|Born||12 February AD 41|
|Died||c.11 February AD 55 (aged 13)|
|Roman imperial dynasties|
|Augustus||27 BC – AD 14|
| Gens Julia |
Julio-Claudian family tree
Year of the Four Emperors
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus (c. 12 February AD 41 – 11 February AD 55), usually called Britannicus, was the son of Roman emperor Claudius and his third wife Valeria Messalina. For a time he was considered his father's heir, but that changed after his mother's downfall in 48, when it was revealed she had engaged in a bigamous marriage without Claudius' knowledge. The next year, his father married Agrippina the Younger, Claudius' fourth and final marriage. Their marriage was followed by the adoption of Agrippina's son, Lucius Domitius, whose name became Nero as a result. His step-brother would later be married to his sister Octavia, and soon eclipsed him as Claudius' heir. Following his father's death in October 54, Nero became emperor. The sudden death of Britannicus shortly before his fourteenth birthday is reported by all extant sources as a poisoning on Nero's orders—as Claudius' natural son, he represented a threat to Nero's claim to the throne.
Claudius was Roman emperor from AD 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul, the first Roman emperor to be born outside Italy. Because he was afflicted with a limp and slight deafness due to sickness at a young age, his family ostracized him and excluded him from public office until his consulship, shared with his nephew Caligula in 37.
Agrippina the Younger, also referred to as Agrippina Minor was a Roman empress and one of the more prominent women in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Her father was Germanicus, a popular general and one-time heir apparent to the Roman Empire under Tiberius; and her mother was Agrippina the Elder, a granddaughter of the first Roman emperor Augustus. She was also the younger sister of Caligula, as well as the niece and fourth wife of Claudius.
Nero was the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius and became Claudius' heir and successor. Like Claudius, Nero became emperor with the consent of the Praetorian Guard. Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, was likely implicated in Claudius' death and Nero's nomination as emperor. She dominated Nero's early life and decisions until he cast her off. Five years into his reign, he had her murdered.
Britannicus' name at birth was Tiberius Claudius Germanicus. The agnomen , his first surname Germanicus, was first awarded to his paternal grandfather Drusus the Elder after his death in 9 BC to commemorate his victories over the Germanic tribes. Accordingly, Drusus' sons (Claudius and Germanicus) inherited the name and passed it to their sons as well. Britannicus was given to his father in AD 43 following his conquest of Britain. Claudius never used it himself and gave the name to his son instead, and his full name became: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus. He came to be known by his new name which seems to have replaced Germanicus altogether.
An agnomen, in the Roman naming convention, was a nickname, just as the cognomen was initially. However, the cognomina eventually became family names, so agnomina were needed to distinguish between similarly named persons. However, as the agnomen was an additional and optional component in a Roman name, not all Romans had an agnomen.
Germanicus was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and a prominent general of the Roman Empire, who was known for his campaigns in Germania. The son of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia Minor, Germanicus was born into an influential branch of the patrician gens Claudia. The agnomen Germanicus was added to his full name in 9 BC when it was posthumously awarded to his father in honor of his victories in Germania. In AD 4, he was adopted by his paternal uncle, Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus as Roman emperor a decade later. As a result, Germanicus became an official member of the gens Julia, another prominent family which he was related to on his mother's side. His connection to the Julii was further consolidated through a marriage between himself and Agrippina the Elder, a granddaughter of Augustus. He was also the nephew of Tiberius, the father of Caligula, and the maternal grandfather of Nero.
The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Roman Britain.
Britannicus was born on or about 12 February 41 in Rome, to Emperor Claudius and his third wife Valeria Messalina. As such, he was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, specifically of the gens Claudia .Britannicus' father had been reigning for less than a month, and his position was boosted greatly by the birth of an heir. To mark the birth, the emperor issued sestertii with the obverse Spes Augusta – the hope of the imperial family.
Rome is the capital city and a special comune of Italy. Rome also serves as the capital of the Lazio region. With 2,872,800 residents in 1,285 km2 (496.1 sq mi), it is also the country's most populated comune. It is the fourth most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. It is the centre of the Metropolitan City of Rome, which has a population of 4,355,725 residents, thus making it the most populous metropolitan city in Italy. Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of the Tiber. The Vatican City is an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.
The Julio-Claudian dynasty was the first Roman imperial dynasty, consisting of the first five emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—or the family to which they belonged. They ruled the Roman Empire from its formation under Augustus in 27 BC until AD 68, when the last of the line, Nero, committed suicide. The name "Julio-Claudian dynasty" is a historiographical term derived from the two main branches of the imperial family: the gens Julia and gens Claudia.
The gens Claudia, sometimes written Clodia, was one of the most prominent patrician houses at Rome. The gens traced its origin to the earliest days of the Roman Republic. The first of the Claudii to obtain the consulship was Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis, in 495 BC, and from that time its members frequently held the highest offices of the state, both under the Republic and in imperial times.
Britannicus had four siblings: a half-brother, Claudius Drusus, by Claudius' first wife (Plautia Urgulanilla) who died at the age of 3 or 4; a half-sister, Antonia, by Claudius' second wife (Aelia Paetina); a sister by the same mother named Octavia; and an adoptive brother, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (the future emperor Nero), who was adopted in AD 49 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar as a result.
Tiberius Claudius Drusus was the eldest son of the future Roman Emperor Claudius with his first wife Plautia Urgulanilla. He had one younger sister, Claudia, who was repudiated by Claudius along with Plautia.
Plautia Urgulanilla was the first wife of the future Roman Emperor Claudius. They married sometime around the year 9 AD when Claudius was 18 years old. According to Suetonius, Claudius divorced her in 24 on grounds of adultery by Plautia and his suspicions of her involvement in the murder of her sister-in-law Apronia.
Claudia Antonia was the daughter and oldest surviving child of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the only child of his second wife Aelia Paetina. Antonia was a great great-niece of the Emperor Augustus, great-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, first cousin of the Emperor Caligula, half-sister to Claudia Octavia and Britannicus, and cousin, stepsister and sister-in-law of the Emperor Nero.
Two years later, in 43, Claudius was granted the honorific "Britannicus" by the senate as a reward for his conquest of Britain. The emperor never used the name himself, but allowed his son to inherit it. This is the name by which the boy became known to posterity. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, a Roman historian writing from the late first century, says that Claudius adored Britannicus, carrying him around at public events, and "would wish him happy auspices, joined by the applauding throng."
Britannicus was tutored by Sosibius, who was a close associate of Publius Suillius Rufus and a friend of his mother.He was educated alongside Titus Vespasianus, the future emperor of Rome. They were brought up together and taught similar subjects by the same tutors.
Publius Suillius Rufus was a Roman senator who was active during the Principate. He was notorious for his prosecutions during the reign of Claudius; and he was the husband of the step-daughter of Ovid. Rufus was suffect consul in the nundinium of November-December 41 as the colleague of Quintus Ostorius Scapula.
Titus was Roman emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death, thus becoming the first Roman emperor to come to the throne after his own biological father.
In 47, Sosibius gave Claudius a reminder of the power and wealth which threatened the Emperor's throne. His tutor then, as part of his mother's contrivances, told the emperor of Decimus Valerius Asiaticus's involvement in the murder of Caligula and of his growing popularity in Rome. Sosibius went on, saying Asiaticus meant to rally Roman legions in Germany against the throne. Asiaticus was apprehended immediately, and brought to Rome in chains.Sullius successfully pursued charges against other equestrians in the Senate. According to Cassius Dio, Asiaticus was put to death as a favor to Messalina for his property (the Gardens of Lucullus).
It was later voted by the Senate that Sosibius be given a million sesterces for giving Britannicus the benefit of his teachings and Claudius that of his counsel (i.e. for his involvement in the case against Asiaticus).
Brittanicus took part in the celebrations of Rome's 800th anniversary (48). It was the sixth ever Ludi Saeculares ("Secular Games") and sixty-four years since the last one held in the summer of 17 BC by Augustus. Britannicus' father was there as was Lucius Domitius and his mother Agrippina who were the last surviving descendants of Germanicus. Claudius watched the young nobility, including Britannicus and Domitius, enact the Battle of Troy in the circus. Tacitus says Domitius was greeted with more enthusiasm than Britannicus.
The games were seen as the introduction of Agrippina and Domitius to public life, and his mother Messalina must have been aware of this and envious of Agrippina. Tacitus writes that Messalina was too busy engaging in an "insane" affair to plot the destruction of Agrippina.He says:
She had grown so frantically enamoured of Gaius Silius, the handsomest of the young nobility of Rome, that she drove from his bed Junia Silana, a high-born lady, and had her lover wholly to herself. Silius was not unconscious of his wickedness and his peril; but a refusal would have insured destruction, and he had some hope of escaping exposure; the prize too was great, and so he consoled himself by awaiting the future and enjoying the present. As for her, careless of concealment, she went continually with a numerous retinue to his house, she haunted his steps, showered on him wealth and honours, and, at last, as though empire had passed to another, the slaves, the freedmen, the very furniture of the emperor were to been seen in the possession of the paramour.— Tacitus, The Annales, 11.12
The affair continued into the next year. It was then that the affair between Messalina and Silius took a new turn. Silius, who had no children of his own, proposed to marry Messalina on condition that she allow him to adopt Britannicus.The plan was to overthrow Claudius and rule together as regents of Britannicus. She acquiesced and waited for Claudius to leave Rome before performing the sacrifice and entering the bigamous marriage. The illegal union was made known to Claudius by Callistus and Narcissus, freedmen in his service. Claudius had Messalina, Silius, and others who knew of the affair put to death. Messalina was given a knife to kill herself with, though a tribune of the Praetorian Guard had to force it through her neck. Images and statues of Silius and his associates were ordered destroyed.
The fall of Silius and Messalina opened the way for Agrippina the Younger to become his father's fourth wife. His father claimed to be disinterested in another marriage,but it wouldn't be long. Unlike his uncle Germanicus, his father had never been adopted into the Julii . Claudius thought marrying his niece would bring his family closer to that of Augustus, as Agrippina and Domitius were the last living descendants of Germanicus. So, in 49, despite a marriage between uncle and niece being incestuous under Roman law, his father remarried.
In 49, during the term of consul-elect Mammius Pollio (March–June), Domitius was betrothed to his sister Octavia and thus became his equal in rank. Tacitus suggests this move had the support of those who feared the vengeance of Britannicus against those who wronged his mother.
Through the insistence of Pallas, his father was convinced to adopt Domitius as his son. Claudius was convinced to do as Augustus had done in adopting Gaius and Lucius Caesar, and as Tiberius had done in adopting Germanicus despite having a son already. It was in February 50 that his father passed a law adopting Domitius into the Claudii and naming him Nero, and Domitius became "Nero Claudius Caesar". Nero and Britannicus then became joint-heirs to the emperor, and Agrippina was then given the title of Augusta.
In AD 51, his brother Nero assumed the toga virilis despite not yet being 14. The Senate also decided then that Nero should hold the consulship during his twentieth year (AD 56) and, as consul-elect, that he should enjoy imperium proconsulare ("proconsular authority") beyond the limits of Rome with the title of princeps iuventutis ("prince of the youth of Rome"). The progress of Nero seems to have followed in the footsteps of Gaius and Lucius Caesar. To mark the occasion, a donative was given to the soldiery of Rome, and presents to the people. His step-brother's status, along with that of Agrippina, is echoed on contemporary coinage.
By contrast, Britannicus was progressively isolated. At the games of the circus Nero appeared in triumphal robes while Britannicus was still dressed as a boy. Tacitus says their clothing at the games affected the expectations of the people: with Nero in a general's clothing, and Britannicus in the dress of boyhood. He wouldn't be due for the toga until 12 February AD 55. He and his supporters were seen as a potential problem for Nero. Agrippina replaced his tutors with her own nominees, having convinced Claudius to order their executions, including the execution of Sosibius.Not just his tutors, but the two prefects of the Praetorian Guard, Lusius Geta and Rufius Crispinus, were replaced as well. They were thought to be sympathetic to the cause of Britannicus and his mother, as Tacitus reports: it would have been risky to surround Nero with any but those loyal to Claudius and Agrippina. His step-mother had them replaced with Sextus Afranius Burrus who was a good soldier, but knew to whom he owed his allegiance.
Nero's career progressed steadily: he gave speeches in AD 51 and 52. The speech in 51 thanked the emperor for honours given to him, and that of 52 was a vow for the safe recovery of the emperor from illness.It was in 53 that Nero married Britannicus' sister Octavia, who first had to be legally transferred to another family to obviate charges of incest. By this time it became clear that Nero was the unambiguous designate. His step-brother became more politically active following his marriage to Octavia: he exempted Illium from all public burdens arguing that Rome was descended from Troy through Aeneas (the founder of the Julian line), procured funds for the colony of Bononia (modern Bologna, Italy) which had been devastated by fire, and the people of Rhodes had their freedom restored.
Meanwhile, Britannicus himself was kept in reserve in case Nero died, with deaths of princes being recent (such as Tiberius Gemellus). Though Nero was clearly the heir-designate, he was not named princeps designate to avoid hurting both Republican sentiment and the Augustan compromise of a principate that lay between monarchy and magistracy.
|O: head of Claudius|| R: bust of Britannicus |
|bronze coin struck in Thessalonica 53 - 54 AD; ref.: RPC 1588|
Suetonius reports that Claudius wished Rome to have a "real Caesar", and Britannicus enjoyed support from Claudius' loyal and influential freedman, Narcissus. There are possible signs of support for Britannicus seen on coins from Moesia and North Africa, placing Britannicus' head and title on the obverse side.Claudius became aware of his wife's actions and began preparing for the end of her power. His father wished to bestow upon him the toga, and to declare Britannicus as his heir. According to Suetonius, when Claudius mentioned his intention to give Britannicus the toga of manhood he said, "That the Roman people may at last have a genuine Caesar."
The actions Claudius took to preserve his rule in the short-term were not easily undone as Britannicus approached manhood. In late 54, Britannicus was within 6 months of reaching manhood by Roman tradition, and had matured early. According to the historian Suetonius, Claudius began to mention divorcing Agrippina and dismissing Nero now that he was no longer needed. In preparation, Claudius commended both his son and adopted son to the Senate as equals in his last Senate address. Suetonius reports that Claudius now admonished his son to grow up quickly, implying that everything would be righted when he assumed the toga virilis.
On 13 October 54, Claudius died, either by natural causes or poison. In the accounts of his death by poison, Agrippina, aware of Claudius' intentions of placing Britannicus on the throne, had a well-known poisoner, Locusta, infuse mushrooms with poison that were fed to the emperor.
There were those who preferred Britannicus over Nero, such as Claudius' freedman Narcissus.Unfortunately for his cause, Narcissus was away in Campania when the emperor was poisoned, while Britannicus and his sisters, Octavia and Antonia, were kept out of sight in their rooms by Agrippina. That way none could challenge Nero's succession. If one thought that Britannicus' claim should take precedence, the response was that Nero too was the son of Claudius, with Agrippina linking him back to Augustus. It didn't help that many were convinced that Britannicus was no longer in the line of succession, a direct effect of the propaganda against him by Agrippina. Nero spoke the eulogy at the emperor's funeral and took sole power. Claudius' new will, which either granted joint-rule to Britannicus and Nero or just Britannicus, was suppressed by the new emperor's men in the senate.
Immediately following the death of Claudius, Agrippina set upon removing those she had seen as a threat. Marcus Junius Silanus, proconsul of Asia whose brother Lucius had been eliminated by her as well, was poisoned for no other reason than that he had been the great-great-grandson of Augustus. Claudius' freedman Narcissus, Britannicus' champion according to Tacitus, had been driven to suicide after a harsh imprisonment. In Tacitus XIII, this was carried out by Agrippina against the wishes of Nero.
Before Nero's consulship in 55, Nero forbade the persecution of a Julius Densus, an equestrian whose partiality for Britannicus had been construed as a crime.
During his consulship, Nero had become more independent from his mother's influence. He began a relationship with a slave girl, and removed Pallas, a favorite of Agrippina, from his post as secretary of the treasury. In response, Agrippina threatened to champion the cause of Britannicus to keep her son in line.In the account of Tacitus, Agrippina says to Nero:
that Britannicus was now of full age, he who was the true and worthy heir of his father's sovereignty, which a son, by mere admission and adoption, was abusing in outrages on his mother. She shrank not from an utter exposure of the wickedness of that ill-starred house, of her own marriage, to begin with, and of her poisoner's craft. All that the gods and she herself had taken care of was that her stepson was yet alive; with him she would go to the camp, where on one side should be heard the daughter of Germanicus; on the other, the crippled Burrus and the exile Seneca, claiming, forsooth, with disfigured hand, and a pedant's tongue, the government of the world.— Tacitus, The Annales, 13.14
Tacitus recounts Nero's numerous attempts to publicly undermine Britannicus' image. In one such attempt, during the feast of Saturn (the Saturnalia), he and Nero were playing a game among a group of their friends, and Nero chose Britannicus to sing a song with the expectation that Britannicus would embarrass himself. Britannicus however, not only avoided humiliation, but also generated sympathy amongst the guests, after singing a poem telling the tale of how he had been cast aside in favour of Nero. The young emperor immediately began plotting his step-brother's assassination.
