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Relations and the Book of Revelation
By Todd Dennis, Curator (Futurist: 1979-1996; Full Preterist: 1996-2006; Idealist: 2006-Forevermore)
William Douglas Morrison (1890 PDF)
Although all immediate danger (of rebellion in Judaea) was now at an end (due to Caligula's assassination), the persecutions of Caligula produced a profound feeling of disquietude among the Jews. It was perceived on all sides that their religious liberty rested upon a frail foundation, and might at any moment be overthrown by the caprice or vanity of a heathen emperor. These apprehensions were fruitful ground for the operations of the Zealots, who had since the death of Judas the Galilean been actively and successfully propagating the doctrine of armed resistance to the Roman oppressor.2 The warlike teaching of these enthusiasts was rapidly superseding the passive doctrines of the Pharisees, and the latter were in consequence beginning to lose their accustomed hold upon the confidence of the masses.
The people were becoming impatient of the fine
distinctions drawn by the Pharisees on the subject of Roman domination. Why
should they continue to wait any longer for the advent of the Messiah in
order to be for ever rid of the accursed heathen and all their works ? Would
it not be better, as the Zealots said, to follow the example of Mattathias,
the noble father of the Maccabees, and once again win freedom at the point
of the sword. It was not perceived by the fanatical masses that the
historical conditions were entirely different, and that the mighty empire of
the West, with its splendid military resources, was not for a moment to be
compared with an effete Eastern monarchy in the last stages of decay. It was
enough for the ignorant population that Caligula had been playing the same
part as Antiochus Epiphanes; the hateful Roman with his heathen images was
another type of Antichrist, and his dominion over God's elect people must no
longer be endured. Such were the convictions which were fast ripening in the
popular mind when Caligula was succeeded by his uncle Claudius (A.D. 41-54),
then fifty years of age.
Very little was to be expected from a ruler so unhappily constituted, and yet the policy which Claudius at first adopted in Judaea was singularly wise and opportune. Instead of sending a procurator, who with the best intentions would probably have added to the existing state of exasperation, Claudius fell back upon the methods of Augustus, and decided to manage Jewish affairs by means of a prince who understood the peculiarities of the people. In King Agrippa who already ruled the two tetrarchies in the north of Palestine, formerly held by his uncles Philip and Antipas, Claudius found a man admirably suited to his purpose. Agrippa was a loyal friend of the imperial family ; he had been of signal service to Claudius when he was proclaimed emperor,2 and gratitude as well as policy induced the new Caesar to extend the dominions of Agrippa, who was accordingly made ruler (A.D. 41) over all those territories which had formerly been administered by his grandfather, Herod the Great. As a precautionary measure Roman troops continued to garrison Caesarea and Samaria. The appointment of Agrippa had a mollifying effect upon the population, and his sagacious conduct of the government dissipated all fears of a revolt. At Jerusalem where he took up his residence, he lived in accordance with the strict principles of the Pharisees, and exercised his authority with mildness and moderation. The powers of the Sanhedrin were extended, the doctors became guests at the royal table, the .populace was treated with affable generosity, and national sentiment gratified to a degree which brought the king into collision with Rome. Excepting the Christians whom he persecuted and put to death,2 all classes of the community were devoted to Agrippa, and when he died after a brief reign of little more than three years there was grief and lamentation throughout the land (A.D. 44).
The affairs of Palestine had been so successfully conducted by the deceased king, that Claudius decided to send Agrippa's son, then a youth of seventeen to occupy the vacant throne. Had the emperor possessed sufficient strength of mind to carry out this wise intention, and had he also withdrawn the Roman garrison which was mostly composed of Syrians,4 the elements of friction between Rome and Judaea would have been to a great extent removed. It is even possible that such a policy would have so far satisfied Jewish national aspirations as to avert the terrible insurrection which was already looming in the distance. Agrippa with Maccabaean blood in his veins s had rehabilitated the Herodian family in the eyes of the populace; all but a few extreme fanatics would have joyfully submitted to the authority of his son. Unhappily for the peace of Palestine, Claudius allowed himself to be overruled by his advisers ; the youth of Agrippa's son, who was then being educated in Rome, was alleged as a reason for not transferring him to so responsible a position. The old method of governing the country by procurators was again resorted to. The Zealots were not slow to take advantage of the error which had been committed by the counsellors of Caesar.
Agrippa's reign though brief had indirectly furthered their cause by imparting a fresh impulse to patriotic feeling, and when the new procurator, Cuspius Fadus, (A.D. 44-46) entered upon his duties, he immediately found himself confronted with disaffection and disturbances. In spite, however, of the outbreak of insurrectionary movements among that portion of the population over which the Zealots had gained so great an ascendency, the emperor and his procurators still went on with the work of conciliation. The vestments of the high priest, which except for a brief interval after Pilate's deposition had always been in charge of the garrison in the tower of Antonia, were handed over to the Temple aristocracy. The power of nominating the high priest was taken away from the procurator, and in order that there might be no conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, Claudius appointed Herod, prince of Chalcis, a brother of the late king, to supreme control over all religious affairs.1 After the departure of Fadus, who had succeeded in restoring order, and in repressing a movement of a Messianic character, Claudius rightly discerning that Jewish discontent was at bottom of a religious nature, nominated Tiberius Alexander 2 (A.D. 47), a nephew of Philo the philosopher, to the office of procurator.
The emperor may have hoped that this officer, understanding the idiosyncrasies of his countrymen, would be competent to keep them within the bounds of order and law. But his mission proved a failure; a serious revolt of the Zealots took place ; James and Simon, two sons of Judas the Galilean, were captured and crucified, and when Alexander was succeeded by Cumanus (A.D. 48-52), the situation in Judaea had become more menacing than ever. In fact, the procuratorship of Cumanus is little else than a painful record of robberies, murders, race hatreds, and insurrection. At last matters became so serious that the legate of Syria, Ummidius Quadratus felt himself compelled to interfere. This official had been entrusted with extraordinary powers in the East, and after investigating into the conduct of Cumanus, with respect to a bloody feud which had broken out between the Jews and Samaritans, he suspended the procurator, and sent him to Rome to justify his proceedings before the emperor. Once again Claudius gave evidence of his anxiety to conciliate the Jews. The Samaritans were condemned, Cumanus was banished, and a tribune named Celer, who had made himself offensive to the Jews, was sent back to Jerusalem to be executed.
