|Emperor of the Roman Empire|
|Reign|| October 13, 54 – June 9, 68|
(Proconsul from 51)
|Full name|| Nero Claudius Caesar |
|Born||December 15, 37|
|Died||June 9, 68|
|Father||Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus|
|Mother||Agrippina the Younger|
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (December 15, 37 – June 9, 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also called Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, was the fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (54–68). Nero was adopted by his grand-uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne. As Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus, he succeeded to the throne on October 13, 54, following Claudius' death.
Popular legend remembers Nero as a playboy and a tyrant; he is known as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" and an early persecutor of Christians. These characterizations follow the sensational histories by Suetonius and Cassius Dio and the perceptions of Nero's upper-class opponents. Other ancient sources indicate that Nero may have been quite popular with the common people during and after his reign, and that he was frequently misportrayed by supporters who received favors from him and opponents who feared his power.
Nero ruled from 54 to 68. During his rule, Nero focused much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the empire. He ordered the building of theatres and promoted athletic games. His reign included a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire (58–63), the suppression of the British revolt (60–61), the suppression of a revolt in Gaul led by Vindex (68) and improving diplomatic ties with Greece.
Lucius' father was grandson to an elder Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Aemilia Lepida through their son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 16 BC). Gnaeus was also great-grandson to Mark Antony and Octavia Minor through their daughter Antonia Major. In addition, through Octavia, he was the great-nephew of Caesar Augustus. Nero's father had been employed as a praetor and was a member of Caligula's staff when the future-emperor traveled to the East as a consul. Nero's father was described by Suetonius as a murderer and a cheat who was charged by emperor Tiberius of treason, adultery and incest. Tiberius died allowing him to escape these charges. Gnaeus died of edema (or "dropsy") in 39 when Lucius was three.
Lucius' mother was Agrippina the Younger, who was granddaughter to Caesar Augustus and his wife Scribonia through their daughter Julia the Elder and her husband Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Agrippina's father, Germanicus, was grandson to Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia and was the adoptive son of Tiberius. A number of ancient historians accuse Agrippina of murdering her third husband, emperor Claudius.
Rise to power Edit
It was not expected for Lucius to ever become emperor. His maternal uncle, Caligula, had begun his reign at the age of twenty-four with ample time to produce his own heir. Lucius' mother, Agrippina, lost favor with Caligula and was exiled in 39 after her husband's death. Caligula seized Lucius's inheritance and sent him to be raised by his less wealthy aunt, Domitia Lepida.
Caligula produced no heir. He, his wife Caesonia, and their infant daughter Julia Drusilla were murdered in 41. These events led to Claudius, Caligula's uncle, to become emperor. Claudius allowed Agrippina to return from exile.
Claudius had married twice before marrying Messalina. His previous marriages produced three children including a son, Drusus, who died at a young age. He had two children with Messalina- Claudia Octavia (b. 40) and Britannicus (b. 41). Messalina was executed by Claudius in 48.
In 49, Claudius married a fourth time to Agrippina. Lucius was officially adopted in 50 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus (see adoption in Rome). Nero was older than his step-brother, Britannicus, and became heir to the throne.
Nero was proclaimed an adult in 51 at the age of fourteen. He was appointed proconsul, entered and first addressed the Senate, made joint public appearances with Claudius, and was featured in coinage. In 53, he married his step-sister Claudia Octavia.
Early rule Edit
Claudius died in 54 and Nero was established as emperor. Many ancient historians claim Agrippina poisoned Claudius. It is not known how much Nero knew or was involved with the death of Claudius, but Suetonius wrote that:
- ...even if [Nero] was not the instigator of the emperor's death, he was at least privy to it, as he openly admitted; for he used afterwards to laud mushrooms, the vehicle in which the poison was administered to Claudius, as "the food of the gods, as the Greek proverb has it".
Nero became emperor at seventeen, the youngest Emperor yet. Ancient historians describe Nero's early reign as being strongly influenced by his mother Agrippina, his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and the praefectus praetorianus Burrus, especially in the first year. The first few years of Nero's rule were known as examples of fine administration. The matters of the Empire were handled effectively and the Senate enjoyed a period of renewed influence in state affairs.
Very early in Nero's rule, problems arose from competition for influence between Agrippina and Nero's two advisers, Seneca and Burrus. In 54, Agrippina tried to sit down next to Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene. Nero's personal friends also mistrusted Agrippina and told Nero to beware of his mother. Nero was reportedly unsatisfied with his marriage to Octavia and entered an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave. In 55, Agrippina attempted to intervene in favor of Octavia and demanded that her son dismiss Acte. Nero, with the support of Seneca, resisted the intervention of his mother in his personal affairs.
With Agrippina's influence over her son severed, she reportedly turned to a younger candidate for the throne. Nearly fifteen-year-old Britannicus was still legally a minor, but was approaching legal adulthood. According to Tacitus, Agrippina hoped that with her support, Britannicus, being the blood son of Claudius, would be seen as the true heir to the throne by the state over Nero. However, the youth died suddenly and suspiciously on February 12, 55, the very day before his proclamation as an adult had been set for. Nero claimed that Britanicus died from an epileptic seizure, but ancient historians all claim Britanicus' death came from Nero poisoning him. According to Suetonius,
- [Nero] attempted the life of Britannicus by poison, not less from jealousy of his voice (for it was more agreeable than his own) than from fear that he might sometime win a higher place than himself in the people's regard because of the memory of his father. He procured the potion from an arch-poisoner, one Locusta, and when the effect was slower than he anticipated, merely physicking Britannicus, he called the woman to him and flogged her with his own hand, charging that she had administered a medicine instead of a poison; and when she said in excuse that she had given a smaller dose to shield him from the odium of the crime, he replied: "It's likely that I am afraid of the Julian law;" and he forced her to mix as swift and instant a potion as she knew how in his own room before his very eyes. Then he tried it on a kid, and as the animal lingered for five hours, had the mixture steeped again and again and threw some of it before a pig. The beast instantly fell dead, whereupon he ordered that the poison be taken to the dining-room and given to Britannicus. The boy dropped dead at the very first taste, but Nero lied to his guests and declared that he was seized with the falling sickness, to which he was subject, and the next day had him hastily and unceremoniously buried in a pouring rain.
After the death of Britannicus, Agrippina was accused of slandering Octavia and Nero ordered her out of the imperial residence.
Matricide and consolidation of power Edit
Over time, Nero became progressively more powerful. In 55, he removed Marcus Antonius Pallas, an ally of Agrippina, from his position in the treasury. Pallas, along with Burrus, was accused of conspiring against the emperor to bring Cornelius Sulla to the throne. Seneca was accused of having relations with Agrippina and embezzlement. Seneca was able to get himself, Pallas and Burrus acquitted. According to Cassius Dio, at this time, Seneca and Burrus reduced their role in governing from careful management to mere moderation of Nero.
In 58, Nero became romantically involved with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of his friend and future emperor Otho. Reportedly because a marriage to Poppaea and a divorce from Octavia did not seem politically feasible with Agrippina alive, Nero ordered the murder of his mother in 59. Suetonius writes this of Nero's plan:
- he devised a collapsible boat to destroy her by shipwreck or by the falling in of its cabin. Then he pretended a reconciliation and invited her in a most cordial letter to come to Baiae and celebrate the feast of Minerva with him. On her arrival, instructing his captains to wreck the galley in which she had come, by running into it as if by accident, he detained her at a banquet, and when she would return to Bauli, offered her his contrivance in place of the craft which had been damaged, escorting her to it in high spirits. The rest of the night he passed sleepless in intense anxiety, awaiting the outcome of his design. On learning that everything had gone wrong and that she had escaped by swimming, driven to desperation he secretly had a dagger thrown down beside her freedman Lucius Agelmus, when he joyfully brought word that she was safe and sound, and then ordered that the freedman be seized and bound, on the charge of being hired to kill the emperor; that his mother be put to death, and the pretense made that she had escaped the consequences of her detected guilt by suicide
In 62 Nero's adviser, Burrus, died. Additionally, Seneca was again faced with embezzlement charges. Seneca asked Nero for permission to retire from public affairs. Nero divorced and banished Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry Poppaea. After public protests, Nero was forced to allow Octavia to return. She was executed shortly upon her return.
Nero's consolidation of power also included a slow ursurping of authority from the Senate. In 54, Nero promised to give the Senate powers equivalent to those under Republican rule. By 65, senators complained that they had no power left and this led to the Pisoian conspiracy.
War and peace with ParthiaEdit
Shortly after Nero's assension to the throne in 55, the Roman vassal kingdom of Armenia overthrew their prince Rhadamistus and he was replaced with the Parthian prince Tiridates. This was seen as a Parthian invasion of Roman territory. There was concern in Rome over how the young emperor would handle the situation. Nero reacted by immediately sending the military to the region under the command of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. The Parthians temporarily relinquished control of Armenia to Rome.
The peace was not lasting and full-scale war broke out in 58. The Parthian king Vologases I refused to remove his brother Tiridates from Armenia. The Parthians began a full-scale invasion of the Armenian kingdom. Commander Corbulo responded and repelled most of the Parthian army that same year. Tiridates retreated and Rome again controlled most of Armenia.
Nero was hailed vigoriously in public for this initial victory. Tigranes, a Cappadocian noble raised in Rome, was installed by Nero as the new ruler of Armenia. Corbulo was appointed governor of Syria as a reward.
In 62, Tigranes invaded the Parthian city of Adiabene. Again, Rome and Parthia were at war and this continued until 63. Parthia began building up for a strike against the Roman province of Syria. Corbulo tried convince Nero to continue the war, but Nero opted for a peace deal. There was anxiety in Rome about eastern grain supplies and a budget deficit.
