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Literature / I, Claudius
aka: Claudius The God

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The novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves, published in 1934 and 1935 follow the history of the Roman Empire, from the latter reign of Emperor Augustus (starting around 24/23 B.C.) to the death of the eponymous character, Claudius, through whose eyes all of the action is seen.

In 1976, the books were adapted into a BBC TV series, I, Claudius, with Derek Jacobi in the title role.

These books provide examples of:

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    Tropes 0 to C 
  • 0% Approval Rating: Sejanus, Tiberius, and Caligula after he shows his true colors. Claudius himself, despite being a benign ruler, becomes unpopular during a food shortage in Rome.
  • 100% Adoration Rating: Germanicus is a very popular general and politician. Also Caligula during the first few months of his reign.
  • Abusive Parents: Claudius' mother, Antonia was disgusted by him because of his disabilities, and always considered him to be an idiot. Even when she decides to kill herself and says goodbye to Claudius, she still doesn't have a kind word for him.
    • Livia is very abusive towards her stepdaughter Julia.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Livia, Julia, Agrippina and several other women from the imperial family. This is due to the fact that Roman noble women were married at a very young age.
  • Affably Evil: Livia acts like this towards Claudius when she invites him to have dinner. They have a polite and friendly conversation during which she confesses all of her crimes, knowing full well Claudius can't and won't seek vengeance.
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Averted, since the story takes place some decades before the First Jewish–Roman War and the Diaspora.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Defied in-universe by Claudius himself. As he states at the beginning of Claudius the God, he is worried that he might be "branded by posterity as a clever opportunist who pretended to be a fool, lying low and biding his time until he got wind of a Palace intrigue against his Emperor, and then came boldly forward as a candidate for the succession"; among other reasons, he wrote the history of his life to assure the readers that this was not the case.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Urgulanilla, Claudius' first wife, appears to have been infatuated with her sister-in-law Numantina, and is greatly upset when her brother divorces her. She takes as a lover a male slave named Boter, who is said to look very much like Numantina.
    • Claudius suspects Caligula has a male lover, his cousin, known as Ganymede, but never confirms it.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Many, many characters aim for the imperial throne, and end up getting killed. Unfortunately, many others who have no such ambitions also lose their lives in the endless struggle for power.
  • Amicably Divorced: Played with. Claudius' grandfather isn't angry when he finds out his wife Livia and his friend Augustus have fallen in love, and not only he divorces her, but also attends their wedding ceremony; and while their sons are raised in his house, he allows them to visit their mother every day. Livia, however, is still resentful of her ex-husband, and when she finds out he's trying to give their sons a republican education, she poisons him.
  • Amoral Attorney: Several Roman lawyers are portrayed like this. Claudius greatly dislikes them, and when he becomes Emperor he tries to favor those few honest lawyers that work in the Forum.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Tiberius' death is not mourned but celebrated in Rome, where he was very unpopular.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Tiberius comes to see his son Castor as this, due to Sejanus' manipulation and Castor's own rash behaviour. Because of that, Tiberius shows no grief when Castor dies.
  • Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster: Claudius.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played with. Claudius himself and many other characters belong to the Roman nobility and are very decent people. On the other hand we have Macro, who is a man of very humble birth (the son of a slave) and is completely ruthless and amoral. Many other noble character play it straight.
  • Asshole Victim: It's hard to feel sorry when characters like Piso, Plancina, Sejanus, Livilla, Tiberius, Macro or Caligula end up getting killed.
    • Most of the victims of Herod Agrippa's scams are described as this.
  • Awful Wedded Life: All of Claudius' marriages end up like this, one way or another.
  • Bald Women: Julia loses her hair when she's very young, and has to wear a wig for the rest of her life. However, the hair of the wig is prettier than her own natural hair, so it enhances her beauty.
  • Band of Brothels: The Roman prostitutes have their own union, and during Claudius' reign they sue one of their clients for mistreating some of the working girls.
  • Based on a True Story: Yes and no. Most everything in the books, including the really outrageous stuff like Livia poisoning half her family or Messalina having a sexathon, comes from ancient sources. However, modern scholars consider much of that to be ancient rumormongering and/or propaganda. Graves also wasn't above using fiction as a platform for historical theories he thought were likely but was unable to prove.
  • Bath Suicide: Several characters choose to die this way.
  • The Beard: Claudius' daugher Antonia is implied to be this to her first husband, Pompey, who has male lovers. When Claudius finds out of his son-in-law's sexual orientation, he has him killed and finds Antonia a new husband.
  • Beard of Sorrow: After Julia's exile, Augustus refuses to shave for four days as a sign of grief.
  • Bed Trick: During Tiberius' reign, a rich man falls in love with a married woman who rejects his advances. Knowing she's a devoted worshiper of the goddess Isis, he manages to bed her by pretending to be the god Anubis. This scandal ends up leading to the banishment of the cult from Rome.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: Several people find out about Cassius Chaerea's plot to murder Caligula, but choose not to do anything about it.
  • Big Bad: Arguably, Livia is this during the first half of I, Claudius. Later it becomes clear that there are way worst people than her in power and that evil is Inherent in the System.
  • Big Brother Worship: Claudius adores his older brother Germanicus (as do almost everyone else).
  • Bilingual Backfire: The young Claudius overhears Augustus and Athenodorus talking about him in Greek. When Athenodorus jokingly asks his opinion, Claudius replies in Greek: "My mother Antonia does not pamper me, but she has let me learn Greek from someone who learned it directly from Apollo."
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Livia pretends to be a traditional, virtuous Roman matron, who merely manages her household, takes care of her husband and stays out of politics. In reality, she's a power-hungry Evil Matriarch.
    • Messalina pretends to be a loving wife to Claudius, while being a murderer and an adulteress.
  • Bi the Way: Julius Caesar is stated to be bisexual in the Sybil's prophecy, and Claudius' narration confirms it (although modern historians do not entirenly agree).
  • Body Double: While exiled on an island Postumus is switched with a similar looking slave named Clement when his grandfather Augustus decides to have him covertly removed under Livia's nose from the island upon receiving evidence that he was falsely accused, and it's the slave who dies when the island is attacked under Livia's orders shortly after Augustus dies. This results in Postumus spending some time disguised as Clementnote .
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Macro, who is the commander of the Praetorian Guard and whose job is to protect Tiberius, ends up smothering him with a pillow.
    • Later, several other praetorians conspire succesfully to assasinate Caligula.
    • During Claudius' reign, many officers in the Guard are involved in plots against the emperor's life.
  • Brainless Beauty: Lollia Paulina, Caligula's third wife and one of the candidates to marry Claudius after the death of Messalina is described as this.
  • Bread and Circuses: Subverted. While the emperors frequently offer lavish public entertainments and free food to keep the people quiet, we see several politically motivated riots (for instance, when it seems Piso will not be punished for Germanicus' death, when Agrippina and her children are forced into exile, and when the vastly unpopular Tiberius' body is brought to Rome to receive a public funeral).
  • Butt-Monkey: Invoked; after Caligula comes to power and his lackeys start playing mean pranks on Claudius for their own amusement, his prostitute / mistress / confidante Calpurnia advises him to play up his "pathetic old fool" persona to avoid being seen as a potential obstacle.
  • Cain and Abel: Drusus (Germanicus' second son) betrays his elder brother Nero (not to be confused with the future Emperor) to Sejanus, leading to his imprisonment and murder. In a more straight example, Caligula orders the death of Gemellus, his first cousin and adoptive brother, and is heavily implied to have murdered his sister Drusilla.
  • The Caligula: Features the original Caligula himself in all his violent and depraved "glory," and this is the work that most likely crystallized both his public image and the current pattern of the trope in the minds of modern-day audiences. Notably, while he's certainly cruel, the real feature that stands out about him is that he's capricious about his cruelty; he's just as likely to spare your life but publicly humiliate you as he is to have you simply tortured or executed out of hand if you run afoul of him.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Claudius witnesses practically every member of his family being murdered due to political intrigues and infighting.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Claudius, although it's mostly an act. Lampshaded by Herod Agrippa.
  • Clueless Boss: Augustus is almost completely blind to Livia's manipulation. Claudius has shades of this, until Messalina's downfall.
  • Con Man: Herod Agrippa manages to scam several people during his youth.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: A hodgepodge of pretty much every half-baked conspiracy theory about the time of the Julio-Claudian Emperors, both then and since.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Played straight with Piso and his wife Plancina, who are (correctly) blamed by the Roman people for Germanicus' death. Inverted with Agrippina and her children, who are condemned for treason in spite of the people's support.
  • Cool Teacher: Athenodorus, Claudius' and Herod Agrippa's tutor.
  • Cool Uncle: Averted with Claudius. Although some are nice to him, none of his nieces and nephews takes him seriously.
  • Comforting the Widow: After Castor's death, Sejanus plans to marry his widow Livilla. Tiberius won't allow it.
    • After her husband's death, Antonia received a marriage proposal from her friend Flaccus, but turned it down.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Caligula often assumes the identity of different goddesses, and thus wears female dresses.
  • Creepy Uncle: Averted with Claudius (although ancient historians portrayed him this way) with regards to his marriage with Agrippinilla, his own niece. While some historians claim Agripinilla seduced her uncle in order to convince him to marry her, in the book it is portrayed as only a political alliance, with no sexual element involved.
    • Played straight with Herod Antipas, who marries his niece Herodias out of love and attraction. It should be noted, however, that in the Eastern monarchies of the time, marriages between uncles and nieces were considered normal. Furthermore, Herodias' first husband, whom she divorces to marry Antipas, was also her uncle. John the Baptist preaches against Antipas and Herodias' marriage not because it is incestuous but because he's against her divorce.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: One of Caligula's courtiers is flogged to death because he refuses to acknowledge him as a greater god than Zeus.
  • Cuckold: Caligula has a fetish for boning other men's wives, both to satiate his own lusts and to humiliate the husbands.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Several characters display this, since cunning is indispensable to survive in the imperial court, but Herod Agrippa is the most notorious.
    Tropes D to H 
  • Daddy's Girl: Augustus dotes in his only legitimate daughter, Julia.
  • Dead Guy Junior: When Claudius' son with Messalina is born, he's named Germanicus, in honour of Claudius' deceased brother. Later he's known as Brittanicus.
    • Caligula's daughter is named Drusilla, in honour of his sister. Their personalities are very different.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Postumus is claimed to be doing this when he tries to organize an uprising against Tiberius.
  • Decadent Court: Rome becomes this during the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula. Claudius tries in vain to stop the decadence.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Claudius has slaves, enjoys gladiator fights and approves of Germanicus slaughtering civilians during the war in Germania. Also, as an emperor, he has a lot of people executed.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Many people imprisoned by Tiberius are slowly starved to death, such as Julia, Gallus, Drusus and Livilla.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Tiberius rapes and molests both boys and girls.
    • During his trial for treason, the prosecutor claims Valerius Asiaticus is this, accusing him of both molesting a couple of young soldiers, and commiting adultery with a married woman, Poppaea.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Claudius greatly admires his father, who died when he was very young.
  • Defiled Forever: The wife of a senator who was submited to a Scarpia Ultimatum by Tiberius sees herself as this after giving in, and takes her own life.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: Caligula had the house on the island of Pandataria where his mother Agrippina was imprisoned and eventually died destroyed when he became emperor, which Claudius notes resulted in a bit of the Streisand Effect since prior to this no one had paid the house any attention, but after seeing the ruins people naturally became curious as to what had occurred there.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Claudius, after becoming emperor, says this to the entire Senate, reminding them of how many times they followed Caligula's lead in mocking him.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Robert Graves' premise was that he had really discovered the memoirs of the historical Emperor Claudius, "nineteen hundred years or near" later i.e. in the present.
  • Dirty Old Man: Tiberius. His perversions are not detailed in the book; if Graves had repeated what Suetonius said about him, it probably would've been banned.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Subverted. Calpurnia's death is probably the saddest in the whole story.
  • Divide and Conquer: Claudius states this is Rome's policy towards German tribes and Eastern kingdoms. The more they fight each other, the more Rome profits.
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: Herod Agrippa repeatedly advises Claudius to never trust anybody, and he's absolutely right. Claudius once writes him a letter saying that he has taken Herod's advice and trusts no one — with the exception of several people whose names he lists, Herod among them. All of them, Herod included, prove to be untrustworthy.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Cassius Chaerea is a frequent victim of Caligula's jokes and taunting. In the end, he's the head of the conspiracy to assassinate him.
  • Doting Grandparent: Augustus has this sort of relationship with his grandsons Gaius and Lucius, leading to a lot of resentment from Tiberius and Livia. He is also very fond of his great-grandchildren, and practically every child in his family, except for Claudius.
  • Downer Ending: Claudius at the end knows that Agrippina will soon kill him, and he'll be succeeded by Nero, who will be a horrible ruler. He allowed all of this to happen because he believed that after Nero's tyranny, people will abolish monarchy and restore the republic. People familiar with Roman history know how that turned out, but Graves also tells the reader in an afterword; after Nero's death, a civil war broke out, eventually Vespasian became the emperor and the republic was never restored.
  • The Dragon: Sejanus during most of Tiberius' reign, Macro during the latter part of that reign and the early part of Caligula's.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Sejanus seems to become this after Agrippina's downfall. It doesn't last long.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Claudius craves to serve his country, specially during the German war, but his disabilities cause Augustus and Tiberius to dismiss his requests out of hand.
  • Drinking Contest: Flaccus, the Roman governor of Syria, is about to beat Tiberius in a drinking contest, but lets him win.
  • Driven to Suicide: Probably the main cause of death in the series. Many characters choose to kill themselves when they are accused of treason, knowing full well they'll be convicted and their properties will be seized by the State. By commiting suicide, they make sure their families are spared.
    • There are also some cases when characters kill themselves out of genuine grief and desesperation, such as Antonia's death in the first book and Cypros' in the second.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Messalina's downfall, Claudius begins drinking heavily. His freedmen take advantage of it, having Messalina killed when he falls asleep.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Herod Agrippa's last letter to Claudius, written while he is in his deathbed, asures him that, in spite of having conspired against him, he still loved him dearly. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Emergency Authority: How Claudius becomes emperor: Caligula is murdered, and there is no other male adult member of the imperial family in Rome, so they proclaim him emperor.
  • The Empire: The Roman Empire itself. The Partian Empire also plays a minor role in the story.
  • Empty Nest: Antonia asks Claudius to let her raise his daugher, also named Antonia, probably because all of her other grandchildren were already grown up.
  • Enfant Terrible: Caligula's daughter, Julia Drusilla, is a savage little monster who kicks and tears at people with her nails and wishes she could kill her mother. She's also barely two years old.
    • Caligula himself, when he was a child.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Mentioned by Claudius when he's remembering Julius Caesar's murder.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Averted. Tiberius loathes his mother Livia, and the only reason he probably doesn't have her killed is because he also fears her, since she still has a lot of spies and political influence. Caligula befriends Tiberius after he has sentenced his mother Agrippina to prison, and never attemps to persuade him to release her or to improve the conditions of her imprisonment. But Nero goes even farther, ordering the death of his mother Agrippinilla.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Several villains have at least one person they care about.
    • Tiberius loves his brother Drusus, his first wife Vispania, and if fond of his friends Thrasyllus and Nerva. He also had a genuinely cordial relationship with Augustus, until he forced him to divorce Vipsania.
    • Caligula loves his wife Caesonia, his daughter, and his sister Drusilla (although he's heavily implied to have killed her in a fit of rage).
    • Messalina and her mother Domitia Lepida become estranged, but when Messalina's crimes are discovered and she's arrested, her mother is the only one who comes to see her and is at her side until the end.
    • Livia implies she was truly fond of her father. The fact that he was executed by Augustus is the main reason she doesn't feel guilty for having murdered him and several of his descendants. There's also her friendship with Urgulania.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Tiberius is convinced that Germanicus is planning to overthrow him, and just cannot fathom the idea that he's just as honest and loyal as he appears.
  • Evil Chancellor: Sejanus and Macro during Tiberius' and Caligula's reigns. To a lesser extent, Pallas during Claudius'.
  • Evil Is Petty: At one point, Caligula wants to put Claudius to death because he has a head full of hair and the Emperor is going bald. Luckily, Claudius manages to talk himself out of it by pretending Caligula ordered to cut his hair instead of his head.
    • Agrippinilla orders the death of Lollia, partly for political reasons, but it's implied that she's also jealous of her beauty. She orders Lollia's severed head to be brought before her, and critizises her hair and teeth before disposing of it.
  • Evil Matriarch: Livia murders no less than 6 family members (including her husband, Emperor Augustus) in her scheme to set up her son as the next Emperor of Rome.
  • Evil Nephew: Caligula is this towards Claudius. His sisters Lesbia and Agrippinilla also treat him with contempt.
  • Evil Uncle: Tiberius is this towards practically all of his brother's descendants. He has a hand in the deaths of his nephew Germanicus, his niece Livilla, his niece-in-law Agrippina, and his great-nephews Nero and Drusus; he's also quite malevolent towards Claudius, although he never threatens his life. Fittingly, he's killed by his surviving great-nephew, Caligula.
  • Excessive Mourning: After Germanicus' death, the Roman people grieve for months. Tiberius issues a proclaim in which he (diplomatically) tells them to move on with their lives; however, it has little effect.
  • The Exile: Several characters are sentenced to exile. Some of them get to come back to Rome, like Seneca and Agrippinilla, but most of them die abroad, due to the poor living conditions of the places they are sentenced to inhabit.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Both Caligula and Nero are described as quite handsome (although Caligula goes bald when he becomes emperor). They are also complete monsters.
  • Faking the Dead: Claudius wants to fake Britannicus' death, in order to send him to exile in Britain during Nero's reign and have him return to Rome when the emperor is overthrown. Unfortunately, Britannicus stubbornly refuses.
  • False Rape Accusation: Posthumus is exiled after he is accused of trying to rape Livilla, who was working with Livia to get rid of him.
  • Famous Last Words: Julius Caesar's, Augustus' and Agrippinilla's historical final words are quoted.
  • A Father to His Men: Drusus and Germanicus treat their troops like this.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We are told at the start that Claudius is going to become Emperor. Nonetheless, the description of 60 years of Roman politics and intrigue leading up to this event manages to remain amazing and entertaining.
  • The Gambler: Claudius gambles frequently, both at playing dice and in the horsetracks. He never seems to win or loose much, but on one occassion he has to send Germanicus a large sum of money and, since he has to keep it a secret, pretends to have lost it gambling.
  • Genius Cripple: While not exactly brilliant, Claudius is a lot smarter than most people give him credit for.
  • God-Emperor: Caligula claims to be a god after he goes mad.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: A belief held in-universe by Romans, including Claudius himself, who discusses it in Claudius the God. He explicitly states that if a god ceases to be worshipped he is nothing; he also states that, conversely, being worshipped is what makes one a god. This means that, according to Claudius, if a mortal can make others worship him or her and is worshipped genuinely, then he or she is a god and must be accepted as such.
    While Caligula was worshipped and believed in as a god he was indeed a supernatural being. Cassius Chaerea found it almost impossible to kill him, because there was a certain divine awe about him, the result of the worship offered him from simple hearts, and the conspirators felt it themselves and hung back. Perhaps he would never have succeeded if Caligula had not cursed himself with a divine premonition of assassination.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Livia is an interesting example. She uses the vilest means to obtain power, but she's also described as a very able and just ruler. Claudius loathes her because many of her victims, such as Postumus and Germanicus, are his dearest friends, but admits her government was much better than Tiberius' and Caligula's.
    • Messalina and Agrippinilla, on the other hand, are straight examples of this.
  • Going Native: The Germans in the emperor's guard marry and have children with Roman women and, while claiming to feel nostalgia for their homeland, don't really want to leave Italy.
  • Good Bad Girl: Julia, while being quite promiscuous, is portrayed sympathetically by Claudius. Firstly, because she begins having affairs as a result of her husband Tiberius' coolness towards her and his own infidelities. Secondly, because her enhanced sex-drive seems to have been caused by Livia, who tricks her into using Spanish fly, a potent aphrodisiac. Thirdly, because she has a good heart and is the only adult member of Claudius' family who treats him with affection.
  • The Good Chancellor: Agrippa and Maecenas during Augustus' reign, Narcissus and —for a few months— Herod Agrippa during Claudius'.
  • Grande Dame: Antonia and several other Roman ladies.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Caligula's mood swings make people around him constantly in fear for their lives.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Claudius at one point discusses his distaste for how other men of the noble class take young men as lovers who are blatantly Gold Diggers. While this may come off as an Writer on Board by Graves, this is actually based on fact, as Claudius was one of the few Emperors who never had any male lovers, which was considered odd at the time and remarked upon by contemporaries.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The legions under Scribonianus' comand decide not to rebel against Claudius.
    • Castor undergoes a minor HFT after Germanicus' death. While he wasn't entirely evil before, afterwards he becomes loyal to Agrippina and her children.
  • He Knows Too Much: Martina is murdered so that she cannot testify against Piso and Plancina in the trial for Germanicus' murder.
  • Heroic BSoD: After Augustus finds out about Julia's debauchery, he locks himself in his bedroom and remains there for four days without eating, drinking or talking to anyone.
    • Claudius has a very similar reaction when they tell him the truth about Messalina. However, he's not allowed to lock himself up and suffer alone, since he has to act immediately to prevent her coup attempt.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: That's what Claudius plans to do with Britannicus during Nero's reign.
  • High Priest: All emperors are this, since they also hold the office of Pontifex Maximus. Claudius takes advantage of it to introduce some changes in Roman religion.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, Claudius,...
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Calpurnia, who was Claudius' partner for a while, and his friend for the rest of her life. Claudius expressed this in the epitaph he wrote for her:
    "A harlot's love; a harlot's lie" -
    Cast that ancient proverb by.
    Calpurnia's heart was cleaner far,
    Roman matrons, than yours are.
  • Holy City: The Jews believe the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. It becomes an important plot point because it leads Herod Agrippa, who was born there, to believe he is the Messiah.
  • Hypocrite: The attentive reader will note that Claudius ends up making many of the same mistakes as Emperor he criticized others for making, including holding on to absolute power despite professing to want to restore the old Roman Republic. Of course, since he's the viewpoint character, he has perfectly good and justifiable reasons. At the end of Claudius the God, Claudius also realizes this.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Druids sacrifice young men to their gods, something Claudius considers barbaric (altough, as a result of Values Dissonance, he has no qualms abouth sacrificing animals to the Roman gods).
    Tropes I to M 
  • I, Noun: The book may be the Ur-Example.
  • Identical Grandson: Brittanicus, Claudius' son, is very similar both in looks and personality to Germanicus, Claudius' brother. For a time that leads Claudius to suspect that Caligula, Germanicus' son, was Brittanicus' real father.
    • Nero, who is undoubtfully Germanicus' grandson, also looks a lot like him, and the contrast between his handsome appearance and his corrupt personality greatly upsets Claudius.
  • Illegal Religion: Several religious cults are banned in Rome and other parts of the Empire, including Christianity and Druidism.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Tiberius' friend, Cocceius Nerva is described by Claudius as an example: he "never made an enemy and never lost a friend" and he was "sweet-tempered, generous, courageous, utterly truthful and was never known to stoop to the least fraud, even if good promised to come from so doing". Nerva, however, does not protest Tiberius' depravity, because he's just too innocent and absent-minded to notice it.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted many, many times. Drusillus, Sejanus' children, Gemellus, Caligula's daughter and several other children are murdered.
  • Inheritance Murder: Livia's grand plan is to ensure her son Tiberius becomes Augustus's successor by eliminating everyone ahead of him in the succession, one way or another.
  • In the Blood: Claudius discusses how, in its long history, there have been two types of people in his family: those who are exceptionally wise and just, and those who are vile, decadent cutthroats.
  • Insult to Rocks: Claudius' mother, Antonia, manages to make this one do double duty, by finding something a moment later that she thinks is a sufficiently insulting comparison.
    Antonia : That man [a senator] ought to be put out of the way! He's as stupid as a donkey—what am I saying? Donkeys are sensible beings by comparison—he's as stupid as... as... Heavens, he's as stupid as my son Claudius!
  • In Vino Veritas: Invoked twice. First, when Claudius has dinner with Livia, he drinks too many cups of wine and speaks to her with brutal honesty. She's actually pleased, and mentions this trope by name.
    • Later, when Claudius becomes emperor, Herod Agrippa and him get drunk together. Herod advises him not to trust anyone, including himself. In the end, Herod betrays Claudius, trying of organize an uprising againts Rome.
  • It's All About Me: In his last years Tiberius feels sorry for himself after having murdered Sejanus, Agrippina and countless other people.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Claudius makes a few mentions of this weird new cult called "the Christians", and is happy to say that he probably won't be troubled by them again.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: or Pompous Sycophant Has A Point. A translation of Seneca the Younger's The Pumpkinication of Claudius is included in the epilogue. While Seneca spends a lot of time mocking Claudius' disabilities and praising Nero shamelessly, he also skewers Claudius on his genuine faults.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Herod Agrippa, whom Claudius describes in Claudius the God as "a scoundrel with a golden heart."
  • Just the First Citizen: Augustus, who was the Trope Namer in real life.
  • Kangaroo Court: During Tiberius and Caligula's reigns almost every treason trial is this, and the Roman justice system becomes more and more corrupt as time goes by. Claudius tries to change things when he becomes Emperor, but several innocent people are executed during his reing nonetheless.
  • King Incognito: After his Triumph, Claudius disguises himself as a commoner and walks the streets of Rome to listen to what his subjects really think of him.
  • King on His Deathbed: Augustus and Tiberius, at the end of their reigns. Caligula is so impatient to become emperor he has Tiberius smothered with a pillow.
  • Kissing Cousins: Almost every marriage in the imperial family is between cousins: Julia and Marcellus, Agrippina and Germanicus, Castor and Livilla, Nero and Helen, Claudius and Messalina, etc.
  • Klingon Promotion: The early Roman Empire is depicted this way, albeit with the murders carried out by proxy rather than in person. Livia, after killing everyone higher up the line of succession, poisons Augustus so Tiberius can succeed him; Caligula succeeds by having Tiberius smothered; and at the end Agrippina poisons Claudius to clear the way for Nero. The only Emperor who doesn't succeed this way is Claudius himself, who had nothing to do with Caligula's murder. (Historically, it's doubtful if Augustus and Tiberius were murdered, though Claudius probably was.)
    • Macro becomes commander of the Pretorian Guard after having his predecessor, Sejanus, executed.
  • Lady Macbeth: Livia, wife of Emperor Augustus and the Manipulative Bitch who essentially becomes the Woman Behind The Man by killing all the people that he won't to ensure that her descendants inherit the empire. Clearly one of the bad Claudians.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: Averted. When Tiberius dies, several people have been sentenced to death by him. They hope the new emperor Caligula might pardon them, but they can't reach to him in time and end up executed.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Augustus was apparently incapable of sustaining an erection with Livia, something she uses to her advantage.
  • Lonely Funeral: Antonia's funeral is only attended by Claudius, Herod Agrippa and a handful more. This is because no one dares to offend Caligula, who drove her to suicide.
  • Long Game: Claudius writes and buries his memoirs for the specific purpose of having them discovered "nineteen hundred years or near" later, as the Sybil said they would be.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Nero is disdainfully described like this by Claudius.
  • Loophole Abuse: When Sejanus and his supporters are being eliminated, guards are sent to kill his young children as well. They're understandably reluctant to do so, and one of them even protests that the daughter is underage and a virgin; executing a virgin is unprecedented and could bring bad luck on the city. Macro's solution? Rape her, then kill her. Her brother is also underage, but they dress him up in his coming of age robes so he's legally a man - then they kill him too. As is the case with most of the stuff in these books, sadly Truth in Television.
  • The Lost Lenore: Claudius' first love was a girl named Camilla who returned his affection. Unfortunately on the day they were to be betrothed, she was fatally poisoned (apparently as a Revengeby Proxy against her uncle, but heavily implied to have been killed by Livia, so that she can have Claudius betrothed to another girl) and poor Claudius clearly never recovered emotionally from it.
    • Tiberius feels this way about his first wife, Vipsania. In this case, however, she didn't die: Tiberius was forced by Livia to divorce her so that he could make a more advantageous match by marrying Augustus' daughter Julia. Making things worse, Vipsania goes on to marry another man, who is a political rival to Tiberius.
  • Loveable Rogue: Herod Agrippa.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Messalina ends up being this to Claudius, eventually trying to overthrow him and put her lover on the throne.
  • Lured into a Trap: A sealed letter from Tiberius arrives to Rome, and Sejanus is led to believe it contains his appointment for a high office. He goes to a Senate meeting were the letter will be opened and read out loud. But instead of the appointment, the letter orders Sejanus' arrest, and he is seized on the spot by the Pretorian Guard.
  • Mad Oracle: The Sybil.
  • Make an Example of Them: Many people executed for treason are dragged by a hook and thrown to the river Tiber.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Several cases.
    • Brutus, Julius Caesar's murdered, is claimed to be his biological son.
    • Urgulanilla, Claudius' first wife, is believed to be Tiberius' daugher.
    • Livia says Julia isn't really Augustus' daugher, although this is probably false.
    • Gemellus, Castor and Livilla's son and Tiberius' grandson, is revealed to actually be the child of Livilla's lover, Sejanus.
    • After Claudius finds out how many times Messalina cheated on him, he starts doubting whether he's the real father of their kids. He comes to the conclusion that Britannicus is his child, but Octavia isn't.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The books are mostly straightforward and realistic, but there are a few suspiciously accurate prophecies regarding the fates of the emperors that are difficult to explain away as coincidence.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: This trope is invoked and defied by Claudius, who sentences several women involved in conspiracies against him to death, saying there's no reason why their gender should protect them.
