|Bust of Claudius II Gothicus |
from Santa Giulia Museum in
Born in the present day Balkan peninsula, little is known of Claudius's early life. His path to the throne was via the Roman army and he distinguished himself as a man of tremendous physical strength--it is related in the Historia Augusta that he could knock out the teeth of a horse or mule with a blow of his fist. He was eventually promoted to the rank of cavalry commander and upon the assassination of the emperor Gallienus, he was declared emperor by the army outside of Milan.
He won the title "Gothicus" by defeating a huge army of Goths which had ravaged the provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia at the Battle of Naissus in AD 269. His victory was so complete that it would be another 100 years before the Goths would menace the Empire again.
Claudius reigned during a time when Christians were actively persecuted by the empire and Claudius himself is considered in legend as the emperor under whom Saint Valentine was martyred in AD 270. What is perhaps most interesting about Claudius, however, is that he identified in some sources as an ancestor of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor. For example, in the Panegyrici Latini, one of the pagan panegyricists says, addressing Constantine in about AD 310:
And so I shall begin with the divinity who is the origin of your family, of whom most people, perhaps, are still unaware, but whom those who love you know full well. For an ancestral relationship links you with the deified Claudius, who was the first to restore the discipline of the Roman Empire when it was disordered and in ruins, and destroyed on land and sea huge numbers of Goths who had burst forth from the Straits of the Black Sea. [Taken from: Panegyrici Latini by Nixon and Rogers]A good biography of Claudius Gothicus may be found here: