Warning. The following segment features acts of a violent nature. (It is history, after all).

I, Claudius
viewers will remember some of First Century Rome's less charming ladies and gentlemen. Movers and shakers such as Nero, Agrippina and Caligula. These ignoble Romans and their activities made for interesting, but treacherous and toxic, times.

Two centuries later, Rome may have changed in many ways. But notoriety is still a two-edged gift. (Still is today, come to think of it. Being emperor is the most dangerous gift. Few, at least until the beginning of the reign of Diocletan in 284, will die of natural causes. If your relatives don't get you, your own troops will.

Our lethal litany begins in 211 with the death of Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, in Britain. After making peace with the Scotish tribes, his sons Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla and Publius Septimus Geta return to Rome, to become co-emperors. The following year Caracalla, perhaps feeling that someone with only three names instead of four is unfit to exist, has his brother assassinated, in their mother's arms. He goes on to reign for five more years, until Macrinus, prefect of his Guard has him stabbed to death while on campaign in Parthia and proclaims himself emperor. A year later, in 218, the fickle army abandons him and Julia Maesa, maternal aunt of Caracalla and Geta, has her 14-year-old grandson Varius Avitus (nicknamed Heliogabalus) named emperor. His grandmother, of course, retains the real power. He lasts until 222, when he's murdered in a latrine and his cousin Alexander Servus steps in. He's murdered.

Our imperial role call continues, as murder begets murder. Maximinus Thrax. Gordianus Africanus (a do-it-yourself-er, he commits suicide). Pupienus Maximus. Gordianus III. Philip the Arabian. etc. etc. etc.

By this time the imperial feeling seems to be - let's distract the populace (and our enemies) and murder some Christians. In 250 the new emperor Decius begins it. He's killed in battle the following year. Several emperors later Valerian revives the custom in 257.

Claudius III is still doing it in 269. It's in this year that two Christians with the same name, Valentine of Rome, and Valentine of Terni are martyred. We celebrate them this month.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte