The Jacana

 Great Lives Site


Back to Jacana

Great Lives index


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.


Born in 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 with Poppaea.

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 organ.

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 year.


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 Octavia.

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 death.

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 exploits.

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 arts.

But when news reached Nero of what angry gossip she was spreading about him, he became enraged and hostile toward his mother.

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 Poppaea Sabina.

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 Ofonius Tigellinus.

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 treason courts.

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 Catholic Church.)

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 his master.

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 crisis.

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.")










This web page was last updated on: 23 December, 2008