The fourth man to rule as Emperor of the Roman Empire, Claudius was perhaps one of the most unlikely leaders at first glance. Born into the Julio-Claudio dynasty (who were direct blood relatives of Julius Caesar) Claudius showed various physical ailments throughout his life. He would uncontrollably drool, stammer, and slur his speech, especially when excited. Various historians have attributed his symptoms to diseases like cerebral palsy or tourrette syndrome.
Since his condition was noticed during his childhood, Claudius was shunned by his mother Antonia who openly called him a monster. Out of shame, Antonia passed her afflicted son on to his grandmother Livia, who treated him more gently. Nevertheless, Claudius was regarded by many as mentally challenged.
As he grew into adulthood, Claudius learned to use his condition to his advantage. Since his symptoms led to many doubting his intelligence, he was not considered a serious contender in the politics of the Imperial court. Playing the part of a fool allowed Claudius to survive two very bloody purges of Rome's political leaders during the reigns of the emperors Tiberius and Caligula.
Unable to hold public office for many years, Claudius devoted himself to his studies and wrote several history books that survive to this day. He also studied philosophy.
In 41 AD, after being made co-counsel by his tyrannical and depraved nephew Caligula, Claudius would suddenly be catapulted from the shadows into the spotlight.
That year, the Praetorian Guard (the Emperor's elite force of bodyguards) assassinated the deeply unpopular Caligula along with his wife and young daughter. Claudius, fearful that his time had finally come, hid in the palace as the Guard searched the grounds. Eventually, he was discovered behind a curtain but to his shock the guards hailed him as the new Emperor before spiriting him away to their headquarters. Aligning himself with the Praetorians, who wanted to handpick Caligula's successor, Claudius was able to use their muscle to convince the Senate to confirm him as Emperor.
Shrewd and clever, despite having never held any public office of note before hand, Claudius secured his position quickly. He managed to avoid becoming a puppet for the Praetorians and used bribery to secure the loyalty of Rome's generals and their armies. Typical of politics in his day, he also executed and murdered many conspirators throughout his reign.
The facade of simple mindedness was quickly torn away for most people, as Claudius launched several aggressive military campaigns to expand Rome's borders. He added Britain, all of contemporary Palestine and several areas of modern Europe to the Empire. He also made a strong effort to improve the Empire's infrastructure and repealed many of Caligula's more unpopular laws, including lifting special food taxes on the poor.
Eventually, Claudius' reign would come to an end. After thirteen years in power he died from old age or possibly, poisoned by his own wife Agrippina. The truth about his passing may never be known. What is certain though, is that Claudius exceeded the expectations of his doubters as Emperor. He proved a competent administrator and military leader and successfully survived many political intrigues to run an effective government.