentally should be killed, the net and trident men who were helmet-less in particular, since he enjoyed watching their faces as they died. If a pair of gladiators mortally wounded each other, he had pairs of knives made from their swords for his own use. He so delighted in the wild beast shows, and in matches arranged for midday, that after a morning in the amphitheatre he would dismiss the audience, keep his seat, and not only watch the pre-arranged fights but would hastily improvise others for trivial reasons, even between carpenters and theatrical assistants and such, as punishment for the failure of any mechanical device or unsatisfactory stage effect. He even forced one of his pages into the arena, to fight just as he was, in his toga.
Book Five: XXXV His Timidity and Insecurity
But he was chiefly noted for his timidity and insecurity. Though he made a show of civility early in his reign, as has been said, he never attended a banquet without an escort of lancers, and was waited on by soldiers rather than servants.
He never visited anyone who was ill without having the patient’s room searched beforehand and the sheets and pillows turned and shaken. Later those who sought a morning audience were examined thoroughly, without exception. It was the end of his reign before he prevented women and children being handled impolitely in this way, or pen-cases and styluses carried by the caller’s attendants and scribes being confiscated.
When Furius Camillus Scribonianus initiated his challenge to the status quo, he did so in the belief that Claudius could be frightened into resignation without resorting to conflict, and indeed when he demanded, in an impudent letter full of threats and insults, that Claudius relinquish the throne and retire to private life, Claudius called his advisors together and asked their views on whether he should comply.
Book Five: XXXVI His Fear of Conspiracy
Claudius was so terror-stricken by unfounded rumours of conspiracy that he attempted to abdicate. After the arrest I have mentioned, when the Emperor was attending a sacrifice, of a man with a knife, Claudius sent heralds to summon the Senate, and complained loudly and bitterly that nowhere was safe for him, and then refused to appear in public for days.
And his passionate love for Messalina cooled more through fear of danger than her flagrant and insulting behaviour since he was convinced her lover Silius had designs on power. When the crisis came, he fled, in shame and cowardice, to the Praetorian Camp, asking repeatedly if his rule was still secure.
Book Five: XXXVII The Fall of Silanus
No suspicion was too slight; no author of it too trivial, for him to take precautions or seek revenge, once his mind grew at all uneasy.
On one occasion, one of two parties to a case, making a morning call, took Claudius aside and told him he had dreamed of the Emperor’s assassination, and a little later, pointing out his opponent in the lawsuit as he handed in his petition, feigned to recognise the ‘murderer’. The man was seized at once, as if caught red-handed, and hustled off to execution.
They say that Appius Junius Silanus met his downfall through a similar ruse. For once Messalina and Narcissus had agreed to destroy him, Narcissus played his part in the scheme by rushing distractedly into Claudius’s bedroom before dawn, pretending to have dreamed that Appius had attacked the Emperor. Then Messalina, feigning amazement, claimed that she too had dreamed the same thing for several nights in succession. Appius had been summoned, the day before, to attend the Emperor at this very time, and now was reported to be trying to make his way to the Imperial quarters, a fact which was taken as proof positive of the dream’s truth. Claudius immediately accused Appius of attempted murder and sentenced him to death. Next day Claudius told the Senate about the whole business, and thanked Narcissus, his freedman, for being preoccupied, even in his sleep, by his Emperor’s safety.
Book Five: XXXVIII His Self-Awareness
He was aware of his tendency to succumb to anger and resentment, and issued an edict seeking to excuse these faults while distinguishing between them, saying that his anger would always be brief and harmless, while his resentment would always possess just cause.
After reprimanding the citizens of Ostia, for failing to send boats to met him when he reached the mouth of the Tiber, and in bitter terms, saying they had treated him like some commoner, he suddenly forgave them, and all but apologised. But he banished a quaestor’s clerk, unheard, and a Senator of praetorian rank, though both were innocent; the former simply for pleading a case too vigorously, before Claudius became Emperor; the latter because, as aedile, he had fined Claudius’s estate tenants for breaking the law against selling cooked food, and whipped the bailiff, who objected. His resentment over this case, also led him to deprive the aediles of their role in regulating the cook-shops.
He spoke publicly, in a few brief speeches, about his own apparent foolishness too, claiming that he had feigned it deliberately under Caligula, in order to survive and therefore achieve his present position. But no one was convinced, and a book soon appeared entitled ‘The Rise of Fools’ whose thesis was that no one pretended to be more foolish than they were.
Book Five: XXXIX His Mental Abstraction
Among other traits, people were astonished by his meteoria and ablepsia, to use the Greek terms, that is his mental abstraction and blindness to what he was saying.
Shortly after ordering Messalina’s execution (in AD48), he asked at the dinner table why she had not yet joined him. He likewise summoned many of those he had condemned to death to come next day and consult, or gamble, with him, and would send messengers to reprimand them for sleeping-in when they failed to appear.
When planning his illicit marriage to Agrippina the Younger (in 49AD) he constantly referred to her in speeches as his ‘daughter’ and ‘foster-child’ whom he had raised in his arms. And immediately before adopting Nero (in 50AD), in addition to the shame of adopting a stepson when he already had an adult son of his own he openly declared, on more than one occasion, that as yet no one had ever been adopted into the Claudian family.
Book Five: XL His Inappropriate Remarks
In truth he often showed such inappropriateness in words and actions that it might be thought he neither knew nor cared when, where, with whom, or to whom, he was speaking.
Once during a debate in the Senate regarding butchers and wine-sellers, he called out: ‘Now I ask you, who can get by without a snack now and then?’ and continued by describing the wealth of taverns where he used to go and sup wine in the old days.
He supported a candidate for the quaestorship on a number of grounds one of which was that the man’s father had once given him a drink of cold water when he was ill. And similarly, one day, he commented regarding a witness who came before the Senate that ‘This woman was my mother’s freedwoman and personal maid, but always regarded me as her patron. I mention this because even now there are those in my household who don’t.’
On an occasion when the citizens of Ostia petitioned him in public, he lost his temper and shouted from the tribunal that he owed them no obligation, and that surely he was free to do what he wished, if anyone was.
In fact he was constantly making odd remarks, every hour and minute of the day, such as: ‘What, do you take me for a Telegenius? Or ‘Curse me, but keep your hands to yourself!’ and the like, which would be inappropriate behaviour for a private citizen, let alone a ruler who was neither uncultured nor lacking in eloquence, but on the contrary had constantly devoted himself to the liberal arts.
Book Five: XLI His Literary Works
In his youth he began writing history, encouraged by Livy and assisted by Sulpicius Flavus. But when he gave his first large public reading he had difficulty carrying on with it, after one very fat member of the audience caused a howl of laughter at the start by accidentally breaking a number of benches as he sat down, and Claudius undermined his own performance by giggling continually at the memory even when the disturbance was long over.
As Emperor he continued work on his history, hosting frequent readings but employing instead a professional reader. He began the work with Julius Caesar’s assassination, but on being taken to task over it by his mother Antonia and his grandmother Octavia, and realising that he would not be allowed to give a true and open account of the period, he made a fresh start with later times and the end of the Civil War. He completed only two books of the earlier work, but forty-one of the latter.
He also wrote an autobiography in eight books, which is more deficient in good taste than in style, as well as a defence of Cicero against the writings of Asinius Gallus, a work of no little learning.
Claudius added three additional letters of his own invention to the Latin alphabet, maintaining that there was a dire need of them, and having published a work on the subject as a private citizen, was able to initiate their general use as Emperor. These characters can be seen in many books of the period, the official gazette, and inscriptions on public buildings.
Book Five: XLII His Greek Studies
He gave no less attention to Greek studies, professing his regard for the language and claiming its superiority at every opportunity. When a foreigner addressed him in Greek as well as Latin, he commented: ‘Since you come armed with both our tongues…’, and while commending the province of Achaia to the Senators, he declared that Greece was dear to him because of their mutual devotion to like studies. He would often make his Senate reply to Greek envoys with a prepared speech in their own language. And he often quoted lines from Homer when speaking, as well as giving the tribune of the guard this line of verse as password, whenever he had punished a conspirator or a personal enemy:
‘…defend with vigour, against whoever attacks first.’
Lastly, he wrote complete works in Greek: twenty volumes of Etruscan history, and eight of Carthaginian. A new Claudian wing was added, in his name, to the old Museum at Alexandria, with his Etruscan history read aloud from beginning to end annually in the old, and the Carthaginian in the new, various readers being employed in turn, as is the way with public recitations.
Book Five: XLIII His Regret at Adopting Nero
Towards the end of his life Claudius clearly appeared to regret his marriage to Agrippina the Younger, and his adoption of Nero. On one occasion, when his freedmen expressed their approval of a trial the previous day, in which he had condemned a woman for adultery, he said it was his fate also to have found the married always unchaste but never unpunished; and meeting Britannicus soon afterwards, he hugged him closely and urged him to grow up quickly when he would receive an explanation of all his father’s actions, adding in Greek: ‘Who dealt the wound will heal it.’ And declaring his intention of granting Britannicus the toga, since he was of a height to wear it, though still young and immature, he added: ‘So Rome may at last have a real Caesar.’
Book Five: XLIV His Death
Not long afterwards he made his will, and had all the magistrates seal it, as witnesses. But before he could take any further action, he was prevented from doing so by Agrippina who now stood accused of many crimes by the testimony of informers, and not merely by that of her own conscience.
It is the common belief that Claudius was poisoned, but when and by whom is the subject of dispute. Some say his official taster, Halotus the eunuch, administered the poison, while Claudius was dining with the priests in the Citadel; others claim that Agrippina did so herself at a family meal, adding it to a dish of mushrooms of which he was inordinately fond.
Reports also vary as to what ensued. Many say that he lost the power of speech after swallowing the poison, and died just before dawn after a night of excruciating pain. Some maintain however that he first fell into stupor, then vomited up the entire contents of his over-full stomach, and was then poisoned a second time, either in a bowl of gruel, the excuse being that he needed food to revive him after his prostration, or by means of an enema, as if his bowels too needed relieving.
Book Five: XLV The Aftermath
The fact of his death was concealed until all the arrangements had been made to secure Nero’s succession. Vows were offered for Claudius’s recovery, as if he was still ill, and the farce was maintained by summoning a troop of comic actors, under the pretence that he had requested such entertainment.
He died on the 13th October AD54 during the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in his sixty-fourth year, and the fourteenth of his reign. He was buried in a princely manner and officially deified, an honour which Nero ignored and ultimately annulled, but which was restored to him by Vespasian.
Book Five: XLVI Omens of his Death
The main omens of Claudius’s death were the appearance of a comet with trailing tail; a bolt of lightning which struck his father Drusus’s tomb; and an unusual mortality rate among the magistrates that year.
There were also signs that he himself was not unaware of imminent death, and made no secret of the fact. When appointing the consuls, he provided for no appointment after the month in which he died, and in his final attendance at the Senate, after exhorting his two sons earnestly to live at peace together, he begged the Senators to watch over both of them during their youth.
On his last tribunal appearance, he declared more than once that he had attained his mortal end, though all who heard him deprecated the thought.
End of Book V