This article deals with the Roman emperor Nero, for other meanings see Nero (disambiguation)
Tiberius Claudius Nero Domitianus Caesar (December 15, 37 AD - June 6, 68 AD), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in Anzio, Roman Emperor (from 54 AD to 68 AD) - great-great-grandson of Augustus and step-brother to Britannicus.
Ahenobarbus (Nero) was the son of Agrippina the younger, 4th wife of Claudius Nero Germanicus, who had adopted (see adoption in Rome) him just before his death (which is considered the result of a manoeuvre by Agrippina and Seneca, Nero's tutor) most probably to ensure his succession.
After the start of Nero's rule, Agrippina became more favorable towards Britannicus, legitimate son of Claudius, but Britannicus was soon killed (AD 55 - it is suspected that Sextus Afranius Burrus, praefectus preatorianus and good friend of Seneca, was somehow involved in this murder), and Agrippina's power declined. Burrus and Seneca together became the most influential men in Rome, and the hypothesis has been advanced that Nero was only their man of straw.
Nero is probably better known for his private life, which has been considered immoral by the judgement of many cultures. Nero's reign, garnished with a constellation of murders and immoral behaviours of all the figures involved, is not among the brightest pages of Roman history.
The first scandal coincides with his first marriage with his step-sister Octavia, daughter of Claudius, considered incestuous; Nero later divorced her when he became fascinated by Poppaea. Poppaea, who was described as a notably beautiful woman and later married Nero, was simultaneously involved in a love affair with Marcus Salvius Otho, a good and intimate friend of Nero himself; Otho was as dissolute as Nero. The gossip about this presumed triangle is to be found in many sources (Plutarch Galba 19.2-20.2; Suetonius Otho 3.1-2; Tacitus two versions: Histories 1.13.3-4; Annals 13.45-46; and Dio Cassius 61.11.2-4). However, Poppaea became Nero's mistress in 58 and is supposed to have organised Agrippina's murder (59) with Nero's acquiescence. Otho was soon (59) sent to Lusitania as governor, and this has been interpreted as an effect of his involvement in the affair.
In 62 Burrus died and Seneca retired; Nero remained without his counselors; a few months later he married Poppaea. One theory suggests that Poppaea attempted, in those four years (58-62), to separate Nero from any of his counselors and friends; in this case, what happened to Burrus and Seneca could have been not casual.
Soon Nero found a new counselor in Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus (previously exiled by Caligula for adultery with Agrippina), who was soon appointed a praetorian praefect. One of the earliest effects of Tigellinus' advancement was the introduction of a series of treason laws; numerous of capital sentences were carried out.
In 63 Nero and Poppaea had a daughter, who died very young.
The Burning of Rome (64) is traditionally considered as Nero's work, but there is no real evidence for this. Rome was severely damaged by this fire, which started at night in densely populated areas like the Suburra, in which had been built the insulae, sort of modern condominiums on 3 or 4 floors, made of wood. Legend says Nero, quite indifferent, was playing his lyre on top of Quirinal Hill, while the town was being destroyed. But Nero blamed the Christians.
Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, has preserved a record of this affair. We quote the following from his Annals (XV.44):
- And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up [i.e., falsely accused] as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for a moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome.... Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed; then, on their evidence, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of [their] hatred for the human race. Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.
In 65 Nero was involved in another scandal, considered more serious by contemporary society than it would be now. It was considered shameful for a Roman emperor to appear as a public entertainer, acting, singing and playing his lyre.
Quite unanimously hated by citizens, with an increasing list of political enemies, Nero started to appreciate his loneliness when in 65 he discovered the Pisonian conspiracy (named after Gaius Calpurnius Piso, who intended taking his place) and the involving of old friends like Seneca in the plot. Conspirators were forced into suicide.
In addition, Nero ordered that Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, a popular and valuable general, commit suicide because of the mere suspicion of new threats. This decision moved military commanders, locally and in the provinces, to start planning a revolution. Also at about this time, according to tradition, Nero personally ordered the crucifixion of Saint Peter and, later, the beheading of Saint Paul.
In 66 Poppaea died, supposedly by the hand of Nero himself. The emperor left for Greece, in 67, where he amused his hosts with other artistic performances, while in Rome Nymphidius (a colleague of Tigellinus, taking the place of one of the Pisonian conspirators) was collecting the support of praetorians and senators.
Back in Rome after the tournée, Nero found quite a cold atmosphere; Gaius Iulius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, revolted, and this brought Nero to a paranoid hunt for eventual threats; in this state of mind he ordered the elimination of any patrician with suspect ideas. His (once) faithful servant Galba, governor of Iberia (Spain), was one of those dangerous nobles, so he ordered his death. Galba, lacking an alternative choice, declared his loyalty to the Roman Senate and People (SPQR), no longer recognising Nero's power. Moreover, he started organising his own campaign for the empire.
As a result, Lucius Clodius Macer, legate of the legion III Augusta in Africa, revolted and stopped sending grain to Rome. Nymphidius corrupted the imperial guard, which turned against Nero on the promise of financial reward by Galba.
Claudius (41 - 54)
Galba (68 - 69)