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Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus (c. 12 February AD 41 – 11 February AD 55), usually called Britannicus, was the son of
Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican can refer to: Politica ...
Claudius Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial p ...

Claudius
and his third wife
Valeria Messalina Valeria Messalina (; ) was the third wife of Roman emperor Claudius Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the rul ...

Valeria Messalina
. For a time he was considered his father's heir, but that changed after his mother's downfall in 48, when it was revealed she had engaged in a bigamous marriage without Claudius' knowledge. The next year, his father married Agrippina the Younger, Claudius' fourth and final marriage. Their marriage was followed by the adoption of Agrippina's son,
Lucius Domitius
Lucius Domitius
, whose name became Nero as a result. His step-brother would later be married to Britannicus' sister
Octavia
Octavia
, and soon eclipsed him as Claudius' heir. Following his father's death in October 54, Nero became emperor. The sudden death of Britannicus shortly before his fourteenth birthday is reported by all extant sources as being the result of poisoning on Nero's orders—as Claudius' natural son, he represented a threat to Nero's claim to the throne.


Name

Britannicus' name at birth was Tiberius Claudius Germanicus. The ''
agnomen An ''agnomen'' (; plural: ''agnomina''), in the Roman naming convention Over the course of some fourteen centuries, the Romans Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , fou ...
'', his first surname Germanicus, was first awarded to his paternal grandfather
Drusus the Elder Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (14 January 38 BC – summer of 9 BC), also called Drusus the Elder, was a Roman Empire, Roman politician and military commander. He was a Patrician (ancient Rome), patrician Claudia gens, Claudian on his birth fa ...
after his death in 9 BC to commemorate his victories over the Germanic tribes. Accordingly, Drusus' sons (Claudius and
Germanicus Germanicus Julius Caesar (24 May 15 BC – 10 October AD 19) was a popular and prominent Roman general, known for his campaigns in Germania Germania ( , ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: '' ...

Germanicus
) inherited the name and passed it to their sons as well. Britannicus was given to his father in AD 43 following his conquest of Britain. Claudius never used it himself and gave the name to his son instead, and his full name became: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus. He came to be known by his new name which seems to have replaced ''Germanicus'' altogether.


Background and family

Britannicus was born on or about 12 February 41 in
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg , map_caption = The te ...

Rome
, to Emperor Claudius and his third wife Valeria Messalina. As such, he was a member of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty , native_name_lang=Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in r ...
, specifically of the ''
gens Claudia The gens Claudia (), sometimes written Clodia, was one of the most prominent patrician (ancient Rome), patrician houses at ancient Rome. The gens traced its origin to the earliest days of the Roman Republic. The first of the Claudii to obtain t ...
''. It is uncertain what the exact date of Britannicus' birthday was, with the earliest possible date being early 39 or 40, and the latest as AD 42. The year 41 is widely accepted due to the fact that Britannicus was almost 14, and therefore on the cusp of assuming the ''toga virilis'', when he was killed in 55 . The day 12 February is based on the testimony of
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly known as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historianRoman historiography stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC and was indebted to earlier Greek historiography. The Romans ...

Suetonius
that Britannicus was born on the twenty-second day of his fathers' reign. (
Lives of the Twelve Caesars Lives may refer to: * The plural form of ''life'' * Lives, Iran, a village in Khuzestan Province, Iran * The number of Life (gaming), lives in a video game * ''Parallel Lives'', aka ''Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans'', a series of biographies ...
,
Life of Claudius, 27
'').
Britannicus' father had been reigning for less than a month, and his position was boosted greatly by the birth of an heir. To mark the birth, the emperor issued
sestertii The sestertius (plural sestertii), or sesterce (plural sesterces), was an Ancient Rome, ancient Roman Roman currency, coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions. During the Roman Empire it was a large ...
with the obverse ''Spes Augusta'' – the hope of the imperial family. Britannicus had four siblings: a half-brother,
Claudius Drusus Tiberius Claudius Drusus (c. AD 9/1220/27) was the eldest son of the Roman Emperor Claudius Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor The Rom ...
, by Claudius' first wife (
Plautia Urgulanilla Plautia Urgulanilla was the first wife of the future Roman Emperor Claudius. They were married circa 9 AD, when he was 18 years old. Suetonius writes that they were divorced in 24 AD on the grounds of 'her scandalous love affairs and the suspicio ...