The result was a deal where Tiridates again became the Armenian king, but was crowned in Rome by emperor Nero. In the future, the king of Armenia was to be a Parthian prince, but his appointment required approval from the Romans. Tiridates was forced to come to Rome and partake in ceremonies meant to display Roman dominance. The Roman people were said to be overjoyed by lives saved through this peace deal.
This peace deal of 63 was a considerable victory for Nero politically. Nero became very popular in the eastern provinces of Rome and with the Parthians as well. The peace between Parthia and Rome lasted 50 years until emperor Trajan of Rome invaded Armenia in 114.
Even Suetonius, who wrote very ill of Nero, said this of Nero and Parthia:
- Vologaesus, King of the Parthians, when he sent envoys to the Senate to renew his alliance, earnestly begged this too, that honor be paid to the memory of Nero. In fact, twenty years later, when I was a young man, a person of obscure origin appeared, who gave out that he was Nero, and the name was still in such favor with the Parthians, that they supported him vigorously and surrendered him with great reluctance.
Over the course of his reign, Nero often made rulings that protected and pleased the lower class, often at the expense of the rich and powerful. Nero was criticised as being obsessed with being popular.
Nero’s began his reign in 54 by promising the Senate more autonomy. In this first year, he forbade others to refer to him with regard to enactments, for which he was praised by the Senate. Nero was known for being hands-off and spending his time visiting brothels and taverns during this period.
In 55, Nero began taking on a more active role as an administrator.
Nero worked to protect the rights on the lower class. Restrictions were put on the amount of bail and fines. Also, fees for lawyers were limited. There was a discussion in the Senate on the misconduct of the freedmen class, and a strong demand was made that patrons should have the right of revoking freedom. Nero supported the freedmen and ruled that patrons had no such right. The Senate tried to pass a law in which the crimes of one slave applied to all slaves within a household, but Nero forbid the law from being passed.
Limiting public corruption was a major part of Nero’s rule. On accusations that high-ranking officers were collecting too much from the poor, Nero transferred collection authority to lower commissioners of competency. Nero banned any magistrate or procurator from exhibiting public entertainment for fear that the venue was being used a method to extract bribes. Additionally, there were many impeachments and removals of government officials along with arrests for extortion and corruption.
Nero’s actions attempted to the help the poor’s economic situation. When further complaints arose that the poor was being overly taxed, Nero attempted to repeal all indirect taxes. The Senate convinced him that that was too extreme. As a compromise, taxes were cut from 4 and half percent to two and a half percent. Additionally, secret government tax records were ordered to become public. To lower the cost of food imports, merchant ships were declared tax-exempt.
Nero was an avid lover of arts and entertainment. Nero built a number of gymnasiums and theaters and had performers dress in Greek clothing. Enormous gladiatorial shows were held. Nero also established the Quinquenial Neronia, which was a massive Greek-style festival that occurred every four years (despite “quinquenial” meaning “every five”. The festival included games, poetry and theater. Historians indicate that there was a belief that theater was for the lower-class and led to immorality and laziness. Others looked down upon Greek influence. Some questioned the large public expenditure on entertainment.
The elite’s opinion of the government began to sour in 62. Accusations of treason against Nero first appeared in this year. The Senate ruled that Antistius, a praetor, should be put to death for speaking ill of Nero at a party. Later, Nero ordered the exile of Fabricius Veiento who slandered the Senate in a book. Tacitus writes that the roots of the conspiracy led by Caius Piso began in this year.
In 63, fiscal crises began to emerge. The Parthian War and a lost shipment of grain threatened to increase the price of food in Rome. Nero reassigned management of public funds, urged fiscal responsibility and gave a private donation to the treasury. He then opted for a peace deal with the Partians. In 64, Rome burned. Nero enacted a public relief effort as well as reconstruction. The provinces were heavily taxed following the fire
In 65, the Pisoian conspiracy attempted to remove Nero as emperor. After this event, little is written about Nero’s governing.
Major rebellions and power strugglesEdit
Rome was relatively peaceful and prosperous under Nero's 13 year reign with the war with Parthia as his only major war. Like many emperors, Nero faced a number of internal rebellions and power struggles.
In 60, a major rebellion broke out in the province of Britannia. While the governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his troops were busy capturing Mona Island (Anglesey Island) from druids, the tribes of the south-east staged a revolt led by queen Boudica of the Iceni. Boudica and her troops destroyed three cities before the army of Suetonius Paulinus was able to return, be reinforced and put down the rebellion in 61. Fearing Suetonius Paulinus would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more passive Publius Petronius Turpilianus.
In 65, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a Roman statesman, organized a conspiracy against Nero. The conspiracy failed and a number of people were executed including Nero's former friend Lucanus, the poet. Nero's previous advisor, Seneca was ordered to commit suicide after discussing the plot with the conspirators.
In 66, there was the Jewish revolt in Judea steming from Greek and Jewish religious tension. In 67, Nero dispatched Titus Flavius Vespasianus to restore order. This revolt was eventually put down by 70. This revolt is famous for Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem and destroying the Temple of Jerusalem.
In 68, Julius Vindex, imperial legate in Lyon in Gaul, rebelled against the fiscal politics of Nero. The revolt spread throughout Gaul and the other western provinces. The governor of Hispania Citerior, Servius Sulpicius Galba, and the legate of Lusitania, Salvius Otho, joined the rebellion. Nero took over the consulate to have the necessary powers to react. The legate of superior Germany, the Lucius Virginius Rufus, the legate of inferior Germany, Fonteius Capito, and the governors of Pannonia and Dalmatia publicly took sides with Nero. All the eastern provinces stayed faithful to Nero as well. Within a month the troops of Virginius Rufus defeated those of Vindex who committed suicide. Galba's one legion was confined in the city of Clunia.
Nero had regained the control of the situation militarily, but this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. The Praetorian Prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, declared allegiance to Galba. The senate then declared Nero a public enemy. The next day, the Praetorian guard captured Nero and he reportedly committed suicide.
After Nero's death, Rome descended into a period civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Nero's enemies fought among themselves for power. Galba, Otho and Vitellius were briefly emperor until Nero's general Titus Flavius Vespasianus returned from Judea and restored order as emperor.
Great Fire of Rome Edit
How large the fire was is up for debate. According to Tacitus, who was 9 at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burnt for five days. It completely destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven. Only two other historians who lived through the period ever mentioned the fire. Suetonius also mentions it (although he mentions nothing of Christians) and Pliny the Elder mentions it in passing. Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and Epictetus) make no mention of it. The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause." This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 apartment blocks.
It was said by Suetonius and Cassius Dio that Nero himself was the arsonist and sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume while the city burned. However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire. Tactitus said that Nero playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only rumor. Popular legend remembers Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the fiddle had not yet been invented, and would not be for over 1,000 years.
According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds. After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors. In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads. He built the complex known as the Domus Aurea along with many new gardens and statues. To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.
It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire. In a famously ambiguous sentence, Tacitus says that Nero had Christians arrested and condemned "not so much for incendiarism as for their hatred of the human race." Christians confessed to the crime, but it is not known whether these were false confessions induced by torture. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist, with the motive being either city renovation or space for an imperial palace However, major accidentally started fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned again under Vitellius in 69 and under Titus in 80.
According to Tacitus, the population searched for a scapegoat and rumors held Nero responsible. To diffuse blame, Nero targeted a sect called the Christians. He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned.
Tacitus described the event:
- Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Public performances Edit
Nero considered himself a great artist and performer. He even composed songs that were performed by other entertainers throughout the empire. It was said that Nero loved to perform before a crowd and craved the attention and applause. When he was performing, he insisted that all attention be on him during his entire performance.
- While he was singing no one was allowed to leave the theater even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall, since the gates at the entrance were closed, or feigned death and were carried out as if for burial.—Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero
Nero was convinced to participate in the Olympic Games in order to improve relations with Greece and display Roman dominance. Nero left for Greece in 67, where he participated in the games and performed as a singer. Meanwhile in Rome, Nymphidius Sabinus (a colleague of Tigellinus, taking the place of one of the Pisonian conspirators) collected the support of praetorians and Senators. Nero's participation went along with huge sums of bribery; the Greeks postponed the Games upon Nero's wish and furthermore introduced the chariot race. A magnificent villa in Olympia was erected for Nero's stay (and can be visited at the archaeological site). Even though Nero was doubtfully a worthy competitor, he won the Games nevertheless through bribes and due to his status as emperor.
When performing, Nero was said to have had a keen rivalry with his opponents:
- As if his rivals were of quite the same station as himself, he used to show respect to them and try to gain their favor, while he slandered them behind their backs, sometimes assailed them with abuse when he met them, and even bribed those who were especially proficient. When the victory was won, he made the announcement himself; and for that reason he always took part in the contests of the heralds. To obliterate the memory of all other victors in the games and leave no trace of them, their statues and busts were all thrown down by his order, dragged off with hooks, and cast into [sewers]—Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero
Template:Campaignbox Year of the Four Emperors In 68, Gaius Julius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, revolted. The revolt spread throughout Gaul and the other western provinces. The governor of Hispania Citerior, Servius Sulpicius Galba, and the legate of Lusitania, Salvius Otho, joined the rebellion. The rebellion in Gaul was put down and Nero ordered the death of Galba. Galba declared his loyalty to the Senate and the People of Rome, no longer recognizing Nero's authority. Moreover, he started organizing 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 influenced the imperial guard, which turned against Nero on the promise of financial reward by Galba.
The Senate deposed Nero, and declared him an enemy of the state. Nero disappeared at this time, and there would be many unsubstantiated claims of sighting Nero. Another account states that Nero was captured and committed suicide on June 9, 68 rather than face execution. It was said by Cassius Dio that he uttered the last words "Jupiter, what an artist dies in me!" Suetonius, however, states that Nero uttered his last words as he lay bleeding to death on the floor. Upon seeing the figure of a Roman soldier who had come to capture him, the confused and dying emperor thought that the centurion was coming to rescue him, and muttered the phrase "this is fidelity."
According to Tacitus, Nero's death was welcomed by Senators, nobility and the upper-class. The lower-class, slaves, and frequenters of the arena and the theater, on the other hand, were upset with the news. Members of the military were said to have mixed feelings, as they had allegiance to Nero, but were bribed to overthrow him.
The civil war during the Year of the Four Emperors was described by ancient historians as a troubling period. According to Tacitus, this instability was rooted in the fact that emperors could no longer rely on the perceived legitimacy of the imperial bloodline, as Nero and those before him could. Galba began his short reign with the execution of many allies of Nero and possible future enemies. One notable enemy included Nymphidius Sabinus, who claimed to be the son of emperor Caligula.
Otho overthrew Galba. Otho was said to be liked by many soldiers because he resembled Nero. It was said that the common Roman hailed Otho as Nero himself. Otho used "Nero" as a surname and reerected many statues to Nero. Vitellius overthrew Otho. Vitellius began his reign with a large funeral for Nero complete with songs written by Nero. Through the civil war and well into the Flavian dynasty, public sentimentality for Nero continued. This was especially prevalent in the eastern provinces, where Nero was the most popular. Philostratus wrote:
- The fact is, Nero restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character; and the cities regained their Doric and Attic characteristics, and a general rejuvenescence accompanied the institution among them of a peace and harmony such as not even ancient Hellas ever enjoyed. Vespasian, however, on his arrival in the country took away her liberty, alleging their factiousness with other pretexts hardly justifying such extreme severity.
Apollonius of Tyana, in a letter to Vespasian wrote:
- Greeting: You have, they say, enslaved Hellas, and you imagine you have excelled Xerxes. You are mistaken. You have only fallen below Nero. For the latter held our liberties in his hand and respected them. Farewell.
After Nero's suicide in 68, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return.
At least three Nero imposters emerged leading rebellions. The first, who sang and played the cithara or lyre and whose face was similar to that of the dead emperor, appeared in 69 during the reign of Vitellius. After persuading some to recognize him, he was captured and executed. Sometime during the reign of Titus (79-81) there was another imposter who appeared in Asia and also sang to the accompaniment of the lyre and looked like Nero but he, too, was killed. Twenty years after Nero's death, during the reign of Domitian, there was a third pretender. Supported by the Parthians, they hardly could be persuaded to give him up and the matter almost came to war.
The legend of Nero's return lasted for hundreds of years after Nero's death. Augustine of Hippo, disgusted by Nero's lingering admirers, wrote of the legend in 422:
- Others, again, suppose that he is not even dead, but that he was concealed that he might be supposed to have been killed, and that he now lives in concealment in the vigor of that same age which he had reached when he was believed to have perished, and will live until he is revealed in his own time and restored to his kingdom. But I wonder that men can be so audacious in their conjectures.
Nero and ancient historiansEdit
Writing on Nero shifts over time. Generally, the later the writing, the worse Nero is protrayed and the more fantastic the stories. While alive, writers give him nothing but praise. For thirty years after his death, surviving sources are mostly silent. During the Nervo-Trajanic Dynasty (96-138), writers begin portraying Nero an a tyrant. Writing from the third century and beyond paints him as insane.
Little in ancient times paints Nero in a favorable light. Many sources, though, paint him as a competent emperor who was popular with the Roman people, especially in the east.
Historical bias may have been introduced to his defenders as they were mostly Greeks, Easterners, or poets who benefited from his rule. Historians include:
Dio Chrysostom (c. 40– 120), a Greek philosopher and historian, wrote the Roman people were very happy with Nero and would have allowed him to rule indefinitely. They longed for his rule once he was gone and embraced imposters when they appeared:
- Indeed the truth about this has not come out even yet; for so far as the rest of his subjects were concerned, there was nothing to prevent his continuing to be Emperor for all time, seeing that even now everybody wishes he were still alive. And the great majority do believe that he still is, although in a certain sense he has died not once but often along with those who had been firmly convinced that he was still alive
The historian Josephus (c. 37-100), while calling Nero a tyrant, was also the first to mention bias against Nero. Of other historians, he said:
- But I omit any further discourse about these affairs; for there have been a great many who have composed the history of Nero; some of which have departed from the truth of facts out of favor, as having received benefits from him; while others, out of hatred to him, and the great ill-will which they bare him, have so impudently raved against him with their lies, that they justly deserve to be condemned. Nor do I wonder at such as have told lies of Nero, since they have not in their writings preserved the truth of history as to those facts that were earlier than his time, even when the actors could have no way incurred their hatred, since those writers lived a long time after them.
Marcus Annaeus LucanusEdit
Though more of a poet than historian, Lucanus has one of the kindest accounts of Nero's rule. He writes of peace and prosperity under Nero in contrast to previous war and strife. Ironically, he was later involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Nero and was executed. He wrote:
- Where Caesar sits, be evermore serene, And smile upon us with unclouded blue. Then may all men lay down their arms, and peace, Through all the nations reign, and shut the gates, That close the temple of the God of War.
- Philostratus II "the Athenian" spoke of Nero in the Life of Apollonius Tyana (Books 4–5). Unlike the previous authors, he speaks more highly of Nero's reception, especially in the East. Little is known about his career and even his name is doubtful.
Seneca the YoungerEdit
It not surprising that Nero's teacher and advisor writes very well of Nero. He wrote:
- So Nero shows his face to Rome before the people's eyes, His bright and shining countenance illumines all the air, While down upon his graceful neck fall rippling waves of hair. Thus Apollo. But Lachesis, quite as ready to cast a favourable eye on a handsome man, spins away by the handful, and bestows years and years upon Nero out of her own pocket. As for Claudius, they tell everybody to speed him on his way, With cries of joy and solemn litany.
Historical bias towards Nero may have been introduced because his historians were largely written by the Senatorial Class who disliked Nero for his attempts to usurp political authority from them. Some historians included:
Tacitus Publius CorneliusEdit
Tacitus' Annals is the most detailed and comprehesive history on the rule of Nero, despite being incomplete after the year 66. He is unkind to Nero, but unlike other historians, he minimizes the use of sensational stories. Tacitus described the rule of the Julio-Claduian emperors as generally unjust. He also thought that existing wriing on them was unbalanced: The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred.
He was the son of a procurator, who married into the elite family of Agricola. He entered his political life as a senator after Nero's death and, by Tacitus' own admission, owed much to Nero's rivals. Realizing that this bias may be apparent to others, Tacitus protests that his writing is true:
- I would not deny that my elevation was begun by Vespasian, augmented by Titus, and still further advanced by Domitian; but those who profess inviolable truthfulness must speak of all without partiality and without hatred
Suetonius was a member of the equestrian order and head of the department of the imperial correspondence. Removed by Hadrianus in 121, he started writing biographies of the emperors, accentuating the anecdotal and sensational aspects.
Portions of his biography of Nero appear openly hostile, and while it might be possible that Nero's rule invited such hostility, some modern historians question the accuracy of his account. For example, the following quote, often taken as a sign of Nero's insanity, might simply be propaganda:
- He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his home attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero's father Domitius had had that kind of wife. This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the courts and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, fondly kissing him from time to time. That he even desired illicit relations with his own mother,
Cassius Dio CocceianusEdit
- Cassius Dio (Books 61–63)
Cassius Dio was the son of Cassius Apronianus, a Roman senator. He passed the greater part of his life in public service. He was a senator under Commodus and governor of Smyrna after the death of Septimius Severus; and afterwards suffect consul around 205, as also proconsul in Africa and Pannonia.
Dio, also fearing future readers would assume bias, claims an impartial yet personal view in his works. His work is known for being some of the most sensational of ancient times.
Plutach mentions Nero indirectly in his account of the Life of Galba. Nero is portrayed as a tyrant, but those that replace him are not described as better.
Epictetus was the slave to Nero's scribe Epaphroditus. He makes a few passing negaive comments on Nero's character in his work, but makes no remarks on the nature of his rule. He describes Nero merely as a spoiled, angry and unhappy man:
Is [prosperity and happiness] in royal power? It is not. If it were, Nero would have been happy
Only see that he has not Nero's stamp. Is he passionate, is he full of resentment, is he fault-finding? If the whim seizes him, does he break the heads of those who come in his way?
A poet and friend of Seneca, Martialis writes little on Nero other than commenting on buildings and lakes Nero had built.
Pliny the ElderEdit
Pliny lived in Rome as an adult for most of Nero's reign. His writing is striking silent on Nero.
Nero and religionEdit
At the end of 66, conflict broke out between Greeks and Jews in Jerusalem and Caesarea. According to a Jewish legend in the Talmud (tractate Gitin 56a-b) , Nero came to Jerusalem and told his men to fire arrows in all four directions. All the arrows landed in the city. He then asked a passing child to repeat the verse he had learned that day (a common Talmudic method of telling the future). "I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel," (Ez. 25,14) said the child. Nero became terrified, realizing that God wanted the Temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed, but would punish him if it were. Nero said, "He desires to lay waste his House and to lay the blame on me." Nero fled to Rome and converted to Judaism to avoid such retribution. Titus was then dispatched to put down the rebellion—this led to the wholesale massacre of many Jews, the destruction of Jerusalem (the last remnants of the insurrection died at the stronghold of Masada).
The Jewish tradition reconciles this view of Nero with that of Roman historians by alleging that Roman historians could not abide the idea of a Roman emperor converting to Judaism, and therefore made up the story of his insanity and subsequent suicide.
The Bible gives no indication on how or when Peter or Paul died. The Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (275-339) was the first to write that Paul was beheaded during the reign of Nero. Yet, other accounts have Paul traveling to Spain during this period. Peter is first said to have been crucified upside down in Rome by Nero in the apocryphal Acts of Peter (c. 200 C.E) . The story ends with Paul still alive and Nero abiding by God's command not to persecute any more Christians.
In 422, Augustine of Hippo wrote about 2 Thessalonians 2:1–11, where he believed Paul mentioned the coming of the Anti-Christ. Though he rejects the theory, Augstine mentions that many Christians believed that Nero was the Anti-Christ or would return as the Anti-Christ.
- so that in saying, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work," he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist.
Some religious scholars, such as Delbert Hillers (John Hopkins University) of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the editors of the Oxford & Harper Collins translations, contend that the number 666 in the Book of Revelation is a code for Nero, a view that is also supported in Roman Catholic Biblical commentaries.
Later Christian writers Edit
Sibylline Oracles, Book 3, allegedly written before Nero's time, prophesies about the Anti-Christ and identifies him with Nero. However, it was actually written long after him and this identification was in any case rejected by Irenaeus in Against Heresies, Book 5, 27–30. They represent the mid-point in the change between the New Testament's identification of the past (Nero) or current (Domitian) anti-Christ, and later Christian writers' concern with the future anti-Christ. One of these later writers is Commodianus whose Institutes, 1.41, states that the future anti-Christ will be Nero returned from hell.
Nero in post-ancient culture Edit
Nero in medieval and Renaissance literature Edit
Usually as a stock exemplar of vice or a bad ruler
- In the Golden Legend, and its apocryphal account of his forcing Seneca the Younger's suicide, where they meet face to face on this occasion.
- In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Monk's Prologue and Tale
- Giovanni Boccaccio's Concerning the Falls of Illustrious Men
- Matthew Gwinn wrote a play on him entitled Nero in 1603 .
Nero in modern cultureEdit
- ↑ Sabellic: strong, valiant, happy
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 1
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 6
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 5
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Augustus, 65
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XII.77; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.35; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XX.8; Suetonius suspects Agrippina, but mentions other suspects as well, Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius, 44
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula, 29
- ↑ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIX.1.14, XIX.2.4
- ↑ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIX.3
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius, 26
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius, 27
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius, 27
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius, 26
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 7
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 Tacitus, Annals XII.50
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XII.68
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XII.77; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.35; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XX.8; Suetonius suspects Agrippina, but mentions other suspects as well, Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 44
- ↑ Cassius Dio's and Suetonius' accounts claim Nero knew of the murder (Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.35; Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 33), but Tacitus' and Josephus' accounts only mention Agrippina (Tacitus, Annals, XII.77; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XX.8)
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 33
- ↑ Augustus was 35, Tiberius was 65, Caligula was 24 and Cladius was 50
- ↑ Cassius Dio claims Seneca and Burrus "took the rule entirely into their own hands" when Nero became emperorin 54, but "after the death of Britannicus, Seneca and Burrus no longer gave any careful attention to the public business" in 55 (Cassius Dio, Roman History, LVI); Tacitus writes of Burrus and Seneca having heavy influence over young Nero as late as 58 (Tacitus, Annals, XIII); Suetonius describes Nero's early rule as his own, but does mention that "His mother offended him by too strict surveillance and criticism of his words and acts" (Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, The Life of Nero, 34)
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIII.5
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 Tacitus, Annals XIII.6
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 24.2 Tacitus, Annals XIII.14
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.13
- ↑ 26.0 26.1 Tacitus, Annals, XIII.16
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.18
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.20
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.20
- ↑ Jospehus, Antiquities of the Jews, XX.8.3
- ↑ 31.0 31.1 Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 33
- ↑ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.7
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIII.24-25
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.23
- ↑ 35.0 35.1 Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.10
- ↑ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.7
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIII.46
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIV.1
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 34
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIV.51
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIV.52
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIV.53
- ↑ 43.0 43.1 Tacitus, Annals XIV.60
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIV.64
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XIII.4
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.51
- ↑ 47.0 47.1 Tacitus, Annals, XIII.7
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.8
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.9
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.10
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.42
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.46
- ↑ 53.0 53.1 Tacitus, Annals, XIII.55
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.56
- ↑ 55.0 55.1 Tacitus, Annals, XIV.36
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XV.1
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XV.4
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XV.19
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XV.21
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, XV.4
- ↑ 61.0 61.1 Tacitus, Annals, XV.38
- ↑ 62.0 62.1 Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXII.23
- ↑ in the 80s, long after Nero's suicide
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 56
- ↑ Suetonius, ‘’The Lives of Twelve Caesars’’, the Life of Nero, 53
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.4
- ↑ 67.0 67.1 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.25
- ↑ 68.0 68.1 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.28
- ↑ Suetonius, ‘’The Lives of Twelve Caesars’’, the Life of Nero, 17
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.26
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.27
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIV.45
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.31
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.30, XIV.18, XIV.40, XIV.46
- ↑ 75.0 75.1 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.50
- ↑ 76.0 76.1 76.2 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIII.51
- ↑ 77.0 77.1 77.2 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’, XIV.20
- ↑ Suetonius, ‘’The Lives of Twelve Caesars’’, the Life of Nero, 12
- ↑ Suetonius, ‘’The Lives of Twelve Caesars’’, the Life of Nero, 12
- ↑ 80.0 80.1 Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’, XIV.21
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIV.48
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIV.49
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XIV.65
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.18
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.18
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.29
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.38
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.38
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.43
- ↑ Tacitus, ‘’Annals’’ XV.45
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, 14.29
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, 14.31
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, 14.31-38
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, 14.39
- ↑ 95.0 95.1 Canning, J. (1985). 100 Great Lives of Antiquity. Guild Publishing London. 213-219.
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.49
- ↑ 97.0 97.1 Tacitus, Annals XV.51
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, the Life of Nero, 38
- ↑ Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories, XVII, Pliny mentions trees that lasted "down to the Emperor Nero’s conflagration"
- ↑ The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca (forged), M.R. James, the translator, says the document is from the 4th century and "is of the poorest kind."
- ↑ Suetonius, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
- ↑ 102.0 102.1 102.2 102.3 Tacitus, Annals XV.50
- ↑ Earliest reference to Nero fiddling- William Cobbett, Advice to Young Men And (Incidentally) to Young Women in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life, 1829
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.54
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.53
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.57
- ↑ 107.0 107.1 107.2 107.3 107.4 Tacitus, Annals XV.55
- ↑ Suetonius, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
- ↑ during Vespasian's siege
- ↑ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus, 8
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.57
- ↑ Philostratus II, Life of Apollonius Book 4
- ↑ Philostratus II, Life of Apollonius, Book 5
- ↑ Cassius Dio, LXIII.29
- ↑ Suetonius, Life of Nero, 49
- ↑ The chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors is told about in Tacitus, Histories, and Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Galba
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.4
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.4
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.5
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.1
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.4
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.6
- ↑ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Galba, 9
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories, I.13
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Otho, 7
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Otho, 7
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Vitellius, 11
- ↑ Philostratus II, The Life of Apollonius, Book 5
- ↑ Letter from Apollonius to Emperor Vespasian, Philostratus II, The Life of Apollonius, Book 5
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 57; Tacitus, Histories II.8; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXVI.19
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories II.8
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories II.8
- ↑ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXVI.19
- ↑ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caears, Life of Nero, 57.
- ↑ Tacitus, Histories I.2
- ↑ Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, XX.19.3
- ↑ Dio Chrysostom, Discourse, XXI, On Beauty
- ↑ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8
- ↑ Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Pharsalia (Civil War) (c. 65)
- ↑ Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis, 4 
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals, I.1
- ↑ Tacitus, History, I.1
- ↑ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero
- ↑ Epictetus, About Cynicism 
- ↑ Epictetus, Against the Quarrelsome and Ferocious 
- ↑ The great sage Reb Meir Baal HaNess, a prominent supporter of Bar Kokhba's rebellion against Roman rule, the Talmud adds, is a descendant of him
- ↑ Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History II.25
- ↑ in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in the First Epistle of Clement 5:6, and in The Muratorian Fragment
- ↑ Augustine of Hippo, City of God, XX.19.3
- ↑ Hillers, Delbert, “Rev. 13, 18 and a scroll from Murabba’at”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 170 (1963) 65.
- ↑ The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990. 1009
- ↑ http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Apocalyptic.htm The Book of Revelation, Apocalyptic Literature, and Millennial Movements, Prof. Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., University of San Francisco, USF Jesuit Community
- Canning, J. (1985). 100 Great Lives of Antiquity. Guild Publishing London. 213-219.
- Grant, Michael. Nero. New York: Dorset Press, 1989 (ISBN 0-88029-311-X).
- Griffin, Miriam T. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. New Heaven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 1985 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-03285-4); London; New York: Routledge, 1987 (paperback, ISBN 0-7134-4465-7).
- Warmington, Brian Herbert. Nero: Reality and Legend (Ancient Culture and Society). London, Chatto & Windus, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7011-1438-X); New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1970 (paperback, ISBN 0-393-00542-9); New York: Vintage, 1981 (paperback, ISBN 0-7011-1454-1).
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, Books 61–63 (c. 229)
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX (c. 94)
- Philostratus II, Life of Apollonius Tyana, Books 4–5, (c. 220)
- Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Galba (c. 110)
- Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, the Life of Nero (c. 121)
- Tacitus, Annals, XIII–XVI (c. 117)
- Tacitus, Histories, I-IV (c. 105)