Nero (Latin: Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), December 15, 37 (0037-12-15) – June 9, 68, his birth name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, from 50 to 54 – Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, best known as Nero, – Roman emperor from October 13, 54, the last of the Julius-Claudian dynasty. Also Princeeps of the Senate, consular tribune (lat. Tribuniciae potestatis), Father of the Fatherland (lat. Pater patriae), Pontifex Maximus (since 55), five times ordinal consul (in 55, 57, 58, 60 and 68).
Full title by the time of his death: “Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, great pontiff, vested with the power of tribune 14 times, power of emperor 13 times, five times consul, father of the fatherland” (IMPERATOR – NERO – CLAVDIVS – CAESAR – AVGVSTVS – GERMANICVS – PONTIFEX – MAXIMVS – TRIBVNICIAE – POTESTATIS – XIV – IMPERATOR – XIII – CONSVL – V – PATER – PATRIAE).
Lucius Domitius Agenobarbus belonged by birth to the ancient plebeian Domitian family. According to Suetonius, the ancestors of the future emperor were distinguished by their cool temper and displayed in an extreme degree the virtues and vices peculiar to Roman upbringing.
The Domitian family was divided into two families, the Calvinians and the Agenobarbs. The nickname of the latter (Lat. “Red-bearded”) goes back to the legend of an encounter between Lucius Domitius and two twin young men of divine appearance (a hint of the Dioscurs), who ordered them to inform Rome of some important victory. As proof of their divinity, they touched Domitius” hair, and his hair immediately turned from black to red, a trait that has remained with his descendants forever.
Nero”s ancestors were awarded seven consulships, a triumph, two censorships and, finally, were ranked as patricians. Nero”s great-great-grandfather Gnae Domitia Agenobarbe is remembered in the words of Licinius Crassus:
No wonder he has a copper beard if his tongue is made of iron and his heart is made of lead.
His great-grandfather tried to put Julius Caesar on trial, accusing him of abuses against customs and “divine decrees. Nero”s grandfather, Lucius Domitius Agenobarb, an eminent military commander in the time of Augustus, a triumphant consul of 16 B.C., received patrician status in the same year under the law of Sennius. His son, Gnaeus Domitius, consul of 32 years, married Octavian Augustus” great-granddaughter, Julia Agrippina, in 28 by order of Tiberius.
Nine years later the couple had their first child, Lucius Domitius. His father, according to Suetonius, “in response to the congratulations of his friends, exclaimed that nothing could be born of him and Agrippina except horror and sorrow for mankind.
Lucius Domitius was born a little more than six months after Tiberius” death. Caligula, brother of Lucius” mother, Julia Agrippina, better known as Agrippina the Younger, was declared emperor of Rome. Agrippina spent most of her time at Caligula”s court, as the emperor was very close to his sisters, especially the older one, Julia Drusilla. The reason for this attitude of Caligula to his sisters lay in the relationship that existed between them. Almost all ancient historians are almost unanimous in stating that Caligula indulged in debauchery with his sisters, and also did not oppose their promiscuous liaisons with other men. The feasts on the Palatine Hill, the participants of which were the sisters, often ended in debaucherous orgies.
Agrippina”s marriage was no obstacle to the life she led. At this time, the minor Nero and his father, who was probably almost 30 years older than Agrippina, were living in a villa between Anzio (modern Anzio, Italy) and Rome. In 38 Caligula”s beloved sister Julia Drusilla died.
In 39, both sisters and their lover Lepidus were accused of conspiring to overthrow the emperor and seize power in favor of Lepidus. Caligula also accused them all of debauchery and adultery.
Agrippina”s participation in this conspiracy made it clear that she regarded Lucius Domitius as quite legitimate for the future emperor. She was one of the key figures in the conspiracy and, if successful, would claim to be the wife of the new princeps. Lucius Domitius would then become the sole heir, for Lepidus had no children of his own.
After a short trial, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was sentenced to death and executed. The sisters were exiled to the Pontine Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Caligula appropriated and sold all their property. It was forbidden to help them in any way. To feed themselves, Agrippina and Julia Livilla were forced to dive for sponges on the seabed around the islands and then sell what they collected.
Gnaeus Domitius Agenobarb, together with his son, continued to reside in Rome or in his country villas, despite the conspiracy in which his wife had been exposed. In 40, however, he died of dropsy in Pirgi (today”s commune of Santa Marinella, Santa Severa, Italy). His entire estate went to Caligula. Little Nero was placed in the care of his aunt, Domitia Lepida the Younger.
A year later, on January 24, 41, Caligula was assassinated by rebellious Praetorians. His uncle Claudius, long considered mentally incompetent, came to power. The new emperor returned his nieces, Agrippina and Julia Livilla, from exile. But all of Agrippina”s property had been confiscated, her husband had died and she had nowhere to return. Then Claudius arranged for Agrippina to marry Gaius Sallustius Passienus Crispus. For this marriage Gaius Sallustius had to divorce another aunt of Nero, Domitia Lepida the Elder, to whom he had previously been married.
Gaius Sallustius, a powerful and respected man in Rome, became consul twice. Together with Agrippina and Nero they lived in Rome. Although at first Agrippina withdrew completely from politics, Messalina – Claudius” wife – already saw her as a serious rival and Nero as a rival to her own son, Britannicus. Messalina sends hired assassins to the house of Passien Crispus to strangle the boy in his sleep. But, according to legend, the assassins retreated in horror when they saw that a snake was guarding Nero”s sleep on his pillow. Messalina continued to try to kill Agrippina and Nero, while Claudius did not support her.
In 47, Gaius Sallustius died. The rumor immediately spread throughout Rome that Agrippina had poisoned him in order to get hold of her husband”s wealth, since after his death Nero and Agrippina were the only heirs of his enormous fortune. At the same time, Agrippina was very popular with the people. After the death of Sallustius, a circle of people who were dissatisfied with Messalina formed around her. One of the most influential among them was the freedman Marcus Antonius Pallas, treasurer of the empire, who became Agrippina”s lover.
In 48 Messalina prepared a plot and attempted to remove Claudius from power in favor of her lover, Gaius Celia. This plan of coup was prepared by her for fear that Claudius would pass on power not to her son, Britannicus, but to Nero. However, the coup attempt was suppressed and Messalina and Sylius were executed.
After Messalina”s death, Pallas proposed Agrippina to Claudius as a new wife. Her candidacy was also supported by Tiberius Claudius Narcissus, another influential freedman who had exposed Messalina and ordered her arrest. After the execution of Messalina, he feared the vengeance of Britannicus, should he become emperor. If Agrippina became Claudius” wife, it was clear that the next emperor would probably be Nero.
Claudius was hesitant at first, but Pallas” entreaties to strengthen the dynasty and Agrippina”s passion, drive, and beauty did the trick. By then Agrippina was only thirty-three years old. Pliny the Elder writes that she was “a beautiful and respectable woman, but ruthless, ambitious, despotic and overbearing.” He also says that she had wolf”s fangs, a sign of good fortune.
The emperor agreed with the words, “I agree, since this is my daughter, brought up by me, born and bred in my lap…” On January 1, 49, Claudius and Agrippina were married.
Not yet wife of the emperor, Agrippina broke up the engagement of Claudius” daughter, Claudia Octavia, to Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus, her distant relative. Together with the censor Lucius Vitellius, they accused Silanus of adultery with his sister, Junia Calvina, to whom one of Vitellius” sons, Lucius, was married.
Silanus was forced to commit suicide, Calvina received a divorce and was sent into exile. Thus Claudia Octavia became free for Nero. Later, in 54, Agrippina ordered the murder of Silanus” older brother Marcus in order to shield Nero from Silanus” revenge.
In 50 Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero, which was done. Lucius Domitius Agenobarb became known as Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. Claudius officially recognized him as his heir and engaged him to his daughter, Claudia Octavia. At the same time Agrippina returned the Stoic Seneca from exile to become the teacher of the young heir. Among the philosopher-mentors less frequently mentioned is Alexander of Aeg.
At that time, Agrippina”s main activity was to strengthen her son”s position as heir. She accomplished this mainly by placing people loyal to her in government positions. With her full influence on the emperor this was not difficult. So, in the key post of prefect of the Praetorian Guard was appointed Sextus Aphranius Burr – Gaul, who not so long ago was one of the tutors of Nero.
Agrippina deprives Britannicus of all rights to power and removes him from the court. In 51 she orders the execution of Britannicus” mentor, Sosebius, who is outraged by her behavior, Nero”s adoption and Britannicus” isolation. On June 9, 53, Nero marries Claudia. However, the emperor begins to become disillusioned with his marriage to Agrippina. He again draws Britannicus close to him and begins to prepare him for power, treating Nero and Agrippina more and more lukewarmly. Seeing this, Agrippina realizes that Nero”s only chance to gain power is to do it as quickly as possible. On October 13, 54, Claudius dies suddenly after eating a plate of mushrooms that Agrippina brought to him. However, some ancient historians believed that Claudius died a natural death.
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Nero and Agrippina
On the day Claudius died, the Praetorians recognized Nero as emperor. Under the name of Nero, Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the 16-year-old newly minted emperor received from his mother virtually unlimited power over the empire.
In the first years of his reign, when he was very young, the emperor was completely under the influence of Agrippina, Seneca and Burr. It came to the point where Agrippina expressed a desire to sit next to the emperor at official ceremonies (such as the reception of ambassadors), and only the intervention of Seneca saved the situation.
In 55 the young Nero opposed Agrippina”s will for the first time. Seneca and Burr were dissatisfied with Agrippina”s complete influence on the emperor, and there was a rift between the former allies. At the same time Nero became close to the freedwoman Claudia Acta. Most likely brought back by Claudius from his campaigns in Asia Minor, she was quite familiar with the palace order. Seeing that Nero was interested in her, Burr and Seneca maintained this connection in every way they could, hoping through Acta to influence Nero.
Agrippina was against her son”s lover and reprimanded Nero in public for getting involved with a former slave. Nero, however, was already out of her command. Then Agrippina began to weave intrigues, intending to declare Britannicus the legitimate emperor. But her plan failed. In February 55, Britannicus was poisoned by order of Nero.
After this, Nero, listening to his mentors, accused Agrippina of slandering him and Octavia, and banished her from the palace, depriving her of all honors as well as her bodyguards. When Agrippina tried to stop him, he threatened that if she disobeyed he would abdicate and go to Rhodes himself. Following Agrippina, Pallas also lost his place at court.
The fall of Pallas seemed to be a complete victory for the party of Seneca and Burr, and a defeat for Agrippina. However, both Burr and Seneca were indicted along with Pallas. Against Burr and Pallas charges of treason and conspiracy to transfer power to Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix were brought, and Seneca was accused of embezzlement. Seneca”s eloquence helped him to deflect all charges against himself and Burr, and they were not only completely exonerated, but retained their position. However, they were both given a clear signal that from now on Nero would not tolerate any pressure on himself. Thus he became the full ruler of the state.
In 58, Nero becomes close to Poppea Sabina, a noble, intelligent and beautiful member of the Roman nobility. At the time she was married to Othonus, Nero”s friend and future emperor. Agrippina saw in her a dangerous and calculating rival in the struggle for power. She tried with all her might to bring Nero back to Claudia Octavia, or at least Acta. But Nero secured a divorce between Poppea and Othon and sent the latter away from Rome in the position of Viceroy of Lusitania. When Poppea became pregnant, in 62, Nero divorced Octavia, accusing her of infertility, and married Poppea twelve days later.
At the end of 58, rumors began to circulate that Agrippina was trying to remove her son from power and give it to Gaius Rubellius Plautus, the son of Julia Livia, daughter of Livilla. In the female line, Rubellius Plautus was Tiberius” direct heir. On learning of this, Nero decides to kill Agrippina.
He tried to poison her three times, but abandoned those attempts when he learned that she was taking teriak; he sent a freedman to stab her and even tried to bring down the ceiling and walls of her room while she slept. However, she happily escaped death.
In March of ”59, at Bayia, Nero offered her a trip on a ship that was to be destroyed on the way. But Agrippina was almost the only one who managed to escape and swim ashore – her past as a sponge diver told. In a rage Nero had already ordered that she be openly killed.
Agrippina, seeing the soldiers, understood her fate and asked to be stabbed in the stomach, where the womb was, thus making it clear that she regretted having given birth to such a son. Nero burned her body that same night. He sent a message to the Senate, composed by Seneca, stating that Agrippina had tried unsuccessfully to kill Nero and had committed suicide; the Senate congratulated Nero on his deliverance and ordered prayers to be offered. Later the emperor allowed the slaves to bury her ashes in a modest tomb in Misenach (a suburb of Naples).
Later Nero repeatedly confessed that the image of his mother haunted him at night. To get rid of her ghost, he even hired Persian magicians. There were legends that long before Nero became emperor, Agrippina was foretold by the Chaldeans that her son would become emperor, but would cause her death. Her answer was, “Let him kill as long as he can rule.
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Prior to his rapprochement with Acta, Nero did not show himself in the public field, completely transferring the functions of government to the Senate. He himself in the period from the end of 54 to the beginning of 55 was engaged in visiting brothels and taverns. However, after the death of Britannicus and the actual withdrawal from his mother”s custody, his attitude to administrative duties changed.
From 55 to 60 Nero became consul four times. According to most Roman historians in these years the emperor showed himself an excellent administrator and calculating ruler, in contrast to the second half of his reign. Almost all his actions during this period were aimed at facilitating the lives of ordinary citizens and strengthening his power at the expense of his popularity among the people.
At this time the Senate, at Nero”s insistence, passed a series of laws limiting the amount of bail and fines and lawyers” fees. Nero also sided with the freedmen when the Senate was hearing a law to allow patrons to take back the freedom of their freedmen clients. Furthermore, Nero went further and vetoed a law extending the guilt of one slave to all slaves belonging to the same master.
During the same period, he tried to curb corruption, the extent of which had a very negative effect on the common people of the state. After numerous complaints about the poor treatment of the tax collectors by the lower classes, the function of tax collectors was shifted to members of these classes. Nero forbade public receptions to any magistrates and procurators, reasoning that such displays of welfare would embitter the people. There were many arrests of officials on charges of corruption and extortion.
These actions brought Nero great popularity among the people. To further popularize his figure, Nero built popular gymnasiums and several theaters in which Greek troupes played. Gladiatorial fights, unprecedented in scale, began to be held frequently in Rome. In 60, for the first time was held a grand festival Quinquennialia Neronia, dedicated to the five-year reign of Nero. The festival lasted several days and consisted of three parts – music and poetry, where readers, reciters, poets and singers competed; sports, which was analogous to the Greek Olympics; and equestrian competitions, where riders competed. The second Quinquinalia Neronia was held five years later, in 65, and was dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the emperor”s reign.
The festival was to be held every five years – the Latin Quinquennial means “every fifth.
In foreign policy Nero limited himself to strengthening the borders previously conquered under Caligula and Claudius. The only war that occurred during Nero”s reign was the war between Rome and Parthia in 58-63. It broke out over Armenia, a buffer state between the two empires.
The status of Armenia as a country under Roman protectorate was established under Tiberius in the twenties of the first century. However, in 37, after the death of Tiberius, the Parthians brought to power their protégé, Orodes. He remained on the throne until 51. After his death the Romans enthroned Radamistes, who turned out to be a tyrant and was considered a usurper in Armenia.
In 53 Radamistes was overthrown and forced to flee as a result of a Parthian-fueled rebellion. The younger brother of the Parthian king Vologes I, Tiridat, took the Armenian throne. With the help of Roman money and the unusually cold winter of 53-54, Radamistes managed to get the Parthians to leave and the dissatisfied ones to shut up and regain his throne. While the Parthians were deciding what to do next, Claudius died in Rome. Not seeing the 16-year-old Nero as a serious opponent, Vologues decided on open hostilities and in early 55 again, already openly, returned the Armenian throne to Tiridates.
The reaction of Rome was adequate: the proconsul of Asia, Galatia and Cappadocia was appointed the commander Gnaeus Domitius Corbulonus, who had distinguished himself in Germany under Claudius. Under his command were two legions – III “Gallic” and VI “Iron”. Two more legions, X “Guarding the Straits” and XII “Lightning”, were at the disposal of Gaius Ummidius Durmius Quadratus, proconsul of Syria.
For nearly three years Corbulonne negotiated with representatives of Vologes, preparing his troops. But at the beginning of 58, the Romans were suddenly attacked by the Parthians. With the help of the local pro-Roman tribes, the Romans managed to repel the attack and proceed to combat operations.
During 58-60 Korbulon and Quadratus captured the Armenian capital, Artaxatu, and the following year crossed the desert in northern Mesopotamia and forced the crossing of the Tigris. After the capture of Tigranakert, a pro-Roman ruler, Herod the Great”s great grandson Tigran VI, was finally seated on the Armenian throne.
In 60, after the death of Quadratus, Corbulon became procurator of Cappadocia. In the spring of 62 the Parthians began to try to recapture Tigranakert, and Corbulonus had to conclude a truce with Vologes for lack of reinforcements. In the summer of 62 a new commander finally arrived to replace Quadratus, Lucius Cesennius Pet. Having crossed the Euphrates, Corbulon was able to invade Mesopotamia when he received news that Pet was trapped and surrounded at Randea near Arsamosata. Arriving at Melitena, however, Corbulon was too late. Negotiations were begun in the winter, which ended to no avail.
In the spring of 63 Corbulon at the head of four legions again entered Armenia. However, because of the stalemate (Vologaez and Tyridates realized that the war could no longer be won and Corbulon did not want to fight in the desert) an agreement was again made (in Randea) on the condition that Tyridates becomes the Armenian king, but as a vassal of Rome, and must go to Rome to receive the royal tiara from the hands of Nero.
This war made Nero very popular in the eastern provinces. And the terms of peace with the Parthians were respected for more than 50 years – until Trajan invaded Armenia in 114.
The second fairly serious military conflict that occurred during Nero”s time was the revolt of the Iceni queen, Boudicca, in the newly annexed lands of Britain to the Roman Empire. The revolt was suppressed by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who in 58-62 was viceroy of Britain with the rank of propretor.
The rebellion began in ”61. The rebels took Camulodun. The city was besieged by Quintus Petilius Cerialus, but the IXth legion was defeated and Cerialus had to flee. The rebels marched on to Londinium. Suetonius Paulinus went there too, breaking off his campaign against the Druids in Mona, but he judged that he did not have enough strength to defend the city. The city was abandoned and sacked by the rebels. The next victim to fall under the wrath of the Britons was Verulamius. The total number of victims exceeded 80,000.
Suetonius Paulinus grouped the forces of the XIV Legion with units of the XX Legion, as well as volunteers who were dissatisfied with the actions of the rebels. In all, Paulinus managed to muster 10,000 men, while Boudicca”s troops numbered about 230,000.
Paulinus gave the battle on the site of present-day Watling Street in the West Midlands. Roman tactics (the battle took place on a narrow road, with woods on both sides – so the Romans could hold back the vastly superior enemy forces with a narrow front while the archers from the woods inflicted irreparable losses) and discipline prevailed over the Brits” numerical superiority. The Britons cut off the road to retreat by positioning a convoy of their family members behind their army. Tacitus writes that the Romans killed over 80,000 Britons, in turn losing no more than 400 men. Boudicca, seeing the outcome of the battle, poisoned herself.
In general, it is worth noting that Nero and his advisors competently selected people for key positions in the state, pursuing the goal of strengthening the country. The governors in the various frontier provinces were extraordinary individuals who later had a very significant impact on Roman history. Thus, in addition to Corbulonus, Quadratus and Paulinus, Servius Sulpicius Galba, Gaius Julius Vindex, Lucius Verginius Rufus, Marcus Salvius Othon and Titus Flavius Vespasian all came to prominence in the time of Nero.
It was Vespasian who in 67 was sent by Nero to put down the Jewish revolt that had broken out in Judea the year before. The revolt was put down after Nero”s death, in 70. This appointment can be considered a key one in the fate of the empire – after Nero”s suicide the Jewish legions declared Vespasian “emperor” and from there he went on a campaign to Rome, which was crowned with success.
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Nero”s behavior changed dramatically in the early 1960s. In 62 Nero”s mentor of many years, Burr, died. The emperor actually withdrew from the administration of the state, a period of despotism and arbitrariness began. The repeated charge of embezzlement was brought against Seneca, and this time he voluntarily withdrew from state affairs. Nero”s former wife Octavia was executed. Trials for insult to imperial majesty were begun, resulting in the death of many Romans. Nero”s old political opponents, Pallantus, Rubellius Plautus, and Felix Sulla, among others, were also executed. In general, according to Suetonius Tranquillus, “he executed without measure and indiscriminately anyone and for anything.
At the same time, Rome began to persecute the followers of the new religion, Christianity. The adherents of Christianity at that time were mainly slaves and freedmen, as well as members of the lower classes of society, on whose defense Nero stood in the early years of his reign. Although the religion was not officially forbidden, the worship of the new god virtually deprived the state of all protection.
At the same time, Nero began to gradually withdraw from governing the country. More and more his interests focused on the arts.
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The Work of Nero
Nero loved to sing, composed plays and poetry, enjoyed participating in poetry competitions and chariot sports. But Tacitus notes that the eulogy Nero gave at Claudius” funeral was composed by Seneca. Suetonius says that the manuscripts of his poems had many corrections, blots and insertions. For a long time the emperor had been working on an epic poem about the destruction of Troy.
Several fragments of Nero”s writings have survived; the line “the neck of the Cypher Dove glistens with every movement” was praised by Seneca. In his Satire I (92-95, 99-102) Persius quoted his own verses, which his Scholiasts attributed to Nero, but this is a disputed claim.
At first the emperor played music at feasts. However, with the help of court sycophants believing in his talent, in 64, Nero made his first public appearance in Naples. Since then he has participated in virtually all poetry and music competitions, where he invariably “won victories. In 65 the emperor performed in front of the whole of Rome in the second Quinquinalia Neronia.
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The Great Fire of Rome
On the night of July 19, 64, one of the largest fires in Roman history occurred. The fire spread from shops on the southeast side of the Great Circus. By morning the flames had engulfed most of the city. Nero had left Rome for Antioch a few days before the fire began.
Suetonius says that the initiator of the fire was Nero himself, and that arsonists with torches were seen in the courtyards. According to legends, when the emperor was informed of the fire, he rode out towards Rome and watched the fire from a safe distance. At the same time, Nero was dressed in a theatrical costume, playing the lyre and reciting a poem about the destruction of Troy.
However, modern historians are more inclined to rely on the description of events given by Tacitus, who experienced the fire as a child. According to him, Nero, having received the news of the fire, immediately went to Rome and at his own expense organized special teams to save the city and its inhabitants. Later he drew up a new plan for the city. It set a minimum distance between houses, a minimum width of new streets, the requirement to build only stone buildings in the city. In addition, all new houses were to be erected in such a way that the main exit faced the street and not the yards and gardens.
The fire raged for five days. After it was over, only four of the city”s fourteen districts survived. Three were razed to the ground, the other seven had only a paltry remnant of collapsed and half-built structures (according to the descriptions in Tacitus” Annals, Book XV, Chapters 38 – 44). Nero opened his palaces to the people left homeless, and he also did everything necessary to ensure that the city was supplied with food and to avoid starvation deaths among the survivors.
To rebuild Rome required enormous resources. The provinces of the empire were levied a one-time tribute, which allowed the capital to be rebuilt in a relatively short time. To commemorate the fire, Nero laid a new palace, Nero”s Golden Palace. The palace was not completed, but even what he was able to erect, impressive in size: a complex of buildings, according to various sources, was located on an area from 40 to 120 hectares, and the center of the structure was a 35-meter statue of Nero, called the Colossus of Nero. This palace complex is still the largest of all the royal residences built on the territory of Europe, and in the world it is second only to the Forbidden City – the residence of the Chinese emperors.
Nero probably had nothing to do with the fire, but the Christians had to be found guilty. A few days after the fire, the Christians were accused of setting the city on fire, and their mass executions took place in a spectacular and varied manner.
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The Pison Conspiracy
At the same time the confrontation between Nero and the Senate began. The senators remembered that in 54, when Nero gained power, he promised them almost the same privileges as they had in the days of the Republic. Gradually, however, the emperor was concentrating more and more power in his hands. By 65 it appeared that the Senate had no real power at all.
This confrontation led to a conspiracy, the key figure of which was Gaius Calpurnius Pison, a famous statesman, orator, and patron of the arts. He was able to entice several high-ranking senators, advisers and friends of Nero – Seneca, Petronius, the poet Marcus Annelius Lucan, the horsemen, as well as one of the prefects of the Praetorian Guard, Fennius Rufus, who ran the Praetorians together with Sophonius Tigellinus, a loyal Nero. Also involved in the conspiracy were two other high-ranking praetorians, the tribune of the praetorian cohort Subrius Flavus and the centurion Sulpicius Asper.
The motives of all the conspirators ranged from a simple change of monarch to the restoration of the republic. The main inspirers were Asper and Pison. Flav and Rufus were to secure the support of the Praetorians. The conspirators, who were part of the conspirators, had the support of the Senate. The question of what to do after the overthrow of Nero remained open.
Everything was almost ready when Nero became aware of what was happening. The first person who made the authorities aware of the assassination plot was the freedwoman Epicharides. She was the mistress of Junius Annaeus Gallion, Seneca”s elder brother. Determined to benefit the conspirators, and dissatisfied with the indecision with which they acted, she decided to enlist the navarch Volusius Proculus, a hiliarch (from the Greek χιλίαρχος, “thousandth man”) of the fleet of Mizena. She made contact with Proculus and discovered that he was unhappy with Nero”s cold attitude. Epicharides revealed to Proculus the plot of the conspirators, without naming names, however.
Instead of joining the conspiracy, Proculus denounced Epicharides to Nero. But Epicharides, even in front of the emperor, did not give up the conspirators and accused Proculus of slander. Then the conspirators, alarmed at what was happening, fixed a date for the assassination of Nero – it was to take place in Rome, on the day of the games dedicated to Ceres. It was then decided that Pison would become the new princepsus if the Praetorians recognized him, in which case he would have to marry Claudius” daughter, Claudia Antonia, to ensure the continuity of power.
On the eve of the day set, Milich, a freedman of one of the conspirators, Flavius Scevinus, became aware of the conspiracy. Early in the morning Milichus denounced his patron to Nero. Within days all the conspirators were captured. Pison committed suicide.
The investigation resulted in the arrest of more than 40 men, 19 of whom belonged to the senatorial class. At least 20 people were executed or forced to commit suicide, including Seneca, Petronius, and Fennius Rufus.
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After the discovery of Pison”s plot, Nero became suspicious, even more withdrawn from governing the state, entrusting these duties to his temporaries. Nero himself concentrated on poetry and sports, taking part in various related competitions and contests. Thus, he participated in the Olympic Games of 67, driving ten horses harnessed to a chariot.
As early as the early ”60s, the Palatine resumed the orgies forgotten since the days of Caligula, which by 67-68 had reached an unprecedented scale and lasted for several days.
In 64, before the fire of Rome, a plague broke out in Italy, claiming a great number of lives. In 65 Nero carried out the Quinquinalia. In 67 he ordered the digging of a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth, the construction of which was planned under Tiberius, and Nero participated in the beginning of construction personally, the first to throw away the lump of earth with a shovel.
Rebuilding Rome after the fire, the Quinquinalia, overcoming the effects of the plague, building the “Golden House” and the canal undermined the economy of the state. The provinces were exhausted, and this led to revolt.
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Revolt in Gaul
In March 68, Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of Lugdun Gaul, dissatisfied with Nero”s economic policies and the taxes imposed on the provinces, raised his legions against the emperor. The viceroy of Upper Germany, Lucius Verginius Rufus, was charged with suppressing the revolt. Vindex understood that he could not cope with Rufus” troops alone, so he summoned the popular viceroy of Tarragon Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba, to help him and invited him to declare himself emperor. On such terms Galba supported the rebellion. The legions in Spain and Gaul proclaimed him emperor, and he moved to join with Vindex, but he was too late.
Virgil Rufus was in no hurry to oppose Vindex, taking a wait-and-see attitude. But in May 68 his troops, encamped at Vaisonzio (present-day Besançon, France), attacked Vindex”s legions on the march and easily defeated them.
The remnants of the rebellious legions fled and joined Galba. Verginius Rufus” troops proclaimed their commander as emperor, but Rufus continued to wait. Eventually he let Galba”s army pass on its way to Rome, declaring that he was entrusting himself and his legions into the hands of the Senate.
The Senate declared Galba an enemy of the people, but despite this, his popularity continued to grow. Eventually the second prefect of the Praetorians, Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus, and most of the Guard sided with him. Nero left Rome and headed toward Ostia, hoping to gather a fleet and an army in the eastern provinces loyal to him. Galba”s legions continued their march toward Rome.
When news of the situation reached Nero and his entourage, the latter openly stopped obeying the emperor”s orders. When word reached them that Tigellinus and the Praetorians had agreed to swear an oath to Galba, it became clear that Nero”s days were numbered. At this time Nero was in the Servilia Gardens, where news of the threat caught up with him and he was forced to return to his palace in the Palatine.
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Nero returned to Rome, to the palace on the Palatine. There were no guards. He spent the evening in the palace, then went to bed. Waking up around midnight, the emperor sent an invitation to the palace to everyone who usually participated in orgies with him, but no one responded. Walking through the rooms, he saw that the palace was empty – only slaves remained, and Nero was looking for a soldier or gladiator to be stabbed with his sword by an experienced assassin. Shouting, “I have neither friends nor enemies!” Nero rushed to the Tiber, but he did not have the courage to kill himself.
According to Suetonius, when he returned to the palace, he found his freedman there, who advised the emperor to go to a country villa four miles from the city. Accompanied by four loyal servants, Nero reached the villa and ordered the servants to dig a grave for himself, repeating time after time the phrase, “What a great artist dies!” (lat. Qualis artifex pereo). Soon a courier arrived, informing him that the Senate had declared Nero an enemy of the people and intended to have him publicly executed. Nero prepared to commit suicide, but once again he lacked the will and began begging one of his servants to stab him with a dagger.
Soon the emperor heard the clatter of hooves. When Nero realized that they were coming to arrest him, he gathered his strength, recited the stanza from the Iliad, “Horses galloping with speed, their stomping strikes my ears,” and with the help of his secretary Epaphroditus he slit his throat (according to Dio Cassius, the phrase “What a great artist dies!” was uttered at that very moment). The horsemen rode into the villa and saw the emperor lying in blood; he was still alive. One of the men who arrived tried to stop the bleeding (according to Suetonius, he pretended to try), but Nero died. His last words were, “Here it is – loyalty.
Permission to bury the emperor”s body was granted by Ikel, a freedman and client of Galba. No one wanted to deal with the funeral of the former emperor. On learning of this, his former lover Acta, as well as the nurses Ekloga and Alexandria, wrapped his remains in white robes and committed him to the fire. His ashes were placed in the Domitian family tomb on the Garden Hill (present-day Pincius in Rome).
According to Suetonius and Dio Cassius, the Romans welcomed Nero”s death. Tacitus states that the Senate and the upper classes were happy about the emperor”s death, while the lower classes were saddened by this turn of events. In the eastern provinces the emperor”s death was mourned for a long time, as Apollonius of Tiana wrote to Vespasian in his letters.
Nero”s name was erased from several monuments, and other names were placed under many of his images. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Nero”s memory was condemned by the Senate to a curse (lat. Damnatio memoriae).
With Nero the Julian-Claudian dynasty ended. Four pretenders to the title of emperor unleashed a civil war that lasted the entire following year. All four of them donned the purple togas of Roman emperors. Two of them, Othon and Vitellius, in their speeches promised the Romans to continue the political and economic course pursued by Nero. At the very end of June 69, the troops of Vespasian, commander of the eastern legions, defeated Vitellius” forces at Cremona, after which Vespasian entered Rome, where on July 1 he was proclaimed emperor, thus founding a new dynasty – the Flavians.
Nero”s death was reflected throughout the next history of the Roman state. A precedent was set – the next emperor might not be the heir of the previous one and might not be related to him at all. During the Civil War of ”69, several False Nero”s arose. Moreover, during Galba”s reign, seeing that the emperor”s power was fragile, Nymphidius Sabinus decided to try his luck and declared himself the son of Caligula. The last of the False Neroons was executed 20 years after the emperor”s death – during the reign of Domitian. In general, the figure of the emperor remained popular and debated in Rome for many years. Aurelius Augustine wrote that legends of Nero”s return were told almost three centuries after his death, in 422.
In 63, Nero had a daughter, Claudia Augusta. The emperor worshipped her. But four months after her birth the girl died and after her death she was deified: temples were built in her honor in which priests administered the cult of the divine Claudia Augusta.
In 65, Poppea became pregnant again, but during a family quarrel, a drunken Nero kicked his wife in the stomach, causing her to miscarry and die. Poppea”s body was embalmed and buried in a mausoleum; she too was deified. In 66 Nero married Statilia Messalina, who became Nero”s lover after Poppea”s death, while still married to Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus. In order to remove the obstacle to this marriage the emperor forced Vestin Atticus to commit suicide.
Sources mention other adventures of Nero as well. Although all the emperors of the dynasty (except Claudius) were known for homosexual liaisons, Nero was the first to celebrate weddings with his lovers, theatrically imitating the Roman ritual. Thus, after his wedding to the eunuch Sporus, he dressed him as an empress. And at his wedding to the freedman Pythagoras (Suetonius mentions the name Doriphorus), Nero was already in the role of “wife. According to Suetonius, “he gave his own body so many times to debauchery that scarcely a single member of his body remained unspoiled.
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Nero”s reign was marked by the rise of Hellenism in Rome. The emperor was interested in all things Oriental, including religion. Thus, Nero arranged two lavish “weddings”: with the boy Sporus (as “husband”) and with the priest Pythagoras as “wife. These and other ceremonies, according to historians, were rites of initiation into Mithraism.
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The Jews believe that Nero was the first and only Roman emperor to convert to Judaism.
In 66 the Jewish war broke out. According to the Talmud, Nero arrived in Jerusalem. He asked a passing boy to repeat the verse he had learned that day. The boy replied, “And I will execute My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people, Israel; and they will act in Edom according to My wrath and My indignation, and they will know My vengeance, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 25:14). The emperor was horrified, believing that God wanted to destroy the temple in Jerusalem and blame it on Nero himself. Nero then left the city and converted to Judaism to escape punishment.
The Talmud adds that Rabbi Meir Baal Ha-Nes (Wonderworker), a prominent supporter of the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Roman rule, was a descendant of Nero.
However, Roman and Greek sources nowhere report Nero”s visit to Jerusalem or his conversion to Judaism, a religion considered barbaric and immoral by the Romans. There is also no documentation that Nero had any descendants: his only child, the daughter of Claudius Augustus, died in infancy.
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In Christian tradition, Nero is considered the first state organizer of the persecution of Christians and the executions of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
The persecution of Christians during Nero”s reign is reported in secular historical sources. Tacitus wrote that after the fire of ”64 the emperor arranged mass executions in Rome.
And so Nero, in order to overcome the rumors, sought out those to blame and gave the most elaborate executions to those who by their abominations had incurred the general hatred and whom the crowd called Christians. It was Pontius Pilate, the procurator, who bears the name of Christ, who was put to death during the reign of Tiberius. This malignant superstition, depressed for a time, began to break through again, not only in Judea, where this evil came from, but also in Rome, where the meanest and most shameful things flowed in and where they found their followers. So first were seized those who openly professed to belong to this sect, and then, on their instructions, a great multitude of others, who were found not so much in evil arson as in hatred of the human race. Their slaughter was accompanied by mockery, for they were clothed in the skins of wild beasts to be torn to death by dogs, crucified on crosses, or condemned to die by fire, and set on fire at night for illumination.
Another historian, Suetonius, also mentions the punishment of Christians, though he credits it to Nero and does not link it to the fire.
According to early Christian sources, Nero was the first persecutor of Christians. Tertullian (c. 155-230):
Take the records of your past: you will find that Nero was the first to persecute our doctrine…
This same version was continued by other church writers, such as Lactantius (On the Death of the Persecutors. II, 5-6) and Sulpicius Severus (Chron. II.28.3).
The legend of the executions of the apostles Peter and Paul is also associated with persecution. The apocryphal Acts of Peter (c. 200) says that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome during the reign of Nero, but without his knowledge. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275-339) wrote that Paul was beheaded in Rome under Nero. In the fourth century a number of writers already state that Nero killed Peter and Paul.
Also, some early Christians believed that Nero did not die or that he would rise again and be the Antichrist.
The figure of Nero was assessed quite ambiguously by his contemporaries. The most detailed accounts are found in books XIII-XVI of Tacitus” Annales (written at the beginning of the second century) and in Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus” Life of the Twelve Caesars (besides Nero himself, he is mentioned in the biographies Caligula, Divine Claudius, Galba, Vespasian).
Seneca, who lived during Nero”s time, spoke well of his rule, which is not surprising.
Josephus Flavius (late first century, author of Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War) wrote directly about the falsification of facts by other historians:
Many writers have narrated about Nero; some of them, to whom he did favors, out of gratitude to him twisted the truth, others out of hatred and enmity have so slandered him that they deserve no apology. However, I do not have to wonder at those who reported such falsehoods about Nero, for these people did not tell the truth even about his predecessors, despite the fact that they had no reason to dislike them and lived much later than them.
The works mentioned by Josephus Flavius have not survived, but were used by Tacitus and Suetonius, who wrote somewhat later. Of the surviving sources, Suetonius”s review of the emperor”s entire reign is very negative. On the other hand, Tacitus, who lived through the events described as a child, is much more restrained in his criticism of the emperor when he writes the following:
The deeds of Tiberius and Gaius, as well as those of Claudius and Nero, while they were all-powerful, were deceitfully expounded for fear of them, and when they were gone, under the influence of the fresh hatred they left behind.
On the other hand, a large number of ancient authors, writing after the emperor”s death, are very flattering about his rule and mention prejudice against him. For example, Dion Chrysostom writes that the Romans were happy in Nero”s time and wished he had ruled forever.
Pliny the Elder, on the contrary, calls Nero “the enemy of mankind.
The description of the reign of Nero by the third-century historian Dion Cassius (books 61-63 of his Roman History) is mostly lost, and those fragments that do survive were altered by Xiphilinus in the 11th century.
Nero is an optical disc burner named after the Emperor Nero, who is said to have burned Rome. The English title of the program is a play on words: Nero Burning ROM – “Nero burning (CD-)ROM” is pronounced the same way as Nero burning Rome – “Nero burning Rome”.