Roman Emperor - Nero
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.
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!"