Nero Claudius Drusus

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Nero Claudius Drusus
Drusus l'ancien Rome augGP2014.jpg
Bust of Nero Claudius Drusus, in the Capitoline Museums, Rome
Born January 14, 38 BC
Died Summer of 9 BC (aged 29)
Burial Mausoleum of Augustus
Spouse Antonia Minor
Issue Germanicus
Claudius, Roman Emperor
Full name
Decimus Claudius Drusus
(at birth);
Nero Claudius Drusus
Father Tiberius Claudius Nero
Mother Livia Drusilla

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (January 14, 38 BC[1] – Summer of 9 BC[2]), born Decimus Claudius Drusus also called Drusus Claudius Nero,[3] Drusus, Drusus I, Nero Drusus, or Drusus the Elder was a Roman politician and military commander. He was a patrician Claudian on his legal 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.

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 he conquered the Mattiaci, while defeating the Marcomanni and the Cherusci, defeating 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.[4] A date of March 28 has been proposed as his most likely birthday.[5] Rumours 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. 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' battles with the Germanic tribes, 12-9 BC

In 13 BC, Drusus was sent to govern Gaul to quell riots caused by the actions of a previous administrator. While there, a tribe of Germans entered Gaul and proceeded to attack Roman settlements. Drusus mobilized his legions and beat the invaders back across the Rhine. He penetrated deep into German territory, traveling as far as the North Sea and placing a yearly tribute on the Frisii. As a reward, Drusus was made praetor urbanus for 11 BC.

Drusus did not have it in him to stay in Rome. In the spring of his term, he set out for the German border once more. He pushed once more into the territory of the various German tribes, only stopping at the onset of winter. He was attacked while making his way back to Roman territory, but managed to rout the German force. His troops proclaimed him imperator and he was granted triumphal ornaments, as well as the office of proconsul for the following year. In 10 BC, the Chatti joined with the Sicambri and attacked Drusus' camp, but were easily defeated. Drusus then went to meet Augustus and Tiberius in Lugdunum (at which point Claudius was born), and traveled with them to Rome. He was easily elected consul for 9 BC, but once more left the city before assuming office. He once again smashed the Chatti, and then began a campaign against the Marcomanni, but was turned back across the Rhine. He engaged multiple Germanic (at least three) chieftains during his conquest of Germany and defeated them in "dazzling displays of single combat" (12 BCE-9 BCE). This was especially significant due to the value single combat held to not only the culture of these Germanic tribes, but to their very psyche itself.[6]

The Drususstein, the funerary monument in Mogontiacum (Mainz) erected by legionaries in Drusus' honour

He was prosecuting the work of subjugation when he fell from his horse,[7] lingering on for a month after the accident, by which point Tiberius had joined him. Interestingly, soon 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.[8]

Family tree

Family of Nero Claudius Drusus
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In popular culture

He is a minor character in Robert Graves historical novel I, Claudius , as well as the BBC's adaptation of the same title.

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

See also


  1. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Claudius, 11. Suetonius makes reference that Mark Antony and Drusus shared the same birthday
  2. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Claudius, 1
  3. De Imperatoribus Romanis - An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), written by Garrett G. Fagan of Pennsylvania State University
  4. Donna W. Hurley, Suetonius: Divus Claudius (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 106
  5. G. Radke, "Der Geburtstag des älteren Drusus," Wurzburger Jahrbucher fur die Altertumswissenschaft 4 (1978), pp. 211–213, proposing a solution to the chronological difficulties created by a passage in Suetonius. 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). 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.
  6. Lindsay Powell , "Eager for Glory," biography p. 94-95.
  7. Barbara Levick, Claudius (Yale University Press, Sep. 10, 1993), p. 11.
  8. Suetonius, Claudius I 1. 3

Political offices
Preceded by Consul of the Roman Empire
with Titus Quinctius Crispinus Sulpicianus
9 BC
Succeeded by
Gaius Marcius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius Gallus