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2. The Army, Senate and the People

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In this lecture, we think about the three main constituents in Rome that were involved in the accession of Claudius: the army, the senate and the people of Rome. What did they want from Claudius? Did they get it? In particular, we think about: (i) the army’s interest in securing an emperor who would “govern in their interest”; (ii) the relevance of Josephus’ position as a court historian of the Flavian emperors, a dynasty that came to power through military strength; (iii) the events following the assassination of Gaius, including Claudius’ kidnap by the praetorian guard and his removal to the praetorian camp; his promise to pay a donative to the praetorian guard equal to 15,000 sesterces per soldier; (iv) the precedent set by the army’s role in Claudius’ accession (“This was the first time an emperor directly paid soldiers for establishing him in power”, Suet. Claud. 10); (v) the debate in the senate on “the restoration of public liberty” – i.e. getting rid of the principate as a political system altogether; (vi) the senate’s attempts to wrest control of the situation from the praetorian guard – and their failure to do so; (vii) the contrast between the senate’s role in Tiberius’ accession and their role here; (viii) the importance of the people of Rome: their popular acclamation of Claudius, and their distrust of the senate.


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 - The Army, Senate and the People [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Claudius – The Army, Senate and the People." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Aug 2022,

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