Plautia Urgulanilla
) who died at the age of 3 or 4; a half-sister, Antonia, by Claudius' second wife (
Aelia Paetina Aelia Paetina or Paetina (fl. early 1st century AD) was the second wife of the Roman emperor, Roman Emperor Claudius. Her biological father was a consul of 4 AD, Sextus Aelius Catus, while her mother is unknown. Family She was born into the fa ...

Aelia Paetina
); a sister by the same mother named Octavia; and an adoptive brother, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (the future emperor Nero), who was adopted in AD 49 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar as a result. Two years later, in 43, Claudius was granted the honorific "Britannicus" by the senate as a reward for his conquest of Britain. The emperor never used the name himself, but allowed his son to inherit it. This is the name by which the boy became known to posterity.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly known as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historiography, Roman historian who wrote during the early History of the Roman Empire, Imperial era of the Roman Empire. His most impo ...
, a
Roman historian Roman historiography stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC and was indebted to earlier Greek historiography. The Romans relied on previous models in the Ancient Greek literature, Greek tradition such as the works of Herodotus (c. 484 – 425 ...
writing from the late first century, says that Claudius adored Britannicus, carrying him around at public events, and "would wish him happy auspices, joined by the applauding throng."


During his father's marriage to Messalina


Education

Britannicus was tutored by Sosibius, who was a close associate of
Publius Suillius Rufus Publius Suillius Rufus was a Ancient Rome, Roman Roman senate, senator who was active during the Principate. He was notorious for his prosecutions during the reign of Claudius; and he was the husband of the step-daughter of Ovid. Rufus was Roman Co ...
and a friend of his mother. He was educated alongside , the future emperor of Rome. They were brought up together and taught similar subjects by the same tutors. In 47, Sosibius gave Claudius a reminder of the power and wealth which threatened the Emperor's throne. His tutor then, as part of his mother's contrivances, told the emperor of
Decimus Valerius Asiaticus Decimus Valerius Asiaticus (around 5 BCP.J. Sijpesteijn"Another οὐσία of Decimus Valerius Asiaticus in Egypt" ''Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik'', 79 (1989), p. 19347 AD,Alston, ''Aspects of Roman History AD 14-117'', p. 92 el, ...
's involvement in the murder of Caligula and of his growing popularity in Rome. Sosibius went on, saying Asiaticus meant to rally Roman legions in Germany against the throne. Asiaticus was apprehended immediately, and brought to Rome in chains.Tacitus, Sullius successfully pursued charges against other
equestrians Equestrianism (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power o ...
in the
Senate The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum ">Roman_Forum.html" ;"title="Curia Julia in the Roman Forum">Curia Julia in the Roman Forum A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or Debating chamber, chamber of a bicameral legislatu ...

Senate
. According to
Cassius Dio Lucius Cassius Dio (; ) or Dio Cassius ( ''Dion Kassios'')), Cassius Lucius Dio or Cassius Claudius Dio; alleged to have the ' (nickname) Cocceianus was a Roman statesman and historian of Greek and Roman origin. He published 80 volumes of the ...
, Asiaticus was put to death as a favor to Messalina for his property (the
Gardens of Lucullus The Gardens of Lucullus ( lat, Horti Lucullani) were the setting for an ancient villa A villa is a type of house that was originally an ancient Roman In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilization from the founding ...
). It was later voted by the Senate that Sosibius be given a million
sesterces The sestertius (plural sestertii), or sesterce (plural sesterces), was an ancient Roman In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collaps ...
for giving Britannicus the benefit of his teachings and Claudius that of his counsel (i.e. for his involvement in the case against Asiaticus).


Fall of Messalina

Britannicus took part in the celebrations of Rome's 800th anniversary (48). It was the sixth ever ''
Ludi Saeculares #REDIRECT Secular GamesThe Saecular Games ( la, Ludi saeculares, originally ) was a Religion in ancient Rome, Roman religious celebration involving sacrifices and theatre of ancient Rome, theatrical performances, held in ancient Rome for three days ...
'' ("Secular Games") and sixty-four years since the last one held in the summer of 17 BC by Augustus. Britannicus' father was there as was Lucius Domitius and his mother Agrippina who were the last surviving descendants of Germanicus. Claudius watched the young nobility, including Britannicus and Domitius, enact the
Battle of Troy A battle is an occurrence of combat in warfare between opposing military units of any number or size. A war usually consists of multiple battles. In general, a battle is a military engagement that is well defined in duration, area, and force ...
in the circus.
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature Classi ...

Tacitus
says Domitius was greeted with more enthusiasm than Britannicus.Tacitus claims the enthusiasm in which the future emperor Nero was greeted is a sign of his greatness. He wrote during the reign of Nero and in this same passage claims to have overseen the seventh ''Ludi Saeculares'' as it was his duty being a member of the ''
Quindecimviri sacris faciundis In ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is ...
'' and holding the title of praetor (Tacitus, ''The Annals'', ).
The games were seen as the introduction of Agrippina and Domitius to public life, and Britannicus' mother Messalina must have been aware of this and envious of Agrippina. Tacitus writes that Messalina was too busy engaging in an "insane" affair to plot the destruction of Agrippina. He says: The affair continued into the next year. It was then that the affair between Messalina and Silius took a new turn. Silius, who had no children of his own, proposed to marry Messalina on condition that she allow him to adopt Britannicus.In the account of Cassius Dio, she proposed to marry him as she not only wanted to have affairs, but to hold many husbands as well. She also grants him a royal residence and grants him a consulship (Dio
LX.31
.
The plan was to overthrow Claudius and rule together as regents of Britannicus. She acquiesced and waited for Claudius to leave Rome before performing the sacrifice and entering the bigamous marriage. The illegal union was made known to Claudius by Callistus and
Narcissus Narcissus may refer to: Biology * Narcissus (plant), ''Narcissus'' (plant), a genus containing daffodils and others People * Narcissus (mythology), Greek mythological character * Narcissus (wrestler) (2nd century), assassin of the Roman emperor Co ...
, freedmen in his service. Claudius had Messalina, Silius, and others who knew of the affair put to death. Messalina was given a knife to kill herself with, though a tribune of the Praetorian Guard had to force it through her neck. Images and statues of Silius and his associates were ordered to be destroyed.


During his father's marriage to Agrippina

The fall of Silius and Messalina opened the way for Agrippina the Younger to become his father's fourth wife. His father claimed to be uninterested in another marriage, but it wouldn't be long. Unlike his uncle Germanicus, his father had never been adopted into the ''
Julii The gens Julia was one of the most ancient patrician (ancient Rome), patrician families in ancient Rome. Members of the gens attained the highest dignities of the state in the earliest times of the Roman Republic, Republic. The first of the fam ...
''. Claudius thought marrying his niece would bring his family closer to that of Augustus, as Agrippina and Domitius were the last living descendants of Germanicus. So, in 49, despite a marriage between uncle and niece being
incestuous Incest ( ) is human sexual activity between family members or close kinship, relatives. This typically includes sexual activity between people in consanguinity (blood relations), and sometimes those related by Affinity (law), affinity (marriage ...
under Roman law, his father remarried.


