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5. His Reign: Senate

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In this lecture, we think about Claudius’ relationship with the senate, focusing in particular on: (i) the weakness of Claudius’ claim to power; (ii) the strength of certain senators’ claim to power, including the Julii Silani, the descendants of other Republican figures such as Sulla, Pompey and Crassus, and aristocratic military commanders such as Galba, etc.; (iii) Claudius’ initial clemency with the senate: his respect for offices and their individual holders, his (relative) leniency in the case of conspiracies, etc.; (iv) his shift towards greater hostility later in his reign: his expansion of the membership of the senate, his establishment of a civil service to assist with the practical running of the empire, etc.; (v) the attempted revolt of L. Arruntius Camilus Scribonianus, governor of Dalmatia; and (vi) the execution of Appius Silanius for “no true or credible charge” (Dio 60.14.4).


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 - His Reign: Senate [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Nicholls, M. "Claudius – His Reign: Senate." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Aug 2022,

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