Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

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Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus became the emperor of Rome after the murder of his nephew Caligula in 41 C.E. He was the unlikely choice as he had no political or military experience, which was key characteristics that a Roman leader should have. Claudius’ lacking in public office is contributed to his physical deformities that forced him to be excluded and left him never quite attaining the qualities of a leader.

Tiberius Claudius Augustus Germanicus, Roman EmperorAncient historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio are critical of Claudius and his abilities as a leader. This is shown in how they describe Claudius in a negative manner and often downplay his achievements.

Modern historians Donna Hurley, Josiah Osgood, Philip Matuszak and Richard Alston disagree and declare that Claudius was a strategic and intelligent leader who used these attributes to gain public and senatorial support throughout his reign.

Unlike Tacitus, Dio, and Suetonius, these modern-day scholars believe that Claudius used public events to uplift his social and political standing in an attempt to re-create his image from one of a physically disabled man to one of a successful leader.

This article will compare and contrast ancient and modern views of Claudius’ conquest of Britain, the draining of the Fucine Lake and his decision to retreat from Germany in 47 while demonstrating how the portrayal of Claudius has changed over time.

READ: LETTER OF BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX 1147: PRIMARY DOCUMENT ANALYSIS

Claudius and His Initial Exclusion from Roman Politics

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanics

Ancient sources reveal that Claudius was suffering from a physical deformity that caused him to be excluded from Roman politics. In these times, those with physical or mental disabilities were not socially accepted and were often judged or belittled.

Dio states that Claudius was “sick in body” which Donna Hurley takes to imply that Claudius was suffering from cerebral palsy. [1] This is a condition that is caused by congenital neurological damage, and may have been what caused Claudius walk awkwardly, have un-construable shaking and drooling, and speech impediments.[2]

Suetonius writes that Claudius’ mother Antonia called him an “abortion of a man that had only begun but not finished by nature.[3] Claudius’ physical deformities and the stigmatism attached to them forced him to be kept hidden from the public and from holding office until the age of 46.

However, neither Dio nor Suetonius believe that he was lacking intelligence.[4] Ancient sources claim that Claudius’ physical deformities, and the resulting isolation from political office, forced him to not be properly prepared for governance and thus not an adequate ruler.

Claudius, A Great Military Leader?

The modern and ancient writers agree that Claudius used the war with Britain to recreate his image as a great military leader. The divergence of views occurs when modern-day scholars argue that the war was a strategic move that allowed Claudius to achieve this goal.

Ancient sources disagree and believe that Claudius’ triumph was not as impressive as other military leaders. Suetonius and Josiah Osgood, the author of Claudius Caesar: Image and Power In the Early Roman Empire” both agree that Claudius attacked Britain in order to move away from the image of a sickly man and into that of a military leader.

Suetonius wrote, “when the Senate voted him the triumphal regalia, thinking the honor beneath the imperial dignity and desiring the glory of a legitimate triumph, he chose Britain”, showing that Claudius desired to uplift his political standing through warfare.[5] Osgood agrees that Claudius wanted to undertake a great war to secure a stronger image of himself among the soldiers, their commanders, the Senators, and Citizens of Rome.[6]

The ensuing conquest of Britain gave Claudius the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his abilities of an effective commander and show his legitimacy as the head of state. This desire to prove his worth through warfare is directly tied to the Roman ideology of ethos, which is essentially the characteristics of what makes a man.

Courage on the battlefield brought glory and praise, neither of which were commonly associated with or prescribed to him. By undertaking the war Claudius would be able to recreate his image of a weak and unprepared man into a great and strategic leader.


The Conquering of Britain – Two Differing perspectives between Ancient and Modern Scholars
Ancient Scholars

In 45 CE Claudius conquered Britain and made it into the newest colony of Rome at that time. Dio is critical of Claudius’ involvement, believing that he simply claimed military success even though it came with little danger of discomfort to himself.[7]

Modern Historian Hurley also believes that Claudius had no real involvement in the war, and instead gives credit to Narcissus, Claudius’ free man. Narcissus was able to convince the Roman army to cross the English Channel at the very beginning of the war despite them not being a strong naval power and their fear of the open water.[8] The overall victory is given to Aulus Plautius with his four legions who fought from the beginning to the end, unlike Claudius who was only in Britain for a total of 16 days.

By the time Claudius had arrived in Britain the majority of the fighting had finished and he simply appeared when Rome had already guaranteed its victory. [9] Despite the conquering of Britain being at the hands of other military leaders, the news of victory had reached Rome and Claudius was given a triumphal which aided him in establishing his military credentials.

READ: THOMAS HOBBES, THE STATE OF NATURE, AND THE STATE OF WAR

Modern Day Scholars

Modern day historians are less critical of Claudius and believe that what he did was strategic to obtain a new image while maintaining his power. Historian Philip Matuszak believes that Claudius may not have had an active role in the war, but he did contribute some strategies that allowed its victory.

From ancient sources, it is made known that Claudius was not denied an education and had in fact studied both history and law. Dio himself declares that “in mental ability, he was by no means inferior” while Matuszak argues that Claudius’ education gave him the necessary knowledge to contribute to the defeat of Britain.

During Caesar’s conquest of Britain he was outmaneuvered by the British light chariot forces, so Claudius incorporated elephants into his army to intimidate the British cavalry and make them less of a threat. [10] As well, Matuszak is less critical of Claudius not being present throughout the war and instead believes that it was a strategic move: Claudius’ position in Rome was under threat and by staying in the capital he was able to guarantee that he would not be overthrown.

Even though both ancient and modern historian concede that Claudius was not fully deserving of a triumphal, modern day historians believe the war gave Claudius the opportunity to create a stronger image of himself to the Roman public. Claudius made his success clearly known to the Roman people through triumphal parades and by having massive public events to celebrate his victory.

Dio wrote that Claudius held celebrations in theaters and announced that there would be as many horse-races as could take place in over the course of the day.[11] The victory gave Claudius the opportunity to portray himself to the Roman people as a great political and military leader since he was able to conquer Britain when even Julius Cesar could not. He was ultimately successful and not only received a triumph but was also given the honorific name Britannicus for himself and descendants.[12]

According to Osgood, great Roman leaders needed to show their military prowess as well as their political skills, and the victory proved that Claudius had both. The victory of Britain demonstrated that Claudius was an effective commander in chief, and in doing so was able to legitimize to his position as head of state. [13]



The Draining of Fucine Lake – Two Differing Perspectives

In 52 CE Claudius turned the draining of the Fucine Lake into a massive military propaganda campaign to further demonstrate his leadership abilities. Dio and Tacitus are extremely critical of the event. Modern historians are again less critical towards Claudius and believe that it was a strategic move on his part.

According to Osgood, the draining of the lake was the most ambitious project of its kind since it was extremely costly, needed to have deep excavations, and required the destruction of all ancient structures leading to the canal.[14] Suetonius writes that the construction of the channel required 30,000 laborers and took 11 years to complete, becoming the largest public work of its time.

If Claudius was successful it would stop the constant flooding in the area and would create useable farmland to provide the Roman public with food products. More importantly, the drainage was also used as a propaganda campaign to show Claudius’ victory over nature and as a way to supply entertainment before the lake was abolished.

To appease the Roman public he held a mock naval battle consisting of 19,000 participants who were to fight and showcase Rome’s military powers. However, the event was a complete disaster with the reenactors refused to fight until they were cajoled by the emperor, and the imperial family was nearly swept away when part of the canal wall collapsed.[15]

Ancient Scholars

Tacitus and Dio use the failure to demonstrate Claudius’ incompetency as they state that the scale of the project was too massive to be achieved. Dio is critical of the project from an economic standpoint since he firmly believes that “the money was expended in vain”. [16] The total cost of the project outweighed any real profit margin that there would have been if the draining had been successful.

According to Osgood the cost of labor was 36 million sesterces while the land itself was worth less than 20 million sesterces.[17] As well, the amount of grain that could be produced in the new territory would only yield a small fraction of the wheat the city of Rome needed to feed its inhabitants.[18] Claudius’ attempt of overcoming nature in order to prove himself as a great leader was ultimately unsuccessful and served only to demonstrate his failures.

Tacitus uses the failure to show Claudius’ lack of control over both his freedman and his wives, one of which was known as Agrippina. He believes that Claudius was ruled and governed by his wives and free-man, and uses how Agrippina was able to take control of the situation and manipulate it to her own advantage as an example.[19]

After the project’s failure, Tacitus writes, “Agrippina profited by the emperor’s agitation to charge Narcissus, as director of the scheme, with cupidity and embezzlement” and continues throughout his works to show how he believes that Claudius was not in control. [20] Tacitus ultimately portrays Claudius as inactive after the event. Both Tacitus and Dio use the project’s failure to discredit Claudius’ leadership abilities.

