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1. Family Background and Accession

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In this lecture, we introduce the figure of Claudius, focusing in particular on: (i) a statue depicting Claudius as Jupiter, which features an Olympian body with the head of a fifty-year old man; (ii) Claudius’ unlikely route to the succession; (iii) the different factions in Rome at the time of Claudius’ succession and what they wanted from their new emperor: the army, the senate and the people of Rome; and (iv) the sources available to the modern historian for the reign of Claudius – Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Josephus – and the limitations of each.


In this course, Dr Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the fourth Roman emperor, Claudius. In the first module, we think about Claudius’ family background and the unlikeliness of his route to power. After that, in the second module, we think about the role of the army, the senate and the people of Rome in Claudius’ accession. In the third module, we think about Claudius’ early life and upbringing – including his scholarly interests – before turning in the fourth and fifth modules to consider the primary achievements of his reign, including the conquest of Britain and his work to secure the grain and water supply to the city of Rome. In the sixth and final module, we think about the role of Claudius’ wives and freedman advisors in his reign, and especially on his (unfair?) presentation in some historians as a stock figure from Roman comedy.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

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Nicholls, M. (2022, August 06). Claudius - Family Background and Accession [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Nicholls, M. "Claudius – Family Background and Accession." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Aug 2022,

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