Caligula, Claudius and Nero

by Daniel Russ on September 10, 2015



The last three emperors on the Julian-Claudian Dynasty are known for the louche behind the scenes behaviors and the tawdry nefarious machinations that took place at the highest levels of the administration. Through a prism darkly lit by their more extreme behavior these three have been called the worst emperors in the Roman Empire. Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The only problem with this argument is that it is not true except in cases where moral turpitude is the crucible against which we test Roman emperors.



Caligula 37 – 41

Gaius Julius Caesar Agustus Germanicus was often called Caligula. Caligae were pairs of hobnailed Roman Legionnaires boots. So “Little Soldier’s Boot” was his nickname. Germanicus died in Antioch in 19 AD, so his mother took him and his five other siblings to Rome. Hisuncle Tiberius had his mother killed and so when Caligula was a child, Toberius adopted him. Oberius died in 31 AD and Nero was named emperor. He was known for his love of the common man and his disdain for the power mad aristocracy.


While he used his position to build himself resort homes, he also built the Aqua Claudius and the Aqua Novus aqueducts.


He was murdered by Praetorian Guards and Senators that banded together in 41.



Claudius 41 – 54


Claudius was born in Gaul. He had a speech impediment and some disease that affected his legs as well. He slobbered and had a runny nose and most likely had Cerebral Palsey. It was this set of disadvantages that perhaps made rivals purblind to his abilities, and perhaps spared him death in many political purges. Early on he was a scholar and wrote histories that were too critical of sitting emperors. His works on the Etrucans and the Carthaginians don’t exist in complete form, but he also wrote his own biography and it is considered an important literary work of antiquity. Also early in his career when Tiberius had died, Claudius sought office but was snubbed. He served his office with Caligula and mad enough connections such that he was appointed emperor when Caligula was murdered.

Claudius actually fled when the assassinations took place but the Praetorian Guards made him prince. He was a good manager of forces and expanded the Roman Empire by annexing Thrace, Noricum, Pamphylia, and Lyria. He was murdered most likely by his wife Agrippina.

Many rich slave holding Romans would abandon their sick slaves by pubic work and hope that someone would save their lives. Once the slave recovered the owners would pick them back up. Nero made I t law that abandoned slaves were free. If a slave holder killed a slave, they were were charged with murder.



Nero 54 – 68

Nero was adopted by Claudius, and that is primarily why he became emperor. He is known for his extravagant celebratory behavior and his unfettered and savage lust. It is said that he played the fiddle while Rome burned in 64 AD. The effulgent fire is also ascribed as begun by Nero’s own hand so he could clear the way for his own royal palaces. He also rescue fire victims and provided for their recovery and sustenance.

By the way it was probably a lyre he played when Rome burned if he did this at all.

There were no fiddles in Rome in first century Rome.

He famously crushed a revolt in Britain, made peace with Parthia, and began a war on the Jews.

He had Christians dipped in oil and burned for light at his royal home. He had his mother assassinated, and had affairs with cousins, slaves, little boys, and the wives of senators and aristocrats. He lowered taxes for the poor and held big lavish games in the Coliseums.


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