Played by Derek Jacobi.The protagonist of the series, as well as the narrator. His life is essentially one tragedy after another.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Used his historical knowledge to win battles and retrieve the last Eagle, and learns to play Caligula like a lyre after Caligula's descent into insanity.
- Classical Anti-Hero: He really doesn't want to be a Hero. He certainly doesn't look or act like one, either. However, when push comes to shove, he always steps up to the plate and does whatever it takes to make things work.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Although it's mostly an act.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Claudius practically personifies this trope.
- Guile Hero: To some extent. While he's not The Chessmaster, during Caligula's reign his Obfuscating Stupidity alone wouldn't be enough to save him, thanks to Caligula's cask-strength insanity and psychotic urges. Several times he saves his own life, as well as the lives of others around him, by manipulating Caligula with not-inconsiderable skill. He's also a skilled administrator, and manages a long and (mostly) successful reign as Emperor largely due to extreme competence in the face of being loved by almost nobody.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Claudius and his desire to restore the Roman Republic, which is also somewhat unhistorical, since at that time there was no distinction made between the Republican and Imperial eras.
- Lonely at the Top: The isolation involved with being a member of such an important family is one of his major problems. Becoming Emperor certainly doesn't help it, either.
- Not So Above It All: A darker version of this trope: Claudius thinks he can remain separate from the murderous schemes absorbing his family. Unfortunately, when Claudius himself comes to power, he finds he must get his own hands dirty in order to survive.
- Obfuscating Disability: Downplayed. His limp and stutter are both natural, but he learns to exaggerate and, later, invoke them on command.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Something like 80% of the reason that he survives for as long as he does.
- Outliving One's Offspring: He outlives his son from his first marriage, though this is stated explicitly only in the novel.
- Properly Paranoid: Claudius is convinced his (last) wife is trying to poison him. Oh, wait. She is.
- Reluctant Ruler: He even tried to hide behind curtains to avoid it. The Praetorian Guard as a united body weren't about to let him get away with that...
- Speech Impediment: Though it improves as he gets older.
- Stop Worshipping Me: He technically is worshipped as a god, but he sure as hell doesn't want it.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: With Messalina. It ends badly.
- The Unfavourite: His mother, Antonia, was always disgusted by him in comparison to Germanicus.
- You Should Have Died Instead: Claudius' mother lobs this at him after the death of her more accomplished son, Germanicus.
- Zero-Approval Gambit: It's all part of the plan to get Rome thoroughly sick of autocratic rule.
Played by Siân Phillips.Augustus's scheming wife, who is willing to do anything to ensure that her son gets the throne.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Tiberius becomes emperor, all right. Unfortunately, he drags Rome into an age of terror and debauchery.
- Black Widow: She poisons Augustus by smearing poison on the figs that he picks himself.
- The Chessmaster: Oh, wow: she's a scarily effective bitch on wheels and master plotter, this one.
- Deadpan Snarker: When you can make Augustus want to wince just imagining what you're going to say before you actually say it, you know you're good.
- Even Evil Has Standards: As horrible as Livia was, even she was disgusted to learn that Caligula had murdered his own father. And she felt genuinely bad about murdering Augustus. She was also thoroughly appalled by her son's decadent behavior.Livia: "I heard about Lollia! Disgusting! Your brother Drusus was worth ten of you!"
- Evil Matriarch: Given her tendencies to have her own family killed or banished if it means Tiberius will become emperor.
- A God Am I: Feels it's the only way to avoid eternal damnation.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: She'll do anything to make sure her lad gets to wear lots of purple. Anything.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: In all likelihood, the real Livia was not a scheming mastermind and never poisoned anyone.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Livia ruthlessly manipulates and kills family members and anyone else close to them to ensure her son becomes emperor and Rome does not return to being a Republic, convinced this is the only way for the city to remain great.
- The Extremist Was Right: Claudius has a great deal of personal hatred for Livia, but Deifies her anyway after being Emperor and learning how much work she did to make everything work.
- Ignored Epiphany: Admits she was a terrible criminal and person, but decides it was all worth it in the end.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Livilla mentions that she was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world.
- Kill the Ones You Love: Say what you will about Livia, as demonstrated during Augustus' death, she genuinely loved the man and killed him purely because she felt he was traveling the path of ruin for her nation.
- Manipulative Bitch: She plays Augustus like a fiddle.
- Master Poisoner: To the point where a fellow Mistress of the art gets a chance to really panic at how much she knows. Over lunch.
- Mother Makes You King: It's all to make her son emperor
- My Beloved Smother: To Tiberius.
- Not Me This Time: She had nothing to do with the deaths of Drusus and Germanicus (The former dying of his wounds and the latter poisoned by Plancina), but admits that she would have killed them eventually.
- Offing the Offspring: She's not afraid to prune a few of her family tree's branches if she suspects they'll end up a hindrance to her grander ambitions.
- Outliving One's Offspring: She outlives her son Drusus by nearly 40 years. She also outlives her grandsons Germanicus and Castor.
- Pet the Dog: In her last conversation with Claudius, Livia realizes that his bumbling demeanor is a complete facade and compliments him on it.
- Secret Keeper: She walked in on Caligula and Drusilla's Brother-Sister Incest and uses this as leverage to make him do what she wants. She stops short of outright confirming what she saw to Claudius but he quickly figures it out.
- Wicked Stepmother: She slowly and methodically has Augustus's children murdered or otherwise removed from succession to pave the way for her own son Tiberius to eventually take the Imperial mantle. (Livia and Augustus never had any children together.)
Played by Margaret Tyzack.Claudius's mother, and one of the few "moral" people in Rome. Though how sane she is is rather questionable.
- Abusive Parent: Even in his own hallucinations Claudius isn't free from her constant degradation.(during Claudius' hallucination in the Senate) "And your nose is still running, Claudius. It's still running."
- Driven to Suicide: It's okay, though. For Romans, this is an honorable choice, and she's rather matter-of-fact about it when she tells Claudius what she's going to do.
- Holier Than Thou: She's an exemplary model of Roman piety — and she makes sure everyone knows it.
- Hypocrite: When things start going seriously down the drain she starts criticizing everyone around her for not having the courage to kill Caligula. At no point does she even contemplate the notion that she might give it a try.
- Offing the Offspring: Locks Livilla in her bedroom to starve to death after learning of her role in Sejanus' plot.
- Outliving One's Offspring: She outlives her son Germanicus and daughter Livilla, the latter of which died at her hand. She also outlives her grandsons Nero, Drusus, and Gemellus.
- Parental Favouritism: Germanicus is obviously her favourite. She doesn't even seem to like Livilla all that much, even before Livilla becomes her grandmother's pet.
- Soapbox Sadie: Is constantly bemoaning how Rome is going down the toilet.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Ultimately takes this view of herself. She commits suicide to protest Caligula's debauched reign.
Claudius's brother, and one of the few people to treat him with any compassion at all. Is eventually offed by his son.
- A Father to His Men: Like his father and grandfather, he shares in the hardships of the soldiers under his command.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: A rare male example of this trope; blond-haired and admired by all as a virtuous hero of the German front. His children are all inversions (either good but dark-haired or blonde but evil).
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The only people who don't like him are almost inevitably complete douchebags.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth
Played by John Hurt.Claudius's insane nephew, and the third emperor of Rome.
- 0% Approval Rating: By the end of his reign, he's alienated pretty much everyone in Rome.
- Ax-Crazy: To say the very least...
- Bait the Dog: From the perspective of the Senate and Rome at least. He starts by making up for Tiberius' mistakes and honoring his father. Within five minutes, they're proven just how wrong for the job he is.
- Brother-Sister Incest: With Drusilla. "And you know how I love my sisters..."
- The Caligula: Well Duh.
- Creepy Child: He becomes partially responsibly for the murder of his father when he was just hitting puberty.
- Creepy Crossdresser: Performed before three utterly baffled men who assumed they were to be murdered.
- Enfant Terrible: Is already a murderer before he even hit puberty.
- Evil Nephew: Inspired the page and Caligula's actions even provide the page quote.
- A God Am I: In the more usual sense.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: After going insane. Celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Actium, and he throws a fit. Don't celebrate it, and he throws a fit. Please don't mention the fact that his grandfather was a commoner.
- I'm a Humanitarian: He cuts out and eats Drusilla's unborn child, fearing it will become more powerful than he.
- Insane Equals Violent: Subverted. His violent/psychopathic tendencies are explicitly shown NOT to follow from his psychotic delusions: he's a killer from childhood, but doesn't go mad until after he becomes Emperor years later. Livia and other murderous characters are described as "mad" by other characters, but are not shown as irrational - even Nero, explicitly called "as mad as... Caligula", is clearly nothing of the kind.
- It Amused Me: Caligula has some shades of this - he does things like set up the young, beautiful Messalina with unattractive Claudius because he thinks it's funny.
- Jerkass: Even before going insane, he's a jerk to pretty much everyone in regular conversation.
- Large Ham: He is played by John Hurt, by the way.
- Laughably Evil: It's somewhat scary that someone as psychotic and crazy as him could be so funny. Especially when He invites Claudius and two senators to the palace and makes it sound like an execution threat, waits until the atmosphere reaches nerve shredding levels, only to surprise them with an outlandish cross dressing performance as Dawn
- Light Is Not Good: As his picture shows, he is very fond of dressing up all in white and often puts on a godly appearance. Don't let it fool you for a second.
- Manipulative Bastard: Right up until he loses all touch with reality as Emperor.
- Morton's Fork: Caligula was descended from both Augustus and Mark Antony; not celebrating Actium would be an affront to the first, and celebrating the occasion would insult the latter's memory. A sycophant tries to Take a Third Option by saying that Agrippa, another ancestor of Caligula's, was the main victor at Actium so he had more reason to celebrate than not to - turns out reminding him of his common descent was his Berserk Button.
- Puppet King: Averted when the senators assume his madness will make Caligula pliable and subservient to their whims. It backfires badly.
- Spanner in the Works: In more ways than one. Livia consents to him being made Tiberius' heir because of a complex scheme that will result in her elevation to godhood (and thus avoid eternal damnation). When Livia is on her deathbed, Caligula gleefully turns on her, and later comes very close to destroying the empire Livia worked so hard to build.Caligula: And what makes you think that a filthy, smelly old woman like you could become a goddess? I don't need you anymore, you see, great-grandmother. My secret will die with you. You are going to stew in hell forever and ever.
- Villainous Incest: With his sister. He also kisses his stone-faced great-grandmother on the lips.
Played by George Baker.Claudius's uncle, and the second emperor.
- 0% Approval Rating: Augustus was a hard act to follow, and Tiberius certainly doesn't win himself many friends with his sour personality. The feeling is largely mutual.
- Anti-Villain: Tiberius's bad tendencies are more the result of a certain moral and ethical laziness than any sort of calculated villainy.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: By the time he's become Emperor, he's burnt out and can't muster the enthusiasm to rule.
- Berserk Button: Mention Agrippina's name around Tiberius and he'll want to murder everything in sight.
- Colonel Badass: A very capable general.
- Despair Event Horizon: Crosses it at his Brother's death in the first episode, and never recovers.
- Dirty Old Man: Have you heard about his "nymphs" at Capri?
- The Eeyore: It's extremely rare to find him actually happy at any point in the series - his introductory scene is him complaining to Drusus that nobody will ever understand how miserable he inherently is.
- Gone Horribly Right: When he's having marital trouble with Julia, Tiberius would just like to leave Rome for a while; he cruelly taunts Julia into complaining about their marriage to Augustus, hoping he'll get permission to take a vacation. He didn't take into account that Julia might attack him in the strongest possible terms, though, so Tiberius actually ends up effectively banished for a few years and in personal danger from his enemies.
- Happily Married: Until Livia ruins it.
- Jerkass: Constantly surly, and almost never has a pleasant thing to say about anyone or anything.
- Kick the Dog: The scene where a woman he's raped is driven to commit suicide in front of her husband and guests is pretty much there to show us he's much less pitiable since he became emperor.
- King on His Deathbed
- Lonely at the Top: His ghost admits as much to Claudius.
- Momma's Boy: A very tragic example of one.
- Offstage Villainy: Most of his horrific actions take place elsewhere and we find out second-hand. This can be somewhat jarring as we only see him as a very sad and pathetic figure on screen.
- Outliving One's Offspring: He outlives his son Castor and his nephew and adopted son Germanicus. He also outlives Germanicus' sons, Nero and Drusus, his biological great-nephews and adopted grandsons, who die in captivity that he put them under at Sejanus' instigation.
- Pet the Dog: Tiberius's scenes with Drusus are there to establish that he did in fact have some redeeming points in his youth.
- The Reliable One: Augustus didn't ever like him, but gave him important positions and lots of responsibility because he consistently got the jobs done. Later averted after Augustus and Livia died and there was no one left who could tell him what to do.
- Reluctant Ruler: Tiberius was fairly reluctant about the role his mother planned for him, too. The power went to his head pretty quickly, though.
- Repressive but Efficient: Well, until he stops caring about actually governing the empire.
- Sergeant Rock: "They say your drills are bloodless battles, and your battles are bloody drills." Tiberius, however, is fair, even sleeping without a tent if his troops couldn't have one.
- Sketchy Successor: Played with. As a heir to Augustus he is for the most part portrayed as a depraved tyrant; yet Claudius acknowledges that he was competent at governing the empire and that the majority of the population had little reason to complain during his reign, with only the minority suffering from his repressions. However, the trope is played completely straight during the last years of his reign, when he just stops caring about the administration of the empire whatsoever.
- Stuffed in the Fridge
- Training from Hell: His take on army training.
- Vorpal Pillow: Tiberius's fate.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
- Yandere: After divorcing Vipsania, he becomes this. Subverted in that he was forced into a divorce, and his love of his wife was one of his few redeeming qualities.
Played by Christopher Biggins.
- Adipose Rex: Very notably the largest of the Julio-Claudian emperors.
- Domestic Abuse: Implied to subject his wife to it.
- Faux Affably Evil: Puts on a very thin veneer of affability and niceness that is utterly see through, and disappears the instant anything even slightly displeases him. It also does nothing to hide what a horrible, depraved person he is.
- Psychopathic Manchild
- Self-Made Orphan: The Sibyl reveals he will kill his mother once she's no longer useful.
- Sissy Villain
- Smug Snake: Bleeds self satisfaction and arrogance in every appearance.
- Villainous Incest: With his mother.
Played by BRIAN BLESSED.The Emperor of Rome at the start of the series, a good-matured man who ends up getting manipulated by his wife Livia.
- Adipose Rex
- A God Am I: Like Claudius, he never really wanted to be called a god in the first place.
- The Atoner: When he finally faces facts about Livia, he does his best to stop her plans and make things up with Postumus.
- Confirmation Bias Indulges in it. Almost anything Tiberius does, deserved or not, becomes another reason Augustus dislikes him. Rather than recognize Livia's suspicious actions, he blames himself for the piling bodies of his heirs.
- Dramatic Irony: Often thinks people like Agrippa, Tiberius, and Postumus are attempting to manipulate him to reach their goals. It never occurs to him Livia might be doing the same. In his defense, though, Livia played the part of a model wife to the hilt around him. He never had a reason to suspect her.
- Foil: To Claudius, eventually. Both sought to maintain peace and happiness for Rome, hoping to transform it to a Republic. Yet Claudius becomes cynical, paranoid, and despised, while Augustus spends most of his life naive, yet beloved by Rome.
- Large Ham: Not as much as the typical BRIAN BLESSED role, but he has his moments.
- Outliving One's Offspring: His grandsons and adopted sons Gaius and Lucius meet their ends before him, prompting him to adopt Tiberius.
- Pet the Dog: Gives Claudius the respect he deserves after Claudius reveals Livia's plots and proves he's not a moron.
- Properly Paranoid: Learns from the last 50 years of tragedy and refuses to eat anything touched by another human. This still doesn't save him.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Flaws aside, he's a good ruler who genuinely wanted to lead Rome to a Republic. He makes several compromises and out-right allowances for many people (excluding Tiberius). Despite 50 years of marriage, he believes Germanicus' suspicions of Livia, even knowing that Germanicus' source is Claudius.
Played by Patrick Stewart.Tiberius' right-hand-man and the real power behind the throne.
- Dragon-in-Chief: The older Tiberius gets, the more control Sejanus gets.
- Establishing Character Moment: His first scene is killing Postumus on Tiberius' orders, demonstrating exactly how ruthless he can be.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: He cares about his children. Indeed, his last words are demanding knowledge of their fate from his soon-to-be killer, who sadistically reveals that he killed them, too.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: His dismissal of Claudius as a threat is what allows Claudius to get the truth to Tiberius and the ambition of his second-in-command leads to his defeat. His own guard kill him in the end.
- Karmic Death: Subverted. He slandered and killed many innocent people without a shred of remorse, but his loved ones die horribly as well (with his daughter being raped and then killed) and a bloody purge is conducted on anyone who supported him. He spends his last moments demanding to know what happened to his children only for Macro to Kick the Dog by telling him that they've gone on ahead of him. His stabbing moments later becomes a borderline Mercy Kill.
Played by Shiela White.Claudius's wife as part of a practical joke by Caligula.
- Bait the Dog: Seems like another victim of Caligula's rule and then an effective co-ruler with Claudius. Things quickly go down hill.
- Manipulative Bitch: Manages to play Claudius as a fiddle for a while and convinces Silanus, Mnester, and Gaius that Claudius wants them to bone.
- Stalker with a Crush: She's wanted to sleep with Silanus ever since she was a child and is enraged when Claudius is forced to order his death. She later switches her affections to to Gaius.
- Villainous Breakdown: She devolves into a shrieking mess when she's finally caught.
- Woman Child: Clever she may be, she's completely immature and goes nuts when things don't go her way. The fact she hasn't grown past her crush on Silanus is noted as bizarre by the man himself.
Pallas & Narcissus
Pallas and NarcissusClaudius' freedman and senior advisers during his reign as emperor.
- The Confidant: Narcissus becomes the last person Claudius trusts and shares his plans with at the end.
- Establishing Character Moment: Pallas manipulates the schematics of a plan that would benefit Rome, in order to ensure his own wealth. Narcissus objects against this selfish behavior (although he briefly appears to go along with it). While it isn't apparent for several episodes, Pallas' corruption and Narcissus' loyalty becomes crucial to Claudius' final plan.
- Face–Heel Turn: Pallas switches his loyalty to Agrippinilla in the end.
- Foil: Aside from the Red Oni, Blue Oni example below, the two quickly demonstrate the two kinds of Rome's rulers: the caring optimist and the corrupt manipulators.
- Meaningful Name: Inverted. Narcissus is loyal to Claudius and cares about the fate of Rome while all Pallas ends up caring about is his own pleasure.
- Only Sane Men: They're two of three people in Rome who know that Claudius doesn't approve or know of Messalina's actions and that they have to tread carefully to get him to the truth.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Narcissus is emotional, Pallas is collected.
- Those Two Guys: Initially, before their motivations diverge in the final years of Claudius' rule.
- Undying Loyalty: Narcissus always has Claudius' back, which is likely why Agrippinilla kills him.
Played by John Rhys-Davies.The cunning and very ambitious second in command of Sejanus.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Abruptly disappears partway through the eighth episode. The novels reveal that Caligula soon got suspicious of him and had him poisoned.
- The Dragon: First to Sejanus, and then to Caligula.
- Karma Houdini: Only in the TV show, where he disappears without trace with no explanation given.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Brutally subverted with what he does to Sejanus. He not only ensures his downfall and arrest, but has all of his loved ones and supporters horribly killed as well and takes time to gloat about it to Sejanus's face, before having him killed.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Directly paves the way for Sejanus's fall from grace. Later on he murders Tiberius so that Caligula becomes emperor.
- Smug Snake: Even without much dialogue, he comes off as being one.
- The Starscream
- Would Hurt a Child: After Sejanus's fall, he personally ensures that his children are both killed and even orders his daughter to be raped before being stabbed to death, so she won't die a virgin and bring bad luck to the city. Later he beheads Gemellus on Caligula's orders.