Claudius Nero Caesar
, born Lucius
, 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 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 (in mentioned sense) behaviours
of all the figures involved, is not among the brightest pages of Roman
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 having 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), soon appointed a praetorian
praefect; one of the earliest effects of Tigellinus' advancement was the
introduction of a series of treason laws; lots of capital sentences were
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 lyra on top of Quirinale Hill, while the town was being destroyed.
But Nero knew who did it - the followers of Christus.
Tacitus (c. A.D. 60-120), 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.?
After the burning, Rome was rebuilt, and Nero is supposed to have played
a leading role in the reconstruction; it was now that the building of his
famous Domus Aurea began.
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
Back in Rome after the tournée, Nero found a quite 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 III legio 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.
The Senate deposed Nero, who committed suicide on June 6, 68. With his
death, the Julio Claudian Gens had came to an end.
previous emperor: Claudius (41 - 54)
following emperor: Galba (68)
of the Beast (numerology)