On the 13th October AD 54, the Roman Emperor Claudius died, supposedly after being poisoned. Believed by ancient sources to have been killed on the orders of his fourth wife, his niece Agrippina who was 25 years younger than her husband, Claudius was succeeded by his adopted son – Agrippina’s child from a previous marriage – who became known as Emperor Nero.
Claudius was the grandson of Mark Antony and the great-great-grandnephew of Gaius Julius Caesar on his mother’s side. His father was the legal stepson of his mother’s second husband, Emperor Augustus. However his physical disabilities, that some argue were related to cerebral palsy, saw him disowned by his mother and instead raised by his grandmother who employed the historian Livy as his tutor.
Claudius therefore spent a number of years as an historian, despite making various attempts to enter public office. Under Caligula he was finally appointed co-consul and, after Caligula’s assassination in AD 41, was proclaimed as the new Emperor. It was Claudius who was responsible for expanding the Roman Empire to Britannia in the north, with the Emperor himself crossing the Channel in AD 43 to witness the attack on modern-day Colchester.
Claudius’ fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger, was one of the few remaining descendants of Augustus which made her twelve year old son from her previous marriage one of the last male heirs of the Imperial family. Claudius adopted him and proclaimed him joint heir with his own nine-year-old son Britannicus.
The ancient sources generally claim that Claudius was poisoned, although who administered the poison – and on whose orders – continues to be debated, with some believing that he died of old age. After his death Nero was made Emperor, and Britannicus died of suspected poisoning just four months later.