Claudius was found hiding behind some balcony curtains by soldiers in the palaceafter the murder of Caligula by the Praetorian Guard.
Instead of seizing andkilling him, as Claudius was almost sure they would do, they raised him up ontheir shoulders and made him emperor! Many writers have depicted Claudius askind of a befuddled, harmless old man who had been made Emperor so that Romanswould have someone in high places to make fun of. In truth, he was an ableadministrator and ruled well, making many improvements in the government. Hegave orders for the conquest of Britain, which the famous Julius Caesar had onlyinvaded and left. The invasion was well planned and carried out. After some ofthe early battles had been won, he came to Britain to lead the troops in person.
Most historians, including Tacitus agree that Claudius desperately needed a fewmilitary victories to boost his image amongst the Roman people, and the conquestof Britain made him quite popular in Rome. Much of what contemporary historianswrote about the Roman emperors and their families at that time showed them in anextremely bad light. The passages in Suetonois’ Lives of the Caesars read like amodern soap opera. Tacitus deliberately painted the worst picture he could ofthe imperial families.
He longed for the values and government of the old RomanRepublic. His attitude was that the only thing good that could be said about theEmpire with its overly powerful and autocratic rulers was that it was betterthan the constant civil wars of the Republican era. Claudius was never verylucky in love. One woman he was to have married died on their wedding day. Hislast wife, the infamous Messalina, continuously cheated on him, even giving manyof their household treasures to her lovers.
Claudius was very much in love withher and tried to ignore what was going on. Messalina finally exhausted evenClaudius’ patience when she married one of her lovers while still married toClaudius. Told by his advisors that this was a direct threat to him as emperor,he sadly signed the order for her execution so eagerly prepared by the men closeto him. According to Tacitus, a centurion found her distraught and begging forher life. He offered her a dagger so she could kill herself, a death consideredhonorable by the Roman aristocracy.
When she attempted but could not bringherself to commit suicide, he ran her through with his short sword. Claudiusfinally ended up marrying Agrippina the Younger, mother of the future emperorNero. Claudius may have died from an illness but the historians of the periodhave charged Agrippina with his murder. She supposedly fed him a dish ofpoisoned mushrooms.