Fourth emperor of Rome; son of Drusus the brother of Tiberius, and uncle of Caligula, whom he followed to the throne in January of 41 C.E. Claudius was not very strong physically or in willpower, and though he was interested in history, writing and other academic pursuits, his predecessors thought him mentally incompetent of handling the reins of power, and therefore favored others as successors. However, during the tumult following Caligula’s assassination, the Praetorian Guard prevailed and had Claudius proclaimed Emperor. One of his key supporters in this power struggle was Herod Agrippa I, whom Claudius rewarded with the kingship of Palestine. Claudius also managed to win the favor of the Senate.
With the conquest of Britain, Claudius extended the empire and at the same time pursued various public works. Yet he was by no means free of the usual intrigue, gluttony and drunkenness, lust and suspicion typical of Roman emperors. On the whole, he was generally a mild ruler, but because he was easily influenced by his advisers and his wives, he was not considered a very capable emperor. One of his wives reportedly poisoned him with mushrooms in October 54 C.E., in the fourteenth year of his reign. Nero then came to rule.
“A great famine . . . upon the entire inhabited earth” was foretold by the prophet Agabus, “which, for that matter, did take place in the time of Claudius.” This precipitated a “relief ministration” on the part of the Christians in Antioch for their brothers in Jerusalem and Judea. (Acts 11:27-30) Such a famine in Palestine in the reign of Claudius is called by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, chap. II, par. 5; and chap. V, par. 2) the “great famine,” and is dated about 46 C.E.—See AGABUS.
“Claudius . . . ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome,” issuing his decree on January 25, 50 C.E., in the ninth year of his reign. The Latin historian Suetonius corroborates this banishment of Jews from Rome. As a consequence, two Christian Jews, Aquila and Priscilla, left Rome for Corinth, where not long after their arrival they met the apostle Paul upon his reaching there in the fall of the year. (Acts 18:1-3) Toward the beginning of his reign, Claudius had been favorably disposed toward the Jews, even ordering toleration in their behalf and granting them various freedoms throughout the empire. It appears, however, that numerous Jews in Rome were rather riotous, resulting in Claudius’ expelling them from the city.
[Picture on page 355]
Coin bearing the likeness of Caludius