Nero part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
Nero Author: Tom Lowe
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (/ˈnɪəroʊ/ NEER-oh; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68) was the fifth Roman Emperor and final Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty reigning from AD 54 until he died in AD 68. He was adopted by the Roman Emperor Claudius at 13 and succeeded him on the throne. Nero was popular with the members of his Praetorian Guard and lower-class commoners in Rome and its provinces, but the Roman aristocracy deeply resented him. Most contemporary sources describe him as tyrannical, self-indulgent, and debauched. After being declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate, he committed suicide at age 30.
Nero was born at Antium in AD 37, the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, a great-granddaughter of Emperor Augustus. When Nero was two years old, his father died. His mother married Emperor Claudius, who eventually adopted Nero as his heir; when Claudius died in 54, Nero became Emperor with the support of the Praetorian Guard and the Senate. In the early years of his reign Nero was advised and guided by his mother Agrippina, his tutor Seneca the Younger, and his praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, but he soon sought to rule independently and to rid himself of restraining influences. His power struggle with his mother was eventually resolved when he had her murdered. Roman sources also implicate Nero in the deaths of his wife Claudia Octavia – supposedly so that he could marry Poppaea Sabina – and of his foster-brother Britannicus. Most Roman sources present Nero as sexually dissolute. He is said to have "married" a freedman Pythagoras, acting the bride's part at the ceremony. After Poppaea died in unclear circumstances, Nero, in short succession, married an aristocratic woman Statilia Messalina and another freedman, Sporus, whom he had castrated.
Nero's practical contributions to Rome's governance focused on diplomacy, trade, and culture. He ordered the construction of amphitheaters, promoted athletic games and contests, and made public appearances as an actor, poet, musician, and charioteer. This scandalized his aristocratic contemporaries as these occupations were usually the domain of enslaved people, public entertainers, and infamous persons. The provision of such entertainments made Nero popular among lower-class citizens, but his performances undermined Imperial dignity. The costs involved were borne by local elites either directly or through taxation and were much resented.
During Nero's reign, the general Corbulo fought the Roman–Parthian War of 58–63 and made peace with the hostile Parthian Empire. The Roman general Suetonius Paulinus quashed a major revolt in Britain led by the Iceni's queen Boudica. The Bosporan Kingdom was briefly annexed to the Empire, and the First Jewish–Roman War began. When the Roman senator Vindex rebelled, with support from the eventual Roman Emperor Galba, Nero declared a public enemy and condemned to death in absentia. He fled Rome, and on 9 June AD 68, he committed suicide. His death sparked a brief period of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Most Roman sources offer overwhelmingly negative assessments of his personality and reign. The historian Tacitus claims the Roman people thought him irrational and corrupt. Suetonius tells that many Romans believed that Nero instigated the Great Fire of Rome to clear land for his planned "Golden House." Tacitus claims that Nero seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and had them burned alive, seemingly motivated not by public justice but personal cruelty. Some modern historians question the reliability of the ancