Emperor Claudius II Gothicus

Life: AD 214 – 270

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius II Gothicus
  • Name: Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius
  • Born 10 May AD 214 in Illyricum.
  • Became emperor in September AD 268.
  • Died at Sirmium, August AD 270.
  • Deified AD 270.

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius was born on 10 May AD 214 in the region of Dardania which was either a part of the province of Illyricum or Upper Moesia.

He served as military tribune under Decius and Valerian, and it was Valerian who promoted him to high military command in Illyricum.

Claudius seems to have played a major part in the conspiracy to assassinate Gallienus outside Mediolanum (Milan) in September AD 268. At the time he was based close by at Ticinum, in command of a military reserve.

It was announced that emperor Gallienus, as he lay dying, had formally appointed Claudius as his successor.

But new of the murder of the emperor at first caused trouble. There was a dangerous mutiny among the army at Mediolanum, which was only brought under control by the promise of a bonus payment of twenty aurei per man, to celebrate the accession of the new man.

In effect there had been only two senior commanders who could possible have been chosen for the throne. Claudius himself and Aurelian, who had also been a conspirator in Gallienus’ death.

The main reason for Claudius to be chosen was most likely Aurelian’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian. The army’s men, and it was undoubtedly them with whom the decision lay, clearly prefered to have the milder Claudius as their next emperor.

This mildness of Claudius II showed itself immediately after Gallienus’ death. The senate, pleased at hearing that Gallienus, whom many of them despised, was dead, turned on his friends and supporters. Several were killed, including Gallienus’ brother and surviving son. But Claudius II intervened, asking for the senators to show restraint against Gallienus’ supporters and for them to deify the late emperor, in order to help sooth the angered troops.

The new emperor continued the siege of Mediolanum (Milan). Aureolus tried to sue for peace with the new ruler, but was rejected. Alas he surrendered, hoping for mercy, but was soon afterwards put to death.

But Claudius II’s task in the north of Italy was far from over. The Alemanni had, whilst the Romans were fighting each other at Milan, broken through the Brenner Pass across the Alps and were now threatening to descend into Italy.

At Lake Benacus (Lake Garda) Claudius II met them in battle in late autumn AD 268, inflicting such a crushing defeat that only half their number managed to escape the battlefield alive.

Next the emperor, having stayed the winter in Rome, turned his attention to the Gallic empire in the west. He sent Julius Placidianus to lead a force into southern Gaul, which restored the territory east of the river Rhône back to Rome. Also he opened talks with the Iberian provinces, bringing them back into the empire.

With his general Placidianus moving west, Claudius II did not remain idle himself, but took to the east, where he sought to rid the Balkans of the Gothic menace.

There were setbacks but close to Marcianopolis he severely defeated the barbarians which won him the famous addition to his name, ‘Gothicus’.

Under Claudius II Gothicus the tide was turning back in Rome’s favour against the barbarians. The emperor’s military skill enabled him to follow up Gallienus’ success at the battle of Naissus (AD 268) and was instrumental in reestablishing Roman authority.

Fresh Goths invaders were repeatedly defeated, the infamous Herulian fleet suffered successive defeats by the Roman fleet commanded by Tenagino Probus, governor of Egypt.

More so, the army was rejuvenated by recruiting many of the captured Goths into its ranks.

Was Claudius II Gothicus’ performance against the northern barbarians a success, he simply could not afford to deal with the eastern menace of queen Zenobia of Palmyra. The widow of Gallienus’ ally Odenathus, broke with Claudius II in AD 269, and attacked Roman territories.

First her troops invaded Egypt, cutting off the all-important Egyptian grain supply, Rome so depended on. Then her armies drove into the Roman territories to the north, capturing large sways of Asia Minor (Turkey).

But Claudius II Gothicus, still occupied with driving the Goths out of the Balkans, could ill afford to deal with the powerful kingdom arising in the east.

News arrived of an invasion by the Juthungi (Jutes) in Raetia, reports also suggested that an attack by the Vandals on Pannonia was imminent. Determined to counter this, he handed command of the Gothic campaign to Aurelian and headed for Sirmium in order to prepare for action. But plague, which had already caused great losses among the Goths, now broke out among his army. Claudius II Gothicus did not prove beyond the reach of the disease. He died of plague in January AD 270.

Claudius II Gothicus had not even been emperor for two years, but his death caused great grief among the army as well as the senate. He was immediately deified.