The Emperor of Rome was, in his day, the most powerful man on Earth. The leader of the Roman Empire was feared, admired, and respected, and stories were told about him across the entire world.
Claudius was the most unlikely man to ever hold this prestigious title.
Here are 8 fascinating facts about the man who was dubbed the Unexpected Emperor.
Claudius: 8 Fascinating Facts about the Roman Emperor.
1. Not even his own family expected him to be a leader.
Claudius, who was born Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus on August 1st, 10 BC, was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. Despite his not being born in Italy, he was of Sabine origins, and could trace his lineage back to the Julio-Claudian dynasty—a well-respected Italian family.
As a child, he had a limp, and also became partially deaf after getting an infection. He was ostracized by his family, and excluded from public office and social events, an interesting fact about Claudius.
He wasn’t considered a threat by anyone, despite his position as a nobleman. Men who plotted to eliminate threats to their own rise to power—and there would have been many—are believed to have overlooked Claudius entirely.
2. His ascension to the throne was unexpected and unplanned.
This is exactly the case when the Tyrant Emperor Caligula and most of his family were slaughtered following the Palatine Games. Caligula had exiled or executed many of his own family members by this point, he only kept his uncle, Claudius, around to mock and belittle.
Following Caligula’s murder, a soldier, who was sent to check on the rest of the remaining family members, found Claudius cowering in a bedroom. In the order of succession, Claudius was now at the top of the list—mainly because everyone above him on the list was banished or dead—and so he became emperor.
3. He was good at his job.
Despite Claudius’ lack of preparation and training, historical accounts show that he was a good emperor, an interesting fact about Claudius. His administrative skills were strong, and he restored the Roman Empire’s wealth after four years of obscene spending by Caligula.
He was also a strong city planner, ordering the building of roads, aqueducts to carry water, and canals for faster travel.
4. He started the successful assault on Britain.
Claudius launched an invasion on Britain in 43 AD, led by Aulus Plautius. Historians believe the strategy may have been started by Caligula earlier, but Claudius is credited with the overall plan, assembling troops, and the successful execution of a war to claim British territories for Rome. The war was launched under the guise of Rome wanting Britain to reinstate Verica—the Atrebates king, who was living in exile.
5. He held the record for the longest reign until Domitian.
Claudius was constantly under threat. He had been considered feeble and weak all his life—even by his own family—and many attempts were made on his life. As a result of these threats, Claudius’ reign became increasingly violent, with many of his own senators being murdered to secure his safety.
Despite this, his reign lasted 13 years. This would be the longest reign of any emperor up to that point, but would eventually be surpassed by Domitian over 40 years later.
Bonus fact: Domitian was condemned by the Senate, and his name erased from all records. He became Damnatio Memoriae—condemnation of memory—so many historians do not count his reign as being longer than that of Claudius.
6. He had a lot of famous family members.
He was directly related to the first, second, third, and fifth emperors of Rome, an interesting fact about Claudius.
He was the great-nephew of Augustus. He was also the nephew of Tiberius, an uncle of Caligula, and the great-uncle, step-father, and adopted father of Nero. He was the brother of the prominent general, Germanicus, and the grandson of Mark Antony.
7. He was just as cruel as any other Roman of the time.
A lifetime of ridicule and neglect did not bestow Claudius with compassion for others. Whilst in Ostia, Claudius noticed a whale, which had become trapped in the harbor. He “fought” the whale, with the help of his shoulders, to entertain a large crowd. Eventually the whale died, although it put up a brave fight against the army of men. Pliny the Elder, a writer of the time, claims that the whale got its revenge by sinking a ship of onlookers in its struggles.
As was the tradition at the time, he also enjoyed watching gladiatorial games, and staged them for the public regularly throughout his reign.
8. Love was not on his side.
Before any of his failed marriages, Claudius was engaged—twice, an interesting fact about Claudius. The first engagement ended when his family ordered it, for political reasons. The second engagement ended when his fiancee died suddenly on their wedding day.
He went on to marry Plautia, who gave birth to his first son, Claudius Drusus. Sadly, Drusus died in his early teens. While Plautia was pregnant with his second child, he divorced her for adultery. She gave birth to a daughter, Claudia, who he denounced publically as his own. This made him lose popularity amongst the Roman people.
His second wife, Aelia Paetina, gave birth to a daughter named Claudia Antonia, but he divorced her, too. Some historical accounts imply that he may have been the victim of emotional and mental abuse by Aelia.
After Aelia, Claudius married Valeria Messalina, and the couple had two children together. She was a manipulative and dishonest woman who often lied about situations to further her own political power. She even went as far as to lie about senators from Claudius’ cabinet, who were then wrongly executed for treason. Aelia was unfaithful to Claudius—often—and eventually married one of her lovers while Claudius was at Ostia. There are several theories as to why she made such a drastic and reckless decision, but the outcome remains the same.
Valeria, her lover, and their families—excluding her children with Claudius—were executed.
His final marriage was to Agrippina the Younger, who had her own political agendas, and outlived the emperor.
After a 13 year reign as the most powerful leader in the world, Claudius was poisoned and died on 13 October, 54 AD.
Almost every historical record implicates his wife, who may have wanted to kill Claudius before he had a chance to make Britannicus his heir. She wanted that honor for her own son, Nero—who went on to become the fifth emperor of the Roman Empire.
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