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24 January: On this day in history

What events happened on 24 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: January 24, 2022 at 6:05 am
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24 January AD 41: Claudius becomes emperor

The sickly scholar is invited to rule Rome in his nephew’s place

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When the Roman aristocrat Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus, better known simply as Claudius, awoke on 24 January AD 41, he never imagined he would end the day as emperor. His nephew Caligula, in charge for almost four years, was still a young man. A sickly, scholarly figure, Claudius was 50 years old and had never been seen as a serious political figure. There seemed no reason for that to change.

And then, suddenly, everything was thrown into flux. During the Palatine Games, which were held to honour his ancestor Augustus, Caligula was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. The conspirators hoped – among other aims – to restore senatorial rule, but in the meantime, Caligula’s German bodyguards rampaged through the palace.

Claudius ran for his life. “In great terror at the news of the murder,” wrote the biographer Suetonius, “he stole away to a balcony hard by and hid among the curtains which hung before the door.” But there he was spotted by a soldier called Gratus – and for a moment, it seemed that his luck had run out.

Gibbering in fear, Claudius begged for mercy. But according to the historian Josephus, “Gratus smiled upon him, and took him by the right hand, and said: ‘Leave off, sir, these low thoughts of saving yourself, while you ought to have greater thoughts, even of obtaining the empire... Go to, therefore, and accept the throne of thy ancestors.’”

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Claudius was still too terrified to walk, so Gratus and his friends carried him. Here, they shouted, was their new emperor.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

24 January 1328
Edward III marries 14-year-old Philippa of Hainault in York Minster. They go on to have 13 children including Edward the Black Prince, John of Gaunt and Edmund Duke of York.
24 January 1833 
Kensal Green cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of London. Those interred there include William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Babbage, Anthony Trollope and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
24 January 1961
An American B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air over North Carolina, killing three crewmen and releasing two nuclear bombs. Neither exploded but parts of one, which ploughed into waterlogged ground, have never been recovered.
24 January 1969
The London School of Economics closes for three weeks following violent demonstrations by students protesting at the installation of steel security gates at its Aldwych building.
24 January 1972
Japanese soldier Shoichi Yokoi was found hiding in the Guam jungle. Spurning surrender, he had been living in an underground cave since the liberation of the island by US forces in 1944.

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

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