Nero Claudius Caesar
37 - 68
Nero Claudius Caesar was the last of the Julio-Claudian line of
Roman emperors. His erratic personal and public life caused
numerous revolts and uprisings and set the scene for the
ascension of the military emperors.
Latium a few months after the death of the emperor Tiberius,
Nero was the son of Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina.
Agrippina was the daughter of Germanicus and therefore the
great-grand-daughter of Augustus; and after the death of
Ahenobarbus and a brief second marriage, she wedded the emperor
Claudius. A powerful and clever woman, she persuaded her new
husband to disown his own son, Britannicus, name Nero as his
successor and heir, and give his daughter, Octavia, in marriage
to her son in A.D. 50.
The future emperor was given an excellent education in the
classical tradition; under the tutelage of the philosopher
Seneca, Nero was schooled in Greek, philosophy, and rhetoric.
When Claudius died in 54 (some say he was poisoned by Agrippina),
the 17-year-old Nero appeared before the Senate, delivered a
panegyric in honour of the dead emperor, and was proclaimed by
the Senate as the new ruler of Rome.
Nero and His Mother
In the beginning, Nero's rule was relatively peaceful;
Agrippina's desire to control the empire through her son was
tempered by the advice and counsel which Seneca and Burrus,
commander of the Praetorian Guard, gave the young emperor.
Agrippina became angered as she saw her influence over Nero
wane, and the estrangement between them grew when Nero became
involved with Acte, a freedwoman, and threatened to divorce
Octavia. Although divorce was averted, Nero, in spite of his
mother's objections, began living openly with Acte as his wife.
Meanwhile, the Senate, to which Nero had promised on his
accession a full restoration of the republic, was governing, but
poorly without any powerful leader to guide it. Agrippina, who
saw her son increasingly neglect the imperial duties and devote
himself to the imperial pleasures, turned to Britannicus and
threatened Nero by supporting the former's claims to the throne.
However, Britannicus died suddenly (perhaps murdered by Nero)
toward the end of 55. Agrippina then began to stir up opposition
to Nero, and the Emperor retaliated by banishing her. In 58 the
final and disastrous breach between mother and son came. Nero,
who had by this time abandoned Acte, became enamoured of Poppaea
Sabina, a young woman of noble birth who was married to Otho, a
noted member of the Roman aristocracy.
The Emperor now proposed to marry Poppaea, but two things stood
in his way: adverse public opinion over a divorce of Octavia,
and his mother, Agrippina. Agrippina's opposition was removed by
her murder in 59, and public horror at the crime was diverted by
a successful campaign against the Parthians and the conquest of
Armenia, as well as the quelling of revolt in Britain.
Decline into Hedonism
With Agrippina now out of the way, Nero's dissipated and
profligate nature began to reveal itself. Partly to satisfy his
own desire and partly to win the support of the Roman people,
the Emperor spent money freely on spectacles and circuses and
initiated great public works in Rome. He encouraged competitions
in music, singing, dance, and poetry, in which the himself took
part. In 62 Burrus died, and the final restrictions on the
Emperor were removed. Seneca retired from the court, and
Tigellinus took Burrus's place. Nero divorced Octavia on grounds
of adultery, exiled her, and later had her killed. Shortly
after, he married Poppaea.
Nero now seemed to take increasing delight in flaunting the
traditions and ideals of Rome. In 64 he appeared on the public
stage as a singer, but the scandal that this act might have
caused was averted by a great calamity: the fire which burned
for 10 days in July of 64, thoroughly destroying three-quarters
of the city. Although Nero seemingly did everything he could to
mitigate the effect of the disaster - opening public buildings
to the homeless, building temporary shelters, providing food
against the possibility of famine - rumours quickly spread as to
the cause of the fire. Suetonius and Dio Cassius positively
assert that Nero himself started the conflagration, but Tacitus
admits that he was not able to prove the truth of this
accusation. Although in all probability the fire was an
accidental catastrophe, rumours that the fire was purposely set
were so rife that it was necessary to find a guilty party. The
blame was laid at the door of the Christians, and the first
large-scale persecution against this new and secret sect began.
Destruction of most of the city gave Nero an opportunity to
fulfill his ambition of building a more glorious Rome. This
project, however, required capital, and in order to gain it Nero
reinstituted condemnations and confiscations on grounds of
treason; he took money from the temples, sold public offices and
contracts, raised taxes, and devalued the currency.
The reaction to this policy was a conspiracy led by Gaius
Calpurnius Piso, a Roman aristocrat. Among the members of the
plot were a number of knights and senators, the poet Lucan, and
Nero's old tutor, Seneca. Its purpose was to kill Nero and
apparently then make Piso emperor. The plan was discovered quite
by accident, and the leading conspirators, as well as many other
noted Romans (especially those with money and property), were
condemned and killed. It was during that same year that the
Emperor's pregnant wife died, after having been kicked in the
stomach by her husband.
Last of the Julio-Claudian Emperors
The following year Nero went to Greece, and while he entertained
himself with dramas, circuses, and contests, the affairs of the
empire worsened. The revolt which was to lead to the destruction
of the Temple in Jerusalem broke out in Judea. In Gaul the
governor of the province himself led an insurrection against
Rome. Although this revolt was quickly crushed, the man who
crushed it, the governor of Germania Superior, was proclaimed
emperor on the battlefield. Soon after, Galba, commander of the
Spanish legions, joined the revolt.
Galba was now declared a public enemy, but Nero was lacking the
support of the Senate and the army; the Senate pronounced the
sentence of death against him, and Galba was proclaimed the new
emperor of Rome. In June 68, when he learned of the events in
Rome, Nero committed suicide. The last of the Julio-Claudian
emperors, the line which had in effect created the concept of
the Roman Empire, was dead.
Nero Claudius Caesar (37-68) is one of the most notorious Roman
Emperors. As a megalomaniac, he was convinced that he was a
fantastic ruler, lover, athlete, actor, poet and singer. The
Romans, however, soon tired of being locked in theatres, forced
to listen to Nero's ceaseless verses and songs.
Nero was born on December 15, 37 as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus,
son of Agrippina the Younger (15-59) and Gnaeus Domitius
Ahenobarbus (†40). Nero's grandfather, another Lucius Domitius
Ahenobarbus (†48 BC), had been a savage and heartless man. His
animal shows and gladiatorial contests were so bloody that the
Emperor Augustus rebuked him. Nero's father, Gnaeus, was even
worse. Once, he deliberately rode down a child on the Appian Way
just for fun. He also murdered someone for refusing to drink as
much as he ordered and another time he gauged out someone's eyes
for criticising him. He was generally engaged in drunken,
adulterous debauchery and had an incestuous relationship with
his sister Domitia Lepida (†54). Nero's mother, the ambitious
Agrippina, had had a traumatic childhood; her brothers were
either killed or starved to death by order of the suspicious
Emperor Tiberius. She had her first sexual experience at age 12
with her only surviving brother, Caligula (12-41). Later, she
had an affair with her cousin, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (†39),
who married her sister Drusilla (†38).
In 39 AD, Agrippina and her sister Julia Livilla (18-▒41) were
exiled to the tiny Pontian Islands by their brother, the Emperor
Caligula. When Nero was only three years old, his notorious
father died of dropsy. Subsequently, Caligula had Agrippina's
property confiscated and as a result she and Nero lived in
poverty. According to Suetonius, Nero's tutors on the islands
were a dancer and a barber.
Agrippina the younger Agrippina (to the right) was recalled by
the next emperor, her clumsy uncle Claudius (10 BC-54 AD), in 41
AD. He was married to Domitia Lepida's daughter Messalina
(▒20-48). Back in town, Agrippina managed to persuade the rich
Passienus Crispus to divorce his wife and marry her. When he
died shortly afterwards, Agrippina became a rich widow. In 48,
the Empress Messalina was executed after cuckolding her elderly
husband in public and the Emperor Claudius vowed never to marry
again. Agrippina, however, managed to convince her uncle
Claudius to marry her the next year.
As a boy, Nero already joined in the Game of Troy during the
shows in the circus. He also enjoyed horse races. In 49 AD
Agrippina appointed the stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca
the Younger (▒5-65) as Nero's tutor. Nero's aunt, Domitia Lepida,
was also involved in Nero's upbringing, until 53 AD, when
Agrippina managed to have her sentenced to death on charges of
witchcraft. Agrippina also convinced Claudius to adopt Nero as
his heir over his own son, Britannicus (41-55)1. Soon
afterwards, Agrippina falsely accused the fiancÚ of Claudius'
daughter Octavia (▒42-▒62) of incest with his sister. Claudius,
who deeply loved his daughter, broke off the engagement and then
the ex-fiancÚ committed suicide2. Thus, Agrippina arranged
Nero's betrothal to his stepsister. In 53, they were married.
Having assured her son the throne, Agrippina had her 64-year-old
husband-uncle most likely poisoned with mushrooms in 54 AD3.
Nero was of average height with light blond hair, set in rows of
curls. His features were regular, his neck over-thick and his
belly prominent. The first five years of young Nero's reign
under the tutelage of Seneca and Sextus Afranius Burrus (†62)
were quite prosperous, but soon Nero turned to a life of excess,
seeking luxury and debauchery. He did not love his wife,
Octavia, and took the servant Acte as his mistress. Burrus and
Seneca hoped she would wean Nero away from his dominant mother.
Soon Agrippina became jealous of Acte's influence over her son.
She may even have threatened to resurrect the claim of Claudius'
son, Brittannicus. On February 11, 55, Nero's 14-year-old
stepbrother was poisoned at dinner. Nero stoically claimed that
the boy was merely having an epileptic fit4. Brittannicus was
quietly burried the next day.
Agrippina was transferred to a separate residence in 55 AD. She
also disappeared from the coinage, which had previously borne
both her and Nero's image. Acte's influence, however, soon faded
as she was replaced by the love of Nero's life, the notorious,
amber-haired Sabina Poppaea (▒30-65). Nero also took a male
favourite, Doryphorus, because he looked like his mother. He may
have been introduced to a taste for boy-favourites by Seneca,
whose inclinations lay in the same direction5. It was said that
Nero had Doryphorus poisoned in 62 AD for opposing his union
Kiefer and Zachs propose the hypothesis that the immoral
Agrippina had an incestuous relationship with her son6. It could
explain Agrippina's fury, when Nero took a mistress. Young Nero
Tacitus wrote: "But Agrippina complained with womanly jealousy
and rage that she had a freedwoman for a rival, a maid for a
daughter-in-law, and so forth. She could not wait for her son's
repentance or his satiety; the more scandalous her accusations,
the hotter was his passion, till at last he gave way completely
to his love and, throwing off allegiance to his mother, put
himself in the charge of Seneca." Poppaea is supposed to have
called Nero "a mother's boy". Suetonius remarked that Nero chose
a prostitute to be his mistress "because she resembled his
mother". Since Poppaea was older than Nero, she could have been
a substitute for the mother he now hated. In 59, Nero wanted to
kill his mother and send her on a prepared ship which would
collapse at sea, but Agrippina managed to swim ashore. Later
Nero had her killed anyway and, to justify the matricide, Seneca
wrote some prose accusing her of conspiracy. On his 22th
birthday in December, Nero celebrated his maturity by shaving
off his beard for the first time.
With his mother out of the way, Nero, like Caligula, began his
trips in disguise to the seedy parts of the city, beating up
passers-by. When in 62 Burrus died and Seneca retired, the
ruthless playboy Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus (†68), one of
Agrippina's ex-lovers, became the new Praetorian Prefect. He
shared in Nero's debaucheries. Soon Nero banished his gentle
wife Octavia to the isle Pandateria7. There her wrists were cut
in pretence of suicide. After Poppaea's divorce8, Nero married
Poppaea in 62 AD.
Nero According to Tacitus, Poppaea had great beauty and
sophistication, but no morals. On January 21, 63, Poppaea gave
birth to a daughter, Claudia, who survived only four months.
When Poppaea was expecting another child in 65, Nero, in a rage,
kicked her in the belly. She died afterwards and her beautiful
body was embalmed. Nero's remorse and grief were intense, until
his eye glanced upon a young man, Sporus, who much resembled
Sabina Poppaea in looks. Nero had him castrated and went through
a marriage ceremony with him. He dressed Sporus in fine clothes
normally worn by an Empress and gave him the nickname "Sabina".
He took him in his own litter through Rome, kissing him
amorously now and then. Nero married another former slave,
Pythagoras, and had a public simulation of the bridal night. It
was said that he acted as husband to Sporus and as wife to
Phytagoras. Nero also had an homosexual affection for the actor
Paris. He declared Paris a freeborn and asked to be instructed
in the art of acting. In 67, however, Paris was put to death,
because his acting ability surpassed Nero's. Nero had also
fallen in love with beautiful and wealthy Statilia Messalina. He
had her fourth husband put to death and made her his third wife
in 66 AD.
By then, Nero had become a megalomaniac. Treason trials were
resumed and taxes were raised, while wealthy men had their
estates confiscated. Nero's love for the theatre and of chariot
racing became obsessive. He cherished his voice and would lie
down with lead weights on this chest to strengthen his
diaphragm. The Romans waried of being locked in theatres, forced
to listen to Nero's ceaseless verses or songs. He held literary
festivals in 60 and 65 AD and at them he recited part of his
epic "Troica" about the Trojan War. He liked to sing his own
compositions while accompanying himself musically. In his
private circus and theatre, he started performing as a
charioteer and actor. He also used to patronise young talents,
but later became aggressively jealous of their success.
Nero The great fire of Rome in July 64 added to Nero's growing
unpopularity. Unproven rumours9 spread that he had started the
fire himself to clear space for his palace. According to Tacitus,
Nero chose to blame the small Christian community for the fire
and had many of them burned alive. This persecution of
Christians has made Nero notorious, but, to his contemporaries,
his harassment of a tiny Jewish sect would have seemed
insignificant. After the fire, Nero enthusiastically started
planning the rebuilding of the destroyed parts of Rome with his
megalomanical Golden House as its crowning feature. It was a
complex of palaces and pavilions in a landscape with an
artificial lake and a gigantic bronze statue of Nero. The palace
was revolutionary in concept and design. In it the combination
of rubble with cement was used for the first time, creating
vaulted domes. Nero was interested in science and inventions in
general. Once he proudly dismantled and reassembled an hydraulic
It is difficult to determine to what extent Nero was mentally
unbalanced. Although there were aspects of his life that seem
psychopathic in their nature, his love for Poppaea and the
nightmares he suffered after murdering his mother, suggest that
he was not a psychopath. He may have been a schizophrenic. His
behaviour may partly have been hereditary, but it was probably
intensified by the irregularities in the decisive years of his
childhood. He had no father figure to look up to and his mother
practically smothered him, which may have resulted in a
mother-complex. The absolute power corrupted him even further.
His growing insecurity led him to liquidate rivals, whether real
or imagined. Insulated from public opinion by flattery, Nero
lived increasingly in a world of illusion.
A conspiracy to murder Nero during the Circensian Games in 65 AD
was betrayed and as a result 13 people were exiled and 19 died,
among them Seneca. The following year, Nero travelled to Greece
in order to compete in the major Greek festivals at Olympia and
Delphi. He bribed the judges and, as usual, the audience was
forbidden to leave their seats while he was performing.
Naturally, he carried off all the prizes10. In January 68 he
made a spectacular return to his capital.
In the spring revolts started in the over-taxed provinces.
Nero's removal was demanded. The senate declared him to be a
public enemy and condemned him to be flogged to death.
Tigellinus was seriously ill at the time and Nero lost his
nerve. He did not realise that he still commanded wide popular
support among the common people. He wanted to flee on a ship,
but his guards refused to help him. Around midnight he found
himself abandoned even by the palace attendants. When the
soldiers came to arrest him on June 9, Nero stabbed himself in
the neck. His private secretary then finished Nero's clumsy
suicide attempt. Suetonius writes that Nero uttered the words:
"What an artist dies with me!" 11. The faithful Acte had him
buried in the family tomb of the Domitii in the Pincian Hills.
His third wife, Statilia Messalina, outlived Nero12. His male
lover Sporus fled from Rome and committed suicide the following
Nero was born at Antium (Anzio) on 15 December AD 37 and was
first named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He was the son of
Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was descended from a
distinguished noble family of the Roman republic (a Domitius
Ahenobarbus is known to have been consul in 192 BC, leading
troops in the war against Antiochus alongside Scipio Africanus),
and Agrippina the younger, who was the daughter of Germanicus.
When Nero was two, his mother was banished by Caligula to the
Pontian Islands. His inheritance was then seized when his father
died one year later.
With Caligula killed and a milder emperor on the throne,
Agrippina (who was emperor Claudius' niece) was recalled from
exile and her son was given a good education. Once in AD 49
Agrippina married Claudius, the task of educating of the young
Nero was handed to the eminent philosopher Lucius Annaeus
Seneca. Further to this Nero was betrothed to Claudius' daughter
In AD 50 Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his own
son. This meant that Nero now took precedence over Claudius' own
younger child Britannicus. It was at his adoption that he
assumed the name Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. These names
were clearly largely in honour of his maternal grandfather
Germanicus who had been an extrememly popular commander with the
army. Evidently it was felt that a future emperor was well
advised to bear a name which reminded the troops of their
loyalties. In AD 51 he was named heir-apparent by Claudius.
Alas in AD 54 Claudius died, most likely poisoned by his wife.
Agrippina, supported by the prefect of the praetorians, Sextus
Afranius Burrus, cleared the way for Nero to become emperor.
Since Nero was not yet seventeen years old, Agrippina the
younger first acted as regent. A unique woman in Roman history,
she was the sister of Caligula, the wife of Claudius, and the
mother of Nero.
But Agrippina's dominant position did not last for long. Soon
she was shunted aside by Nero, who sought not to share power
with anyone. Agrippina was moved to a separate residence, away
from the imperial palace and from the levers of power. When in
11 February AD 55 Britannicus died at a dinner party in the
palace - most likely poisoned by Nero, Agrippina was said to
have been alarmed. She had sought to keep Britannicus in
reserve, in case she should lose control of Nero.
Nero was fair-haired, with weak blue eyes, a fat neck, a pot
belly and a body which smelt and was covered with spots. He
usually appeared in public in a sort of dressing gown without a
belt, a scarf around his neck and no shoes.
In character he was a strange mix of paradoxes; artistic,
sporting, brutal, weak, sensual, erratic, extravagant, sadistic,
bisexual - and later in life almost certainly deranged.
But for a period the empire enjoyed sound government under the
guidance of Burrus and Seneca.
Nero announced he sought to follow the example of Augustus'
reign. The senate was treated respectfully and granted greater
freedom, the late Claudius was deified. Sensible legislation was
introduced to improve public order, reforms were made to the
treasury and provincial governors were prohibited from extorting
large sums of money to pay for gladiatorial shows in Rome.
Nero himself followed in the steps of his predecessor Claudius
in applying himself rigorously to his judicial duties.
He also considered liberal ideas, such as ending the killing of
gladiators and condemned criminals in public spectacles.
In fact, Nero, most likely largely due to the influence of his
tutor Seneca, came across as a very humane ruler at first. When
the city prefect Lucius Pedanius Secundus was murdered by one of
his slaves, Nero was intensely upset that he was forced by law
to have all four hundred slaves of Pedanius' household put to
It was no doubt such decisions which gradually lessened Nero's
resolve for administrative duties and caused him to withdraw
more and more, devoting himself to such interests as
horse-racing, singing, acting, dancing, poetry and sexual
Seneca and Burrus tried to guard him against too greater
excesses and encouraged him to have an affair with freed woman
named Acte, provided that Nero appreciated that marriage was
impossible. Nero's excesses were hushed up, and between the
three of them they successfully managed to avert continued
attempts by Agrippina to exert imperial influence.
Agrippina meanwhile was outraged at such behaviour. She was
jealous of Acte and deplored her son's 'Greek' tastes for the
But when news reached Nero of what angry gossip she was
spreading about him, he became enraged and hostile toward his
The turning point came largely through Nero's inherent lust and
lack of self-control, for he took, as his mistress the beautiful
Poppaea Sabina. She was the wife of his partner in frequent
exploits, Marcus Salvius Otho. In AD 58 Otho was dispatched to
be governor of Lusitania, no doubt to move him out of the way.
Agrippina, presumably seeing the departure of Nero's apparent
friend as an opportunity to reassert herself, sided with Nero's
wife, Octavia, who naturally opposed her husbands affair with
Nero angrily responded, according to the historian Suetonius,
with various attempts on his mother's life, three of which were
by poison and one by rigging the ceiling over her bed to
collapse while she would lay in bed. Therafter even a
collapsible boat was built, which was meant to sink in the Bay
of Naples. But the plot only succeeded in sinking the boat, as
Agrippina managed to swim ashore. Exasperated, Nero sent an
assassin who clubbed and stabbed her to death (AD 59).
Nero reported to the senate that his mother had plotted to have
him killed, forcing him to act first. The senate didn't appear
to regret her removal at all. There had never been much love
lost by the senators for Agrippina.
Nero celebrated by staging yet wilder orgies and by creating two
new festivals of chariot-racing and athletics. He also staged
musical contests, which gave him further chance to demonstrate
in public his talent for singing while accompanying himself on
the lyre. In an age when actors and performers were seen as
something unsavoury, it was a moral outrage to have an emperor
performing on stage. Worse still, Nero being the emperor, no one
was allowed to leave the auditorium while he was performing, for
whatever reason. The historian Suetonius writes of women giving
birth during a Nero recital, and of men who pretended to die and
were carried out.
In AD 62 Nero's reign should change completely. First Burrus
died from illness. He was succeeded in his position as
praetorian prefect by two men who held the office as colleagues.
One was Faenius Rufus, and the other was the sinister Gaius
Tigellinus was a terrible influence on Nero, who only encouraged
his excesses rather than trying to curb them. And one of
Tigellinus first actions in office was to revive the hated
Seneca soon found Tigellinus - and an ever-more willful emperor
- too much to bear and resigned. This left Nero totally subject
to corrupt advisers. His life turned into little else but a
series of excesses in sport, music, orgies and murder. In AD 62
he divorced Octavia and then had her executed on a trumped-up
charge of adultery. All this to make way for Poppaea Sabina whom
he married. (But then Poppaea too was later killed. - Suetonius
says he kicked her to death when she complained at his coming
home late from the races.)
Had his change of wife not created too much of a scandal, Nero's
next move did. Until then he had kept his stage appearances to
private stages, but in AD 64 he gave his first public
performance in Neapolis (Naples). - Romans saw it indeed as a
bad omen that the very theatre Nero had performed in shortly
after was destroyed by an earthquake.
Within a year the emperor made his second appearance, this time
in Rome. The senate was outraged.
And yet still the empire enjoyed moderate and responsible
government by the administration. Hence the senate was not yet
alienated enough to overcome its fear and do something against
the madman whom it knew on the throne.
Then, in July AD 64, the Great Fire ravaged Rome for six days.
The historian Tacitus, who was about 9 years old at the time,
reports that of the fourteen districts of the city, 'four were
undamaged, three were utterly destroyed and in the other seven
there remained only a few mangled and half-burnt traces of
houses.' This is when Nero was famously to have 'fiddled while
Rome burned'. This expression however appears to have its roots
in the 17th century (alas, Romans didn't know the fiddle).
The historian Suetonius describes him singing from the tower of
Maecenas, watching as the fire consumed Rome. Dio Cassius tells
us how he 'climbed on to the palace roof, from which there was
the best overall view of the greater part of the fire and, and
sang 'The capture of Troy''
Meanwhile Tacitus wrote; 'At the very time that Rome burned, he
mounted his private stage and, reflecting present disasters in
ancient calamities, sang about the destruction of Troy'.
But Tacitus also takes care to point out that this story was a
rumour, not the account of an eye witness.
If his singing on the roof tops was true or not, the rumour was
enough to make people suspicious that his measures to put out
the fire might not have been genuine. To Nero's credit, it does
indeed appear that he had done his best to control the fire.
But after the fire he used a vast area between the Palatine and
the Equiline hills, which had been utterly destroyed by the fire
to build his 'Golden Palace' ('Domus Aurea'). This was a huge
area, ranging from the Portico of Livia to the Circus Maximus
(close to where the fire was said to have started), which now
was turned into pleasure gardens for the emperor, even an
artificial lake being created in its centre. The temple of the
deified Claudius was not yet completed and - being in the way of
Nero's plans, it was demolished.
Judging by the sheer scale of this complex, it was obvious it
could never have been built, were it not have been for the fire.
And so quite naturally Romans had their suspicions about who had
actually started it.
It would be unfair however to omit that Nero did rebuild large
residential areas of Rome at his own expense. But people,
dazzled by the immensity of the Golden Palace and its parks,
nonetheless remained suspicious.
Nero, always a man desparate to be popular, therefore looked for
scapegoats on whom the fire could be blamed. He found it in an
obscure new religious sect, the Christians.
And so many Christians were arrested and thrown to the wild
beasts in the circus, or they were crucified . Many of them were
also burned to death at night, serving as 'lighting' in Nero's
gardens, while Nero mingled among the watching crowds.
It is this brutal persecution which immortalized Nero as the
first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church. (The
second Antichrist being the reformist Luther by edict of the
Meanwhile Nero's relation's with the senate deteriorated
sharply, largely due to the execution of suspects through
Tigellinus and his revived treason laws.
Then in AD 65 there was a serious plot against Nero. Known as
the 'Pisonian Conspiracy' it was led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso.
The plot was uncovered and nineteen executions and suicides
followed, and thirteen banishments. Piso and Seneca were among
those who died.
There was never anything even resembling a trial: people whom
Nero suspected or disliked or who merely aroused the jealousy of
his advisers were sent a note ordering them to commit suicide.
Nero, leaving Rome in charge of the freedman Helius, went to
Greece to display his artistic abilities in the theatres of
Greece. He won contests in the Olympic Games, - winning the
chariot race although he fell of his chariot (as obviously
nobody dared to defeat him), collected works of art, and opened
a canal, which was never finished.
Alas, the situation was becoming very serious in Rome. The
executions continued. Gaius Petronius, man of letters and former
'director of imperial pleasures', died in this manner in AD 66.
So did countless senators, noblemen, and generals, including in
AD 67 Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, hero of the Armenian wars and
supreme commander in the Euphrates region.
Further, a food shortage caused great hardship. Eventually
Helius, fearing the worst, crossed over to Greece to summon back
By January AD 68 Nero was back in Rome, but things were now too
late. In March AD 68 the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gaius
Julius Vindex, himself Gallic-born, withdrew his oath of
allegiance to the emperor and encouraged the governor of
northern and eastern Spain, Galba, a hardened veteran of 71, to
do the same. Vindex' troops were defeated at Vesontio by the
Rhine legions who marched in from Germany, and Vindex committed
suicide. However, thereafter these German troops, too, refused
to furthermore recognize Nero's authority. So too Clodius Macer
declared against Nero in north Africa.
Galba, having informed the senate that he was available, if
required, to head a government, simply waited.
Meanwhile in Rome nothing was actually done to control the
Tigellinus was seriously ill at the time and Nero could only
dream up fantastic tortures which he sought to inflict on the
rebels once he had defeated them. The praetorian prefect of the
day, Nymphidius Sabinus, persuaded his troops to abandon their
allegiance to Nero. Alas, the senate condemned the emperor to be
flogged to death.
As Nero heard of this he chose rather to commit suicide, which
he did with the assistance of a secretary (9 June AD 68).
His last words were, "Qualis artifex pereo." ("What an artist
the world loses in me.")
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This web page was last updated on:
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