Claudius limped towards the arch beside the entrance of the war room of the Roman Emperor. He was frustrated at his nephew again – Emperor Caligula had insulted him in front of scholars of Rome. This had gone far too long and needed immediate closure. Otherwise, he would be left to lead a secluded life again. He did not want that to happen. I want to rule Rome, Claudius determined.
As he reached the arch, he saw Commander Cassius talking animatedly to some Senators he recognized.
“Caligula has changed a lot – he is not the same person he was in the first six months of his reign,” Lucius, one of the Senators said.
“Yes, he is now corrupt, and is also a known womanizer,” Caius, another Senator confirmed.
“We must put an end to this. I heard that he is planning to leave Rome permanently and settle down in Alexandria. He says he has divine powers now” Commander Cassius sowed the seeds for a conspiracy.
Claudius smiled – Cassius thought it was a wicked smile. “Whatever you plan to do, you will have my support. I’m fed up of his antics. Doesn’t he have a modicum of decency left in him?”
The words encouraged Cassius and the Senators. “Let’s move to some place where we will not be seen or heard” warned Flavius, who was also a Roman Senator.
They moved to Cassius’s room in the palace. The guards were asked to draw the curtains and not to allow anyone inside the room until Cassius ordered so.
Over the next four hours they formed a definitive plan to overthrow Caligula. This was after various options were laid and the pros and cons of each debated thoroughly. This was a matter of life and death – any failure would see all of them in gaol for the rest of their lives! This was motivation enough for all to rack their brains and come up with the best scheme to put an end to a rule that had disillusioned just about everyone after the initial euphoria of the statesmanship of Caligula had subsided.
“Let’s do this when the Emperor addresses a group of actors during the Augustus games,” Cassius proposed the date for their action.
“I agree. It will be a closed door speech and only the actors and the Emperor’s close affiliates will be around” Lucius concurred. The others nodded in agreement. Claudius said nothing.
On the appointed day, the three Senators met Commander Cassius in front of the drama theater where Emperor Caligula was to speak in a short while. Cassius asked the Senators to take their places inside the theater while imploring them to stay hidden.
They saw Claudius approaching. “Are you coming inside with us, Claudius?” asked Flavius.
“Yes, I am.”
All of them went inside the theater and took their positions. A few minutes later, a contingent of drama participants entered the stage with an older man who seemed to be their teacher. They began to be seated as a guard announced that Emperor Caligula would arrive to address them presently. The Emperor indeed arrived soon with a few of his close advisers. He took his place in the podium and started addressing the young actors.
After a few minutes, at a signal of Cassius, the conspirators confronted the Emperor. Caligula was surprised at this sudden turn of events. When he saw Claudius, he exclaimed, “Uncle, what is happening?”
Claudius did not utter a word. He walked past Cassius, patted on his back and walked out of the theater. Just as the doors to the theater slammed shut again, he stabbed Caligula. The Emperor writhed in pain and fell backward. The three Senators also started stabbing the Emperor. Caligula pleaded with them to leave him alone. But the attackers showed no mercy.
The audience was shell-shocked and they suddenly made their way out of the theater. Hearing the commotion inside the theater, Caligula’s loyal guard came inside. Aghast at what he saw, he quickly took his sword and responded to the attackers. But it was all too late – the Emperor was dead.
The conspirators quickly fled the scene and all hell broke loose. The guard began attacking people who were not even remotely involved in the crime. Several civilians were injured, and there was a massive destruction of property. Meanwhile, the conspirators had moved on to the interior chambers of the palace. They entered the chambers of Caligula’s wife Milonia where they saw his daughter Julia as well. The women realized that something was wrong and prepared to escape when they were mercilessly cut down by Cassius and Caius.
Hearing the news of Milonia and Julia’s assassination, the situation turned to one of utter chaos. When Claudius heard this, he was shocked – they did not plan to murder Caligula’s wife and daughter. I’m being tricked, thought Claudius. He realized that Cassius had political ambitions and was harboring thoughts of eliminating all the royal family members. Struck with panic, he decided to flee the palace and hide somewhere.
Claudius couldn’t run fast. The limp in his legs made it all the more difficult to speed his exit from the palace which was under siege. As he finally managed to make his way to the back exit a hand pulled him and he was suddenly face to face with a guard behind a pillar. Claudius tried to wiggle his hands out of the guard’s grip but the guard calmed him, “I’m not one of them. I’m a Praetorian guard. I have come to save you. Will you come with us?”
Claudius wasn’t sure who to trust after all that had happened. He looked the guard in the eyes. There was a deep intensity in those eyes which told Claudius that the guard was telling the truth.
“Where will you take me?” Claudius wanted to know.
“We will remain in hiding until the dust settles,” the guard said.
“But where to?” Claudius was anxious to know.
“Come with me, I will show you,” the guard pulled Claudius and they quickly exited the palace. They made their way towards a building which appeared secluded. Because of the limp in Claudius’ legs, it took them a while to get there.
The Praetorian guards welcomed Claudius to their camp. After a round of introductions, they briefed Claudius on the state of affairs. The guards implored him to take up the title of Roman Emperor as there was no one now to lead Rome. Claudius was hesitant and said he needed to think about it.
The Roman Senate convened a special session. Several Senators were talking animatedly on the happenings of the day when the head of the Senate sounded the gavel and asked everybody to remain silent.
“We do not have a government in Rome now,” he commenced his speech. “It’s a most serious situation” he added.
A group of Senators informed the head that some of the Praetorian guards had safely hidden Claudius, uncle of Caligula and that he should be made Emperor of Rome. At this a bitter argument surfaced and the head of the senate had to sound the gavel many times to bring the situation under control.
“Claudius is worthy of becoming Emperor. Bring him to the Senate and the Senators will approve his anointment” the Senate head said once and for all.
After a bout with his own conscience and words of encouragement from the guards, Claudius finally relented and announced that he was ready to lead Rome. A loud cheer erupted in the camp and the senior guards escorted Claudius to the Roman Senate where he would be formally approved as the Emperor of Rome to succeed Caligula.
As he entered the Senate hall, those in favor of Claudius stood up and began to chant his name. The Senate head again had to get his gavel and ensure order. Sensing the mood of the majority of the Senators, he formally accorded the Senate’s approval for Claudius to ascend to the throne of Rome.
Caligula was Roman Emperor from AD 37 – 41. He was Claudius’s nephew as well.
Claudius succeeded Caligula as Roman Emperor in AD 41 and went on to rule until AD 54
Commander Cassius – Cassius Chaerea was a commander in the Roman Imperial Guard and assassinated Caligula in AD 41
Senators Lucius, Caius and Flavius – fictional names; it is believed that three Senators assisted Cassius in killing Caligula but their names are not known
Milonia – Caligula’s wife; was assassinated by Cassius
Julia – Caligula’s daughter; she was also assassinated by Cassius