Part I. Overview of the Life of Claudius
Before a Roman Emperor is spoken of, one must always give mention to not only his parents but particularly his grandparents. Claudius was born from greatness, his grandfather being Augustus and his grandmother, Livia. However, the father of Claudius, Drusus, was tarnished with the taint of being “begotten by his stepfather in adulterous intercourse.” (Suetonius, 1914, 4) Perhaps from anxieties pertaining to this Drusus battled bravely on the field of conquest and his battles drove him further and further into the interior. Alternatively, Drusus waged war farther and farther from the grandeur and civilization of Rome and marched into some dark heart of the untamed and the dangerous.
He most likely would have kept on going, kept on advancing the cause of the empire of his fathers if not for “the apparition of a barbarian woman of greater than human size.”(Suetonius, 1914, 5) Drusus did receive honor after resting his efforts but his longing for greater glory and recognition in hopes of attaining the highest power drove him to resume his campaign and mysteriously he died in a summer camp. Claudius barely knew his father we may surmise but he was born under the weight of his father’s fine achievements in war and his sacrifice for the cause of glory.
Perhaps being further cursed by his father’s sins that aroused some kind of curse on both the father and the son, Claudius was born with problems of the mind and body that were obstinate and from which he suffered most severely.(Suetonius, 1914, 9) While most men of Roman nobility were to be seen in public events, “contrary to all precedent he wore a cloak when he presided at the gladiatorial games he and his brother gave in honour of their father.” (Suetonius, 1914, 9) This only accentuates the shame and continued disgrace that Claudius must have felt as exacerbated only by the insults from his family which was at best contempt and at worse insults that could lame any person to a most excruciating pain.
Constantly the clown, Claudius received his own unique preparation for the role greater than any he could have imagined for himself, emperor in his fiftieth year and achieved this by something of a miracle. Hiding in terror of death, he was recognized by a common soldier who took him to his comrades. Claudius, still no doubt trembling from too much happening to his greatest bewilderment, was more of a minor player in the flurry of events that happened afterwards and became emperor after popular decree and bribed an armed assembly of soldiers who swore allegiance to him generously; With this action Claudius secured the fidelity of his troops for the time being as well as established his claim to power. An achievement his father no doubt wanted with greater love than many others but what his son did achieve without the prompting of great directed desires towards the rank of highest power and authority.
His reign was ridden with assassination attempts, a conspiracy, and even by civil war. He was more comfortable away from the battlefield and made only one campaign. In terms of public works he focused on the essential and great rather than the good but numerous. One of his greatest accomplishments was the continuation of an aqueduct begun by Gaius but aqueducts are great in their construction and great in their use for irrigation and for bringing fresh water to city dwellers and other citizens alike.
Despite his natural enfeeblement Claudius did have children by three of this wives: “by Urgulanilla, Drusus and Claudia; by Paetina, Antonia; by Messalina, Octavia and a son, at first called Germanicus and later Brittannicus.”(Suetonius, 1914, 57) Yet he always in a way cursed his life, even though he complied, he was a man of timidity and extreme suspicion, to the point where after hearing too much of conspiracies, Claudius even tried to abdicate. In many ways, this colorful emperor was never meant to be a great emperor and was not of the caste of Augustus or Julius Caesar. Far from it, he cried in public, never ventured too near a stoic resolve, but loved to read and attend to studious enterprises, writing many books and historical works. He had foresight but too often lacked the strength of resolve, yet his tragic intelligence knew that he was not a genuine Caesar and he admitted this when embracing his son Britannicus after bestowing to him in intention the gown of manhood. Claudius even had the foresight to prepare his will and seal it officially with magistrates at his side.
Poisoned soon after, his death was quiet and his honor was neglected and “finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian.”(Suetonius, 1914, 82) In short, his life was hardly to be wished on anyone but he lived it with heart and made for a most unusual emperor during a most unusual time.
Part II. How Claudius Addressed the Key Conflicts of His Time
When we think of conflicts we often think of conflicts on the scale of the vast and grand. During Claudius’ reign, many conflicts were of the interior and the courts to this day are the mediators of conflict and perhaps the creators of even more conflict. Claudius’ inconstancy of temper made him quite unfit to have so much power when deciding and hearing cases. He did ridiculous things like order mother to marry the son she refused to recognize in order that she should recognize him as her son so that she would not have to be guilty of a debasement far worse.
Claudius was very contemptuous of lies and often gave favor to those who would confess honestly the truth instead of lying for whatever reason good or bad. It is no doubt that in this micro-conflicts he did damage his reputability and it’s questionable whether he should have heard and decided cases at all for he was so radical in his thinking that many not only took a distaste to the methods he used but outright insulted him as a fool while thinking him insane.
Although he made only one campaign he was shrewd about maximizing his return and minimizing the risk he would take. He chose to “invade” Britain at a time when there was so much internal rebellion that any kind of legitimate power and authority would most likely have been welcome. He received submission without any battle or bloodshed and within six months of leaving Rome returned in “triumph of great splendor.”(Suetonius, 1914, 36)
Presiding over his empire but with a conduct that was “dictated not so much by his own judgment as that of his wives and freedman, since he nearly always acted in accordance with their interests and desires,” it’s hazy to say how he would have addressed them but because he could act and they most often could not present themselves publicly, there was something left to his discretion.(Suetonius, 1914, 54) It is unfortunate but at least in the case of Claudius it was so evident that what had been happening in the case of previous emperors like Augustus who in later years was much influenced by Livia at least was given greater though never elaborate mention.
Pt. III What Did Claudius Do to Help Prolong the Roman Empire
This questions is hard to answer as to a great many historians even more even-handed historians like Seutonius in the case of Claudius it seems like he was born as a man unfit for public office and that the best he could do was identify errors but never correct his own of which there were a great many. Tacitus writes about Claudius in the voice of satirical contempt, while Claudius can simply be thought of as a fool who should never have been born there is nevertheless a pulse to this man now long dead that so resonates so powerfully. For at least, it is clear that he did have a heart and too often public leaders of strong conscience but great weakness and ineptitude are given the worst lot of all.
To give an answer not so provocative he did at least bring the Romans Britain without a spot of blood dropped, was a good tactician when he had his wits about him as in the instance of depriving the “Lycians of their independence because of deadly intestine feuds.”(Suetonius, 1914, 52) He did the opposite as well for those who had been enslaved but had tamed what brought them towards costly feuds and were ready again to govern themselves in most ways. In being optimistic about people’s ability to change he gave hope to the enslaved even if he was their enemy that again, they could be free if only they tamed their baser instincts and sought better resolutions to conflict.
Part. IV How Did Claudius Contribute to the Downfall of the Empire
Something that Seutonius does not give much thought to but something of the greatest importance is famines and their occurrence. It is in the background but the excessiveness of the famines during the reign of Claudius may have been what prompted him towards the distribution of largess, great entertainment for the masses to calm their spirits and their rebellious tendencies. Bread and circuses are of course often synonymous with Rome’s decay as is the absence of charismatic leadership, for charisma was not something that Claudius had to great qualities being disfigured by nature and timorous. Hardly in the same cast as his father, and overwhelmed by his wives, he was hardly a person of his own worth and could have perhaps been far better for the empire then setting in motion maniacal methods of governance with Nero and of course, Caligula.
His own brain hardly dull could have been impaired by mental illness, his swinging moves and inconsistency could have been attributed to manic depression as well as his grand weeping spells as a public spectacle. Yet even more his extreme suspiciousness and timidity, which could have been associated with paranoid schizophrenia, prompted his fear of war and this contributed to the food deficit problem as any empire built on colonization and expansion must consistently expand for needed resources and to expand during the time of the ancients one must wage war. By focusing on internal affairs and making distanced judgments he often judged before he could observe and because he disliked traveling so much he was a Roman only as a provincial figure and never a Caesar of an empire still great during his time but sinking already.
Furthermore, by bribing extravagantly he most likely caused some inflation and this inflation would have made worse the existing famines which were spread out through the empire but treacherous. Claudius is a sad case because never quite a whole person, but expected to be a great person, he was the ultimate compensator but the greatest leaders have character and Claudius, sadly, was always too afraid.
Part V. Universal Human Traits Found in Claudius
While there are typical strains of human traits to be found in Claudius it is a challenge to say without a hint of doubt that they are indeed universal. However, it seems fairly conservative to say that all people are prone to many of the mood disorders that Claudius was prone to. That people irrationally panic, as Claudius did when he learned of so many conspiracies, many of them hardly credible. That they behave on these prompts of agonized panic by doing ridiculous things, such as unloading all their shares of a dipping stock instead of just waiting it out. That noted, it’s much easier to find dysfunctional traits than truly functional. However, sometimes these same dysfunctional traits of panic and intense speculative fear may have saved Claudius and unknown others without anybody knowing it but the assigned assassinator. That his rule is so remembered and his name so widely spoken of in certain circles only signals that there is indeed an authenticity about Claudius that does not wear well on one’s wishes that Caesars be more than only human.
Furthermore, psychologists have studied and speculated that panic and irrational behavior can be prompted by chemical substances. With Claudius no doubt attended to by doctors some good and some doctors in name only but in truth, assassinators in intention; Claudius’ irrationality can perhaps be attributed to being given stealthier poisons that work slowly but further impair. Perhaps it’s incredible if one really knows what he fought that he was even a fairly capable ruler and did not fiddle away while matters of the state had to be attended to. The trait of attempting against the hardest odds can be found and fortunately so in the true strength of the human spirit.
Part VI. Contemporary Lessons to Be Drawn From the Life of Claudius
Claudius had the view that a colonized land could be at least mostly free to govern itself if they had corrected defects that would make such a hope impossible. This could draw us to vital lessons about Iraq. Iraq right now is obviously not ready for the complete disappearance of the American presence yet they want to be independent and if governed, to be governed by one of their own. Bloodshed is to be expected and after the British left India despite the protests of the esteemed Gandhi solidarities broke apart into feuding for resources and punishing brutality filled the earth with blood.
Every culture has their own preferred methods of ruling and in every way what matters more to many people is the protection of their property and life, the security of their family and the respect of their friends. Democracies are often good for economies with a large enough component of the bourgeoise but democracies have mostly floundered in countries without a bureaucracy of the western trained and those loyal to western ideals sometimes so much so that they forget their native inheritance.
In the case of Iraq it seems like there’s so much going wrong that interference could only provoke further problems and issues. A sudden departure may seem ignoble and people warn that anarchy will result but how is the certain situation very much different from anarchy? People flee only to see that their house has been bombed and that the wall that has not fallen is covered with blood. People say goodbye to their child and do not know that it is for the last time. People blame too much on America and Americans blame various people but at its heart, America may blame itself for getting carried away in the art of capture without knowing what to do after the official war has been won.
Excessive conquest and colonizing efforts brought down the Roman Empire and the disaffected marched on Roman roads to invade Rome in the end. America has often been compared to Rome and compares itself to Rome and Greece to achieve the status of both grace and grandeur. However, the flaw of America is that it never has been good at stabilizing efforts. When much of the native population does not want American’s there and is terribly hostile it is very hard for Americans to stay and sometimes the best thing to do is to leave people to their own devices. To trust in universal rationality and to let things happen with minimal interference so that the Iraq people will work towards rebuilding a civic community and truly rebuild themselves and their economy in a way that is both humane and prosperous.
Seutonius, C. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Retrieved from