Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Nero (15 December 37 AD – 9 June 68 AD) was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Nero was adopted by his grand-uncle Claudius, to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death.
Nero focused much of his attention on diplomacy, trade and enhancing the cultural life of the Empire, but according to the historian Tacitus he was viewed by the Roman people as compulsive and corrupt. 
He ordered theaters built and promoted athletic games.
During his reign, the redoubtable general Corbulo conducted a successful war, and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire.
His general Suetonius Paulinus crushed a revolt in Britain. Nero annexed the Bosporan Kingdom to the Empire and began the First Roman–Jewish War.
In 64 AD, most of Rome was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome, which many Romans believed Nero himself had started in order to clear land for his planned palatial complex, the Domus Aurea.
In 68, the rebellion of Vindex in Gaul, and later the acclamation of Galba in Hispania, drove Nero from the throne.
Facing a false report of being denounced as a public enemy who was to be executed, he committed suicide on 9 June 68 (the first Roman emperor to do so).
His death ended the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, sparking a brief period of civil wars known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Nero's rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance.
He is known for many executions, including that of his mother, and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother Britannicus.
Nero was rumored to have had captured Christians dipped in oil and set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.
This view is based on the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, the main surviving sources for Nero's reign, but a few surviving sources paint Nero in a more favourable light.
Some sources, including some mentioned above, portray him as an emperor who was popular with the common Roman people, especially in the East.

Early Life

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, Nero, was born on 15 December 37 in Antium, near Rome.
He was the only son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, sister of Emperor Caligula.

Nero - as a Boy
Nero's father, Gnaeus, was the son of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 16 BC) and Antonia Major. Gnaeus was thus the grandson of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 32 BC), and probably Aemilia Lepida on his father's side, and the grandson of Mark Antony and Octavia Minor on his mother's side.
Thus, Nero had as his paternal grandmother Antonia Major, and also claimed more remote descent from Antonia Minor as a great-grandson - later grandson after Claudius adopted him.
Through Octavia, Nero was the great-nephew of Caesar Augustus.
Nero's father had been employed as a praetor, and was a member of Caligula's staff when the latter traveled to the East (some apparently think Suetonius refers to Augustus' adopted son Gaius Caesar here, but this is not likely).
Nero's father was described by Suetonius as a murderer and a cheat, who was charged by Emperor Tiberius with treason, adultery and incest.
Tiberius died, allowing him to escape these charges.
Nero's father died of edema ("dropsy") in 39 when Nero was two.
Nero's mother was Agrippina the Younger, a great-granddaughter of Caesar Augustus and his wife Scribonia, through their daughter Julia the Elder and her husband Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.
Agrippina's father, Germanicus, was a grandson of Augustus's wife, Livia, on one side and to Mark Antony and Octavia on the other.
Germanicus' mother Antonia Minor, was a daughter of Octavia Minor and Mark Antony.
Octavia was Augustus' elder sister. Germanicus was also the adopted son of Tiberius.
Agrippina poisoned her second husband Passienus Crispus, so many ancient historians also accuse her of murdering her third husband, the emperor Claudius.

Rise to Power

Nero was not expected to become Emperor because his maternal uncle, Caligula, had begun his reign at the age of 24 with enough time to produce his own heir.
Nero's mother, Agrippina, lost favor with Caligula, and was exiled in 39 after her husband's death.
Caligula seized Nero's inheritance, and sent him to be brought up by his less wealthy aunt, Domitia Lepida, who was the mother of Valeria Messalina, Claudius's third wife.
Caligula, his wife Caesonia and their infant daughter Julia Drusilla were murdered on 24 January 41.
These events led Claudius, Caligula's uncle, to become emperor.
Claudius allowed Agrippina to return from exile.
Claudius had married twice before marrying Valeria Messalina.
His previous marriages produced three children including a son, Drusus, who died at a young age.
He had two children with Messalina – Claudia Octavia (born 40) and Britannicus (born 41).
Messalina was executed by Claudius in the year 48.
In 49 AD, Claudius married a fourth time, to Nero's mother Agrippina, despite her being his niece.
To aid Claudius politically, young Nero was adopted in 50 and took the name Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus.
Nero was older than his stepbrother Britannicus, and thus became heir to the throne.
Nero was proclaimed an adult in 51 at the age of 14.
He was appointed proconsul, entered and first addressed the Senate, made joint public appearances with Claudius, and was featured in coinage.
In 53, he married his stepsister Claudia Octavia.

Early Rule

Claudius died in 54 and Nero, taking the name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was established as Emperor.
Though accounts vary, many ancient historians state Agrippina poisoned Claudius.
According to Pliny the Elder, she used poison mushrooms.
It is not known how much Nero knew, or if he was even involved in the death of Claudius.
Suetonius wrote
"... for even if he was not the instigator of the emperor's death, he was at least privy to it, as he openly admitted; for he used afterwards to laud mushrooms, the vehicle in which the poison was administered to Claudius, as "the food of the gods," as the Greek proverb has it. At any rate, after Claudius' death he vented on him every kind of insult, in act and word, charging him now with folly and now with cruelty; for it was a favourite joke of his to say that Claudius had ceased "to play the fool" among mortals, lengthening the first syllable of the word morari, and he disregarded many of his decrees and acts as the work of a madman and a dotard. Finally, he neglected to enclose the place where his body was burned except with a low and mean wall."
According to Suetonius; Nero became Emperor at the age of 17 when the news of Claudius' death was made known, making him the youngest emperor at that time.
Although, what Suetonius may have meant is that he was in his seventeenth year as his date of birth, also listed by Suetonius, would have made him 16 at the time of Claudius' death.
Tacitus, in book XIII of his Annals, describes Nero as being 'scarcely out of his boyhood' at the time he became emperor.
Ancient historians describe Nero's early reign as being strongly influenced by his mother, Agrippina, his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, especially in the first year.
Other tutors were less often mentioned, such as Alexander of Aegae.
Very early in Nero's rule, problems arose from competition for influence between Agrippina and Nero's two main advisers, Seneca and Burrus. Agrippina also attempted to influence the young Nero. 
Agrippina also as mentioned the ancient sources as "scheming for her son (Nero)".
This scheming continued as is evidenced by the coin of the both of them.
It is extremely unusual to see a women's face on a coin in the ancient world.
It is because of this position of power Agrippina felt jealous as Seneca in particular rose up in Nero's court as he offered the advice Nero wanted to hear unlike his mother.
In 54, Agrippina tried to sit down next to Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene, (as it was unimaginable at that time for a woman to be in the same room as men doing official business).
Nero's friends also mistrusted Agrippina, and told Nero to beware of his mother.
Nero was reportedly unsatisfied with his marriage to Octavia, and entered into an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave.
In 55, Agrippina attempted to intervene in favor of Octavia, and demanded that her son dismiss Acte. 
Nero, with the support of Seneca, resisted the intervention of his mother in his personal affairs.
With Agrippina's influence over her son severed, she reportedly began pushing for Britannicus, Nero's stepbrother, to become emperor.
Nearly fourteen-year-old Britannicus, heir-designate prior to Nero's adoption, was still legally a minor, but was approaching legal adulthood.
According to Tacitus, Agrippina hoped that with her support, Britannicus, being the blood son of Claudius, would be seen as the true heir to the throne by the state over Nero, however, the youth died suddenly, and suspiciously, on 12 February 55, the very day before his proclamation as an adult had been set.
Nero claimed that Britannicus died from an epileptic seizure, but ancient historians all claim Britannicus' death came from Nero's poisoning him.
Supposedly, he enlisted the services of Locusta, a woman who specialized in the manufacture of poisons.
She devised a mixture to kill Britannicus, but after testing it unsuccessfully on a slave, Nero angrily threatened to have her put to death if she did not come up with something usable.
Locusta then devised a new concoction that she promised would "kill swifter than a viper."
Her promise was fulfilled after Britannicus consumed it at a dinner party from water used to cool his wine, which had already been tasted, and succumbed within minutes.
After the death of Britannicus, Agrippina was accused of slandering Octavia, and Nero ordered her out of the imperial residence.
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus (12 February AD 41 — 11 February AD 55) was the son of the Roman emperor Claudius and his third wife Valeria Messalina. He became the heir-designate of the empire at his birth, less than a month into his father's reign. According to Suetonius, Claudius doted extensively on Britannicus. He carried him around at public events. He was supposedly a precocious child. He was still a young boy at the time of his mother's downfall, and Claudius' marriage to Agrippina the Younger. This allowed Agrippina's older son Nero to eclipse him in the public's mind. He lived only months into his step brother Nero's reign, and was probably murdered just before his 14th birthday. According to Suetonius, Britannicus was good friends with the future Emperor Titus, whose father Vespasian had commanded legions in Britain. As part of the Flavians' attempts to link themselves with the Julio-Claudians, Titus claimed that he had been seated with Britannicus on the night he was killed. Titus would go on to erect a gold statue of his friend, and issue coins in his memory.
Matricide and Consolidation of Power

Over time, Nero became progressively more powerful, freeing himself of his advisers, and eliminating rivals to the throne.
In 55, he removed Marcus Antonius Pallas, an ally of Agrippina, from his position in the treasury.
Pallas, along with Burrus, was accused of conspiring against the Emperor to bring Faustus Sulla to the throne.
Seneca was accused of having relations with Agrippina and embezzlement.
Seneca succeeded in having himself, Pallas and Burrus acquitted.
According to Cassius Dio, at this time, Seneca and Burrus reduced their role in governing from careful management to mere moderation of Nero.
In 58, Nero became romantically involved with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of his friend and future emperor Otho.
Reportedly because a marriage to Poppaea and a divorce from Octavia did not seem politically feasible with Agrippina alive, Nero ordered the murder of his mother in 59.
A number of modern historians find this an unlikely motive as Nero did not marry Poppaea until 62.
Additionally, according to Suetonius, Poppaea did not divorce her husband until after Agrippina's death, making it unlikely that the already married Poppaea would be pressing Nero for marriage.
Some modern historians theorize that Nero's execution of Agrippina was prompted by her plotting to set Rubellius Plautus on the throne.
According to Suetonius, Nero tried to kill his mother through a shipwreck planned by his freedman tutor Anicetus, which took the life of her friend, Acerronia Polla, but when Agrippina survived, he had her executed by Anicetus, and framed it as a suicide.
The incident is also recorded by Tacitus.
In 62, Nero's adviser, Burrus, died.
Additionally, Seneca was again faced with embezzlement charges.
Seneca asked Nero for permission to retire from public affairs.
Nero divorced and banished Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry the pregnant Poppaea.
Poppaea Sabina (30–65) - known as Poppaea Sabina the Younger (to differentiate her from her mother) and, after AD 63, as Poppaea Augusta Sabina - was a Roman Empress as the second wife of the Emperor Nero. She had also been wife to the future Emperor Otho. The historians of antiquity describe her as a beautiful woman who used intrigues to become empress. According to Tacitus, Poppaea was ambitious and ruthless. He reports that Poppaea married Otho to get close to Nero and then, in turn, became Nero's favorite mistress. According to Cassius Dio, Poppaea enjoyed having milk baths. She would have them daily, because she was once told "therein lurked a magic which would dispel all diseases and blights from her beauty."
After public protests, Nero was forced to allow Octavia to return from exile, but she was executed shortly after her return.
Nero also was reported to have kicked Poppaea to death in 65 before she could have his second child.
Accusations of treason being plotted against Nero and the Senate first appeared in 62.
The Senate ruled that Antistius, a praetor, should be put to death for speaking ill of Nero at a party.
Later, Nero ordered the exile of Fabricius Veiento, who slandered the Senate in a book.
Tacitus writes that the roots of the conspiracy led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso began in this year.
To consolidate power, Nero executed a number of people in 62 and 63 including his rivals Pallas, Rubellius Plautus and Faustus Sulla.
According to Suetonius, Nero "showed neither discrimination nor moderation in putting to death whomsoever he pleased" during this period.
Nero's consolidation of power also included a slow usurping of authority from the Senate.
In 54, Nero promised to give the Senate powers equivalent to those under Republican rule.
By 65, senators complained that they had no power left, and this led to the Pisonian conspiracy.

Nero's Other Relationships

When Nero's wife Poppaea Sabina died in 65, Nero went into deep mourning.
Her body was not cremated, it was stuffed with spices, embalmed and put in the Mausoleum of Augustus.
She was given a state funeral. Nero praised her during the funeral eulogy, and gave her divine honors.
It is said that Nero "burned ten years' worth of Arabia's incense production at her funeral.
In the beginning of 66, he married Statilia Messalina.
She was already married when she became Nero's mistress in 65 AD, with Statilia's husband being driven to suicide in 66, so Nero could marry Statilia.
She was one of the few of Nero's courtiers who survived the fall of his reign.
Statilia Messalina (c. AD 35 – after AD 68) was a Roman patrician woman, a Roman Empress and third wife to Roman Emperor Nero. Her first husband was the consul Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus to whom she may have borne a son (who died in 88). Around 65, she became Nero's mistress. After the death of the emperor's second wife Poppaea Sabina, Vestinus was forced to commit suicide in 66, so Nero could marry Statilia.
Although witty and scheming, she was far less flamboyant than her predecessor and kept a rather low profile in the public eye. She was one of the few of Nero's courtiers who survived the fall of his reign. After Nero's death, Otho promised that he would marry her, before his suicide in 69.
In 67, Nero ordered a young boy, Sporus, to be castrated, and then married him.
According to Dion Cassius, Sporus bore an uncanny resemblance to Sabina, and Nero even called him by his dead wife's name.
Roman Castration Clamps
Sporus derives from the ancient Greek word σπορά spora, meaning "seed, sowing," related to σπόρος sporos, "sowing," and σπείρειν speirein, "to sow." In all references to him he is always called Sporus, a male name. Little is known about Sporus's background except that he was a teenage boy to whom Nero took a liking.
Puer Delicatus
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
He was a 'puer delicatus', who were sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve their youthful qualities. The 'puer delicatus' generally was a young slave-boy, chosen by his master for his beauty. Sporus was one of the four companions on the emperor's last journey in June 68. It was to him, and not to his wife Messalina, that Nero turned as he began the ritual lamentations before taking his own life. Soon after Nero's death, Sporus was taken into the care of the Praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who took part in the final conspiracy against Nero, and persuaded the Praetorian Guard to desert him - but when he attempted to have himself declared emperor, he was killed by his own soldiers. Nymphidius treated Sporus as though they were married, and called him "Poppaea".
After Nymphidius' death, Sporus, in the year 69, became involved with Emperor Otho, who was also killed by his enemies. Vitellius (Roman Emperor for eight months, from 16 April to 22 December 69), then planned for Sporus to play the title role in a re-enactment of the myth of the 'Rape of Persephone' (the same theme as the ring Sporus gave Nero), for the viewing enjoyment of the crowds during one of the gladiatorial combats. Sporus then committed suicide to avoid the humiliating show. He was probably under 20 years old at the time of his death.
Administrative Policies

Over the course of his reign, Nero often made rulings that pleased the lower class.
Nero was criticized as being obsessed with personal popularity.
Nero began his reign in 54 by promising the Senate more autonomy.
In this first year, he forbade others to refer to him with regard to enactments, for which he was praised by the Senate.
Nero was known for spending his time visiting brothels and taverns during this period.
In 55, Nero began taking on a more active role as an administrator.
He was consul four times between 55 and 60.
During this period, some ancient historians speak fairly well of Nero and contrast it with his later rule.
Under Nero, restrictions were put on the amount of bail and fines.
Also, fees for lawyers were limited.
There was a discussion in the Senate on the misconduct of the freedmen class, and a strong demand was made that patrons should have the right of revoking freedom.
Nero supported the freedmen and ruled that patrons had no such right.
The Senate tried to pass a law in which the crimes of one slave applied to all slaves within a household.
Despite riots from the people, Nero supported the Senate on their measure, and deployed troops to organize the execution of 400 slaves affected by the law, however, he vetoed strong measures against the freedmen affected by the case.
After tax collectors were accused of being too harsh to the poor, Nero transferred collection authority to lower commissioners.
Nero banned any magistrate or procurator from exhibiting free public entertainment for fear that the venue was being used as a method to sway the populace.
Additionally, there were many impeachments and removals of government officials along with arrests for extortion and corruption.
When further complaints arose that the poor were being overly taxed, Nero attempted to repeal all indirect taxes.
The Senate convinced him this action would bankrupt the public treasury.
As a compromise, taxes were cut from 4.5% to 2.5%.
Additionally, secret government tax records were ordered to become public.
To lower the cost of food imports, merchant ships were declared tax-exempt.
In imitation of the Greeks, Nero built a number of gymnasiums and theatres.
Enormous gladiatorial shows were also held.
Nero also established the quinquennial Neronia.
The festival included games, poetry, and theater.
Historians indicate that there was a belief that theater led to immorality.
Others considered that to have performers dressed in Greek clothing was old fashioned.
Some questioned the large public expenditure on entertainment.
In 64, Rome burned.
Nero enacted a public relief effort as well as significant reconstruction.
A number of other major construction projects occurred in Nero's late reign.
Nero had the marshes of Ostia filled with rubble from the fire.
He erected the large Domus Aurea (Golden House).
In 67, Nero attempted to have a canal dug at the Isthmus of Corinth.
Ancient historians state that these projects and others exacerbated the drain on the State's budget.
The cost to rebuild Rome was immense, requiring funds the state treasury did not have.
Nero devalued the Roman currency for the first time in the Empire's history.
He reduced the weight of the denarius from 84 per Roman pound to 96 (3.85 grams to 3.35 grams).
He also reduced the silver purity from 99.5% to 93.5% - the silver weight dropping from 3.83 grams to 3.4 grams.
Furthermore, Nero reduced the weight of the aureus from 40 per Roman pound to 45 (8 grams to 7.2 grams).
Between 62 and 67, according to Plinius the Elder and Seneca, Nero promoted an expedition to discover the sources of the Nile River.
It was the first exploration of equatorial Africa from Europe in history, however, Nero's expedition up the Nile failed because water plants had clogged the river, denying Nero's vessels access to the Sudd of present-day South Sudan.
The economic policy of Nero is a point of debate among scholars. According to ancient historians, Nero's construction projects were overly extravagant and the large number of expenditures under Nero left Italy "thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money" with "the provinces ruined."
Modern historians, though, note that the period was riddled with deflation, and that it is likely that Nero's spending came in the form of public works projects and charity intended to ease economic troubles.

Great Fire of Rome

The Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of 18 July to 19 July 64. The fire started at the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus in shops selling flammable goods.
The extent of the fire is uncertain. According to Tacitus, who was nine at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burned for over five days.
It destroyed three of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven.
The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder, who wrote about it in passing.
Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch and Epictetus) make no mention of it in what remains of their work.
It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire - whether accident or arson.
Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist, so he could build a palatial complex.
Tacitus mentions that Christians confessed to the crime, but it is not known whether these confessions were induced by torture, however, accidental fires were common in ancient Rome.
In fact, Rome suffered other large fires in 69 and in 80.
Popular legend claims that Nero played the fiddle at the time of the fire, an anachronism based merely on the concept of the lyre, a stringed instrument associated with Nero and his performances. (The fiddle wasn't invented until the 10th century.)
Tacitus's account, however, has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire.
According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero returned to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds.
Nero's contributions to the relief extended to personally taking part in the search for and rescue of victims of the blaze, spending days searching the debris without even his bodyguards.
After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.
In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan.
Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads.
Nero also built a new palace complex known as the 'Domus Aurea' (the Golden House') in an area cleared by the fire.
This included lush artificial landscapes, and a 30-meter-tall statue of himself, the Colossus of Nero
The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres).
To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.
Tacitus, in one of the earliest non-Christian references to the origins of Christianity, notes that the population searched for a scapegoat, and rumors held Nero responsible.
To deflect blame, Nero targeted Christians.
He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs (not lions), while others were crucified and burned.

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