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CLAUDIUS (klô'dĭ-ŭs). The fourth Roman emperor (a.d. 41-54). He was a nephew of Tiberius, the second Roman emperor. A weak, vacillating man, he was under the influence of unprincipled favorites and his wife Messalina. His second wife, Agrippina, poisoned him in 54. Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, had assisted him much in his advancement to the throne, and in consequence was given the whole of Palestine. Claudius also gave the Jews throughout the empire the right of religious worship, but later he banished all Jews from Rome (Acts.18.2; cf. Suet. Claud. 25). The famine foretold by Agabus took place in the reign of Claudius (Acts.11.28). Ancient writers say that from various causes his reign was a period of distress over the whole Mediterranean world.

CLAUDIUS klô’ dĭ əs. Roman emperor a.d. 41-54. Son of Drusus and Antonia, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius and grandson of Livia the wife of Augustus, he was born at Lugdunum (Lyons, France) in 10 b.c. A young man of physical disabilities and some intellectual weakness, he lived a secluded life under the Emperor Tiberius (Suet. Claudius 4). He was made consul in a.d. 37 by Caligula and held other important posts, largely as a source of amusement for the latter. When Caligula was killed Claudius was named emperor by the praetorian guard in return for a considerable largess.

Despite his handicaps he ruled well during the early years of his reign. The boundaries of the empire were extended to include Mauretania and portions of Britain. Judea, which had been handed over to Agrippa, became an imperial province in 44 as did Thrace in 46. His policies toward provincials were liberal. A large number of colonies and municipalities were granted Rom. citizenship during his reign.

He enlarged the imperial civil service, which was now largely maintained by freedmen. Though legally his personal servants, they functioned as ministers of the state. They were soon hated by the nobility because of their efficiency and power, and sometimes for their arrogance and corruption. The emperor was often criticized also for his desire to hear legal cases in his own chambers rather than allowing them to be settled in the public courts.

The latter part of his reign was marked by intrigue and suspicion. The government was in the hands of his freedmen and the women around him. He had married Messalina, his third wife, who because of infidelity was put to death by his favorite freedman, Narcissus. At the prompting of another freedman, Pallas, he married his niece Agrippina. She prompted him to set aside his own son Brittanicus in favor of her son Nero by a former marriage. In 54 the emperor decided that Brittanicus should succeed him, but before he could make public his wish Agrippina fed him poisoned mushrooms which Nero said were “divine food, since by eating them Claudius became a god” (Cassius Dio 61:35).

Claudius is mentioned twice in the New Testament. In Acts 11:28 a prophecy was made by Agabus that there would be a “great famine over all the world” which was interpreted “and this took place in the days of Claudius.” During the reign of Claudius there were a number of famines. The carelessness of his predecessors had caused him to take stringent measures to insure a steady supply of grain (Cassius Dio 59. 17. 2; Suet. Claud. 18. 20). According to Tacitus the emperor’s life was in danger for the same reason (Annals 11. 4), and the interpretation of a dream signifying famine led to the ruin of two Rom. equestrians (Annals 11. 4).

In Acts 18:2 we are told that Paul met at Corinth Aquila and his wife Priscilla, Jews who had come there because “Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” This prob. coincides with an incident which Suetonius mentions, “Judaeos impulsore Chreso assidue tumultuantes expulit” (Claud. 25). Dio perhaps more correctly says that the Jews, who could not be expelled because of their great numbers, were forbidden the right of free assembly, which would have the effect of forcing pious Jews to leave the city to observe their rites (60. 6. 6). Claudius was favorable towards the Jews in the early years of his reign. Two edicts, one relating to Alexandria and the other to the empire, granted them religious toleration, exemption from military service, and partial self-government (Jos. Ant. XIX. v. 2). He was influenced in this attitude by one of his favorites, Herod Agrippa, who had aided in his accession (19. 4. 5), and in return received all of Pal. for himself and favors for his brother and his son. The edict of expulsion prob. came during his later years, perhaps 50-52. Chrestus and Christus were sounded very much alike. Suetonius probably understood the more common Χρηστός for Χριστός, G5986.


R. Graves, I, Claudius (1934); Claudius the God (1935); both historical novels, but in general very accurate. V. M. Scramuzza, The Emperor Claudius (1940).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Fourth Roman emperor. He reigned for over 13 years (41-54 AD), having succeeded Caius (Caligula) who had seriously altered the conciliatory policy of his predecessors regarding the Jews and, considering himself a real and corporeal god, had deeply offended the Jews by ordering a statue of himself to be placed in the temple of Jerusalem, as Antiochus Epiphanes had done with the statue of Zeus in the days of the Maccabees (2 Macc 6:2). Claudius reverted to the policy of Augustus and Tiberius and marked the opening year of his reign by issuing edicts in favor of the Jews (Ant., XIX, 5), who were permitted in all parts of the empire to observe their laws and customs in a free and peaceable manner, special consideration being given to the Jews of Alexandria who were to enjoy without molestation all their ancient rights and privileges. The Jews of Rome, however, who had become very numerous, were not allowed to hold assemblages there (Dio LX, vi, 6), an enactment in full correspondence with the general policy of Augustus regarding Judaism in the West. The edicts mentioned were largely due to the intimacy of Claudius with Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, who had been living in Rome and had been in some measure instrumental in securing the succession for Claudius. As a reward for this service, the Holy Land had a king once more. Judea was added to the tetrarchies of Philip and Antipas; and Herod Agrippa I was made ruler over the wide territory which had been governed by his grandfather. The Jews’ own troubles during the reign of Caligula had given "rest" (the American Standard Revised Version "peace") to the churches "throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria" (Ac 9:31). But after the settlement of these troubles, "Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church" (Ac 12:1). He slew one apostle and "when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize" another (Ac 12:3). His miserable death is recorded in Ac 12:20-23, and in Ant, XIX, 8. This event which took place in the year 44 AD is held to have been coincident with one of the visits of Paul to Jerusalem. It has proved one of the chronological pivots of the apostolic history.

Whatever concessions to the Jews Claudius may have been induced out of friendship for Herod Agrippa to make at the beginning of his reign, Suetonius records (Claud. chapter 25) "Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit," an event assigned by some to the year 50 AD, though others suppose it to have taken place somewhat later. Among the Jews thus banished from Rome were Aquila and Priscilla with whom Paul became associated at Corinth (Ac 18:2). With the reign of Claudius is also associated the famine which was foretold by Agabus (Ac 11:28). Classical writers also report that the reign of Claudius was, from bad harvest or other causes, a period of general distress and scarcity over the whole world (Dio LX, 11; Suet. Claud. xviii; Tac. Ann. xi. 4; xiii.43; see Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, chapter ix; and Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of Paul, I).