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Nero's Rome

Nero Clausius Drusus Germanicus, the fifth Roman Emperor, was born in A. D. 37, the son of Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, and Agrippina daughter of Germanicus. After his mother married his great-uncle-  the emperor Claudius- he was betrothed to Claudius' daughter Octavia. In A. D. 50 he was adopted by Claudius and in A. D. 51 named as heir. On the death of Claudius in A. D. 53 Agrippina secured the succession for him with the help of the Praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. Agrippina was soon removed from power and the government was dominated by Burrus and Nero's tutor, the philosopher Seneca. In A. D. 55 Claudius' 15-year-old son Britannicus died, and was said to have been poisoned by Nero.


The first five years of Nero's reign were characterized by good goverment under the influence of Burrus and Seneca.  Nero was even said to have considered ending the public slaughter of gladiators and criminals. But he later came to neglect his duties in favour of chariot-racing, singing,  acting, dancing and poetry. Burrus and Seneca secured for him the freedwoman Acte as his concubine, but later he made Poppaea Sabina, the wife of the future emperor  Marcus Salvius Otho, his mistress and made her husband governor of Lusitania (Portugal) to get him out of the way.


In A. D. 59, Nero attempted to drown his mother Agrippina: but she managed to swim ashore; so he had her clubbed to death, claiming  that she had plotted to have him killed.


The Remorse of the Emperor Nero after the Murder of his Mother JOh william Waterhouse
Public DomainThe Remorse of the Emperor Nero after the Murder of his Mother   by John william Waterhouse

Between 58 and 63 Nero fought a successful war with the Parthian empire. He also put down the British revolt of Boudicca and foiled the conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso to restore the Republic.


After the death of Burrus, he was jointly succeeded as praetorian prefect by Faenius Rufus and Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus, the latter of whom became a very bad influence on Nero. As a result, Seneca resigned from the government. In 62 Nero divorced Octavia and executed her on a charge of adultery so that he could marry Poppaea. According to Suetonius, Poppaea was later kicked to death by Nero. Moderate and responsible government nevertheless continued.


The most famous event of Nero's reign- the Great Fire of Rome- broke out in July 64. It lasted for six days and according to Tacitus, of the city's districts 'four were undamaged, three were utterly destroyed and in the other seven there remained only a few mangled and half-burnt traces of houses.' Suetonius alleges that Nero recited the lost Greek epic Iloupersis, concerning the fall of Troy, in its entirety from the palace roof during the fire. He attempted to buld a new palace for himself in the areas of the city destroyed by the fire. The Christians were blamed for the fire and many of them were executed, often by crucifixion, burning or laceration by wild beasts. Many Christians regarded Nero as the Antichrist and the number of the beast  666 or 616 in the Book of Revelation is said to be a code for his name. 


Nero now executed many persons suspected of treason. Seneca was forced to commit suicide in 65 after being accused of involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy. Such acts alienated the Senate, as did Nero's public theatrical performances.


 At this time of growing unrest, Nero made the crucial mistake of leaving Rome to compete in the Olympic Games (he won all the prizes, despite falling out of a  chariot).


He returned to Rome by January 68,   but the situation was now becoming very serious with a food shortage causing great hardship, and revolts in various parts of the Empire, including one by Galba, governor of northern and eastern Spain.The praetorian guard abandoned their allegiance to Nero and he was condemned by the Senate to be flogged to death. Hence he committed suicide with the aid of a secretary on 9 June A. D.68. He was succeeded as emperor by Galba.




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