In the first months of 44 ce, the Roman emperor Claudius, after spending as few as sixteen days in Britain, returned to Rome to celebrate his triumph. On his journey back to Rome, he stopped near the mouth of the Po river to take a cruise, as Pliny the Elder describes:
The Po is carried to Ravenna by the Canal of Augustus; this part of the river is called the Padusa, formerly called the Messanicus. Nearby it forms the large harbour Vatrenus; from here Claudius Caesar, when celebrating his triumph over Britain, sailed out into the Adriatic, in what was more a domus than a ship.
Pliny describes a vessel that was less a boat than a floating domus
, a somewhat ambiguous word which denotes a structure ranging in size from a modest house to a palace. The cruise, like his time in Britain, was short, and yet this cruise was a part of meticulously planned campaign, a campaign not just for conquest but also for Claudius’ reputation. Aulus Plautius, the experienced commander and suffect consul of 29 ce
, had been sent ahead with the army, and Claudius’ freedman Narcissus was also on hand to oversee the invasion. The Roman army achieved initial successes and then halted until the emperor could arrive to command the final assault on the stronghold at Camulodunum (Colchester). While Claudius only spent around two weeks in Britain, his journey to and from the island took six months. Claudius travelled to Britain with a huge entourage, including senators, relatives, and even elephants. This was a mammoth undertaking, and one that seems to have very carefully planned, to ensure military success and a positive reputation for a new emperor of still uncertain legitimacy.