Emperor Claudius


Claudius's reign has been portrayed as everything from a triumph to a tyranny.


Here is a table of events in the reign:

  • Claudius became emperor on the assassination of Caligula.  The sources suggest that Caligula was assassinated by republicans, but that the Praetorian Guard imposed Claudius.  On his accession, Claudius kept the cognomen Germanicus but added ‘Caesar’.

  • Claudius took a close interest in the legal system, sitting in on many cases.  He extended the sessions of the court, and raised the minimum age of jurors.  He passed many edicts (including, allegedly, one recommending public flatulence, but another stopping slave owners from dumping their sick slaves to die in the Temple of Aesculapius).

  • He took care to involve the Senate in major decisions.

  • He improved the administration of the imperial household under his three able freedmen Narcissus (Epistulis – Secretary), Pallas (Rationibus – Finance) and Callistus (Libellis – Justice).  Some historians portray this as a ‘centralising’ policy.

  • Birth of Britannicus.
  • Claudius became Consul.

  • Suggested date for the start of work on Ostia harbour.  Claudius also ordered ‘prodigious’ canals beyond the Rhone.

  • The rebellion of Scribonianus in Dalmatia was supported by many senators

  • Execution of Appius Silanus.
  • Claudius became Consul.

  • Conquest of Britain.  Claudius went to Britain, allegedly when Aulus Plautius was unable to cope (but more probably when he was certain the invasion was going to succeed).  In the same year also Pamphylia and Lycia were annexed to the Empire.
  • After the death of Herod Agrippa, Judea was made a Roman province ruled direcly from Rome (until 48, when Herod’s son Marcus Julius Agrippa was restored).
  • Thrace was incorporated as a Roman province. 

  • A section of the river Tiber was made into a navigable canal.

  • Conspiracy of Asinius Gallus.
  • Claudius became Consul.

  • Claudius and Vitellius became Censors and revised the Senate membership lists.

  • A 350-mile road, from the Po over the Alps to the Danube, was completed.

  • Conspiracy of Pompeius Magnus.

  • Conspiracy of Valerius Asiaticus.
  • Claudius’s speech to the Senate on the admission of senators from Gaul, and on his vision for the Roman Empire.

  • Conspiracy of Messalina and Gaius Silius.
  • Marriage to Agrippina.
  • Caractacus paid homage to Claudius in Rome and was forgiven.

  • Adoption of Nero.
  • Claudius became Consul.

  • Nero was awarded the toga virilis.
  • Completion of the Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts.

  • First grand opening of the tunnel to drain the Fucine Lake; it had not been dug deep enough and, embarrassingly, had no effect.  (Agrippina blamed Narcissus who, in turn, charged her with ‘female imperiousness’.)
  • Marriage of Nero to Octavia.

  • (?) Second grand opening of the tunnel to drain the Fucine Lake; this time the flood of water was so great that Claudius and his guests were almost drowned.


A gold aureus from the reign of Claudius, showing the enlarged sternomastoid muscle in his neck (caused by his twitching). 
The Inscription reads:



The following web pages will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant sections of the set
OCR Textbook.

You will find this webpage useful for the death of Claudius.


You MUST read Mr Clare's article - The Elusive Claudius - on the historiography







Our opinion of Claudius's reign has been fatally damaged by the acounts of Tacitus and Suetonius - even though they are massively unreliable. 

Imagine that Tacitus and Suetonius did not exist. Taking Fergus Millar's dictum (1977) that ‘the emperor was what the emperor did’ - i.e. using only the facts in the table - analyse the events to make FIVE comments on 'the reign of Claudius'. Then click the yellow pointer to compare the comments that my pupils made:

  •  Analysis of the reign of Claudius from the facts:
    • •  The Empire grew (Britain, Pamphylia, Lycia, Judea and Thrace)
    • •  Public works benefitted the people (Ostia, Rhone & Tiber canals, Aqua Claudia & Anio Novus, Fucine Lake)
    • •  Improved administration (freedmen; Epistulis, Rationibus and Libellis)
    • •  Involvement and reform of the Senate
    • •  Legal reforms (some less-than-rational laws)
    • •  Conspiracies up to ad48 (the marriage to Agrippina was a turning point)
    • •  Problems with the succession (Britannicus v. Nero)
    • •  Levick (1990): ‘the turning point in the establishment of the permanent monarchy’.