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1. Caligula: 37 – 41 AD

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This is forbidden in Roman law, so he changes the law. The niece, like everyone else in the family, has a scheme. Her son by a previous marriage is just three years older than Britannicus. She persuades Claudius to adopt this boy as his heir. With this agreed she poisons the old man, according to Roman gossip with toadstools. In AD 54 her year-old son is proclaimed by the Praetorian guard as the emperor Nero. In the early years of Nero's reign he is guided by wise counsellors, particularly his old tutor Seneca. But soon he feels free to follow his own inclinations. Within a few years his riotous personal behaviour is deeply offending the Romans, who are also unimpressed by his insistence on performing in public - as charioteer, lute-player, poet and actor.

And once again, in the family life of the Caesars , relationships are far from exemplary. The murder in AD 55 of his young stepbrother Britannicus is hardly surprising in the context of the time; the boy is inevitably a threat as the son of the previous emperor. More unusual are the deaths of Nero's mother and wife. In 58 Nero falls passionately in love with a married woman, Poppaea, the wife of Otho. Agrippina criticizes her son's liaison and is murdered in Octavia, as his wife, is an unfortunate impediment; Nero divorces her, on a false charge of adultery, and then has her killed.

He marries Poppaea in Nero becomes so unpopular that many believe he started the great Fire of Rome in 64, so as to give himself the grandiose pleasure of rebuilding the city. The accusation which leads to the first persecution of the Christians is unjust. So is the legend that the histrionic emperor plays his fiddle while Rome burns. But the stories reflect more genuine grievances. Nero's extravagances have drained the imperial coffers. His inattention to affairs of state is reflected in serious rebellions at both extremes of the empire, in Britain in 60 and Palestine in Soon even Romans are in revolt.

In Rome the praetorian guards follow suit. The senate passes a vote of censure on Nero. Recognizing the inevitable, he slits his throat. There is no living male member of the Julian or Claudian families to claim the imperial crown. But the legions in various parts of the empire have their own ideas. For the first time it is realized, as Tacitus later writes, that emperors can be made elsewhere than in Rome.

In the resulting clash of interests, AD 69 becomes the year of the four emperors. Rebellion against Nero first comes to a head in Spain, where the governors of two neighbouring provinces have particular fears or grievances. One of them, Galba, believes that Nero is planning to assassinate him; the other, Otho, has lost his wife Poppaea to the emperor. In AD 68 Otho supports Galba in mounting a rebellion, but events run ahead of them. After Nero 's suicide the senators adopt Galba as emperor. He takes the name Caesar and marches to Rome.

He then makes the serious tactical mistake of adopting someone other than Otho as his official heir. Otho suborns the Praetorian guard. Early in 69 Galba is assassinated in the forum. Otho is proclaimed emperor. Meanwhile the army on the Rhine has a different idea, acclaiming its own commander, Vitellius. His forces move south, meeting and defeating those of Otho near Cremona in April. Otho commits suicide. In July Vitellius enters Rome as emperor. But the soldiers in the east are equally reluctant to accept, unconsulted, the candidate of another section of the army.

In July the legions at Alexandria acclaim Vespasian, now commanding the campaign to put down the Jewish revolt in Judaea. Their choice is rapidly endorsed by troops throughout the Middle East and then by the legions on the Danube - jealous opponents in this matter of their colleagues on the Rhine. In October 37, Caligula fell seriously ill, or perhaps was poisoned. He soon recovered from his illness, but many believed that the illness turned the young emperor toward the diabolical: he started to kill off or exile those who were close to him or whom he saw as a serious threat.

Perhaps his illness reminded him of his mortality and of the desire of others to advance into his place. She is said to have committed suicide, although Suetonius hints that Caligula actually poisoned her. He had his father-in-law Marcus Junius Silanus and his brother-in-law Marcus Lepidus executed as well.

His uncle Claudius was spared only because Caligula preferred to keep him as a laughing stock. His favourite sister Julia Drusilla died in 38 of a fever: his other two sisters, Livilla and Agrippina the Younger , were exiled. He hated being the grandson of Agrippa and slandered Augustus by repeating a falsehood that his mother was actually conceived as the result of an incestuous relationship between Augustus and his daughter Julia the Elder.

In 38, Caligula focused his attention on political and public reform. He published the accounts of public funds, which had not been made public during the reign of Tiberius. He aided those who lost property in fires, abolished certain taxes, and gave out prizes to the public at gymnastic events.

He allowed new members into the equestrian and senatorial orders. Perhaps most significantly, he restored the practice of democratic elections. During the same year, though, Caligula was criticized for executing people without full trials and for forcing the Praetorian prefect, Macro, to commit suicide. Macro had fallen out of favor with the emperor, probably due to an attempt to ally himself with Gemellus when it appeared that Caligula might die of fever. According to Cassius Dio , a financial crisis emerged in Ancient historians state that Caligula began falsely accusing, fining and even killing individuals for the purpose of seizing their estates.

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Historians describe a number of Caligula's other desperate measures. In order to gain funds, Caligula asked the public to lend the state money. The current and past highway commissioners were accused of incompetence and embezzlement and forced to repay money. However, some historians have shown skepticism towards the large number of sesterces quoted by Suetonius and Dio.

According to Wilkinson, Caligula's use of precious metals to mint coins throughout his principate indicates that the treasury most likely never fell into bankruptcy.

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A brief famine of unknown extent occurred, perhaps caused by this financial crisis, but Suetonius claims it resulted from Caligula's seizure of public carriages; [46] according to Seneca, grain imports were disrupted because Caligula re-purposed grain boats for a pontoon bridge.

Despite financial difficulties, Caligula embarked on a number of construction projects during his reign. Some were for the public good, though others were for himself. Josephus describes Caligula's improvements to the harbours at Rhegium and Sicily , allowing increased grain imports from Egypt, as his greatest contributions.

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Caligula completed the temple of Augustus and the theatre of Pompey and began an amphitheatre beside the Saepta. At Syracuse , he repaired the city walls and the temples of the gods. In 39, Caligula performed a spectacular stunt by ordering a temporary floating bridge to be built using ships as pontoons , stretching for over two miles from the resort of Baiae to the neighbouring port of Puteoli.

Caligula had two large ships constructed for himself which were recovered from the bottom of Lake Nemi around The ships were among the largest vessels in the ancient world. The smaller ship was designed as a temple dedicated to Diana. The larger ship was essentially an elaborate floating palace with marble floors and plumbing. In 39, relations between Caligula and the Roman Senate deteriorated. A number of factors, though, aggravated this feud. The Senate had become accustomed to ruling without an emperor between the departure of Tiberius for Capri in 26 and Caligula's accession.

Caligula reviewed Tiberius' records of treason trials and decided, based on their actions during these trials, that numerous senators were not trustworthy. Soon after his break with the Senate, Caligula faced a number of additional conspiracies against him. In 40, Caligula expanded the Roman Empire into Mauretania and made a significant attempt at expanding into Britannia — even challenging Neptune in his campaign.

The conquest of Britannia was fully realized by his successors. Mauretania was a client kingdom of Rome ruled by Ptolemy of Mauretania. Caligula invited Ptolemy to Rome and then suddenly had him executed. Details on the Mauretanian events of 39—44 are unclear. Cassius Dio wrote an entire chapter on the annexation of Mauretania by Caligula, but it is now lost. There seems to have been a northern campaign to Britannia that was aborted. Modern historians have put forward numerous theories in an attempt to explain these actions.

This trip to the English Channel could have merely been a training and scouting mission. When several client kings came to Rome to pay their respects to him and argued about their nobility of descent, he allegedly cried out the Homeric line: [81] "Let there be one lord, one king.

Caligula began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules , Mercury , Venus and Apollo. A sacred precinct was set apart for his worship at Miletus in the province of Asia and two temples were erected for worship of him in Rome. Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods located across Rome and replaced them with his own. Indeed, he was represented as a sun god on Egyptian coins.

Caligula's religious policy was a departure from that of his predecessors. According to Cassius Dio , living emperors could be worshipped as divine in the east and dead emperors could be worshipped as divine in Rome. Caligula needed to quell several riots and conspiracies in the eastern territories during his reign. Aiding him in his actions was his good friend, Herod Agrippa , who became governor of the territories of Batanaea and Trachonitis after Caligula became emperor in The cause of tensions in the east was complicated, involving the spread of Greek culture , Roman Law and the rights of Jews in the empire.

Caligula did not trust the prefect of Egypt, Aulus Avilius Flaccus. Flaccus had been loyal to Tiberius, had conspired against Caligula's mother and had connections with Egyptian separatists. In 39, Agrippa accused Herod Antipas , the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea , of planning a rebellion against Roman rule with the help of Parthia. Herod Antipas confessed and Caligula exiled him. Agrippa was rewarded with his territories.

Riots again erupted in Alexandria in 40 between Jews and Greeks. The Governor of Syria, Publius Petronius , fearing civil war if the order were carried out, delayed implementing it for nearly a year. In Rome, another statue of himself, of colossal size, was made of gilt brass for the purpose. Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger , contemporaries of Caligula, describe him as an insane emperor who was self-absorbed, was angry, killed on a whim, and indulged in too much spending and sex.

While repeating the earlier stories, the later sources of Suetonius and Cassius Dio provide additional tales of insanity. They accuse Caligula of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger , Drusilla , and Livilla , and say he prostituted them to other men.

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The validity of these accounts is debatable. In Roman political culture, insanity and sexual perversity were often presented hand-in-hand with poor government. Caligula's actions as emperor were described as being especially harsh to the Senate, to the nobility and to the equestrian order. The situation had escalated when, in 40, Caligula announced to the Senate that he planned to leave Rome permanently and to move to Alexandria in Egypt, where he hoped to be worshiped as a living god. The prospect of Rome losing its emperor and thus its political power was the final straw for many.

Such a move would have left both the Senate and the Praetorian Guard powerless to stop Caligula's repression and debauchery. With this in mind Chaerea convinced his fellow conspirators, who included Marcus Vinicius and Lucius Annius Vinicianus , to put their plot into action quickly. According to Josephus, Chaerea had political motivations for the assassination.

On 22 January 41 Suetonius gives the date as 24 January , Cassius Chaerea and other guardsmen accosted Caligula as he addressed an acting troupe of young men beneath the palace, during a series of games and dramatics being held for the Divine Augustus. Augustus, according to a letter, was surprised at the clarity of Claudius' oratory. His work as a budding historian damaged his prospects for advancement in public life. According to Vincent Scramuzza and others, Claudius began work on a history of the Civil Wars that was either too truthful or too critical of Octavian [6] —then reigning as Augustus Caesar.

In either case, it was far too early for such an account, and may have only served to remind Augustus that Claudius was Antony's descendant. His mother and grandmother quickly put a stop to it, and this may have convinced them that Claudius was not fit for public office. He could not be trusted to toe the existing party line. When he returned to the narrative later in life, Claudius skipped over the wars of the Second Triumvirate altogether. But the damage was done, and his family pushed him into the background. When the Arch of Pavia was erected to honor the Imperial clan in 8 AD, Claudius' name now Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus after his elevation to paterfamilias of Claudii Nerones on the adoption of his brother was inscribed on the edge—past the deceased princes, Gaius and Lucius , and Germanicus' children.

There is some speculation that the inscription was added by Claudius himself decades later, and that he originally did not appear at all. Tiberius, the new Emperor, responded by granting Claudius consular ornaments. Claudius requested office once more and was snubbed. Since the new Emperor was no more generous than the old, Claudius gave up hope of public office and retired to a scholarly, private life.

Despite the disdain of the Imperial family, it seems that from very early on the general public respected Claudius. At Augustus' death, the equites , or knights, chose Claudius to head their delegation. When his house burned down, the Senate demanded it be rebuilt at public expense. They also requested that Claudius be allowed to debate in the Senate.

