Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


8 may 2014

A Viewer's Guide to "I Claudius"

This webpage is under development. Your patience is appreciated.

"I Claudius" (BBC, 1976) is a magnificent 12-episode adaptation of Robert Graves' novels I Claudius (1934) and Claudius the God (1935), themselves highly regarded works of historical fiction based on Suetonius' classic Lives of the Twelve Caesars (121). The subject matter of the series—the emergence of the Julian dynasty and the snuffing out of the last embers of Roman republican government—is fascinating in itself, of course, but, when coupled with amazing performances by a superb cast, the series well rewards viewing and re-viewing for both entertainment and educational purposes.


Told thru the eyes of the Emperor Claudius (regn. 41-54), most episodes begin with Claudius reflecting on his life, shift to an extended flashback (the core of the episode), and then return briefly to the elderly emperor. Each episode is approximately 50 minutes in length, except the first (97 minutes) and the second (45 minutes).


General Notes



The greatest staging challenge facing BBC producers was that so many characters needed to age not just from childhood into adulthood (that was easily done using children for the former and adults for the later) but also from young adulthood into old age. As a result, several adult characters look too old in their early episodes (e.g., Julia is 15 and Tiberius 18 when we first meet them, but one would never guess that to look at them). Just go with it, and know that by the time they hit middle and old age (e.g., as does Claudius), they all look their parts.


Roman naming systems are unfamiliar to us today and, further confused by adoption (itself a strange process under Roman law) and by several divorces and remarriages, it is often hard to keep track of who's who. Also, some significant jumps in time occur between certain scenes. The narrator's or character's brief mention of these gaps might be overlooked by first time viewers, leading to further confusion. Finally, much general Roman history is taken for granted and, though not absolutely necessary in order to follow the story, it adds much to one's appreciation of "I Claudius" if one has some idea of what going on outside the palace as well as inside. That said, though, remember that "I Claudius" is a film adaptation, of two historical novels, themselves mostly based on the writings of one fallible observer. In other words, don't assume that every phrase (or date, or costume, or custom) is gospel. While most historical references in "I Claudius" are accurate, even insightful, don't panic if, say, the bust an emperor yet to be born shows up on the mantel of someone's bedroom (c'mon it's not like the producers set up a statue of Calvin Coolidge in the Roman Senate).


Disk 1











1. A Touch of Murder


This opening episode, especially its opening scene, delivers a huge amount of information. No one ever gets it all down the first time. Indeed, most people watching this opening scene have no idea who the characters are (or were, or will become) and yet they enjoy the presentation just fine!


SCENE: Dinner party marking the seventh anniversary of the naval Battle of Actium, so 2 Sep 24 BC.  The Pax Romana is in its first years.


Caesar [Brian Blessed], about aged 40, not the famous Julius Caesar of course (he was assassinated in 44 BC), but rather his grand nephew and later adopted son Octavius, known to history as Augustus. He had divorced his first wife, =, twenty years earlier and is now married to Livia.


Livia [Siân Phillips], about age 36, wife to Octavius/Augustus. Livia had divorced her first husband to marry Augustus. Her two sons from that first marriage, Tiberius (at the party) and Drusus (not at the party), are both now in military service.


Tiberius [George Baker], about age 18, elder son of Livia, is married to a sweet girl Dypsania (who happens to be the daughter of Marcus Agrippa and granddaughter of Cicero's friend Atticus, but that's not important).


Marcus Agrippa, about age 40, long time friend and advisor to Octavius/Augustus. Agrippa was largely responsible for the victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium. Agrippa was born a commoner (an important plot point). The facade of Agrippa's original Pantheon still graces Hadrian's reconstructed temple in Rome.


Octavia (the Younger), about age 45, sister of Octavius/Augustus, fourth wife of Mark Anthony though later divorced from him (over Cleopatra). Octavia is ancestor to several important characters, including: Marcellus (by her first husband); Antonia Major, later mother of =,  and Antonia Minor, mother of =,  (both by Mark Anthony).= The Porticus Octaviae built in her honor still stands.


Marcellus, about age 18, son of Octavia and thus nephew of Octavius/Augustus, now married to Julia.

Julia (the Elder), about age 15, only daughter of Octavius/Augustus (by his first wife Scribonia, not Livia), now married to Marcellus. They will have no children.



SCENE: The patio, complaints of Rome's 'overcrowding'. Octavia speaks for the first time, and we briefly meet Antonia, her young daughter by =, who will later marry Drusus and become the mother of Claudius.


SCENE: Death of Marcellus, 23 BC. Part of the Theater of Marcellus still stands.





SCENE: Women's massage parlor. Julia is now aged =





SCENE: Board game, we meet Julia's two sons by Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius (she will later have one more, Posthumus, born after the death of Agrippa).







2. Waiting in the Wings





3. What Shall We Do about Claudius?





Disk 2









4. Poison is Queen





5. Some Justice





6. Queen of Heaven





7. Reign of Terror






Disk 3




8. Zeus, by Jove!





9. Hail Who?





10 . Fool's Luck





Disk 4



11. A God in Colchester


This episode unfolds from about 44 AD (the year Claudius defeated, but did not capture, Caractacus) and goes to 48 (when Messalina was executed). Also around 44 AD, Claudius' old friend Herod Agrippa seemingly tried to organize a revolt in the East against Rome but he died a sudden and bizarre death.


This is perhaps the 'fleshiest' episode in "I Claudius". And, oh yes, prostitution was legal in ancient Rome.


Gaius Silius, about age 35, seemed a decent fellow until he fell into Messalina's clutches. Silius divorced his wife, committed bigamy with the emperor's, and was executed.



12. Old King Log








Some Notes