  • Mock Millionaire: One of the ways in which Herod manages to constantly get loans is to pretend to be wealthier than he really is; he knows that people will be more willing to lend him money if they thinks he's rich enought to pay them back.
  • Morality Chain: Vipsania and Drusus to Tiberius early on in the story; Claudius notes that initially their influence checked the worse elements of his nature, but as he was forced to divorce Vipsania and Drusus was sent on a military campaign to a different part of the empire, their influence on Tiberius was removed and he gradually went altogether to the bad (especially after the two died). Later, and to a lesser degree, Cocceius Nerva to Tiberius. Caesonia tries to be this to Caligula, advising him to rule mildly and earn people's love. Unfortunately, this only makes Caligula announce that he will grant everyone amnesty and rule with love for a thousand of years, but only after purging Senate.
  • Morality Pet: Tiberius is portrayed as a pedophile who murders most of his relatives and a good chunk of the senate but for some reason he insists on having an innocent and virtuous senator Cocceius Nerva live with him in his Evil Playboy Mansion on Capri. It helps that Nerva seems to be the only real friend Tiberius had since the death of his brother Drusus and that he is possibly the only person in the empire who believes Tiberius to be just and moral, as Tiberius can't bring himself to disillusion him. When the senator decides to commit suicide Tiberius is distraught, and actually goes so far as to tear up some death warrants in the hope that this will convince the senator to live on.
  • Mother Makes You King: Tiberius only becomes Emperor because his mother Livia has been very active in removing any inconvenient competitors for the succession that might stand in his way. And Agrippinilla clearly has the same designs in mind for her son Nero at the end of the story.
  • The Mutiny: At the beginning of Tiberius' reign, several legions in Germany and the Balcans rebel against the new Emperor. Germanicus and Castor are sent to quell the uprising.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Antonia, Claudius' mother, realizes she's been an awful parent shortly before commiting suicide, when it's too late to change things between them. Even after admitting this to Claudius, she keeps nagging him.
    • Claudius has a major one after Messalina's downfall, when he realizes that his competent rule has strenghtened the imperial monarchy, making it impossible to restore the Republic.
    Tropes N to P 
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: While Claudius is perfectly aware of his three predecessors' crimes and mistakes, he decides not to mention them in his official autobiography. He also declines to take any action against Caligula's memory, such as declaring the day of his death a national holiday.
  • Never Suicide: Piso's death is staged as a suicide by his wife, Plancina, who in fact murdered him.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Silas has this type of relationship with Herod Agrippa. It's Played for Laughs at first, but when Herod becomes king and Silas disrespects him in public, he ends up imprisioned and murdered.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Claudius' dinner with Livia has shades of this, although Claudius isn't Livia's prisioner.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Claudius' former lover and logtime friend Calpurnia, dies, he writes an epigraph for her. This is the only poem he ever wrote in his life, apart from school assigments. He explains that he wanted to do something exceptional to show the depth of his grief.
  • Obfuscating Disability/Obfuscating Stupidity:
    Pollio: Do you want to live a long and busy life, with honor at the end of it?
    Claudius: Yes.
    Pollio: Then exaggerate your limp, stammer deliberately, sham sickness frequently, let your wits wander, jerk your head and twitch with your hands on all public or semi-public occasions. If you could see as much as I see, you would know that this was your only hope of eventual glory.
  • Odd Friendship: Antonia, who is an very traditional and virtuous Roman matron, is fond of Lovable Rogue Herod Agrippa, and greatly enjoys listening to his stories. She even lends him money from time to time.
    • Up to a certain point, Herod's friendship with Claudius is this.
  • Offing the Offspring: Livia poisoned her husband, grandson, and everyone else who got in her way. She also arranged the death of her son Drusus, who was politically opposed to her (although she claims in the end he actually died of natural causes).
    • Antonia is forced to have her own daughter Livilla killed. She chooses to lock her in a room and starve her to death. The room is next to hers, so she could hear Livilla's cries and curses for days. Claudius explains that Antonia didn't do this out of sadism, "for it was inexpressibly painful to her, but as a punishment to herself for having brought up so abominable a daughter."
  • One Steve Limit: Defied. Claudius, in his role as narrator, writes at some length about his useless teacher Marcus Porcius Cato, only to point out that the great Romans called Marcus Porcius Cato were his ancestors, and this one is just a particularly useless teacher. He then muses that he'll have to be very careful to keep his own family members apart since their names are very similar and he is well aware how confusing that can be.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Many of the characters are only known by their nicknames (for example, "Caligula" and "Castor"). Roman naming customs were very unimaginative, so several people might have identical or almost-identical names; nicknames made it much easier than trying to figure out which of the eight or nine "Drusus"es someone might be talking about. The narrator will usually mention the real name before telling you that that guy will just be known as "Castor" from then on.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: It happens to several characters, but the one who takes it harder is Antonia, Claudius' mother, whose elder son Germanicus and only daughter Livilla both die before her (in Livilla's case, starved to death by Antonia herself as punishment for her crimes). Several of Antonia's grandchildren are also dead by the time she passes away.
  • Out with a Bang: Apparently, this is how Pompey, Claudius' son-in-law and his male lover die, being killed while having sex.
  • Overlord Jr.: Caligula is this to Tiberius, although he's only Tiberius' adoptive son (and grandnephew).
  • The Pardon: Caligula pardons Herod Agrippa, who had been imprisoned for treason by Tiberius. Later Claudius pardons his nieces Agrippinilla and Lesbia, allowing them to return from exile. Seneca is pardoned by Claudius not once but twice: first, when he becomes emperor, and recalls several people sentenced to exile by Caligula. Shortly after, Claudius discovers Seneca is committing adultery with his niece Lesbia and exiles him again. Years later, he decides to recall him from exile to make him Nero's tutor.
  • Parental Favoritism: Antonia favors Germanicus and Livilla over Claudius. Later she comes to regret it, and considers their deaths a divine punishment for her mistreatment of Claudius.
    • Antonia (Claudius' eldest daughter) thinks he loves Britannicus and Octavia more than her, because she's the daughter of Claudius' second, loveless, marriage, and they are the children of Messalina, who Claudius is very much in love with. Claudius manages to convince her she's wrong.
  • Parental Incest: Caligula claims his mother Agrippina was the result of an incestuous affair between Augustus and his daughter Julia. This is almost certainly a lie: Caligula dislikes the fact that his maternal grandfather Agrippa was a man of low birth, so he wants to erase him from his family tree.
  • Parental Neglect: Agrippinilla acts this way toward her son Nero, allowing him to be raised by his aunt and her lovers. Claudius forces her to finish raising him herself.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: Antonia discovers her pre-adolescent grandchildren Caligula and Drusilla committing incest, and threatens to report this to Tiberius, but Claudius manages to convince her to keep their secret.
  • Pass Fail: In Claudius the God, a lawyer who has pled cases in front of Claudius and his predecessors for decades is unmasked as a slave by one of Claudius's friends, who pulls aside the lawyer's toga to expose his brand.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Drusus and Antonia's, Tiberius and Vipsania's, Germanicus' and Agrippina's and Cypros and Herod Agrippa's arranged marriages are very happy. However, they are the exception to the rule.
    • Messalina's marriage to Claudius seems to be this, until she shows her true colors.
  • Perspective Flip: A version of Jesus Christ's life is told by Herod Agrippa in a letter to Claudius. Herod considers Jesus to have been a fraud and persecutes his followers, so his view of Jesus's story is somewhat unreliable.
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: Caligula, in a non-fatal version, punishes someone who's annoyed him by sending him with a letter to the King of Morocco. The letter says, "Kindly send bearer back to Rome."
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Messalina convinces Claudius to spare the life of a defeated German gladiator. Later, Claudius comes to suspect she wanted to take him as her lover, and that he's the real father of his youngest daughter Octavia.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Julius Caesar's is this, since his murder brings his nephew and adoptive son Octavian/Augustus to the center of the political stage.
  • Politically Correct History: This is what Claudius is forced to write during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. His 3 works of the time are a history of Augustus' religious reforms, in which he carefully avoids to point out some mistaked made by the emperor's advisors on the matter, and two books about the history of Carthage and Etruria, both of them being uncontroversial topics by the time he wrote them. Nevertheless, he is quite proud of his works.
    • He also claims his official autobiography, written after he becomes emperor, is this. He can't legally critizise Augustus and Livia because they have been deified, and he considers it would be unfair to critizise Tiberius and Caligula while not pointing out the faults of their predecesors.
  • Posthumous Character: Julius Caesar, Octavia, Anthony, Claudius' paternal grandfather, and many others have a lot of bearing in the plot but are dead by the time the protagonist is born. His father also counts as this, since he dies when Claudius is only a baby.
  • Prematurely Bald: Caligula loses his hair before he turns 30. His grandmother Julia, Augustus' daughter, also goes bald when she's only an teenager, although Claudius speculates it might have been Livia's doing.
  • Promotion to Parent: After his father's death, Germanicus becomes the head of his family (pater familias), and acts as a sort of father figure to his younger brother Claudius.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: In Claudius the God, Claudius is told by Messalina that a prophecy says that her husband is going to die in a month. She uses this to convince him to divorce her (strictly pro forma!) and marry her off to another man. When Claudius realises that it was a plot against him, he sentences that man to death.
    • When a wounded wolf-cub falls into the boy Claudius's hands, his mother sends the children away to consult an augur. Claudius's sister eavesdrops, though, and hears the meaning: that Rome (the wolf) will be in desperate straits, and Claudius will protect it. She sneers "I hope I'll be long dead before then!", and her mother angrily punishes her, "You're going to be locked up in a room with nothing to eat"—both inadvertent prophecies, as the mother ends up starving her adult daughter to death years later.
    • Tiberius has an astrologer who successfully predicts his rise to power, then warns him to "beware when your own lizard sends him a message". When Tiberius sees his pet giant lizard suddenly dead and being torn apart by ants, his own death follows shortly after.
    • Repeatedly in both books, there are prophecies of a new god arising—saying such things as that he will die alone and his friends will drink his blood, but that no temple in the Roman Empire will be dedicated to any god but him. Both Livia and Caligula believe that the prophecies are about them, but they're mistaken; rather, these seem to be prophecies of Christianity displacing the Roman religion.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Early on, we see two Sibylline prophecies that hint of Claudius's rule. Both prophecies rhyme, though that wasn't a typical feature of Greek or Latin poetry (or prophecy). Arguably it's Translation Convention, translating Greek verse (which was based on patterns of long and short syllables) into an equivalent English poetic form (based on stressed syllables and rhyme).
  • Prophecy Twist: Claudius reveals early on that he had learned of a prophesy that describes his predecessors and himself, and speaks of his successor as horrible, and the last. Claudius interprets this to mean that his successor will be Rome's last Emperor, and that after him, the Republic will be restored, which is why he allows the horrible Nero to be his successor. However, the prophesy actually means (as the audience knows but Claudius doesn't) that Nero will be the last Julio-Claudian Emperor (but will of course have numerous successors).
    • Caligula is told to beware of "Cassius". He interprets this as a warning againts his brother-in-law Cassius Longinus. In the end, he's killed by Cassius Chaerea.
    • Tiberius is told that in ten years, "Tiberius Caesar" will still be emperor. He interprets it as a reassurance that he has ten more years to live and reign. He dies not long after that, and the prophecy is fulfilled by his nephew Claudius, whose first name is also Tiberius and who takes the surname Caesar when he becomes emperor.
  • Public Execution: Subverted. People are executed in private, but their bodies are desecrated in public.
  • Puppet King: Claudius chooses to become this after the fall of Messalina.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Several cases.
    • Livia manages to put her son Tiberius on the throne, but he loathes her, and eventually strips her of almost all political influence.
    • Sejanus and Livilla achieve their goal of getting rid of Agrippina and her children, but after years of fueling Tiberius' paranoia, the emperor is quick to realise Sejanus has grown too powerful (and therefore, dangerous), and after a timely warning from Antonia, has him killed.
    • Macro helps Caligula get the throne by murdering Tiberius. Not long after he becomes emperor, Caligula goes mad and puts Macro to death.
    • Agripinilla gets to see her son Nero become emperor. A few years later, Nero orders her death.
    Tropes R to T 
  • Rain Dance: In Claudius the God, a Roman commander whose troops are lost in the desert follows his native guide's advice to invoke the local rain god. It works.
  • Raised by Grandparents: After her parents' divorce, Antonia, Claudius' daughter, is raised by her namesake Antonia, Claudius' mother.
  • Really Gets Around: Julia and Messalina, the latter taking it to absurd levels. Narcissus compiles a list of people she slept with while married to Claudius. The first draft contains 54 names, but it's later extended to 155.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Augustus, Germanicus and Claudius. Tiberius begins his reign as this, but becomes more and more depraved as time goes by.
  • Red Light District: During Caligula's Triumph, the soldiers sack the Roman neighborhood were most of the brothels are located.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Claudius is not willing to become emperor, and he only accepts when he's told his wife Messalina and his unborn child will be in danger if he refuses.
    • Tiberius pretends to be this when the Senate offers him the throne after Augustus' death.
  • Remarrying for Your Kids: After Messalina's death, Claudius brings up the subject of his young children Brittanicus and Octavia, who have been left without a mother. His friend Vitellius suggests him to remarry for their sake, and when he doesn't reject the idea, his freedmen inmediately start looking for a new prospective wife.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Herod Agrippa gets a brief mention at the very end of I, Claudius, where he saves the audience of the Palatine Hill theatre from Caligula's German guards after the latter's death, and becomes one of the main characters in Claudius the God, where it is revealed that he was in fact present during many of the events of I, Claudius but was not mentioned there. Claudius lampshades this in the introduction to Claudius the God, and handwaves this by stating that Herod ultimately wasn't that important character in the story until the death of Caligula.
  • Restrained Revenge: When Claudius becomes emperor, he finds the records of the trial of Agrippina:his sister-in-law Agrippina and his nephews Nero and Drusus, in which the names of those who testified against them are written. Instead of having them killed or exiled, Claudius summons the witnesses to palace, has them read their false testimonies and then burn them with their own hands.
  • Revenge by Proxy: After Sejanus' downfall, his three innocent children are executed as well.
    • Also, after Herod Agrippa's death, his two young daughters are raped by a mob.
    • Camilla, Claudius' young betrothed, is poisoned by an unknown woman. Livia claims her murder was a vengeance against the girl's uncle, but it is hinted that Livia herself might have been behind it.
  • Romancing the Widow: After Claudius' father's death, Flaccus tries to marry his widow, Antonia. While Antonia is fond of him, she thinks they are Better as Friends.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Parodied in I, Claudius, where Claudius meets historians Livy and Pollio. Pollio criticizes Livy for writing that generals gave rousing speeches before battles, and tells that Julius Caesar before the decisive battle with Pompey (where Pollio was present) didn't do anything of the sort; instead, he did funny skits involving a radish.
    • In Claudius the God, Claudius prepares a grand speech in Livy's style before an important battle in Britain; when he finds himself in front of the troops, he forgets it entirely, and comes up with a much more easygoing, jocular speech (without a radish though).
  • Royal Inbreeding: The Julio-Claudians practice this. Livia and Augustus had no children of their own, but Livia makes sure that every descendant of Augustus's is married to a descendant of hers. It gets even more pronounced as it goes, with Caligula sleeping with his sisters and Claudius marrying his niece (though in Claudius's case, the marriage is not consummated).
  • Royally Screwed Up: The Julio-Claudians.
  • Ruling Couple: Augustus and Livia. Germanicus/Agrippina and Sejanus/Livilla have shades of this trope, although they never end up becoming Emperor and Empress. Claudius gives both Messalina and Agrippinilla a high degree of political influence, although neither gets to become as powerful as Livia.
  • Sadist Teacher: Cato, Claudius' first tutor.
  • Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Mnester claims he was coerced into having affair with Messalina, and shows the marks of the whip on his back as proof, but Narcissus points out that the scars are not deep enough, meaning they are the result of consensual BDSM. Mnester is then sentenced to death for his adultery with the emperor's wife.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Tiberius favourite M.O. He forces the wives, daughters and sons of senators to have sex with him, threatening to have their loved ones charged with treason and executed. On one occasion he sets his eyes on the daughter of a senator; the senator's wife offers herself in her daughter's stead, and after the ordeal, she kills herself.
  • Screw Destiny: Britannicus is told that Nero will become emperor, and that it will inevitably lead to his death if he stays in Rome, but he wants to prevent it, and insists that Claudius allow him to legally become an adult in order to face Agripinilla and Nero. Claudius indulges him, fully knowing that Britannicus won't be able to prevail.
  • Seppuku: What Roman Generals (like Quinctilius Varus of the "WHERE ARE MY EAGLES!" fame) were expected to do after losing battles. Another form of ritual suicide (by opening a vein) was also available to people facing political disgrace, or to people who had simply grown tired of life. In general, an honorable death-by-suicide could save everyone a lot of trouble—for example, a condemned traitor would usually forfeit his property, leaving his family destitute. (Of course, when doing this, it's always handy to have one's treacherous wife standing by to gut-stab you should you chicken out at the last minute...)
    • Face Death with Dignity: When Claudius's freedman tricks him into signing Messalina's death-warrant, they make sure to offer Messalina a dagger—to take the honourable way out—in the hopes that they won't have to show the warrant to Claudius. Messalina, however, is too much of a coward to kill herself, so she ends up executed. Similarly, when Augustus banishes his daughter Julia for adultery, Julia accepts exile but her maid Phoebe hangs herself in disgrace; Augustus bitterly comments, "I wish to God I had been Phoebe's father."
  • Shaming the Mob: Germanicus uses this to put down the mutiny of his troops on the Rhine.
  • Sexless Marriage: Claudius and Agrippinilla. Since he only married her for political reasons and actually loathes her, he tells her right away that there won't be any intimacy between them. Agrippinilla doesn't mind.
    • Claudius' second marriage to Elia, Sejanus' sister, remains unconsumated for several years, until she realizes Sejanus' political position is becoming less secure and allows Claudius to impregnate her; she believes, correctly, that being the mother of Tiberius' nephew's child will protect her if Sejanus falls.
    • After a few years of normal married life, Messalina manipulates Claudius into allowing her to sleep in a separate bedroom and stop having sex altogether, convincing her she's asexual. It's all a lie: she just wants freedom to take as many lovers as she wants.
    • Claudius also alleges that Augustus and Livia were this, with Augustus being impotent when he wanted to be intimate with Livia out of guilt that he had in effect stolen her from her first husband (which in reality was Livia's idea). To compensate Livia covertly gives him young women to satisfy him instead.
  • Sexual Extortion: One of Caligula's more nefarious hobbies is forcing himself upon other men's wives and daughters by threatening to have their husbands and fathers executed if they don't submit.
    • Messalina tries to pull this off with Appius Silanus, but it doesn't work.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Herod Agrippa's secret plot to rebel against the Roman Empire comes to naught with his abrupt death.
    • The same can be said about Claudius' plan to save Britannicus life during Nero's reign, and to have the Republic restored. Britannicus refuses to go along, and even if he had, it's doubtful he would have been able to succesfully return to Rome and re-establish the republican system in the crisis of 68.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Claudius claims that fondness for pets is a family trait, citing Augustus' favourite dog, Tiberius' "dragon without wings" (probably a Komodo dragon), Caligula's horse Incitatus, and several others.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Implied to happen at the very end of Claudius the God. The clowns in question are minor characters Augurinus and Baba, two guys who made a living giving theatricals in the back streets of the Rome where they parodied Claudius and his wives. Claudius forbids Agrippinilla from having them killed, stating that so long as he lives their lives are to be spared; Agrippinilla agrees to let them live only exactly so long, to the very hour. Seneca's "The Pumpkinication of Claudius" mentions Claudius and some Augurinus and Baba dying "in the same year quite close to each other"; and their deaths are implied to be first sign of Agrippinilla's and Nero's tyranny being completely unrestrained after the death of Claudius.
  • Shown Their Work: Graves translated many classical works into English, including one of the major sources for the life of Claudius. Much of the novel's material can be traced to Roman authors such as Suetonius and Tacitus, and the prose style deliberately invokes the style of something that has been translated faithfully from Latin.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Drusus, Germanicus' second son, is jealous of Nero, his older brother (not to be confused with the future emperor).
    • Averted with Germanicus himself and his first cousin and adoptive brother Castor. Even though there were many reasons for them to be politically opposed, they are on very friendly terms.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Claudius is informed some of his soldiers want to wreak havoc in Rome after his Triumph, just like they had done after Caligula's. Instead of confronting them and risking bloodshed, he gives them drugged wine with the instructions to drink it only after the parade. The soldiers end up sleeping for hours, waking up only after the Triumph celebrations are over, and Claudius manages to avoid trouble.
  • Son of a Whore: Calpurnia is not only a prostitute, but the daughter of a prostitute.
  • So Proud of You: After completing his conquest of Britain, Claudius has a dream in which his beloved brother Germanicus tell him how proud he is.
  • Spare to the Throne: Claudius is very far down the Imperial line of succession. No one expects him to really amount to anything.
  • Speech Impediment: Claudius' stammer, which is caused mostly by stress. When he becomes emperor, it almost dissapears.
  • The Starscream: Sejanus and Livilla want to overthow Tiberius. Unfortunately for them, Tiberius gets wind of this and decides to strike first.
  • Stopped Caring: Claudius gives this impression after Messalina dies. He makes little effort to reign in Agrippinilla and Nero, actually doing his best to make the latter worse, and doesn't avenge Calpurnia when she's murdered. When his work on the Fucine lake comes crashing down, he finds it hilarious. He actually still cares about the future of the Empire; his plan is to let Agrippinilla and Nero destroy everything he built to make the people realize that monarchy is bad. To be able to bear that, he has to take a stoic attitude to things. As he writes:
    Yet I am, I must remember, Old King Log.
    I shall float inertly in the stagnant pool.
    Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.
  • Stutter Stop: The young Claudius occasionally breaks through his stutter at emotionally intense moments. Later, after training himself out of his stutter (but still keeping it in public as part of his Obfuscating Disability) he is able to invoke the trope at will.
  • Suicide Is Painless: Cocceius Nerva decides that he had lived enough, so he simply stops eating and eventually dies.
  • Successful Sibling Syndrome: Claudius' bother Germanicus is far more succesful and popular than him. Claudius doesn't resent him for that.
  • Take a Third Option: Messalina tries to seduce her stepfather, Appius Silanus. When Appius refuses, she threatens to have him executed by Claudius. Instead of giving in and sleeping with her, or keep refusing and end up possibly accused of treason by Messalina, he decides to assassinate Claudius (and fails).
  • Taking the Kids: Claudius' grandfather threatens Livia to divorce her and have sole custody of their sons (something Roman law allowed) if she keeps trying to convince him to restore the monarchy.
  • Taking You with Me: Invoked by one of the men involved in Scribonianus' failed rebellion against Claudius who, after being sentenced to death, accuses the commander of the Praetorian Guard of being part of the plot. The commander is found guilty and dies with the other conspirators.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Livia's preferred M.O. for removing inconvenient obstacles is to taint their food with a slow-acting poison to bring on what looks like a sudden illness, then continue administering the poison through the victim's doctors in the guise of treatment until they die.
  • Tangled Family Tree: An example of Truth in Television; the convoluted relationships (both through blood and through marriage — not to mention adoption) between all the Julio-Claudians are extremely complex. Claudius devotes the better part of a chapter to helping the reader untangle his relations.
  • Tell Me About My Father: In his youth, Claudius speaks to a lot of people who knew his father, trying to gather enough material to write his biography. One of them hints that Livia was involved in his death; shortly after that, Livia herself stops Claudius from finishing his work, making him suspect she really did kill him.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Claudius lets Nero succeed him, despite knowing that he's a horrible person, because he believes that Nero's cruelty will be so shocking that the Romans will depose him and finally restore the Republic of their own free will. As we know with the benefit of hindsight, this doesn't work.
  • The Unfavorite: Claudius is this both to his own mother and to the whole imperial family.
  • The Teetotaler: In his last years, Tiberius' bad health forces him to stop drinking, something that puts him in a even fouler mood.
  • Thicker Than Water: Thoroughly averted. Almost every character ends up betraying and/or killing a family member. Even Claudius has two of his nieces put to death for conspiring against him.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: After Claudius hears what happened to Sejanus' children (see Loophole Abuse) he says to himself: "Rome, you are ruined; there can be no expiation for a crime so horrible."
  • Treacherous Advisor: Hermann is this to Varus, before leading the German tribes in open rebellion.
    • Sejanus to Gaius.
    • Practically all of Claudius' freedmen, except for Narcissus.
  • Tyrannicide: Caligula's death, although the larger plot to restore the Republic after his death fails.
    Tropes U to Z 
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife:
    • Claudius and Messalina. It doesn't work out well; Messalina is able to manipulate Claudius while cheating on him with just about everyone.
    • Claudius and Agrippinilla as well, though she isn't the beauty she once was by the time they get married.
  • Undignified Death: Lupus, one of the guards sentenced for the murder of Caligula and his family, is shivering with cold and fear before his execution.
    • Messalina's counts as this, at least In-Universe, since she is too afraid to kill herself when told she's been sentenced to death.
  • Unnamed Parent: The names of Claudius' parents are stated a couple of times, but he mostly refers to them as "my father" and "my mother". He also only refers to his paternal grandfather as "my grandfather".
  • Unreliable Narrator: Claudius admits that he's not aiming to write an objective account and is including a good bit of his own personal speculation.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Claudius and his first wife Urgulanilla, though he says that there's so little feeling between them that he can't even say they were unhappy with each other. When he announces he's divorcing her for adultery (orchestrated by Sejanus) she doesn't contest the charges when presented with them. Ironically of all his wives she's the only one who never treats him harshly or tries to manipulate him for her own gain, and outright states in her will that he is not an idiot like everyone else thinks. It's also safe to say that he bears her no ill will either, going out of his way to spare her illegitimate child; he demands the baby so he can expose it (as a Roman husband was expected to do), but he has a freedman tell her that if she gives him a reasonably-recent stillbirth (not hard to come by back then) he won't ask questions.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means:
    • Livia justifies all her murders and deceit with claiming that they were necessary for the good of the state.
    • Claudius at the end organizes Nero to be his successor, fully knowing that he'll be the worst ruler imaginable. He does that because he believes that after this, people will finally realize that monarchy is wrong and restore the republic. He writes in his meditations:
      By dulling the blade of tyranny I fell into great error.
      By whetting the same blade I might redeem that error.
      Violent disorders call for violent remedies.
  • The Vamp: Messalina uses her beauty to manipulate Gaius Silius into organizing a coup against Claudius.
  • Villainous Incest: Caligula with his sisters and later Agrippinilla with her son Nero.
    • Somewhat averted with Agrippinilla's marriage to Claudius, her paternal uncle. While their union is clearly incestuous, the marriage is merely a political alliance and is never phisically consumated.
  • Villains Out Shopping: I, Claudius has a scene where Tiberius takes a break from depravities and ordering executions to compose a verse-dialogue between the hare and the pheasant, in which they argue which one of them makes for a better meal. Unfortunately, he is then surprised by a fisherman who decided to visit him on Capri and present him a large barbel he had caught; Tiberius has the poor man brutally maimed and then killed, due to a misunderstanding. Livia had given him a false warning to beware of barbel, knowing that it was a favorite dish of his, in order to both feed his paranoia and torment him with the idea that his favorite foods might be tainted. When the hapless fisherman appeared, fish in hand, to offer it to Tiberius, the emperor thought it was an assassination attempt and ordered his guards to protect him from an assailant.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Livia manages to have a relatively good public image during Augustus' reign, although she's correctly blamed for many of her evil deeds. Later Caligula becomes this, during the first months of his reign.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: The historians Livy and Pollio. For example, when they first meet the young Claudius in a library, Livy asks what is he reading. Pollio comments that it's probably some romantic rubbish, since today's youth reads nothing but trash. Livy makes a bet with him that it isn't. When Claudius reveals that he's reading a historical work by Pollio, Livy insists that Pollio won the bet: today's youth reads nothing but trash.
  • Warrior Prince: Augustus and, specially, Tiberius had distinguished military careers before becoming emperors. Caligula tries to become this, but fails both due to his madness and cowardice. Claudius manages to do it successfully in his conquest of Britain.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Livia. She acts as she does to prevent the restoration of the Republic, which in her view will lead to a return to civil war and instability. Even Claudius is forced to admit that she is a very capable administrator who genuinely cares about running the empire well.
  • Wicked Cultured: Tiberius is well versed in astrology, poetry and mithology. Livia knows enough history to point out an erroneous reference during a conversation with Claudius (who's a professional historian).
  • Wicked Stepmother: Livia is a textbook example of this in her treatment of Julia (Augustus' daughter from a previous marriage). Tiberius, who marries Julia, is very antagonistic towards her children from a previous marriage.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Camilla's death counts as this, although she dies just before her bethrotal ceremony, instead of the wedding itself.
    • Silius and Messalina are both killed (separately) on their wedding day.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Livia orders the death of her teenage great-grandson to prevent him from marrying the daughter of a political rival. Macro has Sejanus' underaged son and daughter executed (and the girl is raped before her death because it's bad luck to kill a virgin). Caligula orders the death of his young cousin Gemellus. In turn, Caligula's infant daughter is murdered by the same conspirators who killed the Emperor. Messalina tries to murder Nero when he is a child, but the attempt is thwarted.
  • Yes-Man: During the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula, everyone in Rome has to become this in order to survive being near the Emperor. By the time Claudius takes the throne, people are treating him this way in spite of him not being a tyrant and encouraging them to disagree with his ideas.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Livia poisons Agrippa when he is no longer needed to ensure the stability of Augustus' rule.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Claudius is told by Thrasyllus exactly how long his life will be, down to the months and days he has left.

Alternative Title(s): Claudius The God


Example of: