Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (/ ˈ n ɪər oʊ / NEER-oh; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68) was Roman emperor and the final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, reigning from AD 54 until his death in AD 68.
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- Early reign
- Artistic pretensions and irresponsibility
Rome burned while he was emperor, and the eagerness with which he rebuilt led many to believe that he was responsible for the fire. He tried to shift the blame to the Christians, beginning the Roman persecution of that young religion. This led the Christians to label him the Antichrist.
What was Nero’s childhood like?
His father died when Nero was about three. His mother, Julia Agrippina, poisoned her second husband when Nero was 12. She then married her uncle, the emperor Claudius. It is widely believed that she poisoned Claudius when Nero was 16 and poisoned Claudius's son Britannicus to seal Nero's claim to the throne.
What were Nero’s accomplishments?
Nero built a palace, the Golden House, which was apparently magnificent, but it was so resented by the public and by his successors that it was almost completely dismantled. His armies put down rebellions in Britain and Judaea, he was an enthusiastic patron of the arts, and he was lenient toward his enemies.
How did Nero die?
Nero’s father, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, died about 40 ce, and Nero was brought up by his mother, Julia Agrippina, a great-granddaughter of the emperor Augustus. After poisoning her second husband, Agrippina incestuously became the wife of her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and persuaded him to favour Nero for the succession, over the rightful cla...
Agrippina immediately eliminated the powerful freedman Narcissus, who had always opposed her aims. She hoped to control the government, but Burrus and Nero’s old tutor, the Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, though they owed their influence to Agrippina, were not content to remain her tools. They encouraged Nero to act independently of her, and a growing coolness resulted in Nero’s relations with his mother. In 56 Agrippina was forced into retirement. From that time until 62, Burrus and Seneca were the effective rulers of the empire.
Brought up in this atmosphere, Nero might well have begun to behave like a monster upon his accession as emperor in 54 but, in fact, behaved quite otherwise. He put an end to the more odious features of the later years of Claudius’s reign, including secret trials before the emperor and the dominance of corrupt freedmen, and he accorded more independence to the Senate. The testimony of contemporaries depicts Nero at this time as a handsome young man of fine presence but with soft, weak features and a restless spirit. Up to the year 59, Nero’s biographers cite only acts of generosity and clemency on his account. His government forbade contests in the circus involving bloodshed, banned capital punishment, reduced taxes, and accorded permission to slaves to bring civil complaints against unjust masters. Nero himself pardoned writers of epigrams against him and even those who plotted against him, and secret trials were few. The law of treason was dormant: Claudius had put 40 senators to death, but, between the murders instigated by Agrippina in 54 and the year 62, there were no like incidents in Nero’s reign. Nero also inaugurated competitions in poetry, in the theatre, and in athletics as counterattractions to gladiatorial combats. He saw to it that assistance was provided to cities that had suffered disaster and, at the request of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, gave aid to the Jews.
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While directing the government themselves, Burrus and Seneca had largely left Nero uncontrolled to pursue his own tastes and pleasures. Seneca urged Nero to use his autocratic powers conscientiously, but he obviously failed to harness the boy’s more generous impulses to his responsibilities. At first Nero hated signing death sentences, and the extortions of Roman tax collectors upon the populace led him in 58 to unrealistically suggest that the customs dues should be abolished. Even later Nero was capable of conceiving grandiose plans for conquests or the creation of public works, but for the most part he used his position simply to gratify his own personal pleasures. His nocturnal rioting in the streets was a scandal as early as 56, but the emergence of real brutality in Nero can be fixed in the 35-month period between the putting to death of his mother at his orders in 59 and his similar treatment of his wife Octavia in June 62. He was led to the murder of Agrippina by her insanity and her fury at seeing her son slip out of her control, to the murder of Octavia by his having fallen in love with Poppaea Sabina, the young wife of the senator (and later emperor) Otho, and by his fear that his repudiated wife was fomenting disaffection at court and among the populace. He married Poppaea in 62, but she died in 65, and he subsequently married the patrician lady Statilia Messalina.
Seeing that he could do what he liked without fear of censure or retribution, Nero began to give rein to inordinate artistic pretensions. He fancied himself not only a poet but also a charioteer and lyre player, and in 59 or 60 he began to give public performances; later he appeared on the stage, and the theatre furnished him with the pretext to assume every kind of role. To the Romans these antics seemed to be scandalous breaches of civic dignity and decorum. Nero even dreamed of abandoning the throne of Rome in order to fulfill his poetical and musical gifts, though he did not act on these puerile ambitions. Beginning about 63, he also developed strange religious enthusiasms and became increasingly attracted to the preachers of novel cults. By now Seneca felt that he had lost all influence over Nero, and he retired after Burrus’s death in 62.
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- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Jun 7, 2021 · The Ancient World How Nasty Was Nero, Really? The notorious emperor appears to have been the subject of a smear campaign. By Rebecca Mead June 7, 2021 A show at the British Museum offers a less...
Jun 29, 2012 · Nero was Roman emperor from 54 to 68 CE. The last of the Julio-Claudian emperors to rule the Roman Empire, his 14-year reign represents everything decadent about that period in Roman history. He was self-indulgent, cruel, and violent as well as a cross-dressing exhibitionist.
- Donald L. Wasson
Apr 2, 2014 · (37-68) Who Was Nero? Nero was born in 37 A.D., the nephew of the emperor. After his father’s death, his mother married his great uncle, Claudius, and persuaded him to name Nero his...
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