24 January 41 - 13 October 54



Proclaiming Claudius Emperor
Proclaiming Claudius Emperor
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1867

As soon as the death of Caligula was made public, A. D. 41, it produced the greatest confusion in all parts of the city. The conspirators, who only aimed at destroying a tyrant without attending to a successor, had all sought safety by retiring to private places. Some soldiers happening to run about the palace, discovered Claudius, Caligula's uncle, lurking in a secret place, where he had hid himself through fear. Of this personage, who had been despised for his imbecility, they resolved to make an emperor, and the senate confirmed their choice. Claudius was fifty years old when he began to reign.

The commencement of his reign, as with all the other bad emperors, gave the most promising hopes of a happy continuance. He began by passing an act of oblivion for all former words and actions, and annulling all the cruel edicts of Caligula. To his solicitude for the internal advantage of the state, he added that of a watchful guardianship over the provinces.

He restored Judea to Herod Agrippa, as Caligula had taken that province from Herod Antipater, and who was banished by order of the present emperor.

Claudius also restored such princes to their kingdoms, as had been unjustly dispossessed by his predecessors, but deprived the Lycians and Rhodians of their liberty, for having promoted insurrection, and crucified some citizens of Rome.


Roman conquest of Britain

Claudius undertook to gratify the people by foreign conquests. The Britons, who had for near an hundred years been left in sole possession of their own island, began to seek the mediation of Rome, to quell their intestine commotions.

The principal man who desired to subject his native country to the Roman dominion, was one Bericus, who persuaded the emperor to make a descent upon the Island. In pursuance of his advice, Plautius, the praetor, was ordered to pass over into Gaul, and make preparations for this great expedition. At first his soldiers seemed backward to embark; declaring that they were unwilling to make war beyond the limits of the world, for so they judged Britain to be. They were at last persuaded to go; and the Britons were several times overthrown.

These successes induced Claudius to go into Britain in person, upon pretence that the natives were still seditious, and had not delivered up some Roman fugitives. The time he continued in Britain, which was sixteen days, was more taken up in receiving homage, than extending his conquests. Great rejoicings were made upon his return to Rome.

The senate decreed him a splendid triumph : triumphal arches were erected to his honor, and annual games instituted to commemorate his victories.

The war was vigorously prosecuted by Plautius, and his lieutenant Vespasian, who, according to Suetonius fought thirty battles with the enemy, and reduced a part of the island to a roman province, A. D. 51. However, this war broke out afresh under the government of Ostorius, who succeeded Plautius. The Britons either despising him for the want of experience, or hoping to gain advantages over a person newly come to command, rose up in arms.

The Iceni and the Brigantes made a powerful resistance, though they were at length overcome; but the Silures, or inhabitants of South Wales, under their king Caractacus, were the most formidable opponents that Roman generals had ever yet encountered.

This brave barbarian not only made a gallant defence, but often claimed a doubtful victory. He, with great conduct, removed the seat of war into the most inaccessible parts of the country, and for nine years kept the Romans in continual alarm. Upon the approach of Ostorius, rinding himself obliged to come to a decisive engagement, he addressed his countrymen with calm resolution, telling them, that this battle would either establish their liberty or confirm their servitude.

Nothing that undisciplined valor was able to perform, could avail against the conduct of the Roman legions. After an obstinate fight, the Britons were entirely routed; the wife and daughter of Caractacus, were taken prisoners : and he seeking refuge from Cartismandua, queen of the Brigantes, was treacherously delivered up to the conquerors.

When he was brought to Rome, nothing could exceed the curiosity of the people to behold a man who had for so many years braved the power of the empire. On his part he testified no marks of base dejection; but as he was led through the streets, observing the splendor of every object around him, Alas! cried he, how is it possible, that people, possessed of such magnificence at home, could think of envying Caractacus an humble cottage in Britain !

When he was brought before the emperor, while the other captives sued for pity with the most abject lamentations, Caractacus stood with an intrepid air. If, cried he, I bad yielded immediately, and without opposition, neither my fortune would have been remarkable, nor my glory memorable, you would have ceased to be victorious, and I had been forgotton. If now, therefore, you spare my life, I shall continue a perpetual example of your clemency. Claudius had the generosity to pardon him.

Although Claudius gave, in the beginning of his reign, the highest hopes of a happy continuance, he soon began to lessen his cares for the public, and to commit to his favorites all the concerns of the empire.

This weak prince had from his infancy been in a state of pupilage; and now, when called to govern, he was unable to act without the direction of others. The chief of his in structed was his wife Messalina, whose name has become almost a common appellation for an abandoned woman. By her, Claudius was urged on to commit cruelties, while her debaucheries became every day more notorious. Her crimes being at length discovered, she together with her paramour, Caius Sitius, suffered death.

Claudius took for his second wife, Agrippina, the daughter of his brother Germanicus, a woman of a cruel and ambitious spirit, whose whole aim being to procure the succession of Nero, her son by a former marriage, treated Claudius with such haughtiness, that he was heard to declare, when heated with wine, that it was his fate to suffer the disorders of his wives, and to be their executioner. This expression incited her to poison him.

For this purpose she consulted Locusta, a person notorious in the practice of such deeds; with her assistance the poison was given the emperor among mushrooms, a dish of which he was fond. Shortly after eating he dropped down insensible; but this caused no alarm, as it was usual with him to sit eating, till he had stupified his faculties and was obliged to be carried to his bed. His constitution seemed to overcome the effects of the poison, when, Agrippina resolving to make sure of him, directed a wretched physician to thrust a poisoned feather down his throat, under pretence of making him vomit, and thus despatched him (13 October 54).

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