37 - 68 A.D.
Fifth Emperor of Rome accused of burning two-thirds of Romeby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Nero Claudius Drusu Germanicus, Emperor of Rome, was born Lucius Domitius Anhenobarbus at Antium on December 15 in 37 A.D. He was the son of the Cnaeas Domitius Anhenobarbus, a descendant from a distinguished family of Rome and Julia Agrippina the youngest daughter of Germanicus, a great Roman General. When Nero was two years old his mother was banished to the Rontian Islands by the Emperor Caligula, taking him along with her, and his inheritance was seized when his father died one year later. When Caligula was killed around eight or nine years later Nero and his mother Agrippina returned to Rome where Agrippina married the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 49 when Nero was twelve years old. Nero was then educated as if he was the Emperor’s son. He was later betrothed to his stepsister Octavia.
In A.D. 50 Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his own son, naming Nero the heir-apparent to the throne in A.D. 51 placing him before Claudius’ own younger son Brittanicus and giving him the name Nero Claudius Drusu Germanicus, Germanicus after his maternal grandfather, general of Rome, to remind the troops were there loyalty should lie, and Claudius and Drusu after his stepfather and another good Emperor to appeal to the people. Claudius died in A.D. 54, supposedly poisoned by Agrippina to further her son's claim. She took the place as regent Queen as Nero was only 16 at the time of his stepfather’s death. He quickly took over the throne of his mother and poisoned his younger stepbrother Brittanicus in A.D. 55 alarming his mother who was said to have kept Brittanicus in reserve to take over the throne in case she lost control of Nero, which at that point of time, she most certainly had done.
Nero has been described as a man with fair-hair, weak blue eyes, a fat neck, and potbelly. His character was described as “a strange mix of paradoxes; artistic, sporting, brutal, weak, sensual, erratic, extravagant, sadistic, bi-sexual, and later in life almost certainly deranged.” Early on in his ruling time Nero came across as very humane. He gave the senate more liberties and considered ending the killing of criminals and gladiators in the arenas, he made city wide reforms and was once most upset that the law required him to order 300 slaves put to death over the fact that their master, a powerful senator, was poisoned by them. Many historians report that he could barely sign the order to do so.
He later on became obsessed with arts, recreation, and sexual exploits. He became “involved” with a free woman by the name of Acte. His mother became jealous and outraged and began spreading rumors causing Nero to become openly hostile against her. As Nero became more lustful and lost what self-control he had by starting another affair, this one with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of a friend and senator, his mother became more upset siding with Octavia, who was now his wife. Nero then became the murder attempts on his mother, he tried to poison her three different times, once he tried to kill her by rigging her ceiling over her bed to collapse while she was in bed and by building a boat that deliberately sank but she managed to escape and swim to shore. He then hired an assassin who stabbed and clubbed her to death in her home in 59 A.D. To excuse his actions Nero told the Senate that he had uncovered a plot of his mother’s to kill him and had to act first to stay it. The senate, which had never loved Agrippina even when she was the Emperor’s wife, was not regretful and took that explanation without a whimper. After having dealt with his mother, Nero then turned his attention to his wife. He divorced Octavia in A.D. 62 and then had her executed on the false grounds of adultery. After sending off her husband to a frontier post to die he than married his mistress Poppeae Sabina, whom he later allegedly killed by kicking to death after she complained and nagged about him coming home late from the races that he attended. He supposedly married later but no one is really sure about that. Maybe he simply had many mistresses.
On July 18, in the year A.D. 64, was when the Great Fire of Rome took place. It burned for six days and nights. Rome had 14 districts before the fire, after the fire, only four were untouched, three were demolished, and seven were almost completely destroyed. That was when Nero earned the title of having “fiddled while Rome burned.” While Rome did not even have fiddles at that time, this rumor sprang from another rumor, though some historians of that time in particular, Dio Cassius and Tactitus (who was 9 at the time) stated it as a fact that while Rome was burning Nero went up to stand on the tower of Maecenas and sang “The Capture of Troy” or “The Burning of Troy” supposedly relating what happened then in the song about the destruction of Troy to what was happening at that time. Part of the reason that this rumor was so quickly accepted as fact was related to the fact that Nero was heard to say that he envied Primus of Troy that he got to watch his city destroyed as his reign ended instead of the reign of his city going to another, and because of the fact that after the fire Nero built his Golden Palace that included a vast garden and artificial lake on land that had been demolished by the fire in an area that otherwise he would not have been able to build it. Because of this rumors also began circling that Nero started the fire on purpose so that he could build his palace right there. Though he also did reconstruction in other parts and districts of Rome many stilled remained suspicious about his motives. Some even believed that he had wanted to level the city so that he cold build a new one named after himself in its place. As the rumors continued to prosper Nero looked for a scapegoat to blame the fire on. He chose the Christians.
Nero became known as “the first antichrist” to the church because of his relentless pursuit and persecution of the Christians. A far cry from the Nero of 17 years of age who was upset that he had to through criminals and gladiators into the arena and put guilty people to death, this new Nero was vastly different. He threw some Christians into the arena to wild beasts, others he crucified, and still others he ignited with fire to serve as human torches in his arena games or in his gardens. He relentlessly pursued them. Yet as the rumors continued to grow so did his persecution of the Christians. Nero attempted to use them to take all of the blame off of himself. It didn’t work.
All turned against him and the senate ordered him to be flogged to death in A.D. 68. Instead of having to endure the humiliation of being publicly flogged to death he committed suicide by drinking poison. Nero died on June 9, A.D. 68 at the age of 31. He reigned for 14 years but established such a bloody reign of terror that the world will always remember him as an insane tyrant. His last words were “Qualis artifex pereo (What an artist the world loses in me).”
World Wide Web
Ancient History Sourcebook: Suetonius: De Vita Caesarum--Nero, c. 110 C.E.
An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors