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Britannicus Named Heir to Claudius

 by Jeff Provine

Author says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's excellent blog This Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

In 54 A.D.,

Please click the icon to Stumble Upon the Today in Alternate History web site.Britannicus was named heir to Claudius. The imperial reign of Claudius had been a great boon for the Roman Empire. After the golden age of Augustus, they had trudged through the fascist militarism of Tiberius and then faced the shocking insanity of Caligula.

Claudius, believed by many to be a bumbling, stammering cripple, proved to be an effective leader upon his election by the Praetorian Guard. In the chaos ensuing from the assassination from Caligula, the Senate had been in an uproar, but Claudius' steady nerve affirmed his position.

"The Judeans loved Claudius, and wouldn't have rebelled unless Brirannicus did something stupid, like appoint another Pontius Pilate. The Parthians might have been an obvious choice of an enemy, but a more sensible on would have been the Germans, this time they would be slowly, carefully, reduced" - reader's commentsThrough his reign, Claudius had expanded the empire with conquests in Britain, earning him the honorific "Britannicus", which he refused for himself but accepted for his oldest surviving son. He built public works such as aqueducts and conducted religious and judicial reform. Claudius's improvements went deeper still, furthering natural history with his own study and adding three letters to clarify the Roman alphabet. However, his reign was not without its shadows, such as the coup planned by his wife Messalina, mother of Britannicus, and her husband by bigamy, Gaius Silius. Britannicus, though still son of the emperor, was downgraded in opinion.Claudius remarried, this time to his niece Agrippina the Younger to secure his position further by becoming a member of the Julian as well as Claudian family. Her son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, was a direct descendant of Augustus, and Claudius happily adopted him. Domitius was two years older than Britannicus, and public opinion fell gladly upon the handsome older lad. While publicly the marriage was satisfactory, Claudius and Agrippina argued constantly. As Britannicus approached manhood, the emperor considered divorcing her and having his oldest natural son be his official heir. The current will stated for Domitius and Britannicus to be co-heirs, an obvious problem.

"Several issues on a Parthian campaign. The twin keys were expanding the army [holding Armenia-Mesopotamia needed an additional 8-10 legions which Mesopotamia was rich enough to pay for once you pacified it but had to be created first to hold it long enough to pacify it. There was also the supply issue - the Parthians rarely gave battle. They used a mix of scorched earth, garrisons in cities and cavalry raids to make staying difficult. The solution was shipping food etc. by sea around Arabia but somehow the Romans never grokked this." - reader's commentsOn October 13, 54, Claudius died. It looked as if age and ill health had caught him, but many were suspicious of Agrippina and her many contacts who were skilled in the art of poison. Agrippina worked to perfect the transition of her son to be the lone emperor and under her control. She ordered the execution of Claudius's former slave, Narcissus, now a freedman who was loyal to the emperor, upon his return. Narcissus knew that his end would come, and he began a plan to burn all of Claudius's papers, but assassins caught him before his work could begin.

The papers were searched, and a will discovered that named Britannicus the lone heir and gave bonuses to the Praetorian Guard in celebration of his coronation. Agrippina moved to have the will annulled, but the threat of the Praetorians losing their income kept her actions at bay. Several months of stalled waiting crept through Rome until Britannicus officially gained manhood and his throne. Upon his ascent, he called for exile of Agrippina and Domitius alike, citing suspicions of conspiracy and illegal execution. Later, Domitius would be suspected of murdering his mother while she was boating.

Rome celebrated their young emperor, who took up advisers such as Seneca and Burrus, who was later banished as part of a conspiracy surrounding Britannicus's distant cousin Faustus. Britannicus treated Faustus well, and further suspicions never arose. With power continuing to consolidate as he grew, Britannicus worked to reform punishments and taxes. He did not spend as much as many said he should on city improvements, instead always looking toward the borders of Rome for expansion. Britain revolted under Boudicca, but Britannicus's generals put down the rebels and saved his namesake. Later, Rome went to war with Parthia over influence in Armenia. While advisers recommended peace because of struggles with grain supplies and the imperial budget, Britannicus conferred with his general Vespasian, and the invasion of Parthia began.

"An easier way to have this happen would be for Domitius (Nero) to die of natural causes--possibly falling from a horse and breaking his neck, or something like that. A problem you might have had with "Britannicus Caesar" was that young men who came to the throne without having done things as mature men before hand tended not to turn out well, even if they did all right for a while. Titus is remembered as a good emperor, but he died very young; Nero was about as good as Titus for his first few years, and we know what _he_ turned into, and so on. If Domitius (Nero) was out of the way under circumstances where nobody could whisper of murder, Agrippina Minor might have not killed Claudius (if she did, but I have suspicions) and with Claudius alive for longer, Britannicus could have had some seasoning in the legions before ascending the throne." - reader's commentsThe next few years were tough in Rome with troops continually pouring eastward, but the plunder more than paid for the military action. Vespasian's son Titus, a friend from childhood of Britannicus, put down a revolt in Judaea and secured the loot from their golden temple as a side-expedition from the conquest of Parthia. The Flavian family would remain close to the Claudians for the rest of their dynasty.

The fire of 64 awoke Britannicus's attention to Rome itself. Its origin was blamed on Parthian agents, sending public opinion in great favor for the expensive war. With the shiploads of gold brought back from the Parthian palaces, Britannicus set to rebuild Rome better than before. City-planning and administration of the enormous empire consumed the remainder of Britannicus's rule.

Emperors would continue through Britannicus's son Julius Claudius in a dynasty that would last another century. Parthia would revolt successfully in the late-100s, and plague and drought would cause uproar throughout the empire in 235. With the assassination of the emperor and many of his senators, the empire would shatter into rival states such as Africa/Hispania, Italia, Gaulia, Germania, and Palmyrene. Civil war crippled these states, allowing outsiders such as the Rus, Kush, Celts, and Parthians to conquer lands away from them.

Political power became increasingly decentralized and destabilized, bringing a new dark age. The many religious groups each with their own figure, such as Isis, Christ, and Mithras, fought for supremacy while warlords secured territory through fear of force. It would not be until the introduction of trade along defended routes carved by the Nordic Vikings that prosperity returned to Europe in the ninth century.


Author says in reality Domitius would become emperor and be called "Nero". Narcissus succeeded in burning Claudius's papers, and it is unknown whether he put into written contract that he had begun to favor Britannicus. Britannicus himself was co-heir, though not of age at the time of Nero's ascension, and would be murdered days before his fourteenth birthday and manhood. To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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