Rise of Nero

In 49, during the term of consul-elect Mammius Pollio (March–June), Domitius was betrothed to his sister Octavia and thus became his equal in rank. Tacitus suggests this move had the support of those who feared the vengeance of Britannicus against those who wronged his mother. Through the insistence of Pallas, his father was convinced to adopt Domitius as his son. Claudius was convinced to do as Augustus had done in adopting Gaius and Lucius Caesar, and as Tiberius had done in adopting Germanicus despite having a son already. It was in February 50 that his father passed a law adopting Domitius into the ''Claudii'' and naming him Nero, and Domitius became "Nero Claudius Caesar". Nero and Britannicus then became joint-heirs to the emperor, and Agrippina was then given the title of ''Augusta''. In AD 51, his brother Nero assumed the ''toga virilis'' despite not yet being 14. The Senate also decided then that Nero should hold the consulship during his twentieth year (AD 56) and, as consul-elect, that he should enjoy ''imperium proconsulare'' ("proconsular authority") beyond the limits of Rome with the title of ''princeps iuventutis'' ("prince of the youth of Rome"). The progress of Nero seems to have followed in the footsteps of
Gaius Gaius, sometimes spelled ''Gajus'', Cajus, Caius, was a common Latin praenomen The praenomen (; plural: praenomina) was a personal name A personal name, or full name, in onomastic Onomastics or onomatology is the study of the etymology, ...
and
Lucius Caesar Lucius Caesar (17 BC – 20 August AD 2) was a grandson of Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (sta ...
. To mark the occasion, a
donative The ''donativum'' (plural ''donativa'') was a gift of money by the Roman emperors to the soldiers of the Roman legions or to the Praetorian Guard. The English translation is ''wikt:donative, donative''. The purpose of the ''donativa'' varied. So ...
was given to the soldiery of Rome, and presents to the people. His step-brother's status, along with that of Agrippina, is echoed on contemporary coinage.Tacitus, ''The Annales'', XII.41 By contrast, Britannicus was progressively isolated. At the games of the circus Nero appeared in triumphal robes while Britannicus was still dressed as a boy. Tacitus says their clothing at the games affected the expectations of the people: with Nero in a general's clothing, and Britannicus in the dress of boyhood. He wouldn't be due for the toga until 12 February AD 55. He and his supporters were seen as a potential problem for Nero. Agrippina replaced his tutors with her own nominees, having convinced Claudius to order their executions, including the execution of Sosibius. Not just his tutors, but the two prefects of the
Praetorian Guard The Praetorian Guard (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power o ...
, Lusius Geta and Rufius Crispinus, were replaced as well. They were thought to be sympathetic to the cause of Britannicus and his mother, as Tacitus reports: it would have been risky to surround Nero with any but those loyal to Claudius and Agrippina. His step-mother had them replaced with
Sextus Afranius Burrus Sextus Afranius Burrus (born AD 1 in Vasio, Gallia Narbonensis Gallia Narbonensis can be seen in the south of modern-day France as a Roman province. Gallia Narbonensis (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic ...
who was a good soldier, but knew to whom he owed his allegiance. Nero's career progressed steadily: he gave speeches in AD 51 and 52. The speech in 51 thanked the emperor for honours given to him, and that of 52 was a vow for the safe recovery of the emperor from illness. It was in 53 that Nero married Britannicus' sister Octavia, who first had to be legally transferred to another family to obviate charges of incest.Cassius Dio, ''Roman History''
LX.33
/ref> By this time it became clear that Nero was the unambiguous designate. His step-brother became more politically active following his marriage to Octavia: he exempted the people of
Ilium Ilium or Ileum may refer to: Places and jurisdictions * Ilion (Asia Minor), former name of Troy * Ilium (Epirus), an ancient city in Epirus, Greece * Ilium, ancient name of Cestria (Epirus), an ancient city in Epirus, Greece * Ilium Building, a ...
from all public burdens arguing that Rome was descended from
Troy Troy (Greek language, Greek: Τροία) or Ilium (Greek language, Greek: Ίλιον) was an ancient city located at Hisarlik in present-day Turkey, south-west of Çanakkale. It is known as the setting for the Greek mythology, Greek myth of the ...

