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Claudius II Gothicus (268-270)

Richard D. Weigel
Western Kentucky University

Head of Claudius Gothicus (c) 2001, Justin Paola

M. Aurelius Claudius, known to history as Claudius Gothicus or Claudius II, was born in either Dalmatia or Illyria on May 10, probably in A.D. 213 or 214.[[1]] Although the most substantive source on Claudius is the biography in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae (SHA), this account is riddled with fabrications and slanted with fawning praise for this particular emperor, who in the fourth century was viewed as an ancestor of Constantine's father and thus of the ruling imperial family. This biography, attributed to one Trebellius Pollio, must be read with extreme caution and supplemented with information from other sources, including Aurelius Victor, the Epitome de Caesaribus, Eutropius, Orosius, Zonaras, and Zosimus, as well as coins and inscriptions.

The SHA account describes Claudius as being tall, with fiery eyes, and so strong that he could knock out the teeth of man or beast with one punch. It also says that Trajan Decius rewarded him after Claudius demonstrated his strength while wrestling another soldier in the Campus Martius.[[2]]   The SHA author suggests that Claudius may have been descended from the Trojan King Ilus and even from Dardanus, son of Zeus and ancestor of the Trojan royal family, but these suggestions are very likely fabricated to further ennoble Claudius and his putative descendants, the family of Constantine.[[3]]The SHA biography also includes false letters attributed to the emperors Trajan Decius, Valerian, and Gallienus, all attesting to their high opinions of Claudius. Reference is made in these letters to Claudius' service as tribune in an otherwise unattested legion V Martialis and also as general in command of Illyria, but these positions may also be fictitious. [[4]] One can assume that Claudius had served for some time in the army, at least under Gallienus and perhaps also under several earlier emperors.

There is some evidence that Claudius was wounded in Gallienus' campaign to put down the revolt of Ingenuus and that he later served with Aureolus under Gallienus in the war with Postumus.[[5]]   By 268, when Gallienus took his troops into Italy to put down Aureolus' revolt, Claudius had emerged as heir-apparent to Gallienus and may also have been involved in the plot to assassinate the emperor.[[6]] Aurelius Victor says that when Gallienus was killed by his own troops besieging Aureolus in Milan, Claudius as tribune was commanding the soldiers stationed at Ticinum, some twenty miles to the south, and that prior to dying Gallienus designated Claudius as his heir. Victor goes on to claim that after succeeding to the purple Claudius forced the Senate to deify Gallienus.[[7]]   The SHA account states that the soldiers mutinied after Gallienus' death and had to be quieted with a donative of twenty aurei each before settling down and accepting their new emperor.[[8]] Once in power, Claudius quickly dealt with Aureolus, who surrendered and was killed almost immediately. The new emperor also demanded clemency for the supporters of Gallienus.[[9]]

The story of Gallienus' deathbed selection of his successor is doubtful at best and is very likely an attempt to deflect blame for the assassination plot from Claudius. The suggestion that the new emperor pressured the Senate to deify Gallienus is more difficult to assess. It is true that securing divine status for one's predecessor is generally seen as a pious act (e.g. Antoninus Pius requesting deification of Hadrian) that reflects positively on the initiator and the story, recorded only in Aurelius Victor, could just be a fabrication used to build up Claudius' moral reputation. What is difficult to penetrate is the biased condemnation of Gallienus that particularly dominates the Latin sources. They make it hard to see why anyone would want to deify Gallienus and so the story seems out of place. However, deification of a predecessor could also be interpreted as the expected thing to do and the act could have fostered legitimacy of the new emperor and gained support from those who were still loyal to Gallienus so it may well have taken place.

The first major challenge facing the new emperor was that of the Alemanni, who had invaded Raetia and Italy. After an early defeat, Claudius replaced some irresponsible officers and soldiers, designated Aurelian as cavalry commander, and led the army to a decisive victory over the Alemanni.[[10]]   This victory earned Claudius the title of Germanicus Maximus and several of his coin-types appear to refer to victory over the Germans.[[11]]

In 269 Claudius served as consul with Paternus.[[12]] This year would also feature his major campaign against the Goths. There are indications that Spain separated itself from the Gallo-Roman Empire of Postumus and Tetricus and recognized Claudius, at least nominally, as emperor. In addition, rebellion within Gaul itself demonstrated the weakening of this independent state, although Claudius avoided engagement at Augustodunum and chose only to send a small force to protect Narbonese Gaul.[[13]]While Claudius concentrated on protecting Roman territory against the Alemanni and Goths, Zenobia extended her Palmyrene Empire by taking Antioch, parts of Asia Minor, and most of Egypt.[[14]] Although Eusebius and Sulpicius Severus portray the period between the reign of Valerian and that of Diocletian as a peaceful pause in the persecution of Christians, the Acts of the Martyrs does list some individuals allegedly martyred during Claudius II's reign.[[15]]

The coins issued by Claudius II provide some limited insight into his reign.[[16]] In addition to the standard "personified virtues" coins that are common with most emperors of the second and third centuries, Claudius struck coin-types proclaiming the security of the Empire (SECVRITAS PERPETVA and PAX AETERNA), the fidelity of the army (FIDES MILITVM), and military victories over the Germans and Goths (VICTORIA GERMAN and VICTORIAE GOTHIC).[[17]] In addition, Claudius Gothicus' mints struck some other interesting and unusual coin-types. For example, Claudius is one of very few emperors who issued coins portraying the god Vulcan. These must have been limited issues because they are struck only by the Antioch mint and are very rare. The type shows Vulcan standing, with his special tools, the hammer and tongs, and features the unique inscription REGI ARTIS. A variant type with a similar image has been described as carrying another unique coin inscription, DEO CABIRO, and interpreted as depicting one of Vulcan's sons, the Cabiri, with the same tools. However, the existence of this variant type is doubtful.[[18]]Although the reason for honoring Vulcan (and his sons?) with these coins is unclear, there may be a connection to the fact that the Cabiri were patron gods of Thessalonica who had protected that city against an attack by the Goths.[[19]]Although a connection between Claudius Gothicus and the Cabiri as defenders against Gothic attacks is relatively attractive, it is weakened somewhat by the fact that Valerian and Gallienus had also issued coins with Vulcan in a temple so there may be some other reason for his reappearance on coins in this period.[[20]]

Claudius II issued an unusual and scarce series of coins that features a pair of deities, who are presumably conservatores Augusti, on each reverse. The AETER AVG type depicts Apollo and Diana, who, as gods of the sun and moon, are associated with the concept of aeternitas.[[21]] A type featuring Serapis and Isis is combined with a CONSER AVG inscription and one of Hercules and Minerva with one of CONSERVATORES AVG.[[22]] Apollo and Diana are depicted with a SALVS AVG inscription, Aesculapius and Salus with one of SPES PVBLIC, and Vulcan and Minerva with VIRT AVG. [[23]]    The general message is that these deities will protect the future of the empire and the emperor.[[24]]

Other unusual coin-types include MARS VLTOR, the god Augustus had honored with a temple for securing revenge for Caesar's assassination. This deity had appeared on Roman coins in the reigns of Galba and Severus Alexander.[[25]]   Claudius II also minted coins with rarely-seen NEPTVN AVG and SOL AVG types.[[26]]   The latter coin indicates some early interest in the god who would become so dominant a few years later on the coins of Aurelian, yet Claudius also used the INVICTVS AVG inscription that Gallienus had paired with an image of Sol with one of Hercules.[[27]] ROMAE AETERNAE coin-types were fairly common in the mid-third century, but Claudius II issued an unusual variant type on an aureus that showed the goddess in her temple and echoed the SAECVLVM NOVVM images associated with Philip I.[[28]] In addition, Claudius introduced a IOVI VICTORI reverse combined with the image normally paired with a IOVI STATORI inscription and a IOVI FVLGERAT reverse inscription, both of which had not been used by any of his predecessors.[[29]] Andreas Alföldi suggested that Claudius' GENIVS SENATVS type signified improvement of the relationship between emperor and Senate following the senatorial hostility toward Gallienus.[[30]]

Claudius Gothicus also produced coin-types with reverses of goddesses customarily found paired on coins with images of the Roman empresses. The deities portrayed include Ceres, Diana, Diana Lucifera, and Diana Victrix, Minerva, Venus, and the goddess naturally associated with the image of an empress, Juno Regina.[[31]] One might suggest that Claudius issued these images because he had no empress with which to pair them, but an examination of other emperors' reigns during this period reveals that those emperors who did not issue coins bearing the empress' image also did not strike these particular goddess types. Although Ceres and Venus images are sometimes paired with an emperor's portrait, Diana Lucifera is rarely found on emperors' coins and Claudius II is the only emperor paired on coins with Juno Regina. In addition, Claudius was the first emperor to issue imperial coins that featured an isolated image of the exotic Egyptian goddess, Isis Faria.[[32]]

