Book Review: Claudius Caesar: Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire


by Josiah Osgood

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xvii, 357. Illus., maps, tables, stemma, notes, biblio., index. $32.00 paper. ISBN: 978-0-521-70825-8

In Claudius Caesar Osgood gives us not so much a biography of the fourth emperor, as a look at how Claudius, the supposedly handicapped poor relative of the imperial family, managed to legitimatize his rule, while helping to shape imperial institutions and expanding the frontiers more than anyone since Augustus.

Author of the notable Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (2006), Prof. Osgood (Classics, Georgetown), views the received image from the histories of Suetonius and Tacitus, and the fiction of Robert Graves, with more than a grain of salt.  While not suggesting that Claudius was some sort of brilliant ruler, he concludes that Claudius was a reasonably able man trying to survive in a very dangerous place.  Each of the chapters, which draw upon a wealth of sources, including not only ancient histories, but also literature, archaeology, coinage, and more, is devoted to a different aspect of Claudius’ principate.  So we get a picture of his imperial propaganda, his surprising conquest of Britain, and his public works, as well as the structure of government, the quest to secure the succession, and more.  Although this may seem to present snap shots, rather than a continuous narrative, on the whole, the work remains surprisingly coherent in chronological terms, as Osgood shows how these interrelated to promote the emperor’s image and tenure. 

A very good book for those interested in the development of imperial institutions, organization, and strategy, or merely curious about the real person behind the character in Graves' I,Claudius.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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