THE WICKED WIVES OF CLAUDIUS
THE conspirators were so frightened after they had
killed Caligula that they fled in haste, without even
thinking of naming his successor. Then the soldiers
began to wander through the deserted palace, hoping that
they would find some spoil; and one of them stumbled
upon Claudius, Caligula's uncle, who was hiding
behind a curtain.
This Claudius was not only a coward, but half-witted;
and he had hidden there because he fancied that the
conspirators would kill him too.
Claudius found by the Soldiers.
The soldiers now dragged him out of his hiding place;
but instead of killing him they placed him on the
throne, and hailed him as Cæsar and emperor. This
strange choice was not disputed by either people or
senate, and thus Claudius became the fourth emperor of
Claudius was at first very moderate, and tried to
administer justice fairly. But unfortunately he was
very weak-minded, and he had married one of the worst
women who ever lived,—the wicked Messalina. Not
 committing every crime herself, this woman forced her
weak husband to do wrong also.
The Romans had been in the habit of rewarding very
good and faithful slaves by giving them their liberty.
These freedmen often remained in their former master's
service. They could no longer be sold or severely
punished, and they were paid for their services; but
many still considered themselves as their master's
Claudius had many such freedmen at his service, and
among them were Narcissus and Pallas. They were
very shrewd, but were cruel and vicious, and agreed to
everything that Messalina proposed. Once they got
possession of all the wheat in town, and refused to
sell it except at so high a price that the poor could
not buy any, and were in great distress.
One day when her husband was absent, the wicked
Messalina publicly married another man. As she had
quarreled with the freedman Narcissus, he told Claudius
what she had done. The emperor was so angry that he
allowed Narcissus to send men to kill her. He had long
ago ceased to love her, although she was the mother of
two good and lovely children, Britannicus and
Octavia; and when they came to tell him that she was
dead, he calmly continued his meal without even growing
Claudius had given much money to the pretorian guard,
because they had chosen him to become emperor after
Caligula's death. He also took much pride in the other
soldiers, although he himself was far too much of a
coward to fight; and it was during his reign that part
of Britain first became a Roman province.
When the Roman legions in Dalmatia heard that the
 pretorian guard in Rome had named an emperor, they
wished to name one too. So they set their general upon
a throne, and then asked him to lead them to Rome to
take possession of the city.
On the way thither, the troops quarreled with their
chief. The result was a mutiny, in which the ambitious
general was slain. Then Claudius sent out a new
commander, and gave orders that those who had conspired
against him should be arrested and sent to Rome.
Among these prisoners was an officer named Pætus. His wife, Arria, was so devoted to him that she followed
him to Rome. When she heard that he had been condemned
to death by horrible torture, she advised him to kill
himself. Taking a dagger, Arria plunged it into her
own breast, and then handed it to her husband. With a
smile, she exclaimed, "Pætus, it does not hurt."
Thus urged, Pætus took the same dagger, and killed
When Messalina had been killed, her enemy, Narcissus,
imagined that he would be allowed to govern as he
pleased. He was greatly disappointed, therefore, when
Claudius married Agrippina, the sister of Caligula; for
she was fully as wicked and fond of power as her
brother had ever been.
Agrippina had been married before; and, as her husband
died very suddenly, it was whispered in Rome that she
had poisoned him. The new queen brought into the
palace her son Nero, whom she hoped to see on the
throne before very long, although the real heir was
Britannicus, the son of Claudius.
Nero was carefully educated, under the care of the
 philosopher Seneca, and Burrhus, the chief of the
pretorian guard. Both of these men were devoted to
Agrippina, and by her orders they bestowed all their
care upon Nero, while Britannicus was neglected and
set aside. Then as soon as Nero was old enough,
Agrippina persuaded Claudius to give him the princess
Octavia as a wife.
Narcissus had seen all these changes with great
displeasure, and tried to find some way of getting rid
of the empress. Agrippina, however, guessed his plans,
and persuaded Claudius to send him away. Then, when
there seemed to be no danger that any one would try to
interfere with her, she sent for Locusta,
a woman who
knew how to mix poison, and bought a dose from her.
The poison thus obtained was put in a dish of
mushrooms, and served at the emperor's private table.
Claudius, who was very fond of mushrooms, ate freely of
this dish, and a few hours later he died in great