Emperor Nero

Early Life

Born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on 15 December 37AD. The last emperor of the ‘Julio-Claudian’ Dynasty.

At three years old his mother and father were banished by the then emperor Caligula and he was sent to live with an aunt.

Following Claudius coming to the throne, Nero was reunited with his mother.

Nero was never expected to become emperor, but his mother Agrippina was a very ambitious and scheming woman, who wanted power for herself, and believed that she could rule alongside Nero.

Agrippina married Claudius and manipulated him into adopting Nero as his son and heir.

Nero was appointed Pro consul in 51AD at the age of 14. He was to appear publicly alongside Claudius and also addressed the senate.

Emperor 54AD – 68AD

Nero became emperor in 54AD and problems occurred early in his reign due to the influence and interference of Agrippina. His advisers were unhappy with her interference and his friends advised him to ‘beware of his mother’.

As Agrippina had fallen out of favour with her son, she started to push for Claudius’ son Britannicus to be emperor.

Britannicus died suddenly on 12 February 55AD. It is believed that Nero arranged for him to be poisoned, even though he stated that Britannicus had died of an epileptic fit.

Nero removed Agrippina out of the palace, and then plotted her death.

He tried to kill her by having a device set that would fall from her bedroom ceiling and crush her while she was sleeping, but this failed. He had a boat made that would fall apart and drown her, this worked but his mother managed to swim to shore.

Finally he decided to have her killed by stabbing. This would haunt him for the rest of his life. It was thought badly of, to have your mother killed.

Following Agrippina’s death, Nero arranged chariot races, athletics, musical performances and plays. He was to perform at these.

Nero wished to divorce his wife Octavia, to marry his lover Poppaea, but Octavia was well liked by the people. Nero accused her of adultery and exiled her. Her subsequent death was made to look like suicide, but thought to be murder.

Nero married Poppaea, but it was not to be a happy marriage. Their first child died shortly after birth, and it is believed that Nero kicked Poppaea to death while she was pregnant with their second child.

Those closest to Nero were worried about his behaviour, it was becoming more bizarre and he was suspicious of everyone. Hundreds of people were to be murdered; many just for looking at Nero. He also forced senators to kill themselves. He came to be known as a madman.

His acting and performances only increased. He would sing and play the lyre (stringed instrument) and he insisted that nobody could leave until his performance had finished. Women were to give birth while watching Nero and men would fake death just to be taken away. To stand up and leave could have been a death sentence.

In 64AD Nero was to give his first public performance, all previous ones having being at the palace or in private. This was a bad omen. Actors were not thought highly of and an emperor acting caused outrage among the people.

There was to be a great fire in 64AD that devastated two thirds of the city of Rome. The people blamed Nero, however he blamed the christians and they were to be heavily persecuted.

A huge rebuild was to take place. Nero had built a new palace (Domus Aurea). Had this have been finished it would have covered two thirds of Rome. He had a thirty metre tall statue of himself erected and the walls and ceilings of the palace were inlaid with gemstones.

Nero’s excesses knew no bounds and he took part in the Olympic Games of 67AD. However his popularity in the senate was diminishing.

Many plotted and rebelled against Nero. The prefect of the Praetorian Guard openly supported Galba.

Nero awoke one night to find there were no guards, and the palace was deserted. He called ‘Have I no friend or foe’. Nobody answered.

Nero abandoned the city, but knew that his support had now left him

He committed suicide on 6 June 68AD and said shortly before his death ‘Oh what an artist the world loses in me’.

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