41 - 54 AD
Claudius renounced all hopes of a political career, and he spent an obscure and idle life. As soon as Caligula became Emperor and tried every means of gaining popularity, Claudius entered on his belated public career as Caligula's colleague in a two-months' consulship. He also drew lots on a second consulship, and won one that would fall due four years later. Claudius often presided as Caligula's substitute at the Games. Having spent the better part of his life in circumstances like these, Claudius became Emperor, at the age of fifty, by an extraordinary accident. When the assassins ordered Caligula's courtiers to disperse, Claudius hid behind some door curtains. A guardsman, wandering vaguely through the palace, noticed a pair of feet beneath the curtain, pulled their owner out for identification, and recognized him. The guardsman proclaimed him Emperor. Crowds surrounded the building and demanded a monarchy, expressly calling on Claudius. So, he allowed the guards to acclaim him emperor and to swear allegiance. He also promised every man 150 gold pieces, which made him the first of the Caesars to purchase the loyalty of his troops. Claudius did not presume to accept excessive honorifics. He recalled no exile from banishment without Senatorial permission, and when wishing to bring the guards' commander and some colonels into the house, or to have the judicial decisions of his provincial agents ratified, he would ask the Senate for privileges as a favor. Claudius held four more consulships: the first two in successive years, the others at four-yearly intervals. Claudius was a most conscientious judge. Instead of always observing the letter of the law, he let himself be guided by his sense of equity, and when he thought the punishments prescribed were either too lenient or too severe, changed them accordingly. However, his behavior in court varied unpredictably: sometimes he was wise and prudent, sometimes thoughtless and hasty, sometimes downright foolish and apparently out of his senses. His bloodthirstiness appeared equally in great and small matters. If evidence had to be extracted under torture, or parricide punished, he allowed the law to take its course without delay and in his own presence. Beneath outward deference and flattery of the ruler of the moment, the aristocrats of the 1st century AD stirred up rumors, mob action, and plots. Repeatedly during this period uneasy emperors had retaliated by sudden arrest, and exile, political trial, and murder of too prominent and wealthy aristocrats. Baseless rumors of conspiracies caused Claudius such alarm that he often wished for the private and comfortable life he had lived before. At the slightest hint of danger, he would take action against his supposed enemy. He confessed to the faults of anger and resentment, but undertook that his anger would never last long, nor his resentment be unjustified. Claudius composed his will and made all the city magistrates put their seals to it as witness. He died on October 13, 54 AD, in his sixty-fourth year, and the fourteenth of his reign. Claudius was poisoned, but it is still debated to this day upon who actually committed the act. Claudius' death, however, was not revealed until all arrangements had been completed to secure Nero's succession.
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