Troy
through
Aeneas In Greco-Roman mythology, Aeneas (, ; from Greek language, Greek: Αἰνείας, ''Aineíās'') was a Trojan hero, the son of the Trojan prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite (equivalent to the Roman Venus (mythology), Venus). His father ...
(the founder of the Julian line), procured funds for the colony of Bononia (modern
Bologna Bologna (, , ; egl, label=Bolognese Bologna (, , ; egl, label=Bolognese dialect, Bolognese, Bulåggna ; lat, Bonōnia) is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. It is the seventh most populous ...

Bologna
,
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest ...

Italy
) which had been devastated by fire, and the people of
Rhodes Rhodes (; el, Ρόδος, translit=Ródos ) is the largest of the Dodecanese The Dodecanese (, ; el, Δωδεκάνησα, ''Dodekánisa'' , literally "twelve islands") are a group of 15 larger plus 150 smaller Greek#REDIRECT Greek Gre ...

Rhodes
had their freedom restored. Meanwhile, Britannicus himself was kept in reserve in case Nero died, with deaths of princes being recent (such as
Tiberius Gemellus Tiberius Julius Caesar Nero Gemellus, known as Tiberius Gemellus (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area arou ...

Tiberius Gemellus
). Though Nero was clearly the heir-designate, he was not named ''princeps designate'' to avoid hurting both Republican sentiment and the Augustan compromise of a principate that lay between monarchy and magistracy.


Death of his father, Claudius

Suetonius reports that Claudius wished Rome to have a "real Caesar", and Britannicus enjoyed support from Claudius' loyal and influential freedman, Narcissus. There are possible signs of support for Britannicus seen on coins from Moesia and North Africa, placing Britannicus' head and title on the obverse side. Claudius became aware of his wife's actions and began preparing for the end of her power. His father wished to bestow upon him the toga, and to declare Britannicus as his heir. According to Suetonius, when Claudius mentioned his intention to give Britannicus the toga of manhood he said, "That the Roman people may at last have a genuine Caesar."Cassius Dio, ''Roman History''
LX.34
/ref>Tacitus, ''The Annales'', XII.65 The actions Claudius took to preserve his rule in the short-term were not easily undone as Britannicus approached manhood. In late 54, Britannicus was within 6 months of reaching manhood by Roman tradition, and had matured early. According to the historian
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly known as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historianRoman historiography stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC and was indebted to earlier Greek historiography. The Romans ...

Suetonius
, Claudius began to mention divorcing Agrippina and dismissing Nero now that he was no longer needed. In preparation, to oust Agrippina and replace his son with Nero, But despite many conflicts his with Agrippina and demanding her ouster, But Agrippina was still in administering the empire very powerful and influential as the daughter of Germanicus and Roman Empress. Claudius commended both his son and adopted son to the Senate as equals in his last Senate address. Suetonius reports that Claudius now admonished his son to grow up quickly, implying that everything would be righted when he assumed the
toga virilis The toga (, ), a distinctive garment of ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest histori ...
.Suetonius, Life of Claudius
43
On 13 October 54, Claudius died, either by natural causes or poison. In the accounts of his death by poison, Agrippina, aware of Claudius' intentions of placing Britannicus on the throne, had a well-known poisoner, Locusta, infuse mushrooms with poison that were fed to the emperor. There were those who preferred Britannicus over Nero, such as Claudius' freedman Narcissus. Unfortunately for his cause, Narcissus was away in
Campania it, Campano (man) it, Campana (woman) , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = , demographics1_footnotes = , demographics1_title1 = , demographics1_info1 ...
when the emperor was poisoned, while Britannicus and his sisters, Octavia and Antonia, were kept out of sight in their rooms by Agrippina. Consequently, none could challenge Nero's succession. If one thought that Britannicus' claim should take precedence, the response was that Nero too was the son of Claudius, with Agrippina linking him back to Augustus. It didn't help that many were convinced that Britannicus was no longer in the line of succession, a direct effect of the propaganda against him by Agrippina. Nero spoke the eulogy at the emperor's funeral and took sole power. Claudius' new will, which either granted joint-rule to Britannicus and Nero or just Britannicus, was suppressed by the new emperor's men in the senate.Barrett argues that Tacitus' reference to the will being suppressed so as to prevent outrage about Nero meant that the will did not name Nero as primary or sole heir. Therefore the Senate's elevation of Nero would have caused outrage if the will were read .


Downfall

Immediately following the death of Claudius, Agrippina set upon removing those she had seen as a threat. Marcus Junius Silanus, proconsul of
Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and Northern Hemisphere, Northern Hemisphere of the Earth, Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the cont ...
whose brother Lucius had been eliminated by her as well, was poisoned for no other reason than that he had been the great-great-grandson of Augustus. Claudius' freedman Narcissus, Britannicus' champion according to Tacitus, had been driven to suicide after a harsh imprisonment. In Tacitus XIII, this was carried out by Agrippina against the wishes of Nero.Tacitus, ''The Annales'', Before Nero's consulship in 55, Nero forbade the persecution of a Julius Densus, an equestrian whose partiality for Britannicus had been construed as a crime. During his consulship, Nero had become more independent from his mother's influence. He began a relationship with a slave girl, and removed
Pallas Pallas may refer to: Astronomy * 2 Pallas asteroid ** Pallas family, a group of asteroids that includes 2 Pallas * Pallas (crater), a crater on Earth's moon Mythology * Pallas (Giant), a son of Uranus and Gaia, killed and flayed by Athena * Pall ...
, a favorite of Agrippina, from his post as secretary of the treasury. In response, Agrippina threatened to champion the cause of Britannicus to keep her son in line.Tacitus, ''The Annales'', In the account of Tacitus, Agrippina says to Nero: Tacitus recounts Nero's numerous attempts to publicly undermine Britannicus' image. In one such attempt, during the feast of
Saturn Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter. It is a gas giant with an average radius of about nine and a half times that of Earth. It only has one-eighth the average density of Earth; how ...
(the
Saturnalia Saturnalia is an ancient Roman festival and holiday A holiday is a day set aside by custom Custom may refer to: Sense: Customary * Convention (norm), a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted rules, norms, standards or criteria, ...
), he and Nero were playing a game among a group of their friends, and Nero chose Britannicus to sing a song with the expectation that Britannicus would embarrass himself. Britannicus however, not only avoided humiliation, but also generated sympathy amongst the guests, after singing a poem telling the tale of how he had been cast aside in favour of Nero. The young emperor immediately began plotting his step-brother's assassination. According to Suetonius, Nero moved against Britannicus, employing the same poisoner,
Locusta Locusta or Lucusta (died 69), was a notorious maker of poisons in the 1st-century Roman Empire, active in the final two reigns of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. She supposedly took part in the assassinations of Claudius and Britannicus. She was a f ...

Locusta
, who had been hired to murder his father, Claudius. The first dose failed, and Nero decided to throw caution to the wind. In the account of Suetonius, he had Locusta brought to his room to mix a faster acting poison before his very eyes. After many tests on kids, there was a mixture that killed an animal instantly. Being pleased, Nero had the concoction brought immediately to the dining room.Suetonius, Life of Nero
33
/ref> Britannicus was poisoned at a dinner party attended by his sister, Octavia, Agrippina, and several other notables. Tacitus' account of the event is as follows: Britannicus was given a hot drink, which was tested by a food taster, and when he asked for it to be cooled, the poison was added to it with the cold water. The substance was instantly effective, and he "lost alike both voice and breath." Nero claimed to those present that Britannicus was merely suffering from an epileptic fit, and that he had been afflicted with the condition since childhood. He died sometime between December and his 14th birthday, on 11 February 55, when he was to assume manhood, and just four months after his father's death. For her service, the emperor had Locusta rewarded with large estates, and even sent her pupils.


Post mortem

Britannicus was cremated and his ashes placed with those of his father in the
Mausoleum of Augustus The Mausoleum of Augustus ( it, Mausoleo di Augusto, italic=no) is a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC on the Campus Martius in Rome, Italy. The mausoleum is located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near the corner with Via ...

Mausoleum of Augustus
. Nero held his funeral the very next day in the rain and gave no eulogy, saying it was "a tradition in the case of untimely deaths not to oppress the public with eulogies and processions." Dio says that Nero had the corpse covered in
gypsum Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral The sulfate minerals are a class of mineral In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with ...

gypsum
to cover the effects of the poison on the skin. While he was being carried through the Forum, the rain had uncovered the body making plain to all who could see that he had been poisoned. Author and historian Beacham considers Dio's account to be "theatrical". Given his and Nero's relationship, it was not surprising when Britannicus died just before his fourteenth birthday. Britannicus criticized Nero's singing voice, and referred to his adoptive brother by his original name of Lucius Domitius. In favoring Nero, Claudius sealed the fate of his son, and perhaps his own. Ominously for Agrippina, Seneca and Burrus did not complain: either they had been bought off, or regarded Britannicus' death as inevitable given his relationship with Nero. Instead, they concentrated on growing their influence with Nero. According to Suetonius, Britannicus was good friends with the future Emperor Titus, whose father
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 69 to 79 AD. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire ...

Vespasian
had commanded legions in Britain. As part of the Flavians' attempts to link themselves with the Julio-Claudians, Titus claimed that he had been seated with Britannicus on the night he was killed. He even claimed to have tasted the poison, which resulted in a serious and long illness. Titus would go on to erect a gold statue of his childhood friend, and issue coins in his memory.


Britannicus in popular culture

Britannicus is portrayed in ''Britannicus'' (1669) by French playwright
Jean Racine Jean Racine ( , ), baptized Baptism (from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in So ...

Jean Racine
. He was played by
Graham Seed Graham Seed (born 12 July 1950 in London) is an England, English actor. Education Seed was educated at Charterhouse School, an independent boarding school in the market town of Godalming in Surrey, followed by RADA in London. Career Seed is best ...
in ''
I, Claudius ''I, Claudius'' is a historical novel by English writer Robert Graves Robert von Ranke Graves (24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985) was a British poet, historical novelistThis page provides a list of novelists who have written historica ...
'', a 1976 television series by
Jack Pulman Jack Pulman (11 July 1925 – 20 May 1979) was an award-winning United Kingdom, British television screenwriter, most famous for the critically acclaimed 1976 BBC television series, ''I, Claudius (TV series), I, Claudius'', based on the I, Claud ...
.


Notes


References


Bibliography


Primary sources

*Dio Cassius. ''Historia Romanum.'' Books LX-LXII. *Suetonius. ''Twelve Caesars.'' ''Life of Claudius.'' *Suetonius. ''Twelve Caesars.'' ''Life of Titus.'' *Tacitus. ''Annals.'' Books XI-XIII.


Secondary sources

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *Girolamo Cardano ''Neronis Encomium'' Translated by Angelo Paratico as Nero. An Exemplary Life. Inkstone Books, 2012. *


External links


Britannicus de Jean Racine : Analysis, Plot overview


{{Authority control 41 births 55 deaths Poisoned Romans Claudii Nerones
1st-century RomansPeople of the Roman Empire in the 1st century {{CatAutoTOC Roman people by century, 01 1st-century people by nationality, Roman People of the Roman Empire, 1st century 1st century in the Roman Empire, People ...
Children of Claudius Sons of Roman emperors