Episode 12 – Claudius, an imperial life with unusual twists

Ahhh Claudius, the man who was never meant to be emperor. And yet, perhaps surprisingly enough for the Roman Senate, he lasted longer in the role than his vaunted predecessor.

The rhetoric against him is recorded in Suetonius’ Life of Claudius:

“His mother Antonia often called him “a monster of a man, not finished but merely begun by Dame Nature”; and if she accused anyone of dullness, she used to say that he was “a bigger fool than her son Claudius.” His grandmother Augusta always treated him with the utmost contempt, very rarely speaking to him; and when she admonished him, she did so in short, harsh letters, or through messengers. When his sister Livilla heard that he would one day be emperor, she openly and loudly prayed that the Roman people might be spared so cruel and undeserved a fortune.”

Despite the harsh assessment of his own family, there comes a time when there is no one else for the role of emperor and we see him rise from the shadows of his own family to take on a public role.

In this episode, we consider Claudius’ less than illustrious beginnings and the progression of his career into Rome’s top job.

Claudius’ expansionist policy, his relationship with the Praetorian guard, and the focus of the sources on his freedmen, can be found in this episode:

The Life of Claudius

“A Roman Emperor: 41 AD” Lawrence Alma Tadema 1871. Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum / Wikimedia Commons
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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!


  1. Joel McCann
    September 9, 2013

    Very enjoyable Doctors looking forward to the next instalment.

  2. September 18, 2013

    Why, thank you Joel. You’re in luck, the next episode is very nearly ready! Best Wishes – The Partial Historians

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