How accurate is series I Claudius


Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
For example, there is apparently a compelling argument that Claudius was not just found hiding behind the curtains after Caligula was killed, but was canny enough to seize power in the confusion.
I've seen such arguments but to be honest they just don't work for me. As much as Claudius was a good administrator he doesn't come across as a schemer and indeed, the general opinion of most Romans was that he was something of a blunderer, and if the sources are correct, he had a very clumsy personality. That said, it is on record that Augustus was impressed with him once to his great surprise. Was this poor rep unfair? To some extent. I do wonder if Claudius was bullied as a youngster. Certainly his infirmities made him somewhat less than the virile male the Romans liked to see, and clearly he could be embarrassing. Even his mother apparently described him as a man nature hadn't finished.
Sep 2012
Prague, Czech Republic
But I think it reflects Robert Graves history (and anti-Imperial propaganda) more than Julio-Claudian family history.
It wouldn't say it's Robert Graves' history at all, it's his fiction. He made no claims to historical accuracy, and nor was he attempting it - he was writing a story.

Few of the characters are believable. They're cartoonish, over-the-top caricatures. Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed I, Claudius, but there's little pretence of historical realism. The series takes malicious propaganda and scandal from the ancient sources and magnifies it to risible proportions. It's good fun; but at times it gets a bit too carried away for me. Some of the outlandish stuff is done very well - much of Caligula's deranged nonsense is wildly entertaining; but some parts, like Messalina's orgies, just get a bit tiresome. There's too much presentism in the way the characters discuss politics and democracy, as well.

Entertaining on the whole; one day I'll get around to reading the books.
Aug 2015
You didn't live through Tiberius/Sejanus and Caligula (especially as a member of the Julio-Claudian family and possible heir/rival)unless you were very astute.

Claudius no doubt emphasised his deficiences to simply stay alive, but there were obvious some physical/mental issues that made him appear less of a threat. Tbh in the days of Julius, Augustus and perhaps even Tiberius he would never have stood a chance. But by the time Caligula was assassinated, it was the Praetorians more than the Senate who determined who the next ruler was.

No doubt in Claudius they saw someone either weak or cowardly who they would be able to dominate, and promoted to get their own way. Don't forget Caligula had been assassinated on their watch, and their comfortable lifestyles (and possibly even their lives) were on the line. It was in their interests to find a new Emperor and swear their allegiance so he could take them into his protection.

Obviously Claudius waasn't that much of a fool as his reign was - although unspectacular - by no means a disaster.
Mar 2017
Everyone who's seen "I Claudius" knows the "cut out the baby" scene. Suetonius & Cassius Dio write about this exact time.

Drusilla was Caligula's favorite sister. It's generally accepted he was intimate with all three of them (various explanations). The other sisters were exiled. When he got sick, Caligula created documents so Drusilla would inherit the empire (largely assumed for continuation of the Julian line). it's the first time in Rome anyone tried this level of female inheritance.

Suetonius & Cassius Dio were both offended by the incest (Suetonius more so). They were both offended by the inheritance ... to a WOMAN!! If they had an opportunity to make Caligula worse at this point, they would have.

Instead, Caligula gets better ... Drusilla gets sick a year later (from an epidemic in Rome) and dies from the disease. That's it.

The only references I can find lead directly back to Robert Graves. He made it up. I'm not saying this affects "I Claudius" in any way. There's solid history in there. However, the shock value did indeed do it's job. We *ALL* remember it in detail. ... and we all remember his marriage to his niece Messalina (*ALL* of that is true). I was quite suprised to learn Claudius and Messalina actually produced children (parentage?).