Certainly Caesar never suspected when he was fighting the Gauls, that the great-grandsons of the vanquished would live in villas modelled on the Roman, but more sumptuous; that the great Gallic nobles would have the satisfaction of parading before the people that conquered them a latinity more impressive and magnificent; and that some day the Gaul put by him to fire and sword would get the better, in empire, in wealth, in culture, of even Italy.
On the 13th of October of 54 A.D., when Emperor Claudius died, the Senate chose as his successor his adopted son, Nero, a young man of seventeen, fat and short-sighted, who had until then studied only music, singing, and drawing. This choice of a child-emperor, who lacked imperial qualities and suggested the child kings of Oriental monarchies, was a scandalous novelty in the constitutional history of Rome. The ancient historians, especially Tacitus, considered the event as the result of an intrigue, cleverly arranged by Nero’s mother, Agrippina, a daughter of Germanicus and granddaughter of Agrippa, the builder of the Pantheon. According to these historians, Agrippina, a highly ambitious woman, induced Claudius to marry her after Messalina’s death, although she was a widow and had a child, and as soon as she entered the emperor’s mansion she began to open the way for the election of her son. In order to exclude Britannicus, the son of Messalina, from succession, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero; then, with the help of the two tutors of the young man, Seneca and Burrhus, created in the Senate and among the Praetorians, a party favourable to her son; no sooner did she feel that she could rely on the Senate and the Praetorians, than she poisoned Claudius.
Too many difficulties prevent our accepting this version. To cite one of them will suffice: if Agrippina wished—as she surely did—that her son should succeed Claudius, she must also have wished that Claudius would live at least eight or ten years longer. As a great-grandson of Drusus, a grandson of Germanicus and the last descendant of his line, the only line in the whole family enjoying a real popularity, Nero was sure of election if he were of age at the death of Claudius. After the terrible scandal in which his mother had disappeared, Britannicus was no longer a competitor to be feared. There was only one danger for Nero, if Claudius should die too soon, the Senate might refuse to trust the Empire to a child.
I believe that Claudius died of disease, probably, if we can judge from Tacitus’s account, of gastroenteritis, and that Agrippina’s coterie, surprised by this sudden death, which upset all their plans, decided to put through Nero’s election in spite of his youth, in order to insure the power to the line of Drusus, which had so much sympathy among the masses. As a matter of fact, the admiration for Drusus and his family triumphed over all other considerations: