Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them… and some, when greatness literally falls into their lap, hide behind tapestries to escape it. This is the story of Emperor Claudius, who was found by the Praetorian Guard hiding behind a curtain when it came time to crown him as emperor.
Claude the Fraud?
Before Emperor Claudius was “Emperor Claudius,” he was just plain old Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, a man with a love for fun, games, and the ladies.
Born with a physical deformity that made his family and countrymen underestimate him as a leader (scholars claim he either had a form of cerebral palsy or Tourette’s syndrome), Claudius spent most of his days staying under the radar, enjoying a life of leisure. That is, when people weren’t pelting him with olive pits or putting his shoes on his hands when he fell asleep at parties so that when he awoke he’d hit himself in the face.1
It’s been argued that Claudius exaggerated his ailments to make himself seem even weaker and less of a threat so that he wouldn’t have to take on any responsibility. Because as we know with great responsibility comes…
A Bunch of People Trying to Kill You
When Claudius’s nephew, Caligula, was assassinated, Claudius, who was his co-counsel at the time, was his successor. Rather than walk up proudly to claim the throne, Claudius did what a lot of us who don’t wanna work and just wanna lay in the sun all day would do: he hid behind a curtain and hoped the guards wouldn’t see his toes poking out.
The guards were shockingly not fooled by Claudius’ clever hiding spot, and proclaimed him the new Emperor.
Leaping Over Low Bars
For someone who spent most of his adult life either running from responsibility, or not viewed as worthy of it, Claudius did very well as Emperor.
He was able to successfully annex Britain (which Julius Caesar had failed to do), improved the judicial system, and passed laws that made it illegal for slave owners to just abandon their sick slaves to die.2 #progress!
Claudius was also pretty popular with his subjects, celebrating amongst them during chariot races (of which he was an avid fan) and even apologizing for his temper when it got out of hand.
Behind Every Great Man Stands a Great Woman…
… trying to murder him.
Claudius may have been a lady killer, but it was his ladies who would end up doing most of the killing during his rule. Cladius was married a total of four times, proving that if you don’t get it right the first time, you shouldn’t always try, try again.
Claudius divorced his first wife, Plautia Urgulanilla, when he suspected her of infidelity (casual) and murdering her sister-in-law (super not casual!). Wife number two, Aelia Paetina, was allegedly emotionally and mentally abusive so Claudius kicked her butt to the Roman equivalent of a curb.
Then came Valeria Messalina, a woman with a ravenous appetite for sex, and possibly power. Throughout their marriage, Messalina had multiple affairs, which Claudius ignored for the most part because they were most often with servants. Eventually, she shacked up with Gaius Silius, a nobleman whom Claudius thought wanted more than just his woman. Claudius had the pair murdered and swore never to marry again…
The Best Laid Plans Go Awry When You’re Trying to Get Laid
Agrippina was Claudius’s niece and fourth wife.
Agrippina had a son named Nero from a previous relationship whom Claudius adopted and married to his daughter Octavia, making Nero heir to the throne. Agrippina, who apparently thought her uncle-husband was taking his sweet time dying, allegedly decided to speed up the process by getting a servant to poison Claudius with mushrooms.
When that didn’t work, Agrippina persuaded Claudius’s own doctor to help, shoving a poisoned feather down his throat when he appeared to be helping him vomit up the last bits of the previous poison. It was rough being Emperor.
After Claudius death, Nero became Emperor and lived happily ever after with this mother.
Until he had her murdered.
Claudius may not have wanted to be Emperor, but nevertheless, he ruled over Rome for 13 yes. His life and reign are a lesson to us all to a.) make lemons out of lemonade and b.) trust no bitch.
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- PBS. (2016). Claudius. http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/claudius.html
- Andrews, E. (October 12, 2014). 8 Things You May Not Know About Emperor Claudius. https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-emperor-claudius