Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > World History Forum > Ancient History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

Ancient History Ancient History Forum - Greece, Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and all other civilizations of antiquity, to include Prehistory and Archaeology discussions


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old April 8th, 2013, 08:09 PM   #1

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
The Life of Claudius Gothicus


Claudius 'Gothicus' was the first in a series of Roman emperors who restored a measure of stability to the Empire in the final decades of the 3rd Century CE. The so-called 'Crisis of the Third Century', spanning from 235 to 284, witnessed crippling plagues, military disasters, and a rapid turnover of imperial clamaints. Only with the short but crucial reign of Claudius, did the Empire's fortunes begin to cautiously rise.

Sources

The historical record for the Roman Empire is tragically incomplete. Even for the infamous Julio-Claudian emperors, we have few detailed, reliable sources for their life-stories and reigns. From the Antonine period onwards, biographical information on Roman emperors becomes even more sketchy. For Caesars like Claudius Gothicus, we will never be able to know the more intimate details of their personalities and backgrounds, like we do for men like Augustus and Nero.

Any historian seeking to understand the 3rd Century emperors must contend with the Historia Augusta, a wordy but notoriously unreliable collection of Imperial biographies that was probably composed under the Tetrarchy (284-313). Though attributed to six different men, the Historia Augusta was probably the work of one man, and one with a colorful imagination and a mischievous sense of humor. The work is full of fabrications, exaggerations, and plain weirdness - but there seems to be a sufficient undercurrent of truth to make it of some use to the historian.

Unfortunately, the Historia Augusta is the closest thing to a contemporary source we have on the life of Claudius. Its biography of this emperor is clearly laced with falsehoods - for example, it claims he once held command over a legion that in fact never existed. Fortunately some later, and more reliable historians also wrote about Claudius. These include Aurelius Victor, a 4th Century Roman statesman and writer, and several 'Byzantine' chroniclers, including Zosimos in the 6th Century and Ioannes Zonaras in the 12th.

To compose this biography, I have consulted both ancient and modern sources. Victor and, cautiously, the Historia Augusta are the primary Roman sources for the information here. Among my contemporary sources, I have consulted biographies of this emperor written by Michael Grant and Richard D. Weigel, and also drew inspiration from the brief attentions Claudius receives in Adrian Goldsworthy's fine book, How Rome Fell.

Background and Early Career

Claudius 'Gothicus' seems to have been named Marcus Aurelius Claudius at birth. His birthday is believed to have been May 10th, though the year is uncertain - probably in or shortly after 214. Nothing is known about his family, except that they were probably provincials who adopted the nomen Aurelius with the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212. Claudius seems to have used the additional nomen Valerius as emperor, though its inspiration is unclear. His birthplace was probably in Moesia superior; he must have come from the Balkans as he was the first of the 'Illyrian Emperors'.

Unless one is brave enough to take the Historia Augusta at face value, there is virtually nothing to say about the early life of Claudius, except that he was a decorated military man. Supposedly, he enjoyed the patronage of a succession of emperors, including Decius, Valerian, and Gallienus, and held high commands in his native Illyria. Clearly, Claudius did have a successful military career - the events of 268 saw him as the 'deputy commander' in the vicinity of Mediolanum.

Nearly the entirety of Claudius' life before his reign is a blank page. Nothing is known about his parents, or any wife or children he might have had. It would be safe to assume that he did not have any sons living at the time of his ascension; otherwise our sources would have mentioned them. Likewise, if he was married and his wife was living at the time, one would expect to find her attested in either the literary sources or in the coinage - yet there is no evidence for any female presence in Claudius' life. He is known to have had a single brother, Marcus Aurelius Quintillus, who succeeded him very briefly in 270.

The Historia Augusta describes Claudius as a tall, athletic, and passionate man, with both the heart and the physique of a warrior. His prowess at wrestling was legendary, and he apparently possessed a violent temper - he once punched the teeth out of a horse's mouth. His coins, like most from their era, are inpersonal, depicting the emperor with a full but close-cropped beard and a fearsome scowl. He also looks improbably young in the coinage - he would have probably been in his mid-fifties at the time of his death.

Ascension

In 268, Gallienus had been sole master of the Roman Empire for eight years, but his reign had been plagued by nearly constant usurpations. Now, he was pitted against the latest of these military rebels, his once-loyal subordinate Aureolus, who was holed up in Mediolanum in the north of Italy. Among the highest ranking officers in the besieging force were Aurelius Claudius, Domitius Aurelianus, and the current Praetorian prefect, Aurelius Heraclianus.

