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  • Claudius › Who Was
  • Clava Cairns › Origins
  • Famous Buddhist Monks of Ancient Korea › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Claudius › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 18 October 2011
Claudius ()
Claudius was Roman emperor from 41 to 54 CE. After the death of Emperor Caligula and his family at the hands of the Praetorian Guard, the future Emperor Claudius was found quivering behind a set of curtains, fearing for his own life, and named emperor. Historian Cassius Dio wrote, “At first the soldiers, supposing that he was someone else or perhaps had something worth taking, dragged him forth; and then, on recognizing him, they hailed him emperor and conducted him to the camp. Afterwards they together with their comrades entrusted to him the supreme power....”


Claudius, or Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus (10 BCE to 54 CE), was Caligula's uncle (brother to Germanicus ) and had always been thought of as being dimwitted (even his own mother agreed with this assessment) which is the reason why some believe he remained alive as long as he did. He drooled, stammered and limped -- an easy target for cruel jokes by the ever-abusive Caligula. According to his The Twelve Caesars, ancient historian Suetonius said Claudius's mother Antonia (daughter of Mark Antony ) considered her son “a monster, a man whom Mother Nature had begun work upon but then flung aside.” When she accused someone of being stupid, she would say, “He is a bigger fool even than my son Claudius.” His grandmother, Livia, could not bear to look him in the face. When it was predicted that Claudius would rule the empire, she “prayed aloud that the Roman people might be spared so cruel and undeserved a misfortune.” Later in life, Claudius explained his feeblemindedness as an act. According to Suetonius, “Instead of keeping quiet about his stupidity, Claudius explained, in a few short speeches, that it had been a mere mask assumed for the benefit of Caligula, and that he owed both life and throne to it.” While receiving no government office under Augustus, Claudius was appointed to a short-termed consulship by Caligula.Since he had few responsibilities, Claudius spent his free time reading and writing histories. Suetonius said that this idleness lead to a reputation for drunkenness and gambling.



Although not the preferred choice of the Senate, Claudius proved to be an efficient emperor. His first act was to execute Cassius Chaerea and his co-conspirators, the assassins of Caligula. He brought relative peace to Rome with the restoration of the rule of law. He built a new harbour at Ostia, established an imperial civil service, and brought about agrarian reform.When food riots broke out in the streets during a prolonged drought, he imported corn to feed the citizenry. He reclaimed land by draining the Fucine Lake in Central Italy. He abolished the treason trials of Caligula and expanded the empire further into the Middle East and the Balkans. Lastly, he completed the conquest of Mauritania begun by Caligula and conquered Britain.In search for military glory, Claudius personally led his army through Gaul and across the Channel into Britain where, with little opposition, he reduced much of the island into submission.
But the man whom many considered too weak to rule could also be as merciless as those who ruled before him. Like his predecessors, he was paranoid, quick to anger, and did not hesitate to put supposed enemies to death. This paranoia was not without foundation. Although a revolt led by Scribimanus, governor of Upper Illyricum, was easily put down with many of the participants being executed, ties to the conspirators led to many high ranking officials in Rome. Claudius had thirty-five senators and four hundred others executed or forced to commit suicide. Cassius Dio wrote, “,,,,he caused all who came near him, men and women alike to be searched, for fear they might have a dagger, and at banquets he was sure to have some soldiers present.” His paranoia did not stop with conspirators, like Caligula, he had problems with the city ’s Jews and to avoid further rioting, he had them all expelled from the city.
Roman Emperor Claudius

Roman Emperor Claudius


Married four times, Claudius had very poor luck with women. In reference to these marriages and his relationship to his freedmen associates ( Narcissus and Pallas), Dio wrote, “It was not these infirmities, however, that caused the deterioration of Claudius so much as it was the freedmen and the women with whom he associated.” He married twice during his time as emperor - neither marriage being a wise choice. All the women he married (in particular Messalina and Agrippina) had immense influence over him as did the two freedmen. Dio added, “Moreover, he was afflicted by cowardice, which often so overpowered him that he could not reason out anything as he ought. They (his wives and freedmen) seized upon this failing of his, too, to accomplish many of their purposes.”
His marriage to Messalina ended in her premature death. Although she had given him a son, Britannicus, Messalina was not one to remain very faithful. When one potential suitor spurned her advances, Narcissus told Claudius the young man had plans to kill him. The man was executed. Later, Messalina and her lover Gaius Silius planned to kill Claudius and place Britannicus on the throne where they would then serve as regents. The plot was spoiled and Narcissus convinced Claudius that Messalina must die. Although she was given the opportunity to commit suicide, she failed and so was stabbed to death. In his The Annals Tacitus wrote, “…for the first time she understood her fate and put her hand to the dagger. In her terror she was applying it ineffectively to her throat and breast, when a blow from the tribune drove it through her…Claudius was still at the banquet when they told him that Messalina was dead….he showed no sign of hatred or joy or anger or sadness.”
Claudius as Jupiter

Claudius as Jupiter


His marriage to Agrippina (urged to do so by Pallas) was something he regretted shortly after exchanging vows, for it was also disastrous. The manipulative Agrippina (who was also his niece) was intent on having her son Nero named the next emperor.Initially, she had planned to have Nero marry Claudius's daughter, Claudia Octavia, but changed her mind when Nero was adopted by Claudius, becoming his successor.
As with those who came before him, Claudius was not to die naturally. Agrippina is suspected in his death, for Claudius died shortly after eating poisoned mushrooms that were given to him by his beloved wife. As his mother had wished, Nero soon ascended to the throne of the Empire, and a new era of depravity and corruption began.

Clava Cairns › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 21 October 2012
Balnuaran of Clava (Dave Conner)
Dating from the late Neolithic period, the Balnuaran of Clava (popularly known as Clava Cairns ) consists of three well-preserved cairns (two of which are passage graves) and a number of free-standing stones strategically placed for astronomical purposes. The site is located east of the modern day city of Inverness, Scotland, and dates from c. 2500 BCE; though the site was added to and portions date to c. 2000 BCE. The site was in continual use for over 1000 years and evidence suggests re-use by communities, intermittently, until 770 CE.
Excavations at the site began in 1828 CE and continued, at intervals, through the 1990's CE. There is no doubt among the scholarly community that the site was originally used both as a burial ground and as some sort of celestial marker as the passage graves are aligned to the winter solstice. According to Andis Kaulins of, `Bal' meant Pole and `Nuaran', River of Light, thus linking the site to the Milky Way and designating Balnuaran as the centre of the heavens from which the ancients could chart the stars. There are forty-five other cairns in the Inverness-Nairn valley which form a definite pattern corresponding to the planets.
The cairns at the site have been designated the North-East Cairn, Central Cairn, and South-West Cairn. It is thought that there were at least two other cairns at the site which are no longer extant. The north-east and south-west cairns are both passage graves with entrances built leading to a circular center. The central cairn completely encloses the circular space inside and it is thought that bodies may have been cremated here based upon finds in the 1950's CE which uncovered cremated bone and evidence of recurring fires.
There is a fourth, poorly preserved, structure at the site known as the Kerb Cairn which, today, is only a circle of stones near to the central cairn. The 1950's CE excavations designated this stone ring a grave site, though no human remains were uncovered, based on similarity of construction to the nearby ancient cemetery of Milton of Clava. All three cairns are surrounded by upright, slender, standing stones of slightly different colour.


While these upright stones bear no symbols, some of the stones which make up the cairns are inscribed with ring and cup marks. Examples of the mysterious circles carved in stones have been found all over the United Kingdom and beyond. No one knows what the circles symbolized to the ancient carvers but it appears the petroglyphs were wrought using stone tools or deer antlers.
The north-east and south-west passage graves, extensively excavated by Professor R. Bradley in the 1990's CE along with the rest of the site, exemplify these engravings, but whether these were carved into the stones before they were in place or after is unknown. Professor Bradley concluded that the entire site was originally constructed "during a single phase" but this only means that the stones and the cairns were erected at once and sheds no light on whether the ring and cup marks were a part of the rituals which may have been observed there.
Digs at the site have revealed bone fragments indicating that this site, like others, was also a burial ground. Bradley reports that, “A few flecks of cremated bone were found on the surface of the platform" of the north-east cairn and, further, that "over a hundred lithic artifacts were recovered during the excavation and samples were taken for study by soil micromorphology, pollen analysis and radiocarbon dating" (Bradley, Historic Environment Record). It appears, however, that it served as a final resting place for a very select few and was not a cemetery for the common people. No complete skeletal remains have been recovered from the site and it is probable that only one person was buried in each of the cairns or, perhaps, only a single person at the entire site.
It has been speculated, based on the amount of quartz found in proximity to the cairns, that they were once adorned with the white stone which would have caused them to almost glow and this suggests the importance of the site to ancient people.Professor Bradley has shown that stone rubble was used to initially help hold the larger stones of the cairns in place and that this rubble then extended outwards toward the eleven monoliths which surround the site. These smaller rocks and gravel, after the stones of the cairns were fully situated, were then spread to form an even platform between the structures and the monoliths so that, taken together with the quartz-covered cairns, the site would have been most impressive.
The Balnuaran of Clava (Clava Cairns)

The Balnuaran of Clava (Clava Cairns)

Professor Alexander Thom conclusively showed, in the 1940's CE, that the entranceways of the passage graves align directly and, in correspondence with the standing stones, point to the winter sun's setting position. The cairns are now all open to the sky and rise to a height of about five feet (1.5 metres) but evidence suggests that they were once much higher than the ruins one sees today, probably at least ten feet (3 metres) tall, and that the inner chamber of each cairn was enclosed by a roof.
On the winter solstice, sunlight beams directly into the chambers of the passage graves, illuminating the rooms which would have been in darkness the rest of the year. Regarding this, Historic Scotland observes:
The [north-east cairn] is aligned on the midwinter solstice. In recent years this phenomenon has been observed by covering the chamber and passage with tarpaulin. This showed that on a clear day the rays of the setting sun travel down the passage and divide the chamber in half. A beam of intense light focuses on the back wall. The same effect would have been visible in the south-west cairn where the view is obstructed by a modern farmhouse. (Historic
The midwinter solstice is recognized as a matter of considerable importance to the ancients as so many early structures are found aligned to it (such as the famous site of Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland). As with more famous locations, the cairns at Clava are situated so precisely that, when considered in a pattern with other sites nearby, an astronomical purpose is very clearly suggested. What that purpose may have been, however, remains unknown.
A version of this definition was published as an article in Celtic Guide, August 2012. Grateful acknowledgement to James McQuiston, Editor.

Famous Buddhist Monks of Ancient Korea › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Mark Cartwright
published on 11 November 2016
Throughout ancient Korea 's history Buddhist monks were a particularly important element of state and religious affairs. From the 4th century CE onwards, in the Three Kingdoms period, they were members of a select section of society which travelled and studied abroad, especially in China. Consequently, they were largely responsible for transmitting elements of Chinese culture into Korea and spreading the religious ideas they had acquired from studying under the great Chinese masters. Some of these monks would be founders of important and long-lasting sects of Buddhism, and a few would gain special favour at the royal courts of Korea, especially in the Silla kingdom which would go on to rule the whole of the peninsula. As advisors to kings, they would influence the acceptance of Buddhism and its continuation as the official state religion, and as the country's main scholars, they would have an immeasurable influence on literature and developments in printing and architecture. Below are short biographies of some of the most important of these figures.



Marananta (aka Malananda or Malananta) lived in the 4th century CE and was a monk of Indian or Serindian origin who is credited with introducing Buddhism into the Korean peninsula. He came from the Eastern Jin state and taught Buddhism in the Baekje ( Paekche ) kingdom from 384 CE.


Ichadon (aka Geochadon/Kochadon) lived from 501 to 527 CE. His original name was Pak Yeomchok or Yeomdo, and he was a high court official of the Silla kingdom who managed to persuade King Beopheung to martyr him and so eliminate resistance to Buddhism. According to legend, when he was beheaded his blood flowed white and many other miraculous events occurred. As he had predicted, on his death, Buddhism came to be accepted.


Jajang (aka Chajang) lived between 590 and 658 CE in the Silla kingdom. His given name was Seonjongnang and he was born, like many monks, into an aristocratic family. In 636 or 638 CE he went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the bodhisattva Manjusri on Mt. Wutai in China, where he met a divine being, received some relics, and collected a great many Buddhist texts.The relics were of Buddha himself - a tooth, a piece of his skull, a patch of red silk robe he had worn, and 100 pearl beads ( sariras ) from his ashes. On his return to Korea in 643 CE, he founded the Vinaya school of Buddhism, one of the Five Schools ( Ogyo ), the most important school of Kyo Buddhism in ancient Korea.
Jajang also acquired the role of Chief Abbot of State and was given the task of supervising the spread of Buddhism in the Silla kingdom for which he created a system of inspection and standardisation for all monks and temples. In 645 CE he oversaw the construction of the famous nine-story pagoda at Hwangnyongsa (following the divine being on Mt. Wutai having promised it would permit Silla to destroy her enemies) and constructed the Tongdo Monastery where relics of the Buddha were enshrined.



Wonhyo lived between 617 and 686 CE in the Silla kingdom, and he is the most famous of all Korean scholar-monks. After studying under many different masters, Wonhyo went to China to study more on Buddhism, but he abandoned his trip before he even got there. This decision was based on an experience one night in a cave when he drank from a cup by the light of the moon. In the morning he realised that the cave was, in fact, a tomb and the cup was a skull. Initially horrified, he then reasoned that his revulsion was only a state of mind and so he felt he had learned what he was searching for on his travels.On his return he wrote treatises on all the various Buddhist doctrines, assessing each one. He married Princess Yoseok with whom he had a son Seol Chong and founded the Dharma-nature (Popsang) sect. He spent the rest of his life travelling about the kingdom introducing Buddhism to the common people and spreading his message that a life of ascetic meditation was not necessary to reach nirvana. A prolific writer, he wrote more than 80 works.



Uisang was another monk of the Silla kingdom who lived between 625 and 702 CE. Visiting China on a pilgrimage with Wonhyo in 650 CE, he travelled for 15 years, studying under the great Chinese Buddhist masters Zhiyan and Fazang. On his return to Korea Uisang founded the Hwaom School, another of the Five Schools, following his devotion to the Flower Garland Sutra ( Hwaom- gyong ). Uisang was noted for his strict discipline and adherence to ritual. Legend has it that he saved Silla from an invading army sent by Chinese emperor Tang Gaozong. The scholar's exposition of Hwaom thought, written in 661 CE, would become the basis of scholastic (scriptural) Buddhism in Korea. Uisang is also credited with founding the famed Buseoksa (Pusoksa) temple in Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, South Korea. One of Uisang's disciples was Simsang, who spread Hwaom Buddhism to Japan.


Pomnang lived between c. 632 and 646 CE. He travelled to Tang China and brought back with him the new to Korea doctrine of Son Buddhism, in China known as Chan and in the West as Zen (from the Japanese pronunciation), which stressed the importance of meditation and maintaining that it is the only path to enlightenment, as opposed to the study of religious texts.


Hyecho lived from 704 to 787 CE, again in the Silla kingdom, and once again he was a monk who studied in Tang China in 719 CE. There he met a teacher from India and was thus inspired to travel to that country himself. He reached India by sea in 723 CE and, after visiting many holy sites, returned via Kashmir, arriving at the Buddhist centre at Kucha in 727 CE. Hyecho recorded his travels and the cultures and customs he encountered in his 'Record of a Journey to the Five India Kingdoms' ( Wango Chonchukkukchon ).



Uicheon (aka Uichon or Taegak Kuksa) lived between 1055 and 1101 CE and was the fourth son of King Munjong of the Goryeo kingdom. Incredibly, he became a monk aged just 11. He studied for one year in China during 1085-6 CE at the Hwaom and Cheondae Schools and, on his return, attempted (but failed) to bridge the gap between the two major branches of Buddhism – the Son and Kyo sects, which stressed the importance of meditation and scriptures respectively. The great scholar is said to have amassed a library of 5,000 books and he contributed a portion of the famous Tripitaka, a complete collection of all Buddhist scriptures, which was dedicated to indigenous texts from China, Japan, and Goryeo ( Sok Changgyong ). For his contribution to Korean learning he was made a National Teacher or kuksa in 1101 CE.



Toson (aka Doseon Guksa, Yogong Seonsa or Yeongi Doseon) lived from 827 to 898 CE. According to legend, his mother swallowed a pearl and became pregnant with Toson. He became a monk aged 14. Studying at various monasteries in the southern Cholla province, he visited Tang China c. 850 CE. On his return, he put his learning to good use, taught the principles of yin and yang, and was credited with founding the approach of pungsu (aka geomancy or feng shui in Chinese) in Korea.
Pungsu held that the location of homes, temples, graves and even cities should be carefully selected to take advantage of the symbolism and natural life forces thought to reside in such natural features as trees, rivers, and mountains. Further, the choice of a site could determine future good fortune and negative locations needed to be rebalanced with the construction of temples in order to avoid inauspicious events coming to pass. Using this approach, Toson, as advisor to King Hongang, selected the best sites for countless monasteries and temples across southern Korea. His reputation was such that he was honoured as a great thinker by later kings like Taejo of Goryeo (r. 918-943 CE) who selected his capital of Kaesong according to pungsuprinciples.



Chinul (aka Bojo Chinul, Pojo Kuksa, or Jinul) lived from 1158 to 1210 CE, and he acquired a number of names over his lifetime including 'ox-tender' ( Moguja ) and 'universal light' ( Pojo ), with the former referring to the '10 ox pictures' of Buddhist art where the ox is a metaphor for Buddha. His title Pojo derives from the fact that, like Uicheon but with greater success, he tried to unite the two principal sects of Buddhism by stating that the meditation of the Son way brought self-help and enlightenment but one should live daily by the principles of Kyo. His maxim was 'sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation.' Chingul's unifying and inclusive form of Buddhism is known as Chogye Buddhism, and it became the official state religion of Korea with its centre at the Sonnqqwangsa temple near modern-day Sunchon.
Chinul was also responsible for introducing to Korean Buddhism the technique of koans – unsolvable or nonsense problems – the contemplation of which was meant to result in flashes of enlightenment. Having lived all of his adult life in a monastery, he died in one too while he was giving a lecture. Chogye Buddhism continues to be the dominant form of Buddhism in Korea today.
This article was made possible with generous support from the British Korean Society.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
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