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Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus
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.
- Butt-Monkey: He's mistreated, mocked, abused, and humiliated by nearly everyone in his family and those who are decent to him end up dead soon. The term "disappointment" is used to describe him more than a handful of times in the series.
- 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.
- Face Death with Dignity: Fully aware his wife was trying to poison him, Claudius accepts the poison in his food and dies a short time later content with his lot of life and happy at the fact the copy of the biography showing all his family's dirty secrets was kept safe and buried after his wife and adopted son Nero tried to destroy the originals.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: A complete subversion. He went from "Uncle Claudius", the joke of the Imperial Family, to a well respected and beloved Emperor.
- 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.
- Irony: Claudius was always a staunch Republican but it was his sane and prosperous reign that reconciled the populace to the idea of monarchy after the excesses of Tiberius and Caligula. By the time Claudius dies, no one alive still yearns for the return of the Roman Republic.
- 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.
- Narrator: He is the narrator of his own manuscript about the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
- 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.
- Unexpected Successor: When he was born, no one in his family expected him to be eventually crowned Emperor. Many of his relatives who were actually groomed and/or chosen for the role all died young due to intrigue or mishap.
- The Un-Favourite: 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.
- Big Bad: For about the first half of the series she's the one behind the scenes causing all of the misery, manipulating the various characters, and personally poisoning many of the people around Claudius. By "Queen of Heaven" she's largely fallen out of it as Sejanus and Caligula have swung up into more direct antagonists and she has sunk into a pitiable state.
- 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.
- Did Not Think This Through: In her obsession with destroying any and all obstacles to her son's ascension, she completely neglects grooming him for the position. All of Rome suffers for this mistake.
- The Dreaded: After Augustus's death she stops putting up pretenses and the rumors about her lead to this. Claudius, Herod, and even Tiberius are all terrified to have dinner with her, because people have a habit of falling over dead afterwards. Certainly Claudius frames her as a force to be feared in his memoirs. Even Sejanus, who is planning a coup, is waiting for her to die before he tries anything.
- 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: She's believes she is destined to suffer forever after her death in the afterlife and is absolutely terrified. To that end, she places her favor on any relative who she is sure will deify her after they become Emperor since apotheosis wiped away all sins. It's for that reason she places favor on Caligula, even indulging his incestuous loving of her to gain his favor much to Claudius' disgust.
- 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.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Usually no, but she falls for Claudius's Obfuscating Stupidity hook, line, and sinker. It's not until she's in her death throes that she finally sees through it, and she is utterly amazed that he pulled the wool over her eyes for so many years and admits that she underestimated him.
- Hypocrite: A big one, too; She claims to have murdered Augustus because his ridiculous favoritism was going to tear the empire apart, but she schemes to get Tiberius, her own son, the throne despite the fact she admits to Claudius he ended up being a subpar ruler who kept screwing things up even before he became emperor. (She is therefore directly to blame for both Tiberius and Caligulas reigns) She is also terrified shes going to burn in hell for what shes done, and tries to get out of it by having Caligula and Claudius make her a goddess. Which means for all her I Did What I Had to Do rhetoric, shes afraid the gods wont see it her way and is trying to chicken her way out of the consequences.
- 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.
- With that said, things might have gotten on the right track a lot sooner (and faster) had she bothered to properly groom her son for imperial rule.
- 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.
- The Kingslayer: Livia ends up doing in Augustus by poisoning his figs, though she's not happy about doing so.
- 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.
- Sarcastic Devotee: To Augustus. Despite her ultimate plans, she did love the man, she just never indulged him.
- Secret Keeper: She walked in on Caligula and Drusilla's BrotherSister 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.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Livia is just as capable of ending a life as anyone August ever severed in the army with, the difference is she will do it with concern in her voice.
- Villain Respect:
- Once she realizes Claudius has been exaggerating his stammer and clumsiness, she reforms her view of him to that of high respect for having been able to fool her with Obfuscating Stupidity for most of his life.
- When she meets Claudius for dinner, he accepts several glasses of wine from her in spite of her reputation as a serial poisoner. Though Caligula mocks him for it, Livia appreciates the gesture as a sign of respect and Claudius displaying an implicit trust in her to not poison him.
- Wicked Stepmother: She slowly and methodically has Augustus's relatives 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."
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Her constant moralizing may seem haughty, but by Roman standards, she really is morally quite upright: she's a devoted wife, pious, thrifty, firm but benevolent to her slavesNote , and she tries to instill proper Roman values in her children.
- 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.
- Everyone Has Standards: She's an unpleasant person but even she was quite disgusted with Sejanus' ex-wife Apicata's bemoaning over Sejanus not allowing her to see her children, stating she knew what type of monster Sejanus was when Apicata married him and is only complaining that Sejanus was treating her the same way she was content to see Sejanus treat everyone else.
- Happily Married: Though they're not onscreen for very long it's clear she and Drusus had a very loving relationship. Antonia even follows him to his deployment in Germany.
- 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.
- My Greatest Failure: Comes to see the way Livilla turned out as this.
- Kick the Dog: Treats Claudius like dirt throughout the series. Even when she reveals her plan to commit suicide to him, she makes sure to remind him how much of a disappointment he remains to her despite his disabilities not being his fault.
- 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 favorite. She doesn't even seem to like Livilla all that much, even before Livilla becomes her grandmother's pet.
- Pet the Dog: She's dismissive of Apicata's pleas for her children as Apicata was fine with Sejanus's atrocities so long as she wasn't directly affected. Yet she does still speak on Apicata's behalf to Livilla; Apicata's love of her children resonating with her on some level.
- Rightly Self-Righteous: Antonia holds her moral compass above everyone else's head and constantly rants about the failings of society and other people not living up to her standards. Antonia's piety also plays into it and she often comes across as Holier Than Thou. That said, Antonia's morals compass is more often than not fairly accurate and she does her part to try and fight against the more evil characters in the series.
- 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.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: In her earlier appearances and during her scenes with Julia, Antonia comes off as a fairly friendly person. However, Drusus's death destroyed almost all the good in her and reduced her to a hateful wreck.
Played by Patricia Quinn.Claudius's sister, who treats him with nothing but contempt. Becomes romantically involved, to the point of obsession, with Sejanus.
- Black Widow: She poisons her husband Castor so that she can be closer to Sejanus.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: She is willing to murder her own family if it meant getting closer to Sejanus.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: She gets locked in her room by her mother Antonia and starves to death.
- Hate Sink: A gratingly smug woman who takes pleasure in emotional cruelty and is without any moments of genuine kindness or decency. She eventually evolves into an outright monster, and attempts to murder her own family members before being killed herself. No one is shown to even slightly miss her after her death.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: She tries to kill her daughter, but instead is killed by her own mother.
- It's All About Me: The lengths she will go to in order to marry Sejanus is truly staggering.
- Kick the Dog: While Livilla has committed her share of misdeeds, there was usually a reason, if an unsympathetic one. She set up Postumus because Livia blackmailed her and she killed Castor to be with Sejanus. However her poisoning of Helen, her daughter, was largely done out of spite that she was to be paired off with Sejanus. There was no real benefit to the act beyond showing how petty and obsessed she had become. She makes sure that the last thing Castor sees as he dies is her and Sejanus embracing in front of him, wordlessly conveying their joy in his demise. Even if they needed to kill him in order to marry, that was a low blow.
- Kissing Cousins: She is married to her cousin Castor, who is also Tiberius' son.
- Love Makes You Evil: She was never a sympathetic character, but she becomes completely depraved after falling in love with Sejanus.
- Meaningful Name: Livilla means "Little Livia." She imagines herself to be another master of court intrigue like her grandmother. However, she lacks her grandmothers intelligence, discipline, or discretion, and her shortcomings as a schemer prove fatal.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Her motive for trying to kill Helen.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Her careless disposal of her letter drafts to Sejanus allows them to be recovered by her mother Antonia. The recovery of this evidence causes Sejanus' downfall.
- Offing the Offspring: She tries to poison her daughter Helen when Tiberius arranges for Helen to marry Sejanus. Livilla suffers this fate herself when Antonia discovers her plans.
- Parental Neglect: She is a thoroughly rotten mother to her children, even when she isnt trying to poison them.
- Smug Snake: Shes hubristic, rude, selfish, manipulative, jealous, and amoral, but is ultimately too impulsive and sloppy to outwit anyone but the most naive characters.
- Villainous Breakdown: She suffers these repeatedly when she cant have Sejanus to herself and becomes a sobbing wreck when Antonia finally punishes her for her crimes.
- Yandere: After falling in love with Sejanus, she will do absolutely anything to marry him. Including murdering her own husband and daughter.
Germanicus Julius Caesar
Claudius's brother, and one of the few people to treat him with any compassion at all. He is eventually murdered 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 who want him dead out of spite.
- Nice Guy: One of the only examples in the series. Germanicus is a friendly and upstanding man liked by just about everyone who meets him. This is part of the reason why Tiberius resents him so much.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth
Emperor Caligula (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus)
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: Both In and Out of Universe.
- 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.
- To the audience he is initially introduced as Agripinna's sweet child; then the rest of the episode plays out and we see flashes of the man Caligula's to become, from his bratty nature, sexual advances towards his sister, and key role in his father's death.
- Big Bad: Becomes this after Livia's death.
- BrotherSister 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.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Caligula hated his father but he did seem to have some affection for his mother. When Claudius begs him to try and talk Tiberius out of exiling Caligula's own brothers and mother, Caligula does seem to give thought to helping his mother all the while admitting he doesn't care about whether his brothers die or not. Whether or not Caligula pleaded on her behalf is unclear though Tiberius's hatred of her wouldn't have had him listen anyway.
- Evil Nephew: Inspired the page and Caligula's actions even provide the page quote.
- A God Am I: In the more usual sense. It eventually becomes incredibly more insane to fellow Romans when Caligula declares himself as Zeus and his wife as Hera, while disowning the Roman God Jove as an imposter. The delusion only becomes worse over time.
- 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 that it will become more powerful than him.
- 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 and is actually tame in comparison.
- 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.
Tiberius Claudius Nero
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.
- All for Nothing: Tiberius starts out the series wanting to become Emperor (or Augustus' heir at any rate), but by the time it happens he's lost everything that would have let him enjoy it.Wasn't worth it, was it? I could have told you that.
- 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.
- Broken Ace: Tiberius is physically strong, one of Rome's greatest generals, speaks several languages and is no intellectual slouch. Too bad he's moody, resentful, jealous and depressed.
- Despair Event Horizon: Crosses it after his brother's death in the first episode, and never really recovers.
- Dirty Old Man: Have you heard about his "nymphs" at Capri? They were basically naked girls, implied to be children, prancing around his estate on his demand.
- 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.
- Evil Overlord: He's not mad like some of his successors are, but he's still a tyrannical and decadent ruler.
- Four-Star Badass: A very capable general.
- 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: To Vipsania 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.
- Morality Chain: Tiberius had two, his brother Drusus and his wife Vipsania. He always was a troubled soul but only started on a dark path after he lost both of them.
- 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.
- The Peter Principle: Tiberius was a very skilled commander and as much as Augustus didn't like him, he couldn't deny Tiberius's military success. As emperor, Tiberius's failings become far more apparent as his confrontational personality and sour demeanor frequently lead him to fight with officials and his callousness is further highlighted when he starts running the realm into the ground for his own selfish reasons. Other characters note that he ran the technical aspects of the empire well enough and that his reign was very much Repressive, but Efficient, but by the end of his rule he just let it all fall apart.
- 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 job 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
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Easily one of the series's most notable examples. While most other particularly depraved antagonists hide their true nature when they debut (i.e. Caligula and Messalina), Tiberius started out with a decent amount of sympathy. He wasn't a particularly good person but he had a number of good points and was more pressed into the climb to power by his mother. After ascending to power, Tiberius becomes a much more malevolent character; turning spiteful, cruel, and paranoid. At the end of his rule, he grooms Caligula to be his successor so he may bring ruination to the Empire and make everyone suffer.
- 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.
Nero Claudius Drusus
Played by Ian OgilvyTiberius's younger brother and Claudius's father. A high ranking soldier in the army and one of the more moral characters in the series.
Agrippina the Younger
Agrippina the Younger
Played by Barbara Young.Claudius' niece and final wife. She is also the mother of Nero and the younger sister of Caligula.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: She gets her wish to have Nero crowned Emperor, but he would later have her murdered to solidify his own power.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Alongside Nero, Agrippina acts as the final antagonist of the series.
- Black Widow: She kills Claudius discreetly with a poisoned mushroom from her own plate.
- Destroy the Evidence: Averted. She discovers Claudius' manuscript about the history of Julio-Claudian dynasty after his death and spitefully destroys it in order to preserve her family's good name. Fortunately, Claudius already made a copy of the manuscript and buried it somewhere for future generations to discover.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: She is absolutely ruthless when it comes to preserving her son's, or her own, political power.
- The Kingslayer: She murders Claudius as soon as Nero's successorship is secured.
- Laser-Guided Karma: She is eventually killed by Nero after he becomes tired of her dictating and dominating his life. The Julio-Claudian dynasty itself would end with Nero's death.
- Manipulative Bastard: She manipulates Pallas and others into helping her secure Nero's place as Claudius' successor and ensure her own rise to power.
- Mother Makes You King: Like Livia, she manipulates and murders many people to ensure that her own son becomes Emperor.
- My Beloved Smother: She dominates Nero for much of his early life.
- Villainous Incest: She is in an incestuous relationship with her son, which she also uses as a method to control him.
Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus
Played by Christopher Biggins.Claudius' stepson, Agrippina the Younger's son and the last Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
- Adipose Rex: Very notably the largest of the Julio-Claudian emperors.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Alongside Agrippina, Nero acts as the final antagonist of the series.
- 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: If Nero is the largest of the Julio-Claudian emperors, then Augustus is the second largest.
- 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 recognise 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.
- Love Ruins the Realm: Strongly implied at first, ultimately inverted: A good many of Augustus's friends and family wind up dead because of his beloved wife. But as shown after Augustus's death, those deaths were actually Livia's way of keeping the empire together. His wife tore his life apart specifically to preserve the realm.
- 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.
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Played by John Paul.Augustus's long-standing friend and right hand. His popularity amongst the people has earned him a valued place in Augustus's court.
- 100% Adoration Rating: He's very popular with the people of Rome, so much so that when he steps down Augustus begs him to come back when his reputation takes a hit.
- Awful Wedded Life: He tells Augustus that he never got along with his wife, a revelation that surprises Augustus. The nature of his marriage is never elaborated on, especially since his wife is only mentioned in passing, but he is quick to abandon her in order to "marry up."
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: At first, a fun and kind Old Friend to Augustus whose struggle with the current times is played sympathetically, Agrippa's return to Rome shows a more sinister side. Agrippa manipulates Augustus to marry off the recently widowed Julia to him and throws his wife away without a second thought. It's clear that he's taking advantage of the chaos in Rome and Augustus's own desperation to consolidate power for himself.
- Dirty Old Man: When Augustus wants him to resume his position in Rome Marcus eagerly agrees on the condition that he can marry Augustus's daughter Julia.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Marcus is only in the first episode (or first half of a joint episode) and dies in-between "A Touch of Murder" and "Family Affairs" but his lineage becomes important far down the line as they are often in conflict with Livia's lineage for the throne.
Played by: Frances WhiteAugustus's daughter. Though he loves her he often ends up using her as a political tool, first to marry Agrippa and then Tiberius. Julia's unhappy marriages and constant manipulations ignite a rebellious streak.
- 100% Adoration Rating: Another very popular member of the royal family. When exiled, Augustus complains that the citizens continue to demand her return.
- Awful Wedded Life: While she loved Marcellus, she resented her marriages to Agrippa and Tiberius. Both were political marriages done without her consent and felt trapped in both. It's especially pronounced with Tiberius as neither wanted the relationship and they each get under the other's skin.
- Big Eater: Julia loves to eat and is often seen indulging in it. She complains that her physician advised against it for health reasons.
- The Hedonist: With an unhappy marriage and a lot of pent-up resentment, Julia indulges in alcohol, food, and sex.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Julia sleeps around a lot, but is one of the nicer characters in the first quarter of the series. At times she was a better parent to her nephew, Claudius, than Antonia.
- Odd Friendship: She and Antonia are complete opposites; Julia is a free spirit and hedonist while Antonia is a strictly pious woman. They still get along well as in-laws, both confiding in each other quite a bit.
Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Played by: Christopher GuardAugustus's nephew and son-in-law and the one originally groomed to be his successor. He thinks little of Agrippa and his accomplishments.
- 100% Adoration Rating: Like Agrippa, he commanded a considerable amount of popularity amongst the people. It's a major factor in Livia's decision to kill him as she was wary of the power it could give him.
- Kissing Cousins: As is custom for the ruling class. Marcellus is the son of Augustus's sister and his wife is the daughter of Augustus.
- Small Role, Big Impact: He's only a player at the beginning of the story but his death kicks off the fight for succession that dominates much of the plot.
Played by: James FaulknerClaudius's friend from childhood. Herod is a common presence in Claudius's life, being his closest confidant. Herod is Jewish and ruled Judea as its king.
- A God Am I: In the final episode, it is revealed that he thinks himself to be the messiah whose coming the Jews prophesied, and betrays Claudius in a bid for power. He's very quickly proven to be wrong.
- Best Friend: Until the events of the final episode, he remains Claudius's most long lasting and loving friendship.
- Cassandra Truth: Herod warns Claudius not to trust anyone, even him. It's good advice because everyone betrays Claudius, including Herod.
- The Confidant: To Claudius, especially later in life when Claudius's other friends and allies have passed away.
- Dying Declaration of Love: Admits in his final letter that he truly loved Claudius despite his betrayal.
- FaceHeel Turn: Late in the series. He stays the longest on Claudius's side even as the decades role on. In the second to the last episode, he ultimately turns against him and dies.
- Manipulative Bastard: Even before his FaceHeel Turn, he already displayed shades of this throughout the series.
- Named After Somebody Famous: He was named for Marcus Agrippa.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivers a tongue lashing to both Antonia and Agripinna when they admonish Claudius for marrying Sejanus's sister.
- Only Friend: Around the time of Caligula's ascension, Herod is the only friend of Claudius's left alive.
Played by: Renu SetnaA famed botanist and doctor within the royal court.
- Ambiguously Evil: He begins working with Livia as a personal physician. He may have been an assassin or he may have just been someone she used to divert attention from herself.
- Red Herring: When Drusus was injured, Musa was sent personally to "tend" to him. Drusus doesn't survive and Musa claims that he arrived too late to save him. Whether or not Musa had a hand in his death per Livia's orders is left up in the air, until Claudius confronts an elderly Livia who states that Drusus died of natural causes and Musa ultimately didn't kill him.
Lucius Aelius Sejanus
Played by Patrick Stewart.Tiberius' right-hand-man and the real power behind the throne.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: In the TV series he's shown torturing a man into making a false confession, calmly keeping up the torture in the face of his "The Reason You Suck" Speech, knowing the man will inevitably break.
- 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 kills 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.
- Professional Butt-Kisser: He manages to become emperor in all but name purely though sucking up to Tiberius. Additionally he walks on egg shells when Livia is around in an attempt to cozy up to her. She clearly doesn't trust him, but he lives, so he still does better than most sycophants do around her.
Played by Shiela White.Claudius's wife as part of a practical joke by Caligula.
- Bait the Dog: She seems like another victim of Caligula's rule and then an effective co-ruler with Claudius. Things quickly go downhill.
- Big Bad: After Caligula is assassinated and Claudius becomes emperor, she becomes the closest thing the series has to one.
- Face Death with Dignity: Averted. Her mother tries to encourage her to commit suicide (an honorable death by Roman standards) once her execution becomes imminent. Unable to work up the courage to do so, Messalina is executed by the impatient soldiers while screaming.
- The Hedonist: She becomes this after becoming Empress, indulging herself in luxury and sexual orgies.
- It's All About Me: She cared little for Roman law whenever it interfered with her desires, such as when she pleaded with Claudius to spare her childhood crush Silanus after he attempted to murder the Emperor. After Silanus is executed in accordance with the law, Messalina's relationship with Claudius soured. As her hedonism worsens, she becomes even more intolerant of those who criticize her, often arranging their execution through Claudius on false charges. For this reason, she is feared by those loyal to Claudius alone.
- Manipulative Bastard: She manages to play Claudius like a fiddle for a while and convinces Silanus, Mnester, and Silius that Claudius wants them to bone. She also plotted to rule the Roman Empire with Silius by publicly marrying him under Claudius' nose as a signal to the Senate to restore the Republic with her at its head.
- Off with Her Head!: She is decapitated by the Praetorian Guards after Claudius signs her execution warrant.
- 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 Silius.
- Villainous Breakdown: She devolves into a shrieking mess when she's finally caught.
- Manchild: 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
Marcus Antoninus Pallas and Tiberius Claudius Narcissus
Played by Bernard Hepton and John CaterClaudius' freedmen and senior advisors 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 become crucial to Claudius' final plan.
- FaceHeel Turn: Pallas switches his loyalty to Agrippina the Younger towards the end of Claudius' reign.
- 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.
- Honest Advisor: Both Pallas and Narcissus are honest in their advice and assistance to Claudius, even if it puts their own lives at risk. This is especially true for Narcissus, who isn't afraid to make his feelings or displeasure known to Claudius in private.
- Meaningful Name: Inverted. Narcissus is truly loyal to Claudius and cares about the future of Rome while Pallas eventually becomes greedy and self-serving, switching his loyalty to the ambitious Agrippina the Younger. In Greek mythology, Narcissus is a man who only loved himself while Pallas is an epithet of the goddess Athena.
- Only Sane Man: 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, while Pallas is calm and rational.
- 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 Agrippina the Younger kills him soon after the Emperor's death.
Quintus Naevius Cordus Sutorius Macro
Played by John Rhys-Davies.The cunning and very ambitious second in command of Sejanus.
- Ambition Is Evil: The reason that Caligula calls on him to launch a coup against Sejanus. Macro is a social climber first and foremost and latches on to Caligula to rise in the ranks.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Abruptly disappears partway through the eighth episode. The novels reveal that Caligula soon got suspicious of him and had him poisoned. In the series, Caligula refers to him in the past tense saying to Claudius that he was going to give Cassius Macro's position.
- The Dragon: First to Sejanus, and then to Caligula.
- Fat Bastard: The chubbiest soldier seen in the series, and easily the most vile.
- Hate Sink: One of the most detestable characters on the show due to his absolutely horrific actions during the overthrow of Sejanus and being the main person to ensure Caligula's ascension to Emperor, despite knowing how awful he is. By his final appearance, he stands out as one of the only characters without a single redeeming quality.
- It's All About Me: Cares not one whit for anything except his own power.
- Karma Houdini: Only in the TV show, where he disappears without trace with no explanation given.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: 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.
- Sleeping Their Way to the Top: A surrogate version; he has no problem with his wife sleeping with Caligula to ensure his own ambitions.
- 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: To Sejanus. In the novels, Caligula feared he would be the same to him.
- 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.
Played by Sam Dastor.Caligula's captain of the guards and Macro's replacement.
- Anti-Villain: Much like Sejanus and Macro he's the right hand to a despot and capable of carrying out some heinous deeds on his own accord. Though Cassius has more morals to him and conspires to destroy one of the series's most despicable characters.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Is first mentioned in Episode 3, before making his first appearance in Episode 9.