It was no doubt believed in imperial circles that the people of Judaea would be appeased by the unwonted spectacle of a Roman officer perishing in obloquy at the scene of his misdeeds. The spirit of revolt, however, was not to be so easily allayed ; every day it was gaining a firmer hold upon the popular mind, and the enemies of Rome had now become too numerous and implacable to be satisfied with anything short of national independence. The Temple aristocracy, it is true, still held aloof from the ideas of the Zealots, but it had become a rotten and effete caste, ever ready to plunder the poor and helpless, and as the trial of St. Paul before Ananias shows, very brutal in the exercise of its powers.
Such men were regarded by the people as oppressors, and were utterly without influence. The Pharisees retained the respect of the masses, but they too were unable to stem the tide of popular feeling. It had become impossible to get the people to wait any longer for the advent of the Messianic king, and although they still believed that he would come to their deliverance they were determined in the meantime to begin the task themselves. The Zealots, in fact, were now triumphant, and the Zealots had opened their ranks to all who would swear eternal hatred against Rome. Robbers, brigands, assassins, the malefactor who murdered for hire as well as the honest patriot burning to be free, were all equally welcomed by the Zealots. ... It was not so much the hardness of Roman rule as the fact that they were being ruled by aliens which was driving the Jews into rebellion. The time for concessions was at an end, and the only course now open to the emperor was to garrison the disaffected province with an overwhelming force, and to place a resolute procurator at the head of it. This stern line of policy Claudius did not deem it necessary to adopt, and under Felix,1 who succeeded Cumanus, the bonds of social order were dissolved.
The choice of Felix (52-60) at such a critical period was most unfortunate. It was said even by the Romans that he exercised his powers in the spirit of a slave; St. Paul was one of the many victims of his avarice; and his remedies for the disorders of Palestine only aggravated the disease.4 Under his procuratorship the Zealots and their allies, the Sicarii, or assassins became bolder and more defiant, and measures of severity produced no permanent result. Even in Jerusalem itself the procurator was incapable of holding the forces of anarchy in check.
The functions of government were at times in abeyance; riot and bloodshed defiled the streets; assassinations took place with impunity within the Temple courts, and the worshipper at the feasts was in constant dread of having a dagger plunged into his heart by some mysterious hand. In the country districts the same lamentable disorder prevailed. Villages were sacked and burned down, houses plundered, the peacefully disposed were terrorized; the friends of Rome murdered whenever an opportunity presented itself. Passionate appeals were made to the people to revolt, and acquiescence in the established order of things was regarded as a crime.
A feverish exaltation existed in the popular mind ; the air was filled with rumours of the supernatural, and multitudes were ready to follow any deluded visionary who undertook to verify his vocation by the performance of some miracle or the revelation of a sign from heaven. On the Mount of Olives, a Jew from Egypt was able to collect a great number of people to witness the lofty walls of Jerusalem fall down at his command. His followers, like the adherents of another fanatic named Theudas, were dispersed or slain; but the atmosphere of miracle which then hung over Palestine was fatal to the teachings of experience, and as soon as another visionary assumed the part of his baffled predecessor he immediately found a credulous multitude eager to espouse his cause.
Two years after the appointment of Felix to the procuratorship, Claudius was poisoned at the instigation of his wife Agrippina (54); and her son Nero, in whose interest this crime was perpetrated, was presented to the soldiers and proclaimed emperor ' (A.D. 54-68).
Events in the life of the Roman Emperor Claudius
Robert Graves’ “I, Claudius” Books Reissued: Review
The success of Goodbye to All That, his memoirs of the first world war, enabled Robert Graves to quit the industrial civilisation he so much detested for a simpler style of life. In the year the book was published, 1929, he and the American poet Laura Riding went to Majorca and the island became his permanent home. It was in his early years here that the Claudius books were written, appearing in 1934, when his reputation as a poet was already established. They were brought out by Penguin in 1943 and have enjoyed continuous success ever since.
Others lived there with him but none of them would have done. His grand-uncle Augustus, founder of the Empire, was too much concerned with promulgating his own glory and establishing the central authority of the state to give us more than propaganda; his cruel and gloomy uncle Tiberius was too secretive to make any kind of autobiographer; it could hardly have been his demented predecessor Caligula, who believed himself to be a god, or the posturing and perverted Nero who followed.
No, Claudius is the only one in all that company who we can believe in as a chronicler, the only one who would have been capable of the detachment and introspection needed. He was an outsider, always a good thing in a writer. Childhood illness left him with a permanent limp, he had a speech impediment that earned him general derision and he suffered from acute abdominal pains all his life. “Cripple, stammerer, fool of the family,” as he calls himself.
He was in fact regarded as little better than an idiot by the imperial family, and left to his own devices. This was the saving of him, of course. In that world of murderous power struggle, no one took him seriously as a rival, no one thought him worth killing. This enabled him to live to the advanced age of 51 before succeeding to the purple, and it was his own character, timorous certainly, but quick-witted and surprisingly firm in emergencies, that enabled him to survive 13 years as emperor and so to become, in the words Graves gives him, the recorder of his own life and times.
He was otherwise qualified too. In his lonely and neglected childhood he took naturally to study, encouraged in this by the historian Livy, who was one of the few to recognise his talents. He became a historian in his own right, and one of astonishing industry - he wrote 20 volumes of Etruscan and a further eight of Carthaginian history, all in Greek, plus an autobiography, a treatise on the Roman alphabet and an essay on dice-playing, to which it seems he was addicted. Not one syllable of all this has survived. All we have is a couple of letters and a speech in the Senate to the Conscript Fathers, urging them to extend Roman citizenship to provincials. (He was interrupted, even heckled, but bore it with patience.)
It is not enough for us to form any judgment of his merits as a historian or his qualities as a stylist. It is Graves that gives him a voice, and what a voice it is, garrulous, digressive, spiced with gossip and scandal, at the same time strangely dispassionate and sober. There is a range of tone here that enables Claudius, in his persona as professional historian, to deal with matters widely diverse, to be equally convincing whether talking about the waste and excess of military triumphs, the fate of Varus and his regiments in the forests of Germany, or the endless intriguing for power and influence among the members of the imperial family.
To take one example among many of the capacity of the style to encompass incongruous elements, often within a short space, there is the account of the assassination of Caligula in 41 AD and the immediate hailing of Claudius as his successor. We move from the brutal and bungled killing of the crazed Caligula, who firmly believes he is divine even while his limbs are being hacked off, to the violent confusion of the aftermath with the German bodyguards clamouring for vengeance on the killers, to the discovery of the terrified Claudius hiding behind a curtain, and his acclamation as the new emperor. The scrambled killing, the disordered movement as the Guards search out the conspirators, the grotesque comedy of the trembling Claudius borne aloft, represent together a sustained triumph of narrative.
Occasional vivid images spring through this chronicle of the crime and folly that accompanied the birth and early years of the Roman Empire. Athenodorus, who replaced the hated Cato as Claudius’s tutor, had the most marvellous beard. “It spread in waves down to his waist and was as white as a swan’s wing,” Claudius says. It is a comparison that does justice both to its amazing extent and to the purity of its whiteness. But he hastens to assure us that this is no mere idle figure of speech, that he is a serious historian, he means it literally. And he goes on to tell us that one day he actually saw Athenodorus feeding swans from a boat on an artificial lake in the Gardens of Sallust and was struck by the fact that his beard and their wings were of an identical colour. The relation of this occupies a few lines only, but the disclaimer is of first importance for the appreciation of the method that characterises the whole.
In all the annals of our western history there can be no period less in need of rhetoric or even metaphor. This was a time when a cruel and debauched ruling class, in whom hysteria and madness were never far below the surface and were often made manifest in acts of public outrage, sought and maintained power through systematic murder, a time when the demoralised and unruly masses had to be pacified by the distribution of free grain on an ever larger scale and entertained by shows and spectacles ever more bloody and ferocious. It is lurid enough, it needs little in the way of emphasis or descriptive flourishes.
Claudius, of course, is not really a reliable narrator, though frequently reminding us of his bona fides as a historian. Even a genuine autobiography can never be more than a version of events, there will always be gaps and glosses in it. How far are the silences and exaggerations in this account those of a man who lived in the world, who was named Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, who was fourth emperor of Rome from 41 to 54 AD and went often in fear of his life? How far are they due to the fact that he is a fictional figure whose creator is exploiting the uncertainties inherent in all periods of the past, even those so relatively well-documented as this one? These questions can be formulated in other ways, by addressing the text more closely. Why the long digression in which Claudius attacks Cato the Censor, for example? Is there some concealed political motive, or is he just letting off steam?
Then there is the story of Julia’s love philtre. She was advised to drink this herself, not the usual way with love philtres - surely it should have been administered to Tiberius, whom she wanted to make fall in love with her. It was an aphrodisiac, Claudius tells us. Why did she go on so long with it when it was obviously having no effect on Tiberius? Is Spanish Fly addictive? It looks as if the whole thing is a fabrication designed to excuse Julia for her notorious licentiousness and to discredit Livia Drusilla, the detested grandmother who is said to have made up the potion and prevailed on Julia to take it.
Much of the earlier part of the autobiography is devoted to the evil machinations of this Livia, third wife of Augustus, her lust for power at any cost, her unswerving aim to have her son Tiberius succeed as emperor and so rule through him, the strong suggestion that she used poison to eliminate any who stood in her way. (There seems to be no firm evidence of this, but it is true that obstacles to her ambition tended to disappear at just the right moment.) Above all, Claudius lays great emphasis on her influence over Augustus, who was, he says, more or less completely under her thumb.
Now Augustus, who died when Claudius was 24, is regarded today as having been a brilliant military commander, a consummately skilful politician and an administrator of genius who brought stability and prosperity to the Greco-Roman world. It is true that those nearer his own time viewed him differently. Tacitus, writing within a century after his death, saw him more coldly as the last of the warlords who dominated the Roman Republic. But whichever view we take, it seems highly improbable that it was Livia who was making the decisions.
Claudius the historian and Claudius the private person with his grudges and prejudices part company here as they do often enough in this his autobiography. We know little for certain of Livia really. We know she was powerful and influential; we know she was devoted to Augustus and a faithful counsellor to him; we know - if the marble bust of her in the Vatican Museum can be trusted - that she had great beauty and dignity. The extreme wickedness attributed to her in this account is an invented thing and the invention serves Graves extremely well. She becomes a symbol, almost a personification, of ruthless manipulation, a sort of presiding evil genius. Like the real Claudius himself and all the Julian emperors of Rome, she has become in the popular imagination untethered from history, criminal matriarch in a family of monsters and freaks. Their misdeeds have become legendary to us, like those of the Plantagenets or the Borgias.
Involved with them, and of their time, there was a different set of legends, and these too breathe in Claudius’s pages, a nostalgia for the republic that was never to return, not in its disordered latter days but in its prime of discipline and virtue, a remote past exemplified by heroes like Cincinnatus, who in the fifth century BC at a time of grave peril to Rome, was elected dictator. Those who came to tell him found him ploughing on his small farm. He answered the call and saved the Republic. Sixteen days later he resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm.
Graves takes something of a risk at the start of the second volume, or so it least it seems to me, devoting a substantial section to the career of Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, relating his travels and adventures prior to the death of Caligula, the event which bound his fortunes to those of the newly honoured Claudius. The escapades of this engaging con-man and political opportunist are very well told and make entertaining reading but we sense the absence of Claudius from the narrative - or at least his much greater distance. We realize how present he has been before and we want him back.
He returns at the beginning of chapter five, still being borne aloft in triumph by the Praetorian guards. And almost at once, in his handling of the Senate and in his dealings with Caligula’s assassins, he shows a mixture of firmness, judgment and political cunning that takes us by surprise. And so we are launched on the main narrative theme of this second book. Claudius is the classic underdog. But he is the underdog who makes good, or at least is very far from the dismal failure that is anticipated on every hand. He cultivates the loyalty of the army on which future emperors will be increasingly dependent. He invades Britain in 43 AD, conquering much of it and establishing client kingdoms. He acquires Mauretania in North Africa. He improves the empire’s judicial system and extends Roman citizenship in the provinces. We follow him through 13 years of absolute power and growing paranoia and we leave him at the age of 64, worn out and sick at heart, awaiting the death which has been foretold by the soothsayers - he is soon to be poisoned by his niece and fourth wife Agrippina, who is set on ensuring the succession of her son Nero.
Write no more, he enjoins upon himself; they are the last words of the book. The end of his writing spells the end of his life. He has failed to protect his son Britannicus, whom he knows to be doomed. His marriage to Messalina, the only woman he is said to have truly loved, has followed an appalling course. When a man of 50 marries a girl of 15 he is bound to have trouble, Claudius sagely reflects somewhere. The prospect of trouble in this case is ludicrously enhanced when the girl turns out to be sexually insatiable - in his Sixth Satire Juvenal famously depicts her as an empress by day and a common prostitute by night.
The questions persist. Was it his paranoid fears or Messalina’s whims and lusts that brought about the reign of terror when so many public figures were executed on Claudius’s orders? Did he give the order for her execution as is generally believed, or was it done without his knowledge by his freedman Narcissus, as he asserts in these pages? We don’t know, nobody does. But it doesn’t matter. Yet again we have to remind ourselves of what we are always in danger of forgetting as we read this compelling narrative, with its impeccable research, the tremendous intellectual feat of organisation that it represents. It is fiction, after all.
· Robert Graves’s Count Belisarius, I, Claudius and Claudius the God are all reissued this week by Penguin Modern Classics, price £10.99, £8.99 and £9.99 respectively
Episode 2 Family Affairs
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Episode 3 Waiting in the Wings
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This episode takes place between 2 BC and 4 AD. Tiberius is living on Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean while Julia is alone and ‘active’ in Rome. Freed from the supervision of a husband, Julia has abandoned herself to sensual pleasures. Tiberius remains unforgiven by Augustus, who apparently is the only man in Rome unaware of Julia’s indulgences. (Her behavior was particularly scandalous since Augustus had implemented laws requiring a husband [or father] to reveal and punish an adulterous wife.)
A letter arrives for Tiberius from his mother. “The answer, I’m afraid, is no.”, to his return to Rome. Gaius has died inexplicably of wounds received in the East, but his brother Lucius has been promoted to command the Roman army in Spain. Julia remains the scandal of Rome.
Lucius and his friend, Plautius, call on Julia to bid farewell. Julia gives Plautius a little ‘gift’ in the privacy of her room. Back on the patio, the children are playing. Suddenly, an eagle drops a wolf-cub, which is caught by Claudius. A priest interprets the sign. Rome too will one day be wounded and Claudius will protect it.
Later, in the Palace, Plautius is confronted by Livia and recruited as her spy on Julia. Augustus, meanwhile, is lecturing a group on nobles on Roman morality. We are introduced at this point to young Herod Agrippa and also get a closer look at poor limping, stammering, and twitching Claudius.
Julia continues her wanton ways, seemingly with half the male population of the city – but now under the watchful eyes of Plautius. The list (a long one) is finally given to Livia and from her to Lucius, whom she convinces to inform Augustus. Augustus confronts the assembled men who confess to the affairs. Augustus is devastated. He disavows Julia and banishes her for life to a barren island in the Mediterranean (Pandateria).
Augustus still resists recalling Tiberius, but when Lucius is killed in a ‘boating accident’ while enroute to Spain there is no one else to turn to. At last, Tiberius returns to Rome to become Caesar’s assistant and heir – along with Julia’s youngest son, Postumus……..
Episode 4 What shall we do about Claudius?
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This episode takes place between 4 AD and 10 AD. It opens with a tipsy Claudius remembering a family dinner. Everyone except Castor is there. They are stuffed and drowsy and half-listening to the famous Roman author and poet, Horace. Augustus lavishly praises Horace and criticizes Ovid (not present). Ovid is “too smutty”, he says. (Ovid is chiefly remembered for the sensuality of his writing. He was later banished to Tomi on the Black Sea by Augustus, perhaps in retaliation for his role in Augustus’ granddaughter’s adulteries.)
Claudius is obviously an embarrassment to everyone and he stammers and twitches as he and the other guests depart. There’s a brief discussion of what to do with him at the upcoming games when a courier arrives from Germany. Disaster has stuck the Roman Army on the Rhine! The Germans drew Quintilius Varus and the 17th, 18th and 19th Legions into an ambush. The Army has been slaughtered, nearly to the last man. Only Cassius Chaerea and a little band of 120 men managed to cut their way back to the Rhine bridges. (80 made it.) The Roman provinces in Gaul lay open to plunder by the Germans. Tiberius is dispatched with the few available units. More troops will follow as they are raised, equipped and trained.
Meanwhile, we get to see more of Claudius. He meets the famous Roman historians Pollio and Livy in the library. He displeases Livy by overcorrecting him in his search for a manuscript. Then, in his conversation with Pollio, he’s told that his father was poisoned. Pollio gives him good advice. “If you want to survive, exaggerate your stammer and twitch.”, he’s told. “No one will think you’re worth killing.” He inadvertently follows this advice at the games in honor of his father. After bumbling his way around the Imperial Box, he faints at the brutality of the gladiators.
At Livia’s suggestion, Germanicus is sent to the Rhine with reinforcements for Tiberius. (To get him out of town?) Livia’s spies have established the clandestine meetings between Postumus and Livilla. Livia confronts Livilla with this and draws her into a plot against Postumus.
Livilla secretly invites Postumus to her room and when he gets there, fakes an attempted rape. In spite of Postumus’ explanation, Augustus believes Livilla and banishes him to “a small rock”. Before he can be shipped off, however, he slips the guard and tells Claudius all before he’s recaptured.
At the end of this episode, Claudius finally gets married. They all meet the bride at the ceremony. She is Urgulanilla – well over six feet tall. Everyone bursts out in laughter except the stoic bride and groom.
Episode 5 Poison is Queen
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This episode takes place in 14 AD. It opens with Claudius rummaging through a barrel of old documents and finding Augustus’ last will. He remembers Augustus’ final year…..
The Germans have at last been suppressed and Germanicus has returned to Rome to a triumph and the accolades of the Senate. Later, he and his brother, Claudius, are alone on the patio. Claudius finally has the chance to pass on the truth about the false charge of attempted rape that was brought by their sister Livilla against Postumus. Further, he reveals his suspicions about Livia’s spies and plots to further the career of Tiberius. Germanicus must tell Augustus, who would never have believed Claudius.
Apparently, Augustus believes the story. He inexplicably plans a trip to Corsica, which will take him right past ‘the rock’ where Postumus has been confined these past four years. He’s coy about the trip, which raises Livia’s suspicions. This is especially so since he hates sea voyages, but appears to anticipate this one joyfully. Livilla denies having said a word, but who else could know the truth? Surely not ‘poor twitching, stupid Claudius.’
Augustus makes the trip with his trusted friend, Quintus Flavius Maximus, and sure enough they stop secretly to see Postumus. Postumus is understandably angry and Augustus is appropriately repentant and the two reconcile. Postumus will be recalled and his inheritance as heir will be reinstated, but first Augustus must lay the groundwork with the Senate. Livia suspects something is up and cons the Chief Vestal into allowing her to see the secretly revised will.
Augustus’ health begins to fail. He’s struck by severe stomach pain and is convinced by a series of ‘signs’ that his end is near. Nevertheless, he nurses himself back to health and has a chance to thank Claudius for his part in rectifying the situation. He’s been wrong about Claudius all these years.
While playing dice with a group of friends, Augustus has a sudden attack of severe stomach pain. He refuses to eat anything but the figs he has picked from the tree himself. The doctor briefs Livia and she fondles a fig in a mysterious, bemused way. Augustus finally slips into death as Livia, in the background, explains her rationale. Tiberius arrives at the last and she goes to brief the deputation from the Senate. “Don’t touch the figs.”, she tells him.
Livia’s agents, including the infamous Sejanus, are dispatched to do in Postumus and witnesses to Augustus’ late change of heart. Tiberius is at last acclaimed by the Senate as the new Caesar.
Episode 6 Some Justice
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This episode takes place in 19 AD – Tiberius has been Emperor for five years. It opens with Claudius in the privy, remembering the death of his brother. Germanicus and his family were stationed in the East (in Antioch, Syria). He fell inexplicably ill and grew worse. There were many unexplainable signs of doom and impending death that appeared throughout his house. In spite of Agrippina’s efforts to protect him, he finally died – the victim of poison. But, who did it? The answer, according to Agrippina’s accusations, is Tiberius and Livia through their political appointee, Piso and his wife Plancina.
The Roman populace apparently agrees with Agrippina. They are demonstrating outside the Palace as Tiberius gets the news from Sejanus that charges will be brought in the Senate by his son, Castor. The couple is to be charged with murder and treason. A key witness against them is the notorious poisoner, Martina, who is secretly brought to Rome by Agrippina’s faction. Piso is confident of acquittal – he has letters from Tiberius that support his actions. They’re sealed, of course, and the Imperial Seal can’t be broken without the Emperor’s consent. (Heavens! Executive Privilege in ancient Rome! Shades of Watergate!) Plancina isn’t so sure. Tiberius seems so cold and unsupportive.
Meanwhile, we get several views of the young Caligula. What a brat! He’s a whiner who always gets his own way, even if he would much rather sleep with his sister than his cousin. His Grandmother, Antonia, is outraged when she finds the siblings together in the buff. Claudius lectures the young boy about the special place sisters have in the scheme of things, but somehow we don’t think this has sunk in.
Back at the trial, Tiberius refuses to have the letters read to the Senate and later sends his Commander of the Praetorian Guard, Sejanus, to retrieve them from Piso. No problem though, Piso has another unsealed letter from Livia. Still, things are not going well for the defense and Plancina separates her case from her husband’s. Privately, she counsels an honorable suicide to protect the family name and fortune. (Traitors had their estates seized by the government, but suicides did not.)
Livia attempts to intercede with Tiberius on Plancina’s behalf, but Tiberius won’t have it. “No deal!”, he tells her. So, Livia encourages Plancina to handle her husband herself. She does. A joint suicide is the only way out. They sit together and he draws his dagger. But, he’s a wimp and can’t do it. Plancina will show him what Romans are made of! As she prepares to do herself in, she suddenly turns and ‘accidentally’ buries it to the hilt in him instead.
The case is closed. The incriminating letter is returned to Livia (to be burned) and Plancina goes free. As a precursor of things to come, Caligula sets fire to the family villa in the closing scene.
Episode 7 Some Justice
Players in this episode are:
This episode takes place in 26 AD – Tiberius is now in his late sixties and unloved by the people in spite of his efforts for Rome. He also, apparently, has begun to practice some deviant behavior. At dinner party given by a Roman matron, Lollia, and her husband, she relates a summons to the palace for her daughter. Tiberius made a blatant, perverted pass at the daughter. To save her, Lollia offered herself instead. Tiberius accepted the offer. Now she can’t live with the memory, so in front of all the assembled guests, Lollia takes her own life.
Tiberius, having grown resentful over his mother’s meddling, has some time since ousted her from government and his life. They are barely on speaking terms. Instead, Tiberius has come to rely more and more on the advice and counsel of the Commander of the Praetorian Guard, Sejanus. He has spies everywhere and uncovers one treasonable plot after another. This, of course, vastly increases his power. There are even copies of his bust being sold all over Rome.
Castor and Tiberius argue over the influence that Sejanus has. Castor obviously holds Sejanus in disdain. Little does he know that his wife and Sejanus are lovers. She evens drugs Castor to have an evening with Sejanus. Perhaps a stronger drug can take him out permanently and then the lovers could be together forever.
On Livia’s birthday, Tiberius presents her with her horoscope. “To know how much longer I have to put up with her.”, he says. (The answer is less than a year.) She has invited Claudius to dinner. Very unusual. In the past, she could barely stand the sight of him. Caligula is also there. To show his confidence in her, Claudius chugs a goblet of wine. She makes both of them promise to make her a goddess. After Caligula leaves, she reveals why. She admits to the long list of eliminations to “avoid another civil war” which Augustus would have brought on with his favoritism. Mortals go to hell for what she’s done, but goddesses get forgiven and go to heaven. She gives Claudius a scroll of suppressed Sibylline Verses, which predict Caligula, and then Claudius will follow Tiberius as Emperor.
Sejanus and Livilla carry out their plan to eliminate Castor. They even flaunt the relationship as he lies on his deathbed. To further his rise in status, Sejanus tells Claudius that his wife, Urgulanilla, is pregnant. “It’s got nothing to do with me.” Claudius says. He’s talked into divorcing her to marry Sejanus’ sister. Claudius agrees. “You blockhead!”, Antonia says later.
Finally, Livia is dying. Caligula repudiates his promise, but Claudius reaffirms his. When she slips away, Claudius places a coin in her mouth “to pay the ferryman for the journey.”
Episode 8 Reign of Terror
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This episode takes place between 29 and 31 AD – Tiberius is now in his seventies and, tired of the constant criticisms of the Senate and the people, he has gone into self- imposed seclusion on the isle of Capri in the Bay of Naples. His agent in communicating with the Senate and in running the government is Sejanus.
Sejanus is now divorced and is still Livilla’s lover, but they aren’t married yet. His ex-wife visits Livilla’s mother, Antonia, to plea for her help in getting custody of the children. While she’s there she also threatens to make the poisoning of Castor public, but Antonia can’t believe it’s true. Claudius inadvertently spills the beans about Livilla’s role in framing Postumus. Poor Antonia. All this going on about her and she seems to be the only one who doesn’t know.
Sejanus applies to Tiberius for permission to marry Livilla, but the Emperor reluctantly turns him down. It would be “too an exalted position” for him. However, Tiberius wouldn’t object to a marriage to Helen, her daughter. When Sejanus tells her, Livilla obviously has a fit over this and tries to attack him but he at last calms her down.
Meanwhile, Agrippina and her son, Nero, have been arrested. She’s brought to the Emperor in handcuffs and confronts him about the political persecutions of his (and Sejanus’) opponents. He banishes her to Pandateria, the same little island where Augustus sent her mother. But, before she goes he flogs her. Back in the Senate, Sejanus secures a vote against Drusus, her other son, who is then thrown in the dungeon.
Claudius thinks Caligula is next and tries to warn him of “grave danger” but Caligula shrugs it off. It’s apparent that he doesn’t think much of his mother and brothers. But, he loves his sisters…..
Sejanus’ arrogant sister (and Claudius’ new wife) drops by to see Livilla and bumps in to Claudius and Antonia. In private, Livilla gives her a letter to Sejanus that insists that they move against the Emperor. A bit later Antonia is recycling waste paper from Livilla’s room and discovers the incriminating drafts of the letter. But, how to get them to Tiberius? Sejanus screens all his mail. She and Claudius paste the evidence inside the scrolls of a history that Claudius wrote and smuggle them to Tiberius.
Tiberius is distraught at the news of Sejanus’ treachery. How to get to him when he controls all the soldiers in Rome? Caligula hits on the solution. “Get a dog who’ll eat a dog.”, he says. He knows just the guy – Macro, the second in Command. Together, they draw up the plan.
Sejanus is tricked into going to the Senate, thinking he’s about to be promoted. Instead, he charged with treason and arrested by Macro and his own little band of loyal guards. Macro executes Sejanus in his cell and supervises that of his children too. The girl is deflowered first and the boy dressed in his manly clothes since it’s against Roman tradition to kill a virgin or children.
Livilla get her own special punishment. Antonia locks her in her room and posts herself outside the door “until she dies.”, she says. “That’s her punishment and this is mine.”
Rome goes into a frenzy against Sejanus’ friends and agents and the streets run red. Sejanus’ body was thrown to the mob and paraded around the city, dragged by a meat hook. At the end, his body and those of many of his followers were thrown down the steps by the Tiber to be dumped later unceremoniously into the river.
Episode 9 Zeus, by Jove
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This episode takes place in 37 AD – Tiberius is on his deathbed. Macro listens for a heartbeat and, removing the Imperial ring to give to Caligula, pronounces him dead. As Caligula is announcing the death, a slave bursts in. “He’s alive again!”, he cries. Macro goes to check, lifts Tiberius into bed and smothers him with the pillow. Caligula tells the assembled Senators that he’s “definitely dead.” They fall all over themselves to hail the new Caesar.
At first, Caligula appears to be a great Emperor. He says he has burned the informant records of Sejanus (which he really didn’t do) and is giving ‘bread and circuses’ to the people. But, he’s spending the money in Treasury like there’s no tomorrow. He selects Claudius to be Consul with him. That’s a surprise to everyone, but Caligula says not to worry, he’ll do all the thinking. He is angry with Gemellus for his irritating cough. A huge migraine comes over him and he collapses on the floor. Macro announces that he’s in a coma.
The Senators are all gathered awaiting news and Lentulus, an opportunistic Senator, lets it be known that he’s offered the gods his own life in place of Caligula’s if only they will spare him. (Bad move!) When he recovers, Caligula thinks that he has become a god. Claudius is summoned and correctly guesses the new situation and plays up to him, escaping execution. He brags that he’s done many godly things, like putting down a mutiny when he was 2 and killing his own father (Germanicus) when he was 10. And, he’s slept with all three of his sisters. Oh yes, Drusilla has become a goddess too.
The divine pair are greeted by the assembled Senators. Caligula thanks Lentulus for his offer. Now “what are you going to do about it. I’m still here and you’re still here and we both shouldn’t be…..” Later, Caligula and Drusilla are in the Temple of Jove. Caligula ‘talks’ to Jove and Hera, insulting them as inferior. Drusilla reveals that she’s pregnant. It will be a glorious baby, the result of the union of two of the newest and most powerful gods.
Later, Caligula has sent Macro to ‘cure’ Gemellus’ cough. Claudius breaks the bad news that the statues of Caligula’s brothers won’t be ready in time for the celebration. Macro enters with the severed head of Gemellus just in time to save Claudius from death.
Antonia has finally had enough of this degenerate behavior and instructs Claudius on what to do with her body. But, after it’s done, she’s had her servant take care of it.
In the Palace, a very buzzed Drusilla is searching for her ‘Zeusie’. She encounters Claudius and brags about her virile brother. She’s been drinking a ‘potion’ that Caligula has mixed. She finally finds Caligula in his bedroom, which is decorated like the top of Mount Olympus. He’s dressed in costume as Zeus. As her puts golden bracelets on her, he promises there will be no pain. He takes his dagger……
Episode 10 Hail Who?
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This episode takes place in 40 and 41 AD – Claudius is in disfavor now and living out in town with Calpurnia, his mistress. She is, or was (?) a prostitute, but is obviously a good-hearted person. Claudius gets a letter from Herod and a little present – a set of loaded dice to “improve his luck”. A servant brings in a flyer advertising a brothel in the Palace. The Senators and sons are to be the customers and the wives and daughters are to be the ‘talent’. Claudius has been designated as doorkeeper.
The orgy is a packed house. Everyone’s there and most have abandoned themselves in the moment. Claudius does throw out a couple to save the wife, but otherwise they all are in full swing. Caligula arrives and pretends to be disgusted. Claudius saves the day with some timely quotes from Homer. Caligula announces that he’s off to conquer the Germans.
While Caligula is off at ‘the wars’ Claudius drops in on Caesonia, the Emperor’s rather plain wife, and new baby. Claudius is to take a load of junk from the Palace to Caligula so he can auction them off to the provincials. It’s a rainy day when they arrive at the camp in Germany. Apparently the ‘god’ Caligula is in a fight with Neptune and the local water gods. The rain must be an attack by them.
Caligula is irate that they came part way by sea and has Claudius dumped in the river. He climbs out however and some more apt Homer defuses the situation. Caligula insults Cassius Chaerea and the guard with “Give us a Kiss” as the watchword for the night. He and Claudius retire to have a chat. He reveals that he’s the long awaited and prophesied savior of the Jews.
When Caligula returns to Rome, he’s furious with the Senate because they did not order a Triumph for him, even though he had told them not to do so. He’s going to kill them all when Caesonia and Claudius intervene. He proudly displays chests of ‘loot’ from his victory over Neptune (seashells).
Later, Claudius is summoned to the palace in the middle of the night. There they are ‘treated’ to a mock Greek play staring Caligula as a goddess. Afterward, Claudius is introduced to the seemingly innocent and virginal Messalina, who promptly wraps him around her finger. Caligula marries the pair as a joke. (Guest of Honor is the “noble Senator, Incatatus”, the Emperor’s favorite race horse.)
Finally, Cassius Chaerea and a few others decide to strike before they are themselves stuck down. Caligula is having a bad day at the games. He’s been losing at dice until Uncle Claudius loans him the loaded dice from Herod. He gives ‘thumbs down’ to a defeated gladiator and the crowd boos. The conspirators lure him into an underground walkway and ambush him. “Here’s for our wives, Jove.” Back in the Palace, Cassius Chaerea and a guard execute Caesonia and the baby. Claudius is discovered hiding behind a curtain in the Palace by a group of the guards. Lacking anyone else handy, they hoist him up and proclaim him Emperor.
Episode 11 Fool’s Luck
Players in this episode are:
This episode takes place in 41 to 43 AD – Claudius has now been proclaimed Emperor by the Praetorian Guard. (He may have really protested as shown in this episode, but in real life he gave them a bonus.) They hold him under ‘protective custody’ in their camp as the Senate debates the return of the Republic. Herod arrives and very practically advises him to accept, “at least for the time being’, or civil war will break out again and they will all be dead. Reluctantly, he does. He tells the Senators they may think him half-witted, “but at least I have survived with half my wits while thousands have died with all of theirs intact.” He condemns Cassius Chaerea for the murder of Caesonia and the baby and the rest of the case is closed.
Messalina bears him two children in rather quick succession – Britannicus first and then Octavia. Meanwhile she’s busy gathering the reigns of power. She helps him redo the Senatorial roles and takes over as Director of Public Morals. (What a laugh that one is!) It seems that she can get him to do anything she asks. She has her sights set on Appius Silanus, so she talks Claudius into recalling him from Spain to be his administrative assistant and mom’s new husband. Herod returns to the East. He’s King of Judea now. On his parting he gives Claudius advice. “Trust no one, my friend, no one.”
Claudius orders the engineers to survey Ostia for all weather harbor improvements and, surprise!, finds that they’ve probably been bribed to over estimate the difficulty. Meanwhile, Messalina has made her pitch to Silanus. It’s all a set up, she says, so that he can become her lover. Unfortunately for her, he has scruples and tells her that “I wouldn’t touch you, lady, with a 10 foot pole.” He, however, does believe her story about Claudius being in on it. After Tiberius and Caligula, these Emperors are capable of anything.
While they are in Claudius’ office looking over the new plans for Ostia compared to those drawn nearly a century before under Julius Caesar, Silanus attempts to assassinate Claudius. He fails and is restrained by the guards. Messalina hurriedly tells her mother to back up everything she says, or else. They then rush to the Palace.
Silanus repeats the story that Messalina told to him – that he was brought to Rome to keep Messalina “amused”. She twists the story completely around. He, she says, was the one who approached her. Domitia confirms the lie and Claudius condemns Silanus to death. Messalina begs for mercy – “Banish him.”, she pleads. But an attempted assassination cannot be punished that way. It must be death.
Messalina shoots Claudius a look behind his back that should leave you drooling for the next episode.
Episode 12 A God in Colchester
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This episode takes place from 43 to 48 AD – It opens with Claudius absent from Rome undertaking the permanent conquest of Britain. Freed from any restraint, Messalina has run wild with lust. Her current favorite, Mnester, a Greek actor, proposes a “tournament of sex’ which pits Messalina against the champion of the Guild of Prostitutes, Sylla. The participants gather in the Palace and, at three gold pieces ‘a head’ for Sylla the contest begins. Messalina wins, of course, and Sylla takes her rather heavy bag of gold coins and concedes. (They say Messalina was having such a good time at it that she continued on into the wee hours just for fun.)
All Rome is scandalized. Everyone knows except poor old Claudius. Any attempt to tell him has been countered by Messalina’s manipulation, resulting in the death of the informer. She even gets Claudius to instruct Mnester to do “anything the Lady Messalina asks. Anything? Anything!” That includes setting her up with Gaius Silius, whom she promptly seduces.
Claudius’ campaign in Britain was brilliant. The Senate votes him a rare Triumph. Meanwhile, in the East, Herod is planning a rebellion against Rome. The Governor of Syria brings news that he’s building an alliance and fortifying Jerusalem. Apparently, he believes himself to be the Jewish Messiah. (The Governor reports briefly about the last failed candidate, a carpenter from Galilee, who was crucified during the reign of Tiberius.) The rebellion collapses before it’s begun when Herod mysteriously dies after an evil omen.
Messalina and her new lover are plotting a rebellion of their own. She’s been flaunting her relationship with him and apparently believes that Claudius is ‘done’. While he is dedicating the new harbor works in Ostia she divorces him and publicly marries Silius. At last, someone must tell Claudius or it’s curtains for everyone. Pallas and Narcissus enlist Calpurnia to do it. Reluctantly he believes them and orders the arrest of Messalina and her followers.
This time Messalina is barred from the chance to manipulate Claudius. They surreptitiously slip Messalina’s execution order into a stack of papers that Claudius must sign. The guards arrive at her villa and offer her the dagger first. But, she’s too wimpy to use it, so……
Poor Claudius. He’s had such rotten luck in wives. I wonder who he’ll marry next?
Episode 13 Old King Log
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This episode takes place from 48 to 54 AD – It opens with Claudius now dead and Nero and Agrippina searching for the will (to ensure that Nero will inherit rather than Britannicus). They stumble across the family history and begin to read……
After Messalina’s execution, both Narcissus and Pallas want Claudius to remarry and both have candidates to suggest. Pallas wins out with his backing of Agrippina the Younger (he’s also her lover), who is Caligula’s surviving sister and Claudius’ niece. Claudius appears to not be concerned with the incest involved in this marriage and, tipsy, agrees.
Agrippina is obviously a shrew. She offers Claudius some interesting diversions, but he is “marrying you for your mind, not your heart.” If he gives her power, she says, she intends to use it. That’s what he has in mind. He wants her to help him govern. Still, there’s something odd about this.
As time goes by, she turns out to be just as bad as predicted. She’s the worst combination of everything. “Messalina with brains.”, Narcissus says. Claudius seems not to care. He backs her and her wimpy son, Nero, at every turn. He takes Nero’s side against his own son, Britannicus. He even adopts Nero and marries him to his daughter, Octavia. Narcissus is having a fit. By doing this he’s fallen into the plan she had in mind all along. Claudius explains that it’s all been written (in the suppressed Sibylline verses) and can’t be altered. He has a plan to restore the Republic.
He thinks he’s been too good, he says, and has blunted the people to this monarchy. By choosing Nero, the people will rise up since he will be horrid. Britannicus, meanwhile, is to be spirited out of Roman territory and hidden by allies of Caractacus in northern Britain. Unfortunately, Britannicus doesn’t buy into this plan and the whole thing falls through. Maybe he’ll confound the prophecy.
Claudius, knowing the end is near, bids farewell to the Senate. He has an interesting trance where he sees all the departed family members as they were in his youth.
Agrippina finally pulls off the murder. She’s been unable to get to him because of the protection of Narcissus. So, unable to poison his food, she poisons her own. When he wants seconds on mushrooms one night, she offers him the rest of hers and feeds them to him. He knows, but eats them anyway.
According to the Sibyl, Nero turns out just as bad as predicted. Nero eventually kills Britannicus, Octavia and his mother too. He’ll be overthrown in the end. But the system is too strong, and goes on for another four centuries.
“Farewell, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus. God of the Britons. Onetime Emperor of the Roman World.”
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Date: 19 Mar 2009
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