Tiberius turned down both motions, but the sentiment remained. During the period immediately after the death of Tiberius' son, Drusus , Claudius was pushed by some quarters as a potential heir. This again suggests the political nature of his exclusion from public life. However, as this was also the period during which the power and terror of the commander of the Praetorian Guard , Sejanus , was at its peak, Claudius chose to downplay this possibility.

After the death of Tiberius, the new emperor Caligula the son of Claudius' brother Germanicus recognized Claudius to be of some use. He appointed Claudius his co-consul in 37 in order to emphasize the memory of Caligula's deceased father Germanicus. Despite this, Caligula relentlessly tormented his uncle: playing practical jokes, charging him enormous sums of money, humiliating him before the Senate, and the like. According to Cassius Dio Claudius became very sickly and thin by the end of Caligula's reign, most likely due to stress.

On 24 January 41, Caligula was assassinated in a broad-based conspiracy involving the Praetorian commander Cassius Chaerea and several senators. There is no evidence that Claudius had a direct hand in the assassination , although it has been argued that he knew about the plot—particularly since he left the scene of the crime shortly before his nephew was murdered.

In the chaos following the murder, Claudius witnessed the German guard cut down several uninvolved noblemen, including many of his friends. He fled to the palace to hide.

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According to tradition, a Praetorian named Gratus found him hiding behind a curtain and suddenly declared him princeps. They reassured him that they were not one of the battalions looking for revenge. He was spirited away to the Praetorian camp and put under their protection. The Senate quickly met and began debating a change of government, but this eventually devolved into an argument over which of them would be the new princeps. When they heard of the Praetorians' claim, they demanded that Claudius be delivered to them for approval, but he refused, sensing the danger that would come with complying.

Some historians, particularly Josephus , [11] claim that Claudius was directed in his actions by the Judaean King Herod Agrippa. However, an earlier version of events by the same ancient author downplays Agrippa's role [12] so it remains uncertain. Eventually the Senate was forced to give in and, in return, Claudius pardoned nearly all the assassins. Claudius took several steps to legitimize his rule against potential usurpers, most of them emphasizing his place within the Julio-Claudian family. He adopted the name "Caesar" as a cognomen , as the name still carried great weight with the populace.

In order to do so, he dropped the cognomen "Nero" which he had adopted as paterfamilias of the Claudii Nerones when his brother Germanicus was adopted out. While Claudius had never been formally adopted either by Augustus or his successors, he was nevertheless the grandson of Augustus' sister Octavia, and so he felt that he had the right of family.

He also adopted the name "Augustus" as the two previous emperors had done at their accessions. He kept the honorific "Germanicus" to display the connection with his heroic brother. He deified his paternal grandmother Livia to highlight her position as wife of the divine Augustus.

Claudius frequently used the term "filius Drusi" son of Drusus in his titles, in order to remind the people of his legendary father and lay claim to his reputation. Since Claudius was the first Emperor proclaimed on the initiative of the Praetorian Guard instead of the Senate, his repute suffered at the hands of commentators such as Seneca. Moreover, he was the first Emperor who resorted to bribery as a means to secure army loyalty and rewarded the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard that had elevated him with 15, sesterces.

Claudius remained grateful to the guard, however, issuing coins with tributes to the Praetorians in the early part of his reign. Claudius restored the status of the peaceful Imperial Roman provinces of Macedonia and Achaea as senatorial provinces. Under Claudius, the Empire underwent its first major expansion since the reign of Augustus.

The provinces of Thrace , Noricum , Lycia , and Judea were annexed or put under direct rule under various circumstances during his term. The annexation of Mauretania , begun under Caligula, was completed after the defeat of rebel forces, and the official division of the former client kingdom into two Imperial provinces.

In 43, Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with four legions to Britain Britannia after an appeal from an ousted tribal ally. It was also a haven for Gallic rebels and the like, and so could not be left alone much longer. Claudius himself traveled to the island after the completion of initial offensives, bringing with him reinforcements and elephants.

The latter must have made an impression on the Britons when they were displayed in the large tribal centre of Camulodunum , modern day Colchester. The Roman colonia of Colonia Claudia Victricensis was established as the provincial capital of the newly established province of Britannia at Camulodunum, [21] where a large Temple was dedicated in his honour. He left after 16 days, but remained in the provinces for some time. The Senate granted him a triumph for his efforts.

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Only members of the Imperial family were allowed such honours, but Claudius subsequently lifted this restriction for some of his conquering generals. He was granted the honorific "Britannicus" but only accepted it on behalf of his son, never using the title himself. When the Briton general Caractacus was captured in 50, Claudius granted him clemency.

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Caractacus lived out his days on land provided by the Roman state, an unusual end for an enemy commander. Claudius conducted a census in 48 that found 5,, Roman citizens [22] adult males with Roman citizenship ; women, children, slaves, and free adult males without Roman citizenship were not counted , an increase of around a million since the census conducted at Augustus' death.

He had helped increase this number through the foundation of Roman colonies that were granted blanket citizenship. These colonies were often made out of existing communities, especially those with elites who could rally the populace to the Roman cause. Several colonies were placed in new provinces or on the border of the Empire to secure Roman holdings as quickly as possible. Claudius personally judged many of the legal cases tried during his reign.

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Ancient historians have many complaints about this, stating that his judgments were variable and sometimes did not follow the law. Nevertheless, Claudius paid detailed attention to the operation of the judicial system. He extended the summer court session, as well as the winter term, by shortening the traditional breaks. Claudius also made a law requiring plaintiffs to remain in the city while their cases were pending, as defendants had previously been required to do. These measures had the effect of clearing out the docket.

The minimum age for jurors was also raised to 25 in order to ensure a more experienced jury pool. Claudius also settled disputes in the provinces. He freed the island of Rhodes from Roman rule for their good faith and exempted Ilium Troy from taxes. Early in his reign, the Greeks and Jews of Alexandria sent him two embassies at once after riots broke out between the two communities. This resulted in the famous "Letter to the Alexandrians", which reaffirmed Jewish rights in the city but also forbade them to move in more families en masse.

According to Josephus , he then reaffirmed the rights and freedoms of all the Jews in the Empire. One of Claudius's investigators discovered that many old Roman citizens based in the city of Tridentum modern Trento were not in fact citizens. However, in individual cases, Claudius punished false assumption of citizenship harshly, making it a capital offense. Similarly, any freedmen found to be laying false claim to membership of the Roman equestrian order were sold back into slavery. Numerous edicts were issued throughout Claudius' reign. These were on a number of topics, everything from medical advice to moral judgments.

A famous medical example is one promoting yew juice as a cure for snakebite. Masters had been abandoning ailing slaves at the temple of Aesculapius on Tiber Island to die instead of providing them with medical assistance and care, and then reclaiming them if they lived. Claudius ruled that slaves who were thus abandoned and recovered after such treatment would be free. Furthermore, masters who chose to kill slaves rather than take care of them were liable to be charged with murder.

Claudius embarked on many public works throughout his reign, both in the capital and in the provinces. These entered the city in 52 and met at the Porta Maggiore. He also restored a third, the Aqua Virgo. He paid special attention to transportation. Throughout Italy and the provinces he built roads and canals. Closer to Rome, he built a navigable canal on the Tiber , leading to Portus , his new port just north of Ostia. This port was constructed in a semicircle with two moles and a lighthouse at its mouth.

The construction also had the effect of reducing flooding in Rome. The port at Ostia was part of Claudius' solution to the constant grain shortages that occurred in winter, after the Roman shipping season. The other part of his solution was to insure the ships of grain merchants who were willing to risk travelling to Egypt in the off-season. He also granted their sailors special privileges, including citizenship and exemption from the Lex Papia Poppaea , a law that regulated marriage. In addition, he repealed the taxes that Caligula had instituted on food, and further reduced taxes on communities suffering drought or famine.

The last part of Claudius' plan was to increase the amount of arable land in Italy. This was to be achieved by draining the Fucine lake , which would have the added benefit of making the nearby river navigable year-round. The tunnel was crooked and not large enough to carry the water, which caused it to back up when opened. The resultant flood washed out a large gladiatorial exhibition held to commemorate the opening, causing Claudius to run for his life along with the other spectators.

The draining of the lake continued to present a problem well into the Middle Ages. Because of the circumstances of his accession, Claudius took great pains to please the Senate. During regular sessions, the Emperor sat among the Senate body, speaking in turn. When introducing a law, he sat on a bench between the consuls in his position as holder of the power of Tribune the Emperor could not officially serve as a Tribune of the Plebes as he was a Patrician , but it was a power taken by previous rulers.

He refused to accept all his predecessors' titles including Imperator at the beginning of his reign, preferring to earn them in due course. He allowed the Senate to issue its own bronze coinage for the first time since Augustus. He also put the Imperial provinces of Macedonia and Achaea back under Senate control. Claudius set about remodeling the Senate into a more efficient, representative body.

He chided the senators about their reluctance to debate bills introduced by himself, as noted in the fragments of a surviving speech:. If you accept these proposals, Conscript Fathers, say so at once and simply, in accordance with your convictions. If you do not accept them, find alternatives, but do so here and now; or if you wish to take time for consideration, take it, provided you do not forget that you must be ready to pronounce your opinion whenever you may be summoned to meet.

It ill befits the dignity of the Senate that the consul designate should repeat the phrases of the consuls word for word as his opinion, and that every one else should merely say 'I approve', and that then, after leaving, the assembly should announce 'We debated'. In 47 he assumed the office of censor with Lucius Vitellius , which had been allowed to lapse for some time.

He struck the names of many senators and equites who no longer met qualifications, but showed respect by allowing them to resign in advance. At the same time, he sought to admit eligible men from the provinces. The Lyon Tablet preserves his speech on the admittance of Gallic senators, in which he addresses the Senate with reverence but also with criticism for their disdain of these men. He even jokes about how the Senate had admitted members from beyond Gallia Narbonensis Lyons, France , i. He also increased the number of Patricians by adding new families to the dwindling number of noble lines.

Nevertheless, many in the Senate remained hostile to Claudius, and many plots were made on his life. This hostility carried over into the historical accounts. As a result, Claudius reduced the Senate's power for the sake of efficiency. The administration of Ostia was turned over to an Imperial Procurator after construction of the port.

Administration of many of the empire's financial concerns was turned over to Imperial appointees and freedmen. This led to further resentment and suggestions that these same freedmen were ruling the Emperor. Several coup attempts were made during Claudius' reign, resulting in the deaths of many senators. Appius Silanus was executed early in Claudius' reign under questionable circumstances. It ultimately failed because of the reluctance of Scribonianus' troops, which led to the suicide of the main conspirators.

Many other senators tried different conspiracies and were condemned. Claudius' son-in-law Pompeius Magnus was executed for his part in a conspiracy with his father Crassus Frugi. Valerius Asiaticus was executed without public trial for unknown reasons. The ancient sources say the charge was adultery , and that Claudius was tricked into issuing the punishment. However, Claudius singles out Asiaticus for special damnation in his speech on the Gauls, which dates over a year later, suggesting that the charge must have been much more serious. Asiaticus had been a claimant to the throne in the chaos following Caligula's death and a co-consul with the Titus Statilius Taurus Corvinus mentioned above.

Most of these conspiracies took place before Claudius' term as Censor , and may have induced him to review the Senatorial rolls. The conspiracy of Gaius Silius in the year after his Censorship, 48, is detailed in the section discussing Claudius' third wife, Messalina. Suetonius states that a total of 35 senators and knights were executed for offenses during Claudius' reign.

Claudius was hardly the first emperor to use freedmen to help with the day-to-day running of the Empire. He was, however, forced to increase their role as the powers of the princeps became more centralized and the burden larger. This was partly due to the ongoing hostility of the Senate, as mentioned above, but also due to his respect for the senators.