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Claudius: The last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty

Date of news: 15 March 2022

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born 10 BC. He died in 54 AD. His reign began in 49 AD and lasted until his death in 54 AD. Claudius looked like an improbable candidate for the imperial seat, but would be remembered as one of the good emperors.

When the emperor Caligula (37-41) died he left the Roman State in quite a turmoil, because of his actions during his reign. Caligula murdered the same man that helped him to power, Macro who was from the praetorian guard. Besides, he did not achieve many military victories and murdered his adopted son and rightful heir, to keep all the power to himself. When Caligula was murdered by his own praetorian guard, a new emperor was needed. They needed an emperor that was nothing like Caligula and to avoid the Senate's influence, the praetorian guard chose their own new emperor: Claudius. He was a nephew of Caligula (De Lozier 2012). Claudius looked like an improbable candidate for the imperial seat: he was in his fifties, he had not received a proper education as commander in chief and, most importantly, he had physical disabilities, like his limp and he did stutter according to some sources (Suetonius 121AD). However for the praetorian guard he fitted perfectly because they thought they could influence him. Contemporary literary sources report that Claudius was known to the public as a drunkard and a gambler. However, he also was one of the last heirs of the Julian-Claudian dynasty and so this made him a good successor (Schnee 2014).

Conquering new territory: Britannia

Because of his unfitting physical condition and reputation, Claudius had to prove himself as a strong and powerful leader to the public and the elites, to acquire their loyalty. In the first place he did not want to be an emperor, but the praetorian guard left him no choice. Claudius had to prove himself as a strong and powerful leader. To succeed his predecessor, in 43 AD he launched a major military campaign in Britannia and he gained a military victory when he conquered parts of it. He was the first emperor to achieve victories in this region. The glory that he gained from the campaigns in Britannia allowed him to somehow succeed his predecessors.

Maintaining extant territory: Egypt

Maintaining good diplomatic relations within the Roman Empire was an important task for the Roman emperor. The emperor needed the support and loyalty of different states  within the Empire. An example can be found in the letter that Claudius directed to the prefect of Egypt in 41 AD. This papyrus is a reply from Claudius concerning the requests of the inhabitants of Alexandria from the emperor. This document is also a great way to examine the propaganda he put in place to gain respect and loyalty. Claudius ultimately used propaganda in Alexandria through the honoring of their ancient traditions. In the letter he stated the following: "But I deprecate the appointment of a high priest to me and the building of temples, for I do not wish to be offensive to my contemporaries, and my opinion is that temples and such forms of honor have by all ages been granted as a prerogative to the gods alone." The inhabitants of Alexandria, according to this letter, wanted to appoint a high priest for Claudius in an honorary manner and to erect temples for him, but Claudius stated in response that he honored their traditions and would not meddle in the business of the gods. In the same letter, Claudius did agree with the request to keep his birthday on August day, referring to the late emperor Augustus, which was also good propaganda for Claudius (P. Lond. 1912).

By: Doortje van den Bulk and Sophie Thöni
(students of the course Populism and Propaganda in the Roman World)


Primary sources:

  • Claudius, Letter to Prefect of Egypt (P.Lond., 1912).
  • Suetonius, The lives of the Twelve Caesars (Loeb Classical Library, 1914).

    Loeb Classical Library
    All texts and English translations of Suetonius are available as digitised editions in the Loeb Classical Library.

Secondary sources:

  • L.A. De Lozier, 'Claudius Caesar: Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire', The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 133, No. 2, (2012) pp. 330-334. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23269809
  • Schnee, C., 'I, Claudius the Idiot: Lessons to be learned from reputation management in Ancient Rome'. Pathways to public relations: Histories of practice and profession, edited by Burton St. John III, Margot Opdycke Lamme, and Jacquie L'Etang, 2014, p. 144-159. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203074183-12