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Roman Emperor - Nero

Updated on January 18, 2012

AD 37 - 68

Born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, at Antium (now Anzio), Italy in AD 37.

His father was Gnaeus Domitianus Ahenobarbus and his mother Agrippina (II), the great-granddaughter of Augustus, daughter of Germanicus, sister of Caligula and niece of Claudius. Agrippina, twice widowed, was determined to see Nero emperor, and married her uncle Emperor Claudius I in 49 AD and induced him to adopt her son.

During the reign of Claudius (41-54) Agrippina became her uncle's third wife, and successfully plotted to make her son Nero Claudius' heir in place of his own son Britannicus (son of Claudius by his second wife, Messalina).

In 52 AD Nero married Octavia, daughter of Claudius.

Nero gained precedence over Claudius' son, Britannicus, and married Claudius's daughter Octavia in 52 AD. Claudius died suddenly in 54 AD, possibly by poison administered by Agrippina. And Nero was proclaimed emperor by the senate. Britannicus died of poisoning in 55.

Because Nero was only 16, Agrippina hoped to rule through him, but Seneca, his tutor and Burrus, the head of the Praetorians, kept control of the government.

During the first few years of his reign the youthful emperor, steering a prudent course between the ambition of Agrippina and the counsel of Seneca, managed to gain the respect and affection of the Romans for his clemency and moderation.

As Emperor he patronized the arts and often performed in public. The first five years of Nero's reign were peaceful. He followed his strong artistic and amorous inclinations, and his two advisers ran the government. Nero ruled wisely at first, under the influence of his tutor, Seneca, but later became increasingly cruel and unpopular and became a byword for decadence and corruption.

His mother's efforts to rule continued until Nero had her killed in 59 AD.

The external affairs of the empire were marked by the revolt of Boadicea in Britain (61) and by disturbances in Asia Minor (63). At home, in 64, the greater part of Rome was burnt out. The city was rebuilt at enormous cost, mainly borne by the provinces. As a result, Nero became as unpopular abroad as he was now at home. A conspiracy to dethrone him in favor of Piso was discovered just in time.

In 62, however, the mad streak in Nero emerged. His tutors were unable to check the emperor's vicious propensities. After the death of Burrus in 62 AD, Seneca was forced to retire. Now free from the restrictions of sound counsel, Nero had Octavia put to death and married Poppaea Sabina, his mistress. Poppaea reputedly was responsible for the tyranny of Nero's reign.

Rome Burns

The great fire of Rome in 64 was attributed by some ancient writers to Nero himself, though there was no proof of his guilt. He rebuilt the city on an improved plan and with greater magnificence. To meet the increasing costs of government, he taxed the provinces heavily. In addition, a number of wealthy men were murdered, and their property was confiscated. But the odium of the disaster belonged in the public mind to himself. Seeking to divert suspicion from himself, the emperor charged the Christians with arson and executed many of them. According to tradition, St Peter and St Paul were among the victims of this first Roman persecution of Christians.

His tyranny led in 65 to a conspiracy headed by Gaius Calpurnius Piso to depose him; but the plot was discovered, and many distinguished men were executed or compelled to commit suicide, among them Piso himself, Seneca, and the poet Lucan.

Although opposition to him continued to grow, Nero, long a lover of Greek culture, went to Greece in 67, soon after the death of Poppaea to participate in various festivals and games. His questionable success in competition yielded him hudnreds of prizes, which he repaid by freeing Greece.

He was obliged to return hurriedly to Italy on hearing of rebellion in Gaul by Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis. And also of Galba in Spain secured wide support, including that of the Praetorians

Finally, the army rebelled, Galba was proclaimed emperor and the Roman Senate proclaimed Nero a public enemy, and Nero committed suicide.

His suicide ended the line of emperors descended from Augustus. Among Nero's final words were the now famous "What an artist the world is losing in me!"

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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Interesting bit of history. Did Nero fiddle while Rome burned?

    • caesar 56 profile image

      caesar 56 8 years ago from US

      Excellent article!

      All that inbreeding led to some very strange individuals...

    • darkside profile image
      Author

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      I couldn't find any mention of the fiddling in reference books. Maybe it's an ancient urban myth.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      The story of Nero is truly interesting. Is that where the expression, "fiddling around" came from?

      Good hub. I enjoyed the history.

    • profile image

      Iphigenia 8 years ago

      Enjoyed this readvery much. Coincidentally, I've just re-watched the 1978 BBC seris "I, Claudius" - it's a bit potted in its historical detail, but nevertheless it really shows the intricate relationships and alliances that were fomed to take/keep power among the early emperors.

    • darkside profile image
      Author

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      I vagule remember 'I, Claudius' from my childhood.

      The fairly recent HBO series Rome was excellent.

      And while researching Marcus Aurelius and Commodus for this series I've discovered that the movie Gladiator wasn't as completely fictitious as I was led to believe.

    • Williamjordan profile image

      Williamjordan 8 years ago from Houston TX

      Good Hub Rome is a Great Topic I Studied Rome And My Cildhood Days YOu Made My Day.

    • vivekananda profile image

      vivekananda 8 years ago from India

      Roman emperors and Rome, always interesting to read about them. Like Egypt and Pyramids...this too is interesting.

    • darkside profile image
      Author

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      Ralph, here's something I found...

      Great Happenings That Never Happened.

      Rome may have burned, but Nero didn't fiddle. It is only an unfounded rumor, albeit an old one, that the mad Emperor Nero started a fire near the imperial palace and then climbed to the top of the Tower of Maecenas, where he gleefully played his fiddle, sang arias from his own execrable operas, and watched the city go up in flames. True, Nero did fancy himself a poet and musician, and often summoned audiences to attend recitals of his composition. But according to the contemporary historian and chronicler Tacitus, the fire which gutted Rome in 64 A.D. could not possibly have been Nero's doing; at the time it broke out, Nero was at his villa in Antium 30 mi. away. Besides, the violin wasn't even invented until the 16th century, although in some versions of the tale Nero plays a lute or lyre.

      Source: The People's Alamanac #2, David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, Bantam Books. 1978. Page 1239.

    • profile image

      dude 8 years ago

      this is amazing! thanks for giving me research.

    • EcoAsh profile image

      EcoAsh 8 years ago from Hemet

      Nice article. I love learning about Roman history

    • profile image

      chris pike 8 years ago

      well.. what can one say about such a preposterous source, this bland and sterile evidence is nothing more than a one-dimensional account of history.

    • profile image

      Sidney Rayne 7 years ago

      Great article Darkside...I happened to catch a piece on Nero on the History Channel a few years ago and became rather infatuated with the Emperor. I remember passing out while the program was on and hearing something in regards to "Throwing Christians to lions..." and was immediately bright eyed and bushy tailed....watched the entire special without ever blinking an eyelid.

      Again, great topic and above all...very informative and detailed piece of writing.

    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 7 years ago

      Thanks for this great hub. I like it.

    • heyju profile image

      heyju 7 years ago

      Great hub, I enjoyed reading this!! The ancient Romans are so interesting. Wow they killed anyone and everyone didn't they and married anyone and everyone lol Thanks again.

    • profile image

      BookFlame 7 years ago

      I love ancient history and you're doing a good job getting other people interested in it too!

    • secondreview profile image

      secondreview 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      John Hurt played Nero in "I Claudius" the series. You can find several sections on it on You Tube. Having seen the performance, John Hurt became one of my favourite actors.

    • Brian Long profile image

      Brian Long 7 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading this hub.

    • TheAllSeeingEye profile image

      TheAllSeeingEye 7 years ago from England.

      It was no secret that Nero despised the Christian faith and he was quick to point the finger and blame the Christians for torching Rome. He had them marched to their deaths was such his ruthlessness.

      Another rumour that circulated through the senate was that Nero wanted to restructure the city of Rome and have a new palace built. Was this his motive?

      It really doesn't matter if he was 30 miles away in a villa or played a lyre on a balcony somewhere. He could easily have gotten his pretorian guards to start the fire. The Christians just took the blame for it and Nero had that new palace he wanted!

    • russiangypsygirl profile image

      russiangypsygirl 7 years ago

      Fantastic article. I can't wait until I have the time to read the rest you have written about the rulers of Rome. You are right about the recent HBO Series, Rome, which of course, as the majority of good entertainment has the habit of doing, was discontinued. I've been twice to Rome, and you can really feel the history and culture that are there in your article. Very well done.

    • profile image

      HI 7 years ago

      Nero did not lit the fire but he order people to do it.

    • profile image

      emmanueka 7 years ago

      this is a great fact/nifo to find new things you don't know about nero

    • ss sneh profile image

      ss sneh 7 years ago from the Incredible India!

      HI! There is famous story tells us... When Rome was burning Emperor Nero entertained himself by playing a violin! Well --thanks for the useful info

    • profile image

      Latin Teach 6 years ago

      It's my understanding that the Romans mainly objected to Christianity because they (Romans) could not fathom believing in only one god. Many other "cults" were allowed by them.

    • profile image

      aSHTYN 6 years ago

      GREAT INFO.......WHO WAS NERO?

    • profile image

      Someone 6 years ago

      I am in school and i'm doing a report on the famous Roman, Nero. This was a very useful page

    • profile image

      Dangleo 5 years ago

      @someone Let Me get that paper

    • profile image

      Zeezee 5 years ago

      What is Nero famous for??

    • profile image

      Ally Patrick 5 years ago

      This is nuts!!

    • profile image

      that on chic 5 years ago

      we are learning about his nero dude at school i love the way he was killed "what a great artist the world is losing" STAB! ha!

    • profile image

      Hbibihguftuy 5 years ago

      What about the candles?

    • profile image

      Achristian 2 years ago

      It wasn't a fiddle. It was the sound of their screams.

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