Claudius asserted his authority in practical ways.
- He reformed the senatorial roll (as Augustus had done). Those who failed to reach the census requirement of 1,000,000 sesterces were encouraged to leave of their own free will. Others were forced to go (Dio, 60. 29).
- He was firm with provincial governors, prosecuting the corrupt and ensuring that those retiring from office would have a period before their next posting when they would be open to prosecution (Dio, 60. 24-25).
- He returned the aerarium (treasury) to the control of the quaestors, but in order to ensure proper financial management extended their office to three years (Dio, 60. 24).
- Claudius increased the authority of his equestrian procurators.
- Claudius and his legates were also given powers to make treaties with the power of the Senate and People of Rome (Dio, 60.23).
- The judicial acts of his procurators were ratified, probably increasing their authority in the collection of taxes in senatorial and imperial provinces (Suetonius, Claudius, 12.1).
- Claudius also reformed the equestrian career structure (Suetonius, Claudius 25).
- He changed the duty of slave owners to their slaves, so they could not just leave the old and sick to die or kill them in order to save money (Suetonius, Claudius 25)
Extension of Senatorial Membership to Gauls
The qualification for being a senator was to be a Roman citizen, to have a certain level of wealth (1,000,000 sesterces), and to be chosen, normally after performing a junior magistracy. Gradually, as the Romans spread across the Mediterranean, senators came to be chosen from more places. In AD 48, Claudius addressed the senate about letting in Gauls from Gallia Comata, the more northern parts of Gaul.
We have two versions of the speech. On in Tacitus, Annales 11. 23–5, and one in the so-called Lyons Tablet. The Gauls had been within the empire for approximately one hundred years, but had been far from peaceful and the last major revolt had been as recent as AD21. Claudius’ speech in Tacitus is similar to the verbatim report on the inscription, showing the same reasoning and, in fact, the same slightly odd discursive style. It is normally assumed that ancient historians made up most of the speeches in their works, but there is a suggestion here that Tacitus was working from a copy of the speech.
Claudius ‘persuaded’ the Senate through use of historical analogy, pointing out that Rome had progressively incorporated new peoples and that few of the senators could trace their ancestry back to Romulus’ foundation. The response of the unnamed senators was to argue that there was something different about Italy: Italy had been bound together by a long and shared cultural tradition. They wanted to base Roman identity on something cultural or a shared history.
Claudius was always going to win the argument; he was emperor. But the argument is interesting. Claudius felt that he had to make an argument and persuade people. What matters to Claudius (though see him being fierce who showed no knowledge of Latin (Dio, 60.17; Suetonius, Claudius 16) was political loyalty. Since the Gauls had been loyal, they could be Roman citizens. What we seem to see is a shift so that Roman identity is defined in terms of political loyalty . Political loyalty meant loyalty to the emperor. This shift was one step on the path from Romans being citizens of the city of Rome to being those who were loyal to the Roman emperor.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of senators in this period were Italian. Claudius opened the door a little further, but the trickle of provincial senators did not become a flood. Claudius may have wished to demonstrate his patronage of the Gauls. His relationship to them may also have recalled Julius Caesar who had first brought the Gauls into the Empire.
We see the workings of Claudian administration in his letter to the citizens of Alexandria. The letter was dealing with the problems that had arisen in the city late in the reign of Gaius. Claudius appears to reinforce what he thought of as the status quo, reasserting Jewish privileges, but telling the Jews that they were aliens in the city.
The procedures in the document give us insight into how the administration worked: an embassy was sent to Claudius on his accession. It brought complaints against the Jews, a problem relating to ephebes and citizenship, and a whole list of honours they’d like to offer Claudius. The ambassadors also requested that Claudius confirm the existing honours of the city. Claudius confirmed the honours of the city and accepted most of the honours offered to him.
The process was one of the giving and receiving of gifts. This was intended to show a social relationship, which is why Claudius mentions his brother and his family. It is very much as if one is meeting someone for the first time, and one establishes whether you have mutual friends.
Part of that exchange of honours was quasi-divine honours for the emperor, which shows how normal the imperial cult was. After the reign of Gaius, Claudius was reluctant to accept such honours, but he did accept most.
Gaius was supposedly almost bankrupt by the end of his reign. But there is no sign of any financial problems during the reign of Claudius. He gave the praetorians lavish donatives (gifts of money). He also made a substantial gifts to the plebs following his British victory, (Dio, 60 25). He began two huge building projects – the harbour at Ostia and the draining of the Fucine lake (Dio, 60 11) – and he also built a new aqueduct and completed one started by Gaius (Suetonius, Claudius 20). He was fond of games and put on spectaculars for special occasions (Dio, 60 33; Suetonius, Claudius, 21, 24.2; Tacitus, Annales, 11. 11–12, 12. 41). All this was achieved while gradually withdrawing taxes that had been imposed by Gaius (Dio, 60 4.1), and restoring monies confiscated by Gaius, and refusing ‘gifts’ from those ‘who wanted to help’ (Dio, 60.6). Claudius’s expenditure seems vast, yet he is not accused of meanness or (often) of killing aristocrats for their wealth, though the latter charge is levelled at Messalina. Either we must conclude that Claudius was a financial genius or, and rather more likely, the financial situation in AD41 was not bad.
Claudius was a reforming emperor. He was also an emperor who sought to build for the Romans: he invested in urban infrastructure and in securing the support of the plebs. He reformed the administration and various aspects of the workings of the senate. This was in marked contrast to the administratively passive reigns of his two predecessors. His activity recalled that of Augustus or even the dictatorship of Julius Caesar.