There is now way to really understand what happened next, but Emperor Gallienus was murdered during the siege of Mediolanum. Speculation abounds about who was involved in the conspiracy and why; modern scholars generally believe that both Claudius and Aurelian were members of the plot. Michael Grant suggests that Claudius was chosen as Gallienus' successor due to Aurelian's reputation for enforcing harsh military discipline.

Victor gives us a fanciful story about Gallienus appointing Claudius his successor as he lay dying of his wound; with Claudius being past his prime and Gallienus still having a son, Marinianus, living in Rome, this story seems unlikely at best. More likely than not it is a clumsy attempt at hiding Claudius' likely role in the death of Gallienus.

Gallienus had a mixed reputation in his Empire. The Senate hated him, not in the least because he had banned senators from holding military commands. On the other hand, he seems to have enjoyed some popularity within the legions. The first major challenge of Claudius' reign was to satisfy both of these powerful factions. A mutiny amongst the legions was quelled when Claudius awarded them a cash bonus of twenty aurei a head; he also called for Gallienus to be deified, and expressed his displeasure when he heard that the Senate had killed Marinianus.

Claudius inherited not only an Empire, but a siege from Gallienus. Not long after his ascension Mediolanum fell; Aureolus may have been killed on the spot, or he may have been taken prisoner and murdered by his guards. Heraclianus, the Praetorian prefect and conspirator against Gallienus, probably retained his post early in the reign of Claudius, but he commited suicide shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances. The other alleged conspirator, Aurelian, would serve as a general under Claudius - he would later succeed him to the purple.

Claudius the Second

Emperor Claudius, Rome's second ruler by that name, faced a daunting task as Caesar Augustus. The Roman Empire was seemingly on the brink of falling apart; Gallienus had failed to contain the two 'breakaway empires' - that of Postumus in Gaul, and Odenathus and Zenobia in the East. Thus, Claudius found that his authority was limited to Italy, the Balkans, Africa, and Asia minor. The grain of Egypt, the mines of Spain, and the recruiting ground of Gaull all remained in the hands of usurpers who also styled themselves Roman emperors.

A more immediate threat had to be dealt with in the summer and fall of 268. The Roman garrisons of the Alpine provines had been drawn into the fighting around Mediolanum, thus freeing warbands of Alamanni to penetrate Italy via the Brenner Pass. Claudius moved against them, suffering an early defeat. He proceeded to streamline the command structure of his army, removing incompetent officers and placing Aurelian in command of the cavalry. After these brief reforms he hammered the Alamanni in a battle at Lake Benacus, supposedly killing half of them. For this victory, Claudius declared himself Germanicus Maximus.

The early months of Claudius' reign also witnessed some successes against the 'Gallic Empire'. The Emperor dispatched one of his generals, Julius Placidianus, to southern Gaul. From here, Placidianus entered into communications with the governors of Spain, who subsequently declared for Claudius. The 'Gallic' usurper Postumus was also murdered early in the reign of Claudius, though his breakaway state would continue to exist for several more years, finally being reunited with the main Empire by Aurelian.

Claudius held the consulship in 269, his partner being Aspasius Paternus - he probably wintered in Rome 268-269. He seems to have taken an interest in the Imperial mint; the coins of his reign come in a bewildering variety and honor various deities as well as the Emperor's military victories. Claudius does not seem to have persecuted the early Christian Church, though several martyrdoms have been traditionally dated to his reign (including the famous St. Valentinus); if these executions actually occurred, they may have been on the orders of local, rather than Imperial authorities.

Gothicus

The short but brilliant reign of Claudius is notable chiefly for his victories over the Goths. These victories gave him the cognomen used to distinguish him from his Julio-Claudian predecessor, Gothicus, and it is to them - and his untimely death - that we must now turn.

Shortly before his death, Gallienus had inflicted a defeat on the Goths at Naissus, and his general Marcianus had been continuing operations against them. Nonetheless, the Goths proved to be a relentless threat to the Roman Balkans. Classical claims of a Gothic host numbering over 300,000 men are obviously exaggerated, but these incursions of eastern Germanic tribes do seem to have bee particularly large and threatening.

The course of the Gothic war is unclear, as are the intentions of the Goths themselves. Presumably, these were merely raiding parties, if particularly large and ambitious. However, Gothic reinforcements supposedly crossed the Danube to join in the fight against Claudius; this is almost suggestive of a Germanic attempt to conquer part of the Roman Balkans. Nothing is known about the political situation of these Gothic warriors, but since no particular king or chieftain is mentioned by name or implied, their efforts were probably not well-organized. Likewise, no non-combatants are attested as accompanying them; this suggests that the Gothic incursions were just that - a series of massive raids, carried out almost exclusively by young, unmarried males.

Both Claudius and Aurelian, still commanding his cavalry, saw extensive fighting in Macedonia in 269. The Gothic siege of Thessalonica was relieved, and Claudius' bloody victory in the vicinity of Marcianopolis seems to have first won him the distinction of 'Gothicus'. Bands of Goths and Heruli troubled the Aegean coasts, but were crushingly defeated by a Roman naval force under the command of the bizarrely-named Tenagino Probus, the proconsul of Egypt. Claudius took many prisoners, but rather than executing or enslaving them, they were either recruited into the army, or settled on Roman farms. Some appear to have been used to to construct or repair roads in the very provinces they had been pillaging.

Emperor Claudius seems to have wintered in the Balkans 269-270. At the beginning of the new year he was fighting the vicinity of Mount Haemus, when word reached him of a new wave of Germanic assaults. Juthungi were attacking Rhaetia, while the Vandals were making raids into Pannonia. The Emperor decided that these attacks were of higher priority than the remaining Goths, so he marched west, leaving Aurelian in command in the Balkans.

Death and Legacy

Claudius Gothicus made it as far as Sirmium, when he died suddenly. He was a victim of a plague or epidemic that had already been sweeping the ranks of his armies. He died with the unusual distinction of being the first Roman emperor to die a natural death since Septimius Severus in 211 - just under seventy years before. Claudius himself was in his mid-fifties. Apart from the brief, partial succession of his brother Quintillus, his Empire passed to his loyal and talented subordinate, Aurelian. To a large extent, Aurelian finished the task that Claudius had started - he defeated the Juthungi, and brought both the Palmyrene and Gallic 'empires' back under his control.

The late Emperor Claudius was one of the most successful Roman emperors to reign in a century, and this made him the subject of poetic exaggerations. Constantine I would later claim Claudius as one of his ancestors, a claim that may have been inspired in part because Claudius had won a victory over the Goths near Constantine's birthplace. Victor claims that Claudius 'revived the tradition of the Decii'; this could imply that he was a religious conservative, or that he commited an act of devotio on the battlefield. If the latter option was the case, it is quite unlikely that our sources would have been content to provide us with the comparatively dull story of the Emperor dying of plague!

We know tragically little about Claudius Gothicus as a human being. As an emperor, however, he was a resounding success - he made an effort to effectively save the Roman Empire not only from the barbarians, but more importantly, from itself. Fortunately, he had a chain of successors, including Aurelian, Probus, and ultimately the Tetrarchy and the House of Constantine, that would finish what he started, guiding the Empire out of the Crisis of the Third Century and into the next phase of its history.

Last edited by Salah; April 8th, 2013 at 08:37 PM.
Salah is offline  
Remove Ads
Old April 8th, 2013, 08:50 PM   #2
Lecturer
 
Joined: Mar 2013
From: california
Posts: 393

Nice essay Salah. A small detail:

I don't believe Gallienus actually banned senators from holding military commands. It wasn't a policy, more of an ad hoc response to the heavy barbarian pressure which required experienced military men in charge.
auhcxam is offline  
Old April 12th, 2013, 03:28 PM   #3

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182

Thank you, auhxcam.
Salah is offline  
Old April 12th, 2013, 04:21 PM   #4

Angelica's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Dec 2011
From: Angel City
Posts: 2,595

Informative!
Angelica is offline  
Old April 12th, 2013, 05:06 PM   #5

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182

Quote:
Originally Posted by Angelica View Post
Informative!
I didn't know you were interested in the Roman emperors Angelica, its good to see you here
Salah is offline  
Old April 16th, 2013, 04:23 PM   #6

Angelica's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Dec 2011
From: Angel City
Posts: 2,595

Caligula peeks my interest and Nero as well.
Angelica is offline  
Reply

  Historum > World History Forum > Ancient History

Tags
claudius, gothicus, life



Search tags for this page
Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
I Claudius Kevinmeath History in Films and on Television 41 May 7th, 2015 01:22 PM
Claudius/Clodius Zeno Ancient History 22 November 23rd, 2011 08:00 PM
Your views on Claudius pixi666 Ancient History 7 October 22nd, 2011 08:03 AM
BAG ROUND 2: Marcus Claudius Marcellus v Nebuchadnesser II Caracalla Ancient History 1 February 8th, 2011 03:24 AM
Accuracy of I Claudius Paulinus Ancient History 15 June 8th, 2010 03:52 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.