Moderns Day Scholars

Hurley and Osgood believe that despite the project’s failures, undertaking the project managed to demonstrate how Claudius was a strategic leader. These historians see the event as a political move to gain the support of both the Senate and the Roman people.

Osgood argues that the potential gains of the success were greater than the risks; if Claudius was successful the project would allow him to win loyalty and increase his prestige as he would have created the most innovated technological structure of his time.[21] Hurley tributes Claudius’ cleverness in turning the event into a public spectacle through the naval battle in order to gain support and public approval. [22] This is shown in how Claudius played off the Roman public’s love for violence and military triumphs by creating the naval mock battle.

Suetonius writes, “the shores, the hills, the mountain-crests, formed a kind of theatre, soon filled by an untold multitude, attracted from the neighbouring towns, and in part from the capital itself,” showing how it was used as a tool for meeting Roman’s physical and psychological needs for violence.[23] The strategy of providing Roman citizens with entertainment was not introduced by Claudius.

Pre-successors including Julius Cesar used military entertainment to appease the Roman people however, Osgood gives Claudius credit for understanding the importance of having public support. He, therefore, believes that the draining of the lake was a political move, while ancient Historians Dio and Tacitus see it as a failure and use the event to further exemplify his non-existent leadership roles.

READ: FASCISM: A HISTORIOGRAPHY ON THE RISE OF FASCISM

Claudius’ Decision to remove the Roman troops from the Germania Interior in 47CE – Two Different Perspectives

The modern and ancient scholars differ on Claudius’ decision to remove the Roman troops from the Germania Interior in 47CE. Claudius’ first years of reign were marked by the extensive campaigning against the Chauci who were raiding the Roman communities in the Germania Inferior, which was a Roman province located on the west bank of the Rhine. [24]

Claudius was forced to act in 47 C.E by granting consulship to Dominitus Corbulo who had proven himself to be a skillful military leader by having stopped the Chauci raids. After the initial success of the raids, Claudius was left with the decision to declare war by expanding further into German territory or to retreat.

Ancient Scholars Perspective

The defeat of the Chauci gave the Roman Empire the perfect opportunity to expand further into Germany territory; however, Claudius denied the expedition and instead demanded Corbulo to retreat and return to Rome. Dio and Tacitus believe that Claudius reached this decision to return to Rome in order to protect his own vanity. They also believe that Claudius’ decision was made out of jealousy. This is because Corbulo’s success had gained him public support and a good military reputation.[25]

During the initial conflict with Germany, Claudius was still attempting to gain control over Britain. If he fought with Germany, someone else could possibly take credit and gain military prestige which was dangerous to Claudius’ image. Dio writes that Claudius, learning of Corbulo’s valor and the discipline of his army, would not permit him to become more powerful.[26] Corbulo’s successful victories left Claudius in a very insecure position because he had yet to win his own victory against Britain. Based on this evidence, Claudius’ decision to withdraw Roman forces was based on jealousy and he was given the label of the “jealous tyrant.”[27]

Modern Day Scholars Perspective

Richard Alston, the author of Aspects of Roman History, agrees that Claudius removed the Roman army because of Corbulo’s rising fame. However, he believes it was a strategic move in order for Claudius to maintain his image as a great military leader instead of jealousy.

Corbulo was becoming extremely influential and well known for his German victories, which was overshadowing Claudius and his military success in Britain. A major campaign in Germany would have meant entrusting many legions to his commanders and providing them with the opportunity to win glory. [28]

Claudius could not allow other individuals to obtain major victories that could potentially outshine his success in Britain as he needed to maintain his image as a strong military leader and conqueror in order to ensure a strong political position. The act of removing Corbulo and not engaging in war was, in fact, a very logical move to help maintain his imperial image.

Modern scholars believe that Claudius had a deeper understanding of how a war with Germany would affect Rome. Osgood states that Claudius withdrew the Roman forces because he realized that the military could not handle two intense wars at the same time.[29] Rome simply did not have enough manpower to fight two major battles at the same time without creating a high potential for failure.

Richard Alston credits Claudius for realizing that a victory in Germany was not worth the risk it would be for the Roman military and image. Expansion into Germany in the Augustan and later periods had proven extremely difficult and required long and bloody campaigns that often resulted in very minimal territorial gains.[30]

In order for Rome to be successful, it would have to invest large amounts of resources and soldiers into the war, something which Rome was incapable of doing at the time. Claudius needed to uphold his image as a strategic leader and if Rome was defeated it would be damaging to his imperial image.

Conclusion

Ancient sources often discredit Claudius’ success in Britain as they believe he had no direct connection to its victory, but modern day historians believe that Dio, Tacitus, and Suetonius are too critical of Claudius’ leadership abilities.

These modern scholars believe that the views of ancient historians downplay Claudius’ strategic abilities as he successfully gained a triumphal that uplifted his imperial status. They also state that Claudius’ attempted mock naval battle at the draining of the Fucine Lake was a brilliant propaganda campaign that showed his understanding of the Roman people’s love of war.

Despite Tacitus and Dio believing that Claudius’ prevention of the conquering of Germany was because of his own insecurities and jealousy, modern day historians disagree. They counter-argue that this decision was logical and provided him with the ability to maintain his image as a strong military leader. Overall, contrary to the belief of ancient sources, Claudius was a skillful, strategic and intelligent leader.

Bibliography

Alston, Richard. Aspects of Roman History. London: Routledge, 2014.

Cassius Dio Cocceianus. Roman History. Translated with an introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. 

Boatwright, Mary. “Tacitus in Claudius and the Pomerium, Annals 12.23.2-24.” The Classical Journal 1 (1984): 36-44.

Hurley, W. Donna. “Claudius, in Lives of Caesar”, edited by Anthony Barrett, 84-107. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 

Matyszak, Philip. The Sons of Caesar Imperial Rome’s first Dynasty. London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.

Osgood, Josiah. Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Suetonius. Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Translated by H.M Bird with an introduction by Tamsyn Barton. Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions, 1997.

Suetonius. Suetonius, Volume 2. Translated by J.C Rolfe. London, Wildside Press, 2008.

Tacitus. Annals. Translated with an introduction by Cynthia Damon. Britain: Penguin, 2012.

Thorton, M.K. “Julio-Claudian Building Programs: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 1 (1986): 28-44. 

Endnotes

[1] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with an introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.2.

[2] Donna W. Hurley, “Claudius,” in Lives of Caesars, ed, Anthony Barrett (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 87

[3] Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, trans by H.M Bird with introduction by Tamsyn Barton (Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions, 1997), 4.3

[4] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.2

[5] Suetonius, Suetonius, Volume 2, translated by J.C Rolfe (London, Wildside Press, 2008), 4.17

[6] Josiah Osgood, Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 87

[7] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.21

[8] Donna W. Hurley, “Claudius,” in Lives of Caesars, ed, Anthony Barrett (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 93

[9] Ibid, 93.

[10] Philip Matyszak, The Sons of Caesar Imperial Rome’s first Dynasty (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006), 209

[11] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.23

[12] Donna W. Hurley, “Claudius,” in Lives of Caesars, ed, Anthony Barrett, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 92.

[13] Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History AD 14-117 (London: Routledge, 1998), 156

[14] Josiah Osgood, Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 188

[15] Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History AD 14-117 (London: Routledge, 1998), 31

[16] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.11

[17] Josiah Osgood, Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 189

[18] Ibid, 189

[19] Tacitus, Annals, trans. with an introduction by Cynthia Damon (Britain: Penguin, 2012), 12.57

[20]Tacitus, Annals, 12.57.

[21] Josiah Osgood, Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 189

[22] Donna W. Hurley, “Claudius,” in Lives of Caesars, ed, Anthony Barrett (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 99

[23] M.K Thorton, “Julio-Claudian Building Programs: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 1 (1986): 28.

[24] Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History (London: Routledge, 2014), 158

[25] Tacitus, Annals, trans. with an introduction by Cynthia Damon (Britain: Penguin, 2012), 11.18

[26] Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, trans with introduction by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60.30

[27] Mary Boatwright, “Tacitus in Claudius and the Pomerium, Annals 12.23.2-24,” The Classical Journal 1 1984): 36. JSTOR.

[28] Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History (London: Routledge, 2014), 158

[29] Josiah Osgood, Claudius Caesar Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 189

[30] Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History (London: Routledge, 2014), 158


 

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