On January 25, 41 AD in Hammered History Claudius is named Emperor of Rome


Proclaiming Claudius Emperor by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (note the curtain), courtesy of Wikipedia

If you have read or watched anything about Ancient Rome, you have learned this lesson: don’t get attached to anyone. With all of the assassinations, murders, plots, coups, bloody betrayals, and executions, political, public, or at the paws of a lion, liking a particular character from Ancient Rome will invariably end in blood, tears, and togas.

And such is the case of Caligula, who is assassinated on January 24, 41 AD. Caligula is a bit intense. He’s well-known for his debauchery. Also, he cruelly mocks his senate, makes them chase after his litter, forces them to fight for his amusement, and otherwise revels in their utter humiliation. Also, he thinks he’s an immortal god. After having enough of his humiliation, the Praetorian guard decides to test out Caligula’s immortality theory by stabbing him 30 times with knives and swords.

Spoiler alert: Caligula is not immortal.   

His uncle Claudius is found literally hiding behind a curtain and someone points out the obvious by stating that he should be emperor. And the next day, it is done.

So, why is this history hammered?

Because Claudius almost certainly was.

Wine was the liquid lifeblood of Rome. In some form it played a major part of everyday life for men, women, children, whether they were slaves, soldiers, or in the upper class. The upper classes enjoyed calda in the winter, a heated mulled wine from white grapes and mixed with spices. Mulsum was a honey-infused wine mixed with water and spices. During the Saturnalia season, a spiced holiday mix called Conditum Paradoxum was drunk probably ad nauseum. The Bacchanalia were festivals held to celebrate the god of wine, Bacchus. Bacchus is not surprisingly also the god of fertility, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity, theater, and epiphany. Surprisingly, he’s not the god of drunken booty papyrus texts, apologizing to your neighbors, and explosive diarrhea. At its peak, it’s said that Romans drank up to 100 gallons of wine a year.

And that peak, apparently, is the first century AD. Specifically, according to the historian Tacitus (c. 56-117ish), 31 BC to 68 AD sees Rome’s most “extravagant feasting” and notes that this extravagance in food and drink was much more prominent in the latter emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. This line starts with Julius Caesar, military leader, subject of Shakespeare, and famous multiple-stab-victim (Caesar was stabbed 23 times, so Caligula wins). From Julius there’s Augustus, who, like Julius, isn’t a drinker. But from there it goes Tiberius, Caligula (of the famous sex parties), Claudius, and Nero. And according to historian Suetonius (our go-to guy for the flawed personalities and bad habits of Roman emperors) it’s those last four emperors of the dynasty that are heavy drinkers.  

And right smack dab in the middle of these guys is Claudius. Claudius doesn’t look or act like an emperor; he’s got a limp, he’s a stutterer, and he hides behind curtains. He’s known not only for heavy drinking, but also for being a bad drunk. Claudius gains a reputation for drinking too much and passing out at banquets. While passed out, other banquet guests would throw olive pits into his open maw or put slippers on his hands (how you messed with a passed-out friend before Sharpies were invented). Claudius would also become so overcome with alcohol and food that he would lie prone while someone dangled a feather into his throat so he could vomit and drink more. Basically, Claudius is Ancient Rome’s annoying too-drunk party guest.

Claudius is assassinated by his second wife Agrippina, though we don’t know if it’s because he’s so annoying while plastered. Agrippina does her deed with poisoned mushrooms. Her son Nero takes over, who’s also a problem drinker. Nero is an aggressive meathead who walks around drunk trying to flex his Wine Muscles by picking fights in taverns. After Nero dies, abusive drinking starts to decline. Why? Who knows? Civil war looms and Rome’s Germanic neighbors are starting to get a bit rowdy.  

What to drink when celebrating Roman drinking is a no-brainer. Wine. Lots of it. It’s what you do to that wine that could make you celebrate in a more “Roman” way. The Romans added water to their wine and they added spices and even honey. As for a recipe for calda, I was only able to find that “exotic spices” were added, so you can dump whatever spices you consider “exotic” into your glass of Chablis (in my house, taco seasoning). Or you can recreate mulsum with the recipe below.

Ingredients:

·         3 cups of lukewarm water

·         1 cup red wine

·         1 cinnamon stick

·         1 whole nutmeg

·         4 teaspoons whole cloves

·         4 tablespoons of honey

·         An orange or lemon slice for each glass

Directions

·         Add the water, wine and honey to a large container or pitcher and stir well. If you are using very thick honey, heat it up until thin before using or blend the wine, water and honey together in a blender before transferring to the container or pitcher.

·         Add the spices to the wine.

·         Place the wine in the refrigerator for 18 – 24 hours.

·         When ready, remove the spices.

·         It’s ready to serve with an optional slice of orange or lemon. You can warm if you want as well.

·         Wrap a white bedsheet around yourself and, do not, I repeat, do not claim to be immortal.   

Nota Bene: If you are unwilling to let go of the Saturnalia spirit, follow this link to make Conditum Paradoxum and party like the December 17, 40 AD.

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