A nation that draws too broad a difference between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools. — Thucydides

Nero

(Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus)

37–68
Civilization: Roman — Rome
   Field of Renown:  monarch — Emperor
Era:  Early Empire

Nero is one of the most infamous of the Roman emperors. He is best known for murdering his entire family, including his mother, stepbrother, and both of his wives, and for various other crimes. He is thought to have intentionally set a fire that burned most of Rome in order to clear a location for a new palace, and to have scheduled a musical performance for his courtiers while Rome burned.

Nero
DEATH OF NERO, KAEMPFER
At birth Nero had only a distant claim to the imperial throne, but his ambitious and scheming mother Agrippina married the Emperor Claudius soon after the death of his previous wife, Messalina. She first convinced Claudius to adopt Nero and name him heir in preference to his own son Britannicus. Then, after taking appropriate measures to gain support for Nero, Agrippina poisoned Claudius, and Nero ascended to the throne at age 17. She assumed that he would continue in her power for some time, but within a year, mother and son were already feuding. The cause of the first major dispute was a woman whom Nero had taken up with of whom Agrippina disapproved. The rift became so severe that Agrippina threatened to withdraw her support from Nero and attempt to pass the throne to Britannicus. The dispute ended with Nero's murder of his 14 year old brother, Britannicus.

The actual affairs of state during this time were directed primarily by Nero's two senior advisors, Seneca and Burrhus, and during the early years of his reign they were able to influence him positively. After several years, however, Nero fell under the influence of some particularly vile favorites, the two most notorious of which were Poppaea Sabina, who eventually became Nero's second wife, and Tigellinus, a thoroughly despicable character. It was under the influence of Poppaea that Nero decided to murder his mother Agrippina. After several elaborately planned "accidents" failed to dispense with her, he finally sent his soldiers to kill her at her home. His next victim was his young wife Octavia, only 20 at the time of her murder. By this time the influence of his old ministers was gone: Burrhus had died, and Seneca had retired from the court. Nero sank utterly into depravity and vice, leaving the empire in the hands of his evil favorites.

In 64 B.C. an enormous fire destroyed most of the city of Rome and it was rumored (but never proved) that Nero had set the fire. In order to throw suspicion off himself, Nero is said to have blamed a small religious sect called "Christians" for the fire, and he subjected many of them to the torture. By this time, a conspiracy to murder Nero was brewing among many Roman nobles. Unfortunately the plot was discovered and dozens of people were put to death including Seneca, and the poet Lucan. Soon after this, Nero killed Poppaea during a domestic dispute. But the end was near. Nero had lost the support of the army and several rebellions broke out all over the empire. When the Praetorian Guard joined the revolt, and declared for Galba, Nero knew the cause was hopeless and tried to escape with this life. The story of his flight, and his pathetic attempt at suicide are a brilliant depiction of the cowardice underlying tyranny.


Key events during the life of Nero:


Year
Event
49
Agrippina married Claudius. Seneca is called to Rome to become tutor of Nero.
50
Claudius adopted Nero as heir to the imperial throne.
54
Death of Claudius, Nero assumed imperial throne.
55
Nero feuded with his mother, and poisoned his brother Britannicus.
58
Nero fell under the influence of Poppaea.
59
Nero murdered his mother Agrippina.
62
Nero murdered his young wife Octavia and married Poppaea.
64
Enormous fire destroyed most of Rome. Nero was suspected of setting it.
65
Extensive conspiracy to assassinate Nero is discovered, and the plotters put to death.
65
Nero kills Poppaea during a domestic dispute.
68
Rebellion of Praetorian Guard. Death of Nero.

Book Links
Nero  by  Jacob Abbott
Burning of Rome  by  Alfred J. Church

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Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Death of the Younger Agrippina  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Great Fire of Rome  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Death of Nero  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
The Tyrant Nero  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Asa Craig
Nero's First Crimes  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Nero in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland
Murder of an Empress  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Rome Swept by Flames  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Doom of Nero  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Tragedy of Nero  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge

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Image Links


Burning of Rome
 in Nero

The Knife
 in Nero

Phaon at the Wall
 in Nero

Nero as Victor in a Chariot Race
 in The Burning of Rome

Nero
 in Pictures from Roman Life and Story

Nero
 in Famous Men of Rome

Death of Nero, Kaempfer
 in Famous Men of Rome

Nero Receiving the Body of his Mother
 in Famous Men of Rome

Nero Singing while Rome Burns
 in Famous Men of Rome

The Death of Nero
 in Famous Men of Rome

Nero Watching the Tortured Christians
 in Famous Men of Rome

Nero and Britannicus.
 in The Discovery of New Worlds


Contemporary
Short Biography
Agrippina the Younger Mother of Nero. Murdered Claudius to make way for his rise to the throne.
Seneca Tutor and minister to Nero. Forced to commit suicide after falling from grace.
Otho Emperor for three months in 69 A.D. Committed suicide rather than continue civil war.
Poppaea Wicked mistress of Nero. Urged him to kill his mother and first wife.
Tigellinus Extraordinarily wicked advisor to Nero. Replaced Seneca.
Britannicus Stepbrother. Murdered to secure Nero's claim to the throne.
Octavia Stepsister and first wife of Nero. Murdered so he could marry Poppaea.