According to Suetonius, Nero moved against Britannicus, employing the same poisoner, Locusta, who had been hired to murder his father, Claudius. The first dose failed, and Nero decided to throw caution to the wind. In the account of Suetonius, he had Locusta brought to his room to mix a faster acting poison before his very eyes. After many tests on kids, there was a mixture that killed an animal instantly. Being pleased, Nero had the concoction brought immediately to the dining room.
Britannicus was poisoned at a dinner party attended by his sister, Octavia, Agrippina, and several other notables. Tacitus' account of the event is as follows: Britannicus was given a hot drink, which was tested by a food taster, and when he asked for it to be cooled, the poison was added to it with the cold water. The substance was instantly effective, and he "lost alike both voice and breath."Nero claimed to those present that Britannicus was merely suffering from an epileptic fit, and that he had been afflicted with the condition since childhood. He died sometime between December and his 14th birthday, on 11 February 55, when he was to assume manhood, and just four months after his father's death. For her service, the emperor had Locusta rewarded with large estates, and even sent her pupils.
Britannicus was cremated and his ashes placed with those of his father in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Nero held his funeral the very next day in the rain and gave no eulogy, saying it was "a tradition in the case of untimely deaths not to oppress the public with eulogies and processions." Dio says that Nero had the corpse covered in gypsum to cover the effects of the poison on the skin. While he was being carried through the Forum, the rain had uncovered the body making plain to all who could see that he had been poisoned.Author and historian Beacham considers Dio's account to be "theatrical".
Given his and Nero's relationship, it was not surprising when Britannicus died just before his fourteenth birthday. Britannicus criticized Nero's singing voice, and referred to his adoptive brother by his original name of Lucius Domitius.In favoring Nero, Claudius sealed the fate of his son, and perhaps his own. Ominously for Agrippina, Seneca and Burrus did not complain: either they had been bought off, or regarded Britannicus' death as inevitable given his relationship with Nero. Instead, they concentrated on growing their influence with Nero.
According to Suetonius, Britannicus was good friends with the future Emperor Titus, whose father Vespasian had commanded legions in Britain. As part of the Flavians' attempts to link themselves with the Julio-Claudians, Titus claimed that he had been seated with Britannicus on the night he was killed. He even claimed to have tasted the poison, which resulted in a serious and long illness. Titus would go on to erect a gold statue of his childhood friend, and issue coins in his memory.
Britannicus is portrayed in Britannicus (1669) by French playwright Jean Racine.
He was played by Graham Seed in I, Claudius , a 1976 television series by Jack Pulman.
|Ancestors of Britannicus [ better source needed ] [ not in citation given ]|
Valeria Messalina was the third wife of the Roman emperor Claudius. She was a paternal cousin of Emperor Nero, a second-cousin of Emperor Caligula, and a great-grandniece of Emperor Augustus. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot. Her notorious reputation arguably results from political bias, but works of art and literature have perpetuated it into modern times.
Antonia Minor, also known as Julia Antonia Minor, Antonia the Younger or simply Antonia was the younger of two daughters of Mark Antony and Octavia Minor. She was a niece of the Emperor Augustus, sister of Cleopatra Selene II, sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, mother of the Emperor Claudius, and both maternal great-grandmother and paternal great-aunt of the Emperor Nero. She was additionally the maternal great-aunt of the Empress Valeria Messalina and Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix, the paternal grandmother of Claudia Antonia, Claudia Octavia, and Britannicus and the maternal grandmother of Julia Livia and Tiberius Gemellus.
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Gaius Rubellius Plautus was a Roman noble and a political rival of Emperor Nero. Through his mother Julia, he was a relative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was the grandson of Drusus, and the great-grandson of Tiberius and his brother Drusus. Through his great-grandmothers Vipsania Agrippina and Antonia Minor, he was also descended from Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Mark Antony. He was descended from Augustus' sister Octavia Minor, herself a grand-niece of Julius Caesar.
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Locusta or Lucusta, was a notorious maker of poisons in the 1st-century Roman Empire, active in the final two reigns of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. She supposedly took part in the assassinations of Claudius and Britannicus. She was a favourite of emperor Nero for several years, and Nero had her provide training to other poisoners in his service. Following Nero's death, Locusta was executed by his successor, Galba.
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Lucius Annius Vinicianus was a Roman senator during the Principate. He is best known for his involvement in the assassination of Caligula and a rebellion against Claudius.