31 July 2020

A Look Back at Emperor Claudius II

An interesting 'monarchist' tale.

From The Mad Monarchist (14 February 2017)

This is an appropriate occasion to take a look back at the Roman Emperor Claudius II, also known as "Claudius Gothicus". Read to the end to see why.

The Roman emperor known as “Claudius the Goth” was born on May 10, 214 AD in the province of Illyricum (roughly modern Croatia) and he would be the first of several accomplished Illyrian emperors. Although he has been widely praised, at least by many secular historians, his actual record would leave more than a few wondering why. Which, of course, is not to say that he was a disaster but simply that his achievements may have been a bit exaggerated due to other motives by those penning the history books. He had a distinguished record as a soldier and earned steady promotion to major military commands during the reigns of Emperor Valerian and Emperor Gallienus. When Gallienus was assassinated near Milan in September of 268, the army considered Claudius to be the obvious choice to succeed him. There was certainly public support for such a move and the Roman senate found nothing objectionable about him. He was not far away at the time, commanding the reserves at what is now Pavia, Italy and he immediately took charge and seized Milan and executed Aureolus, commander of the Dalmatian cavalry who had defected to the enemy in the Gothic War that was being fought and who had killed Gallienus. However, as no other conspirators were punished, some have always suspected that Claudius himself may have been party to it.

In any event, measures were taken to ensure unity rather than a spirit of retribution. The newly declared Emperor Claudius II successfully petitioned the senate to deify the late Emperor Gallienus and ordered that there be no persecution of his loyalists. Emperor Claudius II remained at the front to continue the war against the Goths, though having taken Milan he had to first move north to confront another barbarian invasion, this time the Alemanni, (southern Germans) who were pouring across the Alps into northern Italy. After a decisive victory at Lake Garda, and wintering in Rome, Claudius II returned to the front and led a successful campaign against the Gothic invaders, earning the title “Gothicus Maximus”. However, there were Roman defeats as well, particularly in Thrace where the Goths won a considerable victory. However, the Roman legions were placed in a commanding position for victory due to the outbreak of a terrible plague that devastated the Gothic forces. Unfortunately for Emperor Claudius II, the spread of disease knew no preference between Roman and barbarian and the same plague claimed his life as well. Emperor Claudius II died in camp in August of 270.

During his reign, much of the Roman Empire that had fallen away was reclaimed but about as much was also lost. As Roman fortunes rose in the west, they fell in the east. Gaul had broken away previously and tried to set up a rival power under its own line of Gallic emperors and Claudius II sent Roman forces to reclaim at least southern Gaul east of the Rhone River. Hispania (Spain) had fallen to the Goths but had finally shaken off their rule and pledged loyalty to Rome once again, which was certainly a great benefit and left Claudius II well placed to launch a more ambitious campaign to restore Roman rule to the whole of Gaul. However, he was then preoccupied by the Gothic invasion and even more alarming was the news from the east where the famous Queen Zenobia had come to power (in what is now Syria) and advanced as far as Ankara in Turkey. The following year her forces conquered Egypt, cutting Rome off from its most vital source of grain. Obviously, that was a situation that left little time for dreams of Gallic conquest. The first priority of the Emperor was to secure Italy and defeat Zenobia so as to prevent food shortages in Rome that would be ruinous. However, before any of that could be done, Claudius II had departed this life.

Having no children of his own, Claudius II was succeeded by his brother who became Emperor Quintillus. According to the official history of the Roman emperors, the two also had another brother named Crispus whose daughter, Claudia, was the mother of Emperor Constantius Chlorus who was the father of Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor. If so, this would be somewhat ironic given that one of the things Claudius II was praised for by some of the senatorial class was in being a more strictly pagan Roman emperor who began enforcing religious laws with more vigor than had previously been the case. Of course, some have also argued that this genealogical connection was a forgery, something invented by the partisans of Emperor Constantine to give him a more illustrious imperial family history. In such cases, it is virtually impossible to prove with absolute certainty which side is correct in its assertions.

One other incident occurred that makes Emperor Claudius II rather noteworthy and that concerned some trouble of a religious sort. Persecution of Christians was rather intermittent in the Roman Empire, with periods of fierce persecution being followed by long periods when anti-Christian laws were relaxed or left un-enforced. Some of these laws were being enforced in the reign of Claudius II and there was a certain Roman priest who came to the attention of the authorities. He had become well known for administering the sacraments in violation of the law, particularly it seems for secretly marrying Christian couples. He was arrested but still carried on converting people to Christianity. Severely beaten and stoned, the priest did not die and was brought before Emperor Claudius II. Rather than beg for his life, he tried to convert the Emperor to Christianity! That did not happen and due to his persistence he was ordered to be beheaded. While awaiting execution he converted the blind daughter of the governor of his prison to Christianity and while praying for her, her blindness was healed. The grateful girl would remain faithful to his memory for the rest of her life, long after the priest was martyred on February 14, 269, cherishing a last, small note he had written to her, which the healing power of Christ enabled her to read, which ended with the words, “from your Valentine”.

A happy St Valentine’s Day to all from The Mad Monarchist

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