Claudius II's short reign was vulnerable to internal as well as external attack. There may have been a revolt in 269-270 led by a Censorinus, although the date and even the existence of this usurper remain in doubt. The SHA includes him as the last of the "thirty tyrants" and lists a whole series of offices for him, including two consulships, but no other record exists to confirm such service. The SHA account states that he was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers, but soon afterwards killed by them because of his enforcement of strict discipline. His tomb is listed as being in Bologna, which may provide some idea of the location for the revolt. Henry Cohen dates the revolt to the beginning of the year 270, perhaps on the basis of a reference in the Epitome de Caesaribus, but suggests that coins attributed to Censorinus in earlier works may not exist.[[33]]

The Gothic challenge in 269 proved to be the greatest that Claudius II would face. The Goths assembled a large invading force, reportedly amounting to 320,000 men transported on a fleet of at least 2,000 ships, and first attacked coastal cities along the Black Sea in Moesia. After passing into the Aegean the Goths besieged Thessalonica. At this point, in 269, Claudius left Rome to stop the invasion. The Goths then sent the larger segment of their troops on land toward the Danube, while the fleet took the remaining group to continue the naval attack on Aegean coastal cities. Claudius sent Aurelian's cavalry to Macedonia to protect Illyria from attack, while he commanded the forces blocking the route to the Danube. In the area of Doberus and Pelagonia, the Goths lost 3,000 men to Aurelian's cavalry. At Naissus in Moesia, Claudius' force succeeded in killing some 50,000 Goths. There were follow-up operations on both land and sea, but the Gothic War had essentially been won.[[34]]  Staving off the attacks of the Goths was a major contribution to the survival of the Roman Empire. It was a significant step leading to the subsequent success of Aurelian and the resurrection of the Empire under Diocletian and Constantine. When the Goths eventually succeeded in taking parts of the western Empire in the fifth century, their disruption to the course of civilization was likely much less violent than it would have been had they succeeded in the third century.

In addition to bad weather, a lack of supplies, and hunger, plague was a major factor in the defeat of the Goths. Many of the Gothic prisoners were either impressed into Roman military service or settled on farms as coloni. [[35]]Claudius received the title Gothicus in recognition of his triumph over the Goths. At some point he had also been given the title Parthicus, but the unlikelihood of any conflict with the Parthians in his short reign makes this difficult to explain. Perhaps Damerau was correct in his suggestion that a Parthian unit may have been involved in one of the battles with the Palmyrenes, although on this front there were few achievements to claim.[[36]] In any case, Claudius' victory over the Goths was short-lived. The emperor himself caught the plague and died at Sirmium early in 270. He was 56 years old.[[37]] Claudius' brother, Quintillus, became emperor briefly before losing out to Aurelian. Claudius also had another brother, Crispus, and the SHA traces the link to Constantius through Crispus' daughter Claudia.[[38]]

The Roman Senate showed its respect for Claudius Gothicus by setting up a gold portrait-shield in the Curia and by approving his deification. He was also honored with a golden statue in front of the great temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and a silver statue set on a column on the Rostra.[[39]]

In many ways, Claudius II received more adulation and honor in his Nachleben than he had during his lifetime. In the fourth century, attempts to link Constantine's family to Claudius resulted in the phrases of adoration and outright fabrication that dominate the SHA life and most of our other sources. Constantine even issued commemorative coins honoring Claudius. These carried inscriptions such as: DIVO CLAVDIO OPT[IMO] IMP[ERATORI], MEMORIAE AETERNAE, and REQVIES OPT[IMORVM] ME[RITORVM].[[40]]A tradition grew that changed the story of Claudius' death in some sources. In this version, Claudius, instead of dying from the plague, had actually performed a devotio, in response to an oracle found in the Sibylline Books, and sacrificed his life so that Rome could win the Gothic War.[[41]]   One of the most surprising things about the SHA account is that it ignores this more dramatic tradition and has Claudius simply dying from the plague.[[42]]

One must, of course, reject the excessive claims of the SHA to the effect that Claudius II was "destined to rule for the good of the human race" and would, had he lived longer, "…by his strength, his counsel, and his foresight have restored to us the Scipios, the Camilli, and all those men of old."[[43]] However, Claudius Gothicus was clearly a good emperor who made a significant contribution to protecting and restoring the Empire. In the third century there aren't too many emperors who merit such an assessment.


