Claudius, The Emperor
Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
In case you’re wondering, the Roman Emperor Claudius was born in Lyon in modern-day France to Antonia, the daughter of Marc Antony. Generally considered an embarrassment, Claudius suffered from ill health and a lack of social skills; many believed him to be mentally handicapped. He was invested as an augur, or official soothsayer, and was clearly well in line for an emperorship.
During the reign of the evil Emperor Caligula, he was made a Consul. At Caligula’s assassination, Claudius was discovered hiding behind a curtain, and taken by guards to their camp, where the troops hailed him as their new emperor despite his feebleness and his having no military or even administrational experience. Faced with the troops’ decision, the Senate fell in line and bestowed imperial power upon Claudius. Even in those days, leaders were chosen by default, it seems.
Claudius possessed no natural dignity or authority, walked with a stagger, had embarrassing habits, an indecent laugh, and when annoyed foamed disgustingly at the mouth, and his nose ran. He stammered and had a twitch. He was always ill, until he became emperor. Then his health improved marvelously, except for attacks of stomach ache, obviously all the qualities necessary for an imperious leader. Claudius was the first Roman emperor in a line of many who were not appointed in the normal way. He was also the first emperor to grant his supporters large bonus payments, creating an ominous precedent for future leaders.
Claudius decided to conquer Britain. He handed over the administration of the affairs of state to his consular colleague – a sort of deputy PM - and met up with his troops, who were encamped by the river Thames. Assuming command, he crossed the river, engaged the barbarians, and defeated them. He had been in Britain just sixteen days, or, in modern terms, he had been abroad, out of state, for about the same time as ministers of government are, on a monthly basis, today.
Claudius reformed the financial affairs of the empire, creating a separate fund for his private household expenses, over and above the empire’s ‘consolidated fund’. As almost all grain had to be imported, Claudius offered insurances against losses on the open sea to encourage potential importers and to build up stocks against times of famine. He was quite a ‘multitasker’. Nowadays he would probably have had his own Talk Show.
Claudius also fancied himself as a legal expert and judge, presiding over the imperial law court. He instituted judicial reforms, creating, in particular, legal safeguards for the weak and defenseless. Simultaneously, it was virtually a public secret that honours and privileges were for sale, forming a parallel imperial cabinet quite independent from the official system.
Claudius divorced his first wife because of her supposed adultery, and then his second wife in order to marry his third wife Messalina. After that, Claudius ordered the return of his nieces, Julia and Agrippina (who would become Claudius’ wife number four from an exile ordered by their brother Caligula after years of abuse.
Messalina became jealous, especially of the beautiful Julia, and brought charges of adultery against her and her husband and convinced Claudius to banish Julia once again into exile. Julia’s husband was executed. Agrippina wisely bided her time and kept a low profile. One of Messalina’s many faults was her lack of faithfulness. It was rumoured that she spent her evenings working in disguise at a local brothel. But her downfall came when she fell in love with a Senator named Gaius. Messalina and her lover formulated a plan to overthrow Claudius. She forced Gaius to divorce his wife and marry her. Narcissus, who had witnessed the bigamous ceremony, informed Claudius, who decreed that Gaius and the other wedding guests be immediately executed. Messalina was ordered to commit suicide; however, the messenger took matters into his own hands and stabbed her to death.
After Messalina, Claudius married Agrippina, wife number four. Her one and only ambition was to put her son Nero on the throne so, one night, Claudius died suddenly. Agrippina, who couldn’t wait for her son Nero to inherit the throne, had apparently poisoned him with mushrooms.
The Romans knew what a messy business politics can be, but what, if anything, this has to do with Saint Lucia, you alone will know. As they say, it’s all in the mind.
The preceding was first published in the STAR in August, 2014.