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by Wayne Blank
Claudius was the fourth Roman emperor (see Ancient Empires - Rome, New Testament Roman Emperors and Emperor), after Augustus (who reigned at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ), Tiberius (who reigned at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ), and Caligula, who he succeeded 41 AD.
Officially known as Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Claudius was born August 1, 10 B.C. at Lugdunum (a Roman colony in what is today Lyon, France) of distinguished parents. Drusus, his father, was the son of Livia, the wife of Caesar Augustus (the emperor who called for the now-famous census that caused Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem), and his mother Antonia was the daughter of Mark Antony, who is popularly known from his association with Cleopatra.
By all accounts, Claudius had some sort of disability that seriously affected his speech and walk, but not his mental abilities. Emperor Caligula, the nephew of Claudius, made him a Senator and Consul in 37 AD, which marked the beginning of his rise to power.
When Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD by a number of Senators who wished to restore the Roman Republic, the Germans of the Imperial bodyguard, in an effort to protect their own positions, took it upon themselves to hastily appoint a successor to the man whose life they had just failed to protect. Their by-chance choice was Caligula's uncle, Claudius, who, amidst the chaos, they happened to find hiding behind a curtain in the Imperial Palace. They dragged their unwilling candidate out, and with the backing of the Roman military, proclaimed him Emperor - the most powerful man in the world at that time.
Despite his near-comic appointment, Claudius wasted no time in avenging his nephew's murder, and firmly taking control of the empire which he ruled with an iron fist. Claudius survived a number of assassination attempts himself, which, along with the vivid memory of his predecessor's death, made him (quite justifiably) paranoid for his own safety. The slightest suspicion of disloyalty resulted in execution - more than 35 Senators and 300 Roman military officers lost their lives in that way.
The reign of Claudius included the invasion and conquest of Britain in 43 AD, the addition of Thrace, Lycia, and Mauretania to the territorial empire, and the granting of Roman citizenship to the provinces - a right spoken of by the apostle Paul (Acts 22:25).
Although Claudius treated Jews, especially those in Asia and Egypt, comparatively well at first, around 49 AD he banished them all from Rome, as stated in the Scripture references in the opening paragraph. Christians were included in the expulsion since they were viewed as merely a Jewish sect.
After three failed marriages, Claudius took his niece Agrippina, who had a son by her previous husband, as his incestuous wife. Agrippina was politically ambitious for her son, and very soon began scheming to have him succeed Claudius as emperor in place of the heir-apparent - Britannica, a son of Claudius from one of his own previous marriages.
Claudius died on October 13, 54 AD from a meal of poison, or poisoned, mushrooms that Agrippina deliberately gave to him. Her son Lucius Domitius immediately became the new emperor - he is known to history as Nero.
Fact Finder: Did a great famine occur during the reign of Claudius?