Secondary Sources:

Alföldi, A. "The Crisis of the Empire" chapter 6 in Cambridge Ancient History 12, 165-231

________."Zur Kenntnis der Zeit der römischen Soldatenkaiser" in Zeitschrift für Numismatik (1927), 197-212

Ancona, M. Claudio II e gli usurpatori (Messina, 1901)

Baldini, A. "Claudio Gotico e Costantino in Aurelio Vittore ed Epitome de Caesaribus" in G. Bonamente and F. Fusco, editors, Costantino il Grande 1 (2 vols., Macerata, 1992-1993), 73-89

Barnes, T. "Some Persons in the Historia Augusta" in Phoenix 26 (1972), 140-182

Bird, H., translator, Liber de Caesaribus of Sextus Aurelius Victor (Liverpool, 1994)

________. "The Historia Augusta on Constantine's Lineage" in Arctos 31 (1997), 9-17.

Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'empire romain 6 (Paris, 1880-1892)

Cope, L. "The Nadir of the Imperial Antoninianus in the Reign of Claudius Gothicus" in Numismatic Chronicle (1969), 145-161

Damerau, P. Kaiser Claudius II. Goticus (Leipzig, 1934)

Duncker, A. Claudius Gothicus (Diss: Marburg, 1868)

Henze, W. "Aurelius Claudius #82" in Pauly-Wissowa, R.E. II, 2458-2462

Homo, L. De Claudio Gothico, Romanorum Imperatore (268-270) (Paris, 1903)

Kettenhofen, E. "Die Einfälle der Heruler ins Römische Reich im 3. Jh. N. Chr." in Klio 74 (1992), 291-313

Kotula, T. Cesarz Klaudiusz II I Bellum Gothicum lat 269-270 (Wroclaw, 1994)

Lippold, A. "Constantius Caesar, Sieger über die Germanen. Nachfahre des Claudius Gothicus?" in Chiron 11 (1981), 347-369

________. "Kaiser Claudius II. (Gothicus), Vorfahr Konstantins d. Gr., und der römische Senat" Klio 74 (1992), 380-394

E. Merten, Stellenbiographie zur Historia Augusta 4 (Bonn, 1987)

Parker, H. A History of the Roman World A.D. 138-337 (London, 1958)

Robertson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet IV (Oxford, 1978)

Stein, A. "Censorinus #4" in Pauly-Wissowa, R.E.. III.2, 1908

________.  "Zeitbestimmungen von Gallienus bis Aurelian" in Klio 21 (1927),, 78-82

Stevenson, S. A Dictionary of Roman Coins (London, 1889)

Strootmann, W. "Der Sieg über die Alamannen im Jahre 268" in Hermes 30 (1895), 355-360

Syme, R. Emperors and Biography: Studies in the Historia Augusta (Oxford, 1971)

________. "The Ancestry of Constantine" in J. von Straub, editor, Bonner Historia-Augusta-Colloquium 1971 (Bonn, 1974), 237-253

Watson, Alaric, Aurelian and the Third Century (London, 1999)

Webb, P. Roman Imperial Coinage 5.1 (London, 1927)

Weigel, R. "Juno Regina and the Roman Empresses" in SAN 12 (1981), 31-32

Wolfram, H. History of the Goths (Translated by T. Dunlap, Berkeley, 1988)


[[1]] Damerau, 39. Henze (2458) suggests 219 or 220, but the earlier date has greater support.

[[2]] SHA Claud. 13.5-8.

[[3]] SHA Claud. 11.9.

[[4]] SHA Claud. 14-17; see Damerau, 21-24 and Syme, 215-216.

[[5]] SHA Gall. 7.1; Damerau, 43.

[[6]] Zosimus 1.40.

[[7]] Aur. Vict. 33; Bird, Liber, 34-35, 143 n.26, and 144 n.27.

[[8]] SHA Gall.15.1-2.; Parker, 187

[[9]] Aur. Vict. 33; SHA Claud. 5; Parker, 187.

[[10]] SHA Aur.18.1; SHA Claud. 11.6-9; Damerau, 52-54, Parker, 187-188.

[[11]]  CIL 3.3521 and 12.2228; RIC 108 and 247-250; Damerau, 53, Henze, 2459. For lists of inscriptions pertaining to the reign of Claudius II, see Damerau, 103-107 and Homo, 97-106.

[[12]]  Damerau, 38.

[[13]] Henze, 2459-2460; Parker, 188.

[[14]] Zos. 1.44-45; SHA Claud. 11.1-2; SHA XXX Tyr. 30.3, 11; Ancona, 32-44; Damerau, 54-61; Henze, 2460-2461; Parker, 190-191.

[[15]] Homo, 116-118.

[[16]] A. Markl published a seies of articles on the coins of Claudius II in Wiener Numismatische Zeitschrift over the period from 1876 to 1905. Several are referenced in Henze, 2458 and Webb, xi. In addition to Cohen, Robertson, and Webb, see the lists in Homo, 107-115 and Damerau, 92-103.

[[17]] See RIC 230, 237-239, 243, 246-252, 282.

[[18]] RIC 204 and 215. A. Robertson (p. lxxii, n.3) raised the possibility that the DEO CABIRO coin is only a misreading of the REGI ARTIS type, but the scarcity of these coins makes that difficult to verify. See also Homo, 108, citing Markl.

[[19]]  P. Webb, 203-204. Webb cites Banduri as his source.

[[20]] RIC Valerian 1, Gallienus 633, and Valerian II 2.

[[21]] RIC 198.

[[22]]  RIC 202 and 203.

[[23]]  RIC 219, 222, and 224.

[[24]] Three other scarce issues from Antioch, RIC 200 (CONCOR AVG with two veiled figures holding torches and ears of corn), 206 (FELIC AVG with Felicitas and a female figure), and 211 (IOVI CONSERV AVG with Jupiter and the Emperor) could also be included in this series.

[[25]] Stevenson, 541; RIC 66-67 and 126..

[[26]]  RIC 214 and 221.

[[27]]  RIC 50, RIC Gallienus 640; Homo, 109, citing Markl, doubted the authenticity of this piece.

[[28]]  RIC 132.

[[29]]  RIC 6, 51, 53, and 124.

[[30]] Alföldi, Crisis, 191. An improved relationship between emperor and Senate is certainly in accord with the reported senatorial honors given to Claudius II following his death. See below.

[[31]]  RIC 24, 29, 144, 205, 212, 236, and 245. Weigel, 31-32.

[[32]]  RIC 217-218; see also 202 with Isis and Serapis, discussed above.

[[33]]  SHA XXX Tyr. 33; Epitome de Caesaribus 34.3; Cohen VI, 173; Henze, 2461; Stein, "Censorinus", 1908.

[[34]]  Zos. 1.42-46; SHA Claud. 6-9, 11.3-4, 12.1; Damerau, 62-75; Henze, 2460.

[[35]] Zos. 1.46; SHA Claud. 9.4-7; Wolfram, 55.

[[36]]  Damerau, 61; Henze, 2461.

[[37]] SHA Claud. 12.2-3; Oros. 7.23; Eutr. 9.11; Henze, 2460. Alaric Watson (221-222) places Claudius' death in August of 270, citing evidence from Egyptian coin issues, but this view was raised over a century ago and has not generally prevailed. See Stein, "Zeitbestimmungen", 80-82.

[[38]]  SHA Claud.13.1-4; see Watson, 47, 222.

[[39]]  SHA Claud.3.3-5; Eutrop. 9.11; Oros. 7.23; Henze, 2462; Parker, 191-192.

[[40]]  RIC V.1, pp. 203, 236-237 (coins 292-299); Damerau, 82-84; Homo, 92-96.

[[41]]  Aur. Vict. 34; Amm. Mar. 16.10.3 and 31.5-7; Syme, 203-205, 234-235; Lippold, "Kaiser", 389-390.

[[42]]  SHA Claud. 12.2-3; Syme, 203-205, 234-235.

[[43]]  SHA Claud. 1.3 (Loeb translation by David Magie).

Copyright (C) 2001, Richard D. Weigel. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Richard D. Weigel.

Updated:19 June 2001

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