Nero Claudius Drusus

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (January 14, 38 BC[2] – summer of 9 BC[3]), born Decimus Claudius Drusus,[1] also called Drusus Claudius Nero,[4] Drusus, Drusus I, Nero Drusus, or Drusus the Elder was a Roman politician and military commander. He was a patrician Claudian on his birth father's side but his maternal grandmother was from a plebeian family. He was the son of Livia Drusilla and the legal stepson of her second husband, the Emperor Augustus. He was also brother of the Emperor Tiberius, father to both the Emperor Claudius and general Germanicus, paternal grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather of the Emperor Nero.

Nero Claudius Drusus
Bust of Nero Claudius Drusus, in the Capitoline Museums, Rome
BornJanuary 14, 38 BC
Roma, Italia
DiedSummer of 9 BC (30-31)
SpouseAntonia Minor
Claudius, Roman Emperor
Full name
Decimus Claudius Drusus[1]
(at birth);
Nero Claudius Drusus
Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus
FatherTiberius Claudius Nero
Augustus (possibly)
MotherLivia Drusilla

He launched the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and began the conquest of Germania, becoming the first Roman general to reach the Weser and Elbe rivers. In 12 BC, Drusus led a successful campaign into Germania, subjugating the Sicambri. Later that year he led a naval expedition against Germanic tribes along the North Sea coast, conquering the Batavi and the Frisii, and defeating the Chauci near the mouth of the Weser. In 11 BC, he conquered the Usipetes and the Marsi, extending Roman control to the Upper Weser. In 10 BC, he launched a campaign against the Chatti and the resurgent Sicambri, subjugating both. The following year, while serving as consul, he conquered the Mattiaci and defeated the Marcomanni and the Cherusci, the latter near the Elbe. However, Drusus died later that year, depriving Rome of one of its best generals.


Drusus was the youngest son of Livia Drusilla from her marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero, who was legally declared his father before the couple divorced. Drusus was born between mid-March and mid-April 38 BC, three months after Livia married Augustus on 17 January.[5] Gerhard Radke has proposed the date of March 28 as his most likely birthday,[2] while Lindsay Powell interprets Ovid's Fasti as indicating a date of 13 January.[1] Rumors arose that Augustus was the child's real father, although this has never been authoritatively proven. Claudius, however, encouraged the rumor during his reign as emperor to create an impression of more direct lineage from Augustus.

According to Suetonius, Drusus was originally given Decimus as his praenomen, the first of a Roman male's conventional three names in Roman naming practice at the time. Nero was a traditional cognomen (third name) of the Claudii, whereas Drusus was given to a branch of the gens Livia. Using a cognomen such as Nero as a first name was unusual, as was the prominence given to his maternal lineage in adopting Drusus as his cognomen.

Drusus was raised in Claudius Nero's house with his brother, the future emperor Tiberius, until his legal father's death. The two brothers developed a famously close relationship that would last the rest of their lives. Tiberius named his eldest son after his brother, and Drusus did likewise, although eldest sons were usually named after their father or grandfather.


Drusus married Antonia Minor, the daughter of Mark Antony and Augustus' sister, Octavia Minor, and gained a reputation of being completely faithful to her.[6] Their children were Germanicus, Claudius, a daughter named Livilla ('little Livia'), and at least two others who did not survive infancy. After Drusus' death, Antonia never remarried, though she outlived him by nearly five decades. Three emperors were direct descendants of Drusus: his son Claudius, his grandson Caligula, and his great-grandson Nero.


Augustus bestowed many honors on his stepsons. In 19 BC, Drusus was granted the ability to hold all public offices five years before the minimum age. When Tiberius left Italy during his term as praetor in 16 BC, Drusus legislated in his place. He became quaestor the following year, fighting against Raetian bandits in the Alps. Drusus repelled them, gaining honors, but was unable to smash their forces, and required reinforcement from Tiberius. The brothers easily defeated the local Alpine tribes.

Drusus arrived in Gaul in late 15 BCE to serve as legatus Augusti pro praetore (governor on Augustus' behalf with the authority of a praetor) of the three Gaulish provinces.[7] His contribution to the ongoing building and urban development in Gaul can be seen in the establishment of the pes Drusianus, or ‘Drusian foot’, of about 33.3 cm (13.1 in), which was in use in Samarobriva (modern Amiens) and among the Tungri.[8] From 14 to 13 BCE, Augustus himself was also active in Gaul, whether in Lugdunum (modern Lyon) or along the Rhine frontier.[9]

As governor of Gaul, Drusus made his headquarters at Lugdunum, where he decided to establish the concilium Galliarum or ‘council of the Gaulish provinces’ sometime between 14 and 12 BCE.[10] This council would elect from its members a priest to celebrate games and venerate Rome and Augustus as deities[11] every 1 August at the altar of the three Gauls that Drusus established at Condate in 10 BCE.[12] Drusus' son Tiberius—the future emperor Claudius—was born in Lugdunum on the same day that this altar was inaugurated.[13]

Germanic campaigns

Starting in 14 BCE, Drusus built a string of military bases along the Rhine—fifty according to Florus—and established an alliance with the Batavi in preparation for military action in Germania Libera.[14] He is likely to have had seven legions under his command.[15] In spring of 12 BCE, he embarked an expeditionary force, perhaps consisting of the Legiones I Germanica and V Alaudae, by ship from the vicinity of modern Nijmegen, making use of one or more canals he had built for the purpose.[16] Drusus sailed to the mouth of the Ems and penetrated into the territory of the Chauci in present-day Lower Saxony.[17] The Chauci concluded a treaty acknowledging Roman supremacy, and would remain allies of Rome for years to come.[18] As they continued to ascend the Ems, the Romans were attacked by the Bructeri in boats.[19] Drusus' forces defeated the Bructeri, but, as it was now late in the campaign season, turned back for their winter quarters in Gaul, taking advantage of their new alliance with the Frisii to navigate through the difficult conditions on the North Sea.[20]

As a reward for the successes of his campaign in 12 BCE, Drusus was made praetor urbanus for 11 BCE when he returned to Rome for the winter.[20] News of Drusus' achievements—navigating the North Sea, carrying the Roman eagles into new territory, and fixing new peoples into treaty relations with Rome—caused considerable excitement in Rome and were commemorated on coins.[20]

Drusus did not have it in him to stay in Rome. In the spring of his term as praetor urbanus, he set out for the German border once more. This time, he assembled a force consisting of all or part of five legions in addition to auxiliaries and, setting out from Vetera on the Rhine, ascended the River Lippe. Here he encountered the Tencteri and Usipetes, whom he defeated in two separate engagements.[21] He reached the Werra Valley before deciding to turn back for the season, as winter was coming on, supplies were dwindling, and the omens were unfavorable.[22] While his forces were making their way back through the territory of the Cherusci, the latter tribe laid an ambush for them at Arbalo.[23] The Cherusci failed to capitalize on their initial advantage, whereupon the Romans broke through their lines, defeated the Germanic attackers, and acclaimed Drusus as imperator.[23] To show his continued mastery of the ground, Drusus garrisoned a number of positions within Germania during the winter of 11–10 BCE, including one somewhere in Hesse[24] and one in Cheruscan territory, probably either the camp at Haltern or that at Bergkamen-Oberaden,[25] both in present-day North Rhine–Westphalia.

He rejoined his wife Antonia and two children for a time in Lugdunum before the family returned to Rome, where Drusus reported to Augustus.[24] Drusus was given the honor of an ovation, and for the second time, Augustus closed the doors of the Temple of Janus, signifying that the whole Roman world was then at peace.[26] Drusus was granted the office of proconsul for the following year. In 10 BC, the Chatti joined with the Sicambri and attacked Drusus' camp, but they were driven back. Drusus pursued them, proceeding from the sites of present-day Mainz and Rödgen, where he set up a base of supply, to Hedemünden, where a strong new camp was established.[27] Around this time, the canny Marcomannic king Maroboduus responded to the Roman incursion by relocating his people en masse to Bohemia.[28] In summer of 10 BCE, Drusus left the field in order to return to Lugdunum, where he inaugurated the sanctuary of the Three Gaulish provinces at Condate on 1 August.[29] Augustus and Tiberius were in Lugdunum for this occasion (when Drusus' youngest son Claudius was born), and afterwards Drusus accompanied them back to Rome.[13]

Drusus easily won election as consul for the year 9 BCE.[30] Once more he left the city before assuming office. His consulship conferred the chance for Drusus to attain Rome's highest and rarest military honor, the spolia opima, or spoils of an enemy chieftain slain personally by an opposing Roman general who was fighting (as consuls did) under his own auspices.[31] He quickly returned to the field, stopping to confer with his staff at Lugdunum and to dedicate a temple to Caesar Augustus at Andemantunnum, before rejoining his command at Mainz, from which the year's expedition departed in early spring.[32] Drusus led the army via Rödgen through the territories of the Marsi and Cherusci until he even crossed the river Elbe.[33] Here he is said to have seen an apparition of a Germanic woman who warned him against proceeding farther and that his death was near. Drusus turned back,[34] erecting a trophy to commemorate his reaching the Elbe, perhaps on the site of Dresden or Magdeburg.[35]

Drusus had sought out multiple Germanic (at least three) chieftains during his campaigns in Germany (12 BCE–9 BCE), engaging them in "dazzling displays of single combat".[28] The sources are ambiguous, but imply that at some point he did take the spolia opima from a Germanic king, thus becoming the fourth and final Roman to gain this honor.[36]

Death and legacy

The Drususstein, the funerary monument in Mogontiacum (Mainz) erected by legionaries in Drusus' honor. Left, a reconstruction of its original appearance; right, its current appearance.[37]

Drusus was returning from his advance to the Elbe when he fell from his horse,[38] lingering on for a month after the accident, by which point Tiberius had joined him. Shortly before his death he wrote a letter to Tiberius complaining about the style in which Augustus ruled. Suetonius reports that he had refused to return to Rome just before his death. Drusus' body was brought back to the city, and his ashes were deposited in the Mausoleum of Augustus. He remained extremely popular with the legionaries, who erected a monument (the Drususstein) in Mogontiacum (modern Mainz) on his behalf. Remnants of this are still standing. His family was granted the hereditary honorific title "Germanicus", which was given to his eldest son before passing to his youngest. Augustus later wrote a biography of him which does not survive. By Augustus' decree, festivals were held in Mogontiacum at Drusus' death day and probably also on his birthday.[39]

Drusus' mother Livia, much affected by the death of her second son, took the advice of the philosopher Areus to put up many statues and images of Drusus and speak often about him.[40] The surviving Latin work Consolatio ad Liviam is framed as an Ovidian message of consolation to Livia on this occasion, though it is generally considered a literary exercise "composed between the death of Livia [29 CE] and that of Tiberius [37 CE]".[41]

Augustus noted the successes of Drusus' campaigns—for which, as Drusus' superior, he took credit—in his Res Gestae Divi Augusti, written in 14 CE:

I restored peace to the provinces of Gaul and Spain, likewise Germany, which includes the ocean from Cadiz to the mouth of the river Elbe. [...] I sailed my ships on the ocean from the mouth of the Rhine to the east region up to the borders of the Cimbri, where no Roman had gone before that time by land or sea, and the Cimbri and the Charydes and the Semnones and the other Germans of the same territory sought by envoys the friendship of me and of the Roman people.

Augustus, Res Gestae Divi Augusti[42]

Upon Claudius' accession to the principate in 41 CE, his late father Drusus received new public honors, including annual games in the Circus Maximus on January 14 for Drusus' birthday, coin issues commemorating Drusus' victories in Germania, and the restoration of a monument near the Ara Pacis Augustae that featured a statue of Drusus.[43] Claudius also completed a road from Italy into Raetia that followed the route Drusus had taken and whose road-markers commemorated Drusus' achievements in the Alpine war.[44] Such Claudian commemorations of Drusus' memory are thought to have become less prominent once Claudius had his own British triumph to celebrate.[45]

Family tree

He is a minor character in Robert Graves' historical novel I, Claudius, as well as the BBC's adaptation of the same title in which he was played by Ian Ogilvy.

The annual festival celebrating Drusus' death is a main plot element in the second volume of the Romanike series by Codex Regius (2006-2014).

He is a prominent character in the Hrabam Chronicles by Alaric Longward (2016).

See also


  1. Powell (2011), p. 3.
  2. At Divus Claudius 11.3, Suetonius says that Claudius as emperor commemorated the birthday (dies natalis) of his father Drusus on the same date as that of Mark Antony, his maternal grandfather, whose birthday on January 14, ca. 83 BC, had been decreed as a "defective" day (dies vitiosus) by Augustus (Cassius Dio 51.9.3). However, since Drusus's birth is also recorded as occurring within the third month after Livia's marriage to Augustus on January 17, Radke proposes that Claudius used the astronomical discrepancies between the pre-Julian calendar under which Antony was born and the Julian calendar in effect at the time of Drusus' birth, to show that had the two been born under the same calendar, they would have shared a birthday. Gilbert Radke (1978), "Der Geburtstag des älteren Drusus," Wurzburger Jahrbucher fur die Altertumswissenschaft 4 (1978), pp. 211–213. Reviewing these theories, Anthony A. Barrett still considers January 14 the most probable birthdate, explaining the apparent three-month discrepancy as referring to Livia's betrothal, not her marriage (Barrett 2002, pp. 313–314).
  3. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Claudius, 1
  4. De Imperatoribus Romanis - An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), written by Garrett G. Fagan of Pennsylvania State University
  5. Donna W. Hurley, Suetonius: Divus Claudius (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 106
  6. Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX IV.3.3 (Latin text). Cited in Powell (2011), p. 91.
  7. Powell (2011), pp. 48-49.
  8. Powell (2011), pp. 53-54.
  9. Powell (2011), pp. 48, 61, 70.
  10. Powell (2011), p. 56.
  11. Powell (2011), pp. 56-57.
  12. Powell (2011), pp. 97-99.
  13. Powell (2011), p. 99.
  14. Powell (2011), pp. 62-64.
  15. These were, according to Powell (2011), p. 61, Legiones I Germanica, V Alaudae, XIII Gemina, XIV Gemina, XVI Gallica, XVII, XVIII, and XIX (the last three being the legions that would later be destroyed while under the command of Varus).
  16. Powell (2011), pp. 64-65, 70.
  17. Powell (2011), pp. 74, 77.
  18. Powell (2011), p. 78.
  19. Powell (2011), pp. 78-79.
  20. Powell (2011), p. 79.
  21. Powell (2011), p. 81. The legions in question this time were the I Germanica, the V Alaudae, the XVII, the XVIII, and the XIX.
  22. Powell (2011), pp. 83-84.
  23. Powell (2011), p. 89.
  24. Powell (2011), p. 91.
  25. Powell (2011), p. 90.
  26. Powell (2011), p. 92.
  27. Powell (2011), pp. xxvii, 93.
  28. Powell (2011), p. 94.
  29. Powell (2011), p. 97.
  30. Powell (2011), p. 100.
  31. Powell (2011), p. 95.
  32. Powell (2011), p. 102.
  33. Powell (2011), pp. 102-104.
  34. Powell (2011), p. 104.
  35. Powell (2011), p. 105.
  36. Powell (2011), p. 96 and note 155 on p. 199, citing Suetonius Claudius I.4.
  37. Kersting, Hans (2003). MAINZ - tours on foot (in German). 4. Bayerische Verlagsanstalt. ISBN 3-89889-078-3.
  38. Barbara Levick, Claudius (Yale University Press, Sep. 10, 1993), p. 11.
  39. Suetonius, Claudius I.1.3
  40. Barrett (2002), p. 44.
  41. Arnold M. Duff (1935). "Review of Consolatio ad Liviam by Arnold Witlox". The Classical Review. 49 (4): 155–156. doi:10.1017/s0009840x00068323. JSTOR 699709.
  42. Augustus, Res Gestae Divi Augusti 26. Translated by Thomas Bushnell (2011) and placed by his permission on Wikisource. Passage also quoted in Powell (2011), p. 80.
  43. Osgood (2011), pp. 60-61.
  44. Osgood (2011), p. 188.
  45. Osgood (2011), p. 93.


  • Barrett, Anthony A. (2002). Livia: First Lady of Rome. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09196-6.
  • Osgood, Josiah (2011). Claudius Caesar: Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88181-4.
  • Powell, Lindsay (2011). Eager for Glory: The Untold Story of Drusus the Elder, Conqueror of Germania. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-333-2.
Political offices
Preceded by
Africanus Fabius Maximus,
and Iullus Antonius
Consul of the Roman Empire
9 BC
with Titus Quinctius Crispinus Sulpicianus
Succeeded by
Gaius Marcius Censorinus,
and Gaius Asinius Gallus
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