Claudius' Freedmen

  • Who were Claudius' freedmen?
  • How did they influence him?
  • With relevant quotes from Tacitus and Suetonius.
  • Created by: Maz
  • Created on: 05-06-13 15:02

Posides the ******

At his British triumph, Claudius "actually awarded an honororary spear" to Posides, "along with soldiers who had fought in the field".

The honourary spear referred to here is called the hasta pura - this spear was "made without iron", so may not have had a head. It was normally given to a soldier the first time that he conquered in battle, or later to a soldier who had struck down an enemy.

Claudius also awarded the hasta pura to Tiberius Claudius Balbilus, a civil servant, so it may not have been very unusual for a non-soldier to be awarded it.

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Claudius gave Felix "command of infantry cohorts and cavalry squadrons and the governorship of Judaea"

Felix also married three princesses!

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Harpocras "earned the privileges of riding through Rome in a litter and of staging public entertainments as though he were an eques".

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Polybius was Claudius' cultural advisor

He "often walked between the two consuls"

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Narcissus and Pallas

Claudius' "firmest devotion was reserved for Narcissus, his secretary, and Pallas, his bookkeeper"

Claudius encouraged the Senate to honour them with "large gifts of money and the insignia of quaestors and praetors"

They became very rich "by legitimate and illigitimate means" - to the point that "when one day Claudius complained about the lack of funds in the imperial exchequer, someone answered neatly that he would have heaps of pocket money if only his two freedmen took him into partnership"

Narcissus was heavily involved in the downfall of Messalina

Pallas convinced Claudius to take Agrippina as his his 4th wife

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The Sources' Opinions

According to Suetonius, "Claudius fell so deeply under the influence of these freedmen and wives that he seemed to be their servant rather than their emperor"

He also claims that everything Claudius did throughout his reign was "dictated by his wives and freedmen: he practically always obeyed their whims rather than his own judgement"

Note: the quotations above can also be used as examples of his wives' influence, so they're worth remembering!

Tacitus does not give a direct opinion like this (though he does express his dislike for them by repeatedly calling them "ex-slaves"), but he does mention them quite often in his detailed account of the fall of Messalina and Claudius' marriage to Agrippina

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Examples of Influence

Claudius "distributed public offices, army commands, pardons and punishments" - as well as revoking grants, cancelling edicts, and replacing/amending letters of appointment - according to the wishes ("however capricious") of his freedmen and wives

'Punishments' included executions (e.g. Appius Silanus, the two Julias, Gnaeus Pompeius, Lucius Silanus, 35 senators, and 300 equites)

A centurian reported that a former consul had been 'dispatched' and Claudius denied giving the orders. "His freedmen satisfied him that the soldiers had done right not to wait for instructions before taking vengeance"

Narcissus conspired with Messalina to have Claudius execute Appius Silanus

The fall of Messalina - see next card

Note: all of the above can also be used as examples of his wives' influence!

After Messalina's death, "the ex-slaves quarrelled about who should choose" Claudius' next wife; Pallas supported Agrippina, and Claudius chose her

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Their Role in the Fall of Messalina

When Messalina married Gaius Silius, Narcissus, Pallas and Callistus conferred on what to do.

Pallas and Callistus opted out, but Narcissus took action: he sent two of Claudius' favourite mistresses (Calpurnia and Cleopatra) to tell Claudius about the marriage, and then spoke to Claudius himself, asking "are you aware you are divorced?"

Narcissus took control in dealing with the situation (or, as Tacitus says, "the former slave, Narcissus, took charge"):

  • The Guard were transferred to his command for the day
  • He rode in Claudius' carriage back to Rome
  • He kept Messalina and her protests away from Claudius and ordered their children removed from the room
  • He organised the executions of those involved...
  • Including Messalina. "Indeed, if Narcissus had not speedily caused her death, the fatal blow would have rebounded on her accuser"

He was awarded an honorary quaetorship by the Senate after this

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