This map plots the settings and references in I, Claudius
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The city of Rome was founded, according to myth, in 753 BC. By the middle of the 2nd Century BC, it was the dominant power in the Mediterranean world; by the beginning of the 1st Century AD, its empire covered much of Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.
Among the tourist sites in modern Rome are the ruins of the Forum Romanum, the ceremonial heart of the city in the Julio-Claudian Age, and the Palatine, where the palaces of the Emperors were located. The forum includes the remains of many of the buildings that would have been familiar to Claudius, including the Temples of Vesta, Julius Caesar and Saturn, and the Curia Julia, one of several senate houses in Imperial Rome. Some of these are mentioned explicitly in the text of I, Claudius, and featured in the bookmarks. The Palatine ruins include the Domus Augusti, recently reopened following refurbishment, where Claudius lived during much of his life.
Obscure they went, thro' dreary shades, that led
Along the waste dominions of the dead
Thus wander travellers in the woods by night,
By the moon's doubtful and malignant light,
When Jove in dusky clouds involves the skies,
And the faint crescent shoots by fits before their eyes...
Aeneas descends with the help of the Cumaean Sibyl, and it is her successor who reveals to Graves's Claudius his own destiny.
The cave itself was discovered by Italian archaeologists in 1932.
Julia Augusti Filia (39 BC - 14 AD), the daughter of Augustus and second wife of Tiberius, was accused of adultery and licentiousness, and exiled, on Augustus's orders, to the island of Ventotene in 2 BC. Both Cassius Dio (in The Roman Histories) and Seneca (in On Benefits) refer to her conducting "revels" and "debaucheries" in the Forum, "and even on the Rostra," with a number of male partners. Seneca explicitly states that she prostituted herself.
The Rostra was a platform at the western end of the Forum, and was the point from which orators, including Emperors, addressed the masses. Although secular in nature, it had a near sacred significance to the Roman state. It was a place where no woman should ever have been seen, and on which no man should be seen without a toga. The equivalent would be a member of the British Royal Family fornicating in the middle of Trafalgar Square. This specific claim, however, may well have been apocryphal.
Elaine Fantham's book, Julia Augusti (Routledge 2006), gives a balanced historical account of her life).
The ballad itself is Grave's own, though composed in the irreverent style of the ballads that Roman soldiers are known to have sung at triumphal processions.
It refers to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, where General Publius Quinctilius Varus lost three entire legions (18,000 men plus auxiliaries) along with his own life.
Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars, records that in the aftermath of the disaster Augustus 'was so disturbed that, for months at a time, he let his beard and hair grow, and would hit his head against the door, shouting: "Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!"'
Tiberius has proposed Augustus's deification. The Cult of Augustus thus established became the cornerstone of Roman state ritual and remained so for more than a century.
The so-called "Prima Porta" statue, which was probably owned by Livia, shows him in the armour of an Imperator (Field Marshal). But the cupid tugging at the hem of his tunic suggests his divine status and recalls the claim of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, to be descended from Venus.
The Mausoleum of Augustus became the burial place for the ashes of most subsequent Emperors, including Claudius.
The return of Germanicus's widow, Agrippina Major, to Rome with his ashes (via the port of Brindisium) is described by both Suetonius and Tacitus. Germanicus's death and funeral represented such a traumatic moment in the history of Rome that they became a significant theme in 17th and 18th Century European art.
Chariot races were held at the Circus Maximus in Rome, an important form of public entertainment. There were, as Graves describes, four factions, and top charioteers, like modern footballers, could achieve fame and riches. One such charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, retired in the 2nd Century AD with a fortune of 36 million sesterces ($15 billion in today's terms), making him the best paid sportsman in history.
It is unclear whether Graves, when writing I, Claudius, was also aware of the archaeological discovery in 1927 of two enormous ships from Caligula's time on Lake Nemi. The largest of these appears to have been a floating palace, with baths and mosaic floors. The ships were being excavated and consolidated as Graves wrote.
Graves's account of Caligula's construction of a bridge across the Bay of Baiae is based partly on Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars and partly on Cassius Dio's Roman History. Suetonius's suggestion that Caligula thought this idea up "to outdo Xerxes, who excited much admiration when he threw a bridge over the rather more narrow Hellespont" seems like a deliberate spoiler, given the fact that Xerxes, far from being admired for his action, became one of the stock-examples of hubris (for example, in Aeschylus's The Persians).
Graves's Claudius suggests that Caligula's real motivation was rather Thrassylus's prophecy (that Caligula was no more likely to rule the Empire than he was to cross the Bay of Baiae on a horse). Nonetheless he has him laughing at Xerxes, and berating the god Neptune as a coward, promising "to teach the old god an even sharper lesson" some time soon.