Britannicus Named Heir to
by Jeff Provine
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
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.
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
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