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The reign of the Julius-Claudian dynasty

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The Julii-Claudii were the first imperial dynasty in Ancient Rome, which ruled from 27 BC to 68 AD, consisting of several Roman families, the main of which was the Patrician Claudian family. The established line of government is often marked as aristocratic.

The founder of the dynasty is considered Julius Caesar, who adopted his great-nephew Gaius Octavius under the name of Julius Caesar Octavian. Octavian became the first Roman emperor under the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus.

Since Octavian had no male children, power passed to the children of his wife Livia from her first husband, Tiberius Claudius Nero the Elder. From the moment Octavian adopted Tiberius Claudius Nero in 4 AD under the name Tiberius Julius Caesar, the main branch of the dynasty was the Claudian family, a branch of the Nerons. The second branch of the Claudian Nero family, descended from Tiberius ' younger brother, Decimus Claudius Drusus, became known as the Druses. Decimus Claudius married Antonia the Younger, thus becoming related to both the Antonies and the Julii, since Antonia the Younger's maternal grandmother was a niece of Julius Caesar. It was the Druze branch that took over after Tiberius ' death. The first Drusan emperor was Caligula, grandson of Decimus Claudius Drusus. Then power passed to Claudius, uncle of Caligula and son of Drusus.

After Claudius, Nero, the son of Agrippina, Caligula's sister, became emperor. Agrippina was married to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, a member of the ancient Plebeian house of Domitius, which was granted patrician status under Augustus. After the proclamation of Claudius as emperor, she became his wife. At her suggestion, Claudius adopted the son of Gnaeus Domitius under the name of Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus. Some of the descendants of the Claudian Marcellus (another branch of the Claudian family), Vipsanii, as well as Pompeii, Cassii, Cornelii, Aemilii Lepidiae and Valerii Messala families associated with the imperial dynasty by marriage are considered to be Julius-Claudii.


When Augustus died in AD 14, the Senate gave Tiberius the rights of the deceased emperor. The Rhenish and Danubian legions planned to proclaim Tiberius ' nephew, Germanicus (son of his brother Drusus), as emperor, but the latter himself promoted the recognition of Tiberius as emperor. The new princeps reigned for almost a quarter of a century (14-37), and already under him the comitia ceased to meet, since the election of magistrates was transferred to the Senate, and the publication of laws under Augustus took the form of mandatory decrees of Caesar. In addition, the transfer of power to the princeps, since the time of Tiberius, has been made not for a term, but for life. Finally, the emperor strengthened his authority over Rome itself by concentrating the entire imperial guard of the Praetorians in the city itself, under the loyal praefectus praetorio of Sejanus, and establishing the office of praefectus urbi for the maintenance of order in the city.

Bust of Emperor Tiberius, 1st century AD

In Rome, Tiberius behaved like a suspicious and cruel despot, and relentlessly pursued careless words, rash actions, and especially Republican feelings (the condemnation of the historian Cremucius Cordus for sympathizing with Brutus and Cassius), for which the concept of insulting the majesty was created as a special kind of crime (crimen laesae majestatis). At this time, there were many executions and confiscations in Rome. (Among those executed was Sejanus, Tiberius ' chief aide in instigating political trials.) The people did not like Tiberius, and he spent the last years of his life on the island of Capri (opposite Naples). By the way, Tiberius was suspected of murdering his own nephew Germanicus, whose widow, Agrippina, was exiled by the emperor to a deserted island, where she committed suicide. Their eldest sons also died, but the youngest, Gaius Caligula, Tiberius recognized as his successor.

Caligula and Claudius

After the death of Tiberius, the Senate declared Caligula Emperor (37-41), who glorified his reign with all sorts of ridiculous tricks and executions. The emperor proclaimed himself a god and demanded the worship of his statues, but his follies caused a conspiracy against him and he was killed.

Bust of Emperor Caligula, 1st century AD

The Senate was considering the restoration of the republic, or at least the independent appointment of a successor to the emperor, when the Praetorians chose Claudius (41-54), the brother of Germanicus, who lived far away from state affairs among academic pursuits. He was a respectable man, but he was stupid and characterless. His first wife, Messalina, became notorious for her debauchery; his second wife, Agrippina the Younger (daughter of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder), succeeded in removing her stepson Britannicus and forced Claudius to adopt her own son from her first marriage, Nero, who was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorians on Claudius ' death.

Bust of Emperor Claudius, 1st century AD


Tiberius and Claudius continued Augustus ' policy toward the provinces, and even Caligula sought to ingratiate himself with the provincials. In the first years of his reign, Nero (54-68) followed the best examples of the past, but soon the bad sides of his character – heartlessness and vanity-came to the fore. His half-brother Britannicus, his own mother, his wife, his tutor Seneca, and Burrus, who had helped him to become emperor as Praetorian prefect, perished by his suspicion or vindictiveness; and his avarice led him to destroy the rich Romans, whose property he took for his own treasury.

Rumor attributed to him a great conflagration that destroyed half of Rome, and there was even a rumor that during this conflagration the emperor admired him from the height of his palace, while singing about the destruction of Troy. This calamity he blamed on the Christians, who had suffered the first persecution under his rule, 64 and for the rebuilding of Rome (and for his other schemes and carousals) he began to demand huge sums from the provinces.

Bust of Emperor Nero, 1st century AD

Nero first of all considered himself a great artist and even performed on the stage as a public singer, then undertaking an artistic journey first in Italy, then in Greece, and the board was transferred to the released Gellius. Nero took part personally in the horse lists as well. All this caused a series of conspiracies and military uprisings. When the Praetorians also deserted Nero, the Senate declared him deposed, and the emperor ordered one of his freedmen to kill himself, with great regret, as it was said later, that a remarkable artist was being killed in him.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, The Emperors of Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus, Roman Republic, Year of the Four Emperors