Roman Emperor Nero was born Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (December 15, 37 - June 9, 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also called Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus, was the fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Emperor Nero was adopted by his great uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne.
As Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar, he succeeded to the throne on October 13, 54, following Claudius' death.
Emperor Nero ruled from 54 to 68, focusing 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) and improving diplomatic ties with Greece.
In 68 a military coup drove Emperor Nero into hiding. Facing execution, he reportedly committed forced suicide.
Emperor Nero's rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance.
He is known for a number of executions, including his mother and adoptive brother, as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" and an early persecutor of Christians. This view is based upon the main surviving sources for Emperor Nero's reign Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio.
Few surviving sources paint Nero in a favorable light.
Some sources, though, portray him as an emperor who was popular with the Roman people, especially in the east.
The study of Nero is problematic as some modern historians question the reliability of ancient sources when reporting on Emperor Nero's alleged tyrannical acts.
It may be impossible to completely separate fact from fiction concerning Emperor Nero's reign.
Nero was born with the name Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on December 15, AD 37, in Antium, near Rome. He was the only son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, sister of emperor Caligula. Lucius' father was grandson to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Aemilia Lepida through their son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. Gnaeus was a grandson to Mark Antony and Octavia Minor through their daughter Antonia Major. Through Octavia, he was the grand-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. Nero's father was described by Suetonius as a murderer and a cheat who was charged by emperor Tiberius with 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 great-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 Augustus's wife, Livia, on one side and to Mark Antony and Octavia on the other. Germanicus' mother Antonia Minor, was a daughter of Octavia Minor and Mark Antony. Octavia was Augustus' second elder sister. Germanicus was also the adoptive son of Tiberius. A number of ancient historians accuse Agrippina of murdering her third husband, emperor Claudius.
Rise to power of Nero:
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 Claudius, Caligula's uncle, to become emperor. Claudius allowed Agrippina to return from exile. Coin issued under Claudius celebrating young Nero as the future emperor, c. 50Claudius 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. To aid Claudius politically, Lucius was officially adopted in 50 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus. 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 of Roman Emperor Nero:
Claudius died in 54 and Nero was established as emperor. Though accounts vary greatly, many ancient historians claim Agrippina poisoned Claudius. It is not known how much Emperor Nero knew or was involved with the death of Claudius. Nero became emperor at sixteen, 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 Praetorian Prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, especially in the first year. The first few years of Emperor 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 Emperor 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 Emperor Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene. Emperor Nero's personal friends also mistrusted Agrippina and told Nero to beware of his mother. Emperor 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 Emperor Nero. However, the youth died suddenly and suspiciously on February 12, 55, the very day before his proclamation as an adult had been set. Nero claimed that Britannicus died from an epileptic seizure, but ancient historians all claim Britannicus' death came from Nero's poisoning him. 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 of Roman Emperor Nero:
Over time, Emperor Nero became progressively more powerful, freeing himself of his advisers and eliminating rivals to the throne. 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 Faustus 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 Emperor 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, Emperor Nero ordered the murder of his mother in 59. A number of modern historians find this an unlikely motive as Nero did not marry Poppaea until 62. Additionally, according to Suetonius, Poppaea did not divorce her husband until after Agrippina's death, making it unlikely that the already married Poppaea would be pressing Emperor Nero for marriage. Some modern historians theorize that Nero's execution of Agrippina was prompted by her plotting to set Rubellius Plautus on the throne. According to Suetonius, Nero tried to kill his mother through a planned shipwreck, but when she survived, he had her executed and framed it as a suicide. The Remorse of Nero after Killing his Mother, by John William Waterhouse, 1878.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. Emperor Nero divorced and banished Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry the pregnant Poppaea. After public protests, Nero was forced to allow Octavia to return from exile, but she was executed shortly upon her return. Accusations of treason against Nero and the Senate first appeared in 62. The Senate ruled that Antistius, a praetor, should be put to death for speaking ill of Nero at a party. Later, Emperor Nero ordered the exile of Fabricius Veiento who slandered the Senate in a book. Tacitus writes that the roots of the conspiracy led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso began in this year. To consolidate power, Nero executed a number of people in 62 and 63 including his rivals Pallas, Rubellius Plautus and Faustus Sulla. According to Suetonius, Nero "showed neither discrimination nor moderation in putting to death whomsoever he pleased" during this period. Emperor Nero's consolidation of power also included a slow usurping of authority from the Senate. In 54, Emperor 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 Pisonian conspiracy.
War and peace with Parthia:
Shortly after Nero's accession 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. Emperor 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 did not last 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 acclaimed 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. Emperor Nero's peace deal with Parthia was a political victory at home and made him beloved in the east. 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 to convince Nero to continue the war, but Nero opted for a peace deal instead. 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. Emperor 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.
Administrative policies of Roman Emperor Nero:
Over the course of his reign, Emperor Nero often made rulings that pleased the lower class. Emperor Nero was criticised as being obsessed with being popular. Emperor Nero 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. He was consul four times between 55 and 60. During this period, some ancient historians speak fairly well of Nero and contrast it with his later rule. Under Nero, 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 which Emperor Nero vetoed. Emperor Nero transferred collection authority to lower commissioners of competency. Emperor Nero banned any magistrate or procurator from exhibiting public entertainment for fear that the venue was being used as a method to sway the populace. 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 were being overly taxed, Emperor Nero attempted to repeal all indirect taxes. The Senate convinced him this action would be too extreme. As a compromise, taxes were cut from 4.5% to 2.5%. 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. Emperor Nero also established the quinquennial Neronia. 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. 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. Emperor 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 Parthians. In 64, Rome burned. Emperor Nero enacted a public relief effort as well as reconstruction. The provinces, where wealthy land-owners lived, were heavily taxed following the fire. A number of major construction projects occurred in Emperor Nero's late reign. To prevent malaria, Nero had the marshes of Ostia filled with rubble from the fire. He erected the large Domus Aurea. In 67, Emperor Nero attempted to have a canal dug at the Isthmus of Corinth. These projects and others exacerbated the drain on the State's budget.
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Major rebellions and power struggles:
Compared with his immediate successors, Rome was relatively peaceful under Nero's reign. War with Parthia was Emperor Nero's only major war and he was both criticized and praised for an aversion to battle. Like many emperors, Emperor Nero faced a number of internal rebellions and power struggles.
British Revolt (Boudica's Uprising):
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.
The Pisonian Conspiracy:
In 65, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a Roman statesman, organized a conspiracy against Nero with the help of Subrius Flavus, a praetorian tribune, and Sulpicius Asper, a centurion. According to Tacitus, many conspirators wished to "rescue the State" from the emperor and restore the Republic. The freedman Milichus discovered the conspiracy and reported it to Emperor Nero's secretary, Epaphroditos. As a result, the conspiracy failed and its members were executed including Nero's former friend Lucan, the poet. Emperor Nero's previous advisor, Seneca was ordered to commit suicide after admitting he discussed the plot with the conspirators.
In late 67 or early 68, Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis in Gaul, rebelled against the tax policies of Nero. Virginius Rufus, the governor of superior Germany was sent to put down the rebellion. To gain support, Vindex called on Galba, the governor of Hispania Citerior in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal), to become emperor. Virginius Rufus defeated Vindex's forces and Vindex committed suicide. Galba was declared a public enemy and his legion was confined in the city of Clunia.
The Rise of Galba:
Emperor Nero had regained the control of the empire militarily, but this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. By June of 68 the senate voted Galba the emperor and declared Emperor Nero a public enemy. The praetorian guard was bribed to betray Nero by the praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, who desired to become emperor himself. The praetorian guard captured Nero and he reportedly committed suicide. After Emperor Nero's death, Rome descended into a period civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Emperor Nero's successors fought among themselves for power. Galba, Otho and Vitellius were each briefly emperor until Nero's general Vespasian returned from Judea and restored order as emperor.
Great Fire of Rome:
The Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of July 18 to July 19, 64. The fire started at the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus in shops selling flammable goods. Ancient graffiti portrait of Nero found at the Domus Tiberiana.How large the fire was is up for debate. According to Tacitus, who was nine 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. The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder who wrote about it in passing. Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and Epictetus) make no mention of it. It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire whether accident or arson. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Emperor Nero as the arsonist. Tacitus mentions that Christians confessed to the crime, but it is not known whether these were false confessions induced by torture. However, accidentally started fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned significantly again under Vitellius in 69 and under Titus in 80. It was said by Suetonius and Cassius Dio that Nero 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. Tacitus said that Nero playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only rumor. Popular legend remembers Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the instrument 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. Emperor Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire. The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres). To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire. 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.
Public performances of Roman Emperor Nero:
Nero enjoyed driving a one-horse chariot, singing to the harp and poetry. He even composed songs that were performed by other entertainers throughout the empire. At first, Emperor Nero only performed for a private audience. In 64, Emperor Nero began singing in public in Neapolis in order to improve his popularity. He also sang at the second quinquennial Neronia in 65. It was said that Emperor Nero craved the attention, but historians also write that Nero was encouraged to sing and perform in public by the Senate, his inner circle and the people. Ancient historians strongly criticize his choice to perform, calling it shameful. Emperor Nero was convinced to participate in the Olympic Games of 67 in order to improve relations with Greece and display Roman dominance. As a competitor, Emperor Nero raced a ten-horse chariot and nearly died after being thrown from it. He also performed as an actor and a singer. Though Emperor Nero faltered in his racing and acting competitions, he won these crowns nevertheless and paraded them when he returned to Rome. The victories are attributed to Emperor Nero bribing the judges and his status as emperor.
Death of Roman Emperor Nero:
In late 67 or early 68, Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis in Gaul, rebelled against the tax policies of Nero. Virginius Rufus, the governor of superior Germany was sent to put down the rebellion. To gain support, Vindex called on Galba, the governor of Hispania Citerior in Hispania, to become emperor. Virginius Rufus defeated Vindex's forces and Vindex committed suicide. Galba was declared a public enemy and his legion was confined in the city of Clunia. Nero had regained the control of the empire militarily, but this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. By June of 68 the senate voted Galba the emperor and declared Nero a public enemy. The Praetorian Guard was bribed to betray Nero by the praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, who desired to become emperor himself. According to Suetonius, Emperor Nero fled Rome on the Salaria road. They urged him to flee, but he prepared himself for suicide. Reportedly, the praetorian guard entered to capture Nero just as he stabbed himself with the help of his secretary, Epaphroditos. Upon seeing the figure of a Roman soldier, he gasped "this is fidelity." It was said by Cassius Dio that he uttered the last words "Jupiter, what an artist perishes in me!". With his death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to an end. Chaos ensued in the Year of the four emperors.
After death of Roman Emperor Nero:
According to Suetonius and Cassius Dio , the people of Rome celebrated the death of Emperor Nero. Tacitus, though, describes a more complicated political environment. Tacitus mentions that Emperor Nero's death was welcomed by Senators, nobility and the upper-class. The lower-class, slaves, frequenters of the arena and the theater, and "those who were supported by the famous excesses of Nero", on the other hand, were upset with the news. Members of the military were said to have mixed feelings, as they had allegiance to Emperor Nero, but were bribed to overthrow him. Eastern sources, namely Philostratus II and Apollonius of Tyana, mention that Nero's death was mourned as he "restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character" and that he "held our liberties in his hand and respected them." Modern scholarship generally holds that, while the Senate and more well-off individuals welcomed Nero's death, the general populace was "loyal to the end and beyond, for Otho and Vitellius both thought it worthwhile to appeal to their nostalgia." Nero's name was erased from some monuments, in what Edward Champlin regards as "outburts of private zeal". Many portraits of Emperor Nero were reworked to represent other figures; according to Eric R. Varner, over fifty such images survive. This reworking of images is often explained as part of the way in which the memory of disgraced emperors was condemned posthumously. Champlin, however, doubts that the practice is necessarily negative and notes that some continued to create images of Nero long after his death. Apotheosis of Nero, c. after 68. Artwork portraying Nero rising to divine status after his death.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 Emperor 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. After Emperor Nero's suicide in 68, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return. This belief came to be known as the Nero Redivivus Legend. 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 impostor 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 Emperor Nero's death. Augustine of Hippo wrote of the legend as a popular belief in 422.
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