- The Dog Bites Back: Masterminds Caligula's downfall as he'd grown angry with Caligula's debauchery and constant humiliations.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Caligula had him torture one of his soldiers for information on an alleged plot against him. The soldier died and Cassius reportedly was crying over having killed him. Caligula mocks him for it.
- Jerkass Has a Point: He doesn't deny trying to wipe out Caligula's family, because as he points out the very fact that Claudius has now become emperor shows he was right to do so.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: He was name-dropped as one of the only officers to have made a good call when their Legion was ambushed at Teutoberg Forest. Cassius successfully managed to break through the enemy line and allowed his squadron to escape. The soldier who broke the news to Augustus was part of the company.
- Old Soldier: Was an officer during the disastrous Battle of the Teutoberg Forest; he managed to lead a company of Romans to safety.
- Pet the Dog: During one of his episodes Caligula nearly had Marcus executed under suspicion of treason, had Claudius not calmed him down. After the event, Cassius quietly tells Marcus that it would be best for him to leave should Caligula think to murder him later on.
- The Starscream: Much like the previous head soldiers Sejanus and Macro, Cassius plots against his ruler. Though he's given a lot more sympathy than the others.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Well Intentioned in that he kills Caligula and tries to restore the Republic. Extremist in that he tries to kill off the royal family, succeeding in killing Caligula's innocent wife and daughter.
Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso
Played by John PhillipsTiberius's friend and governor of Syria, and Germanicus's rival. He and his wife Plancina are accused of poisoning Germanicus early in Tiberius's reign, forcing Tiberius to try him for murder and treason.
- Adipose Rex: He didn't miss many meals while serving as governor.
- Bad Liar: Lies constantly and poorly from the start of his trial. Nobody is fooled.
- Dirty Coward: By Roman standards. A man in his position would have been expected to commit suicide so that his honor could be preserved and his family wouldn't lose their estate. Instead, Piso tries to blackmail the emperor.
- Driven to Suicide: Swerved. Piso is getting ready to take his own life to spare his family the consequences of a criminal conviction, but he loses heart at the last minute. Plancina has to do the job for him.
- Face Death with Dignity: Completely averted. Plancina has to browbeat him into committing suicide to spare their children from the estate confiscation they would have faced as the heirs of a convicted traitor, and even then, he chickens out at the last minute. In the end, Plancina has to do the job herself by pretending to attempt suicide, and then plunging the dagger into his gut when he tries to take it from her.
- Fat Bastard: Corpulent and corrupt.
- Overzealous Underling: Gets vague letters from Tiberius instructing him to uphold the Empire's security and to stamp out disloyalty. He and Plancina interpret this as an order to kill Germanicus, when Tiberius meant nothing of the sort.
- Poor Communication Kills: He and his wife a major political crisis by interpreting vague instructions as orders to commit murder.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Or so he thinks.
- Smug Snake: He is convinced that the letters he got from Tiberius and Livia will keep him safe from prosecution. But not only does producing them in his trial fail to win over the Senate; it also infuriates Tiberius and makes him much less inclined to bail Piso out.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Plancina has remained fairly attractive as she aged. Piso is fat and bald.
- Villainous Breakdown: Suffers one when he realizes that Tiberius is going to let the Senate convict him.
- You Know Too Much: He's convinced that his letters will save him. Instead Livia coerces his wife into killing him and making it look like suicide.
Played by: Charlotte HowardA famed prostitute who's challenged by Messalina to a sex competition.
- Consummate Professional: She has a sense of humor about her position but Scylla treats sex work as a job not a hobby like many of the nobles do. When challenged to the competition, she only does so to be paid, not caring about the title.
- Deadpan Snarker: She's calm and sharp-tongued. Sometimes making people laugh with her or at the people she's jabbing.
- Famed In-Story:Mnester: My name is Mnester. I'm an actor; most people have heard of me.
Scylla: My name's Scylla, and I'm a whore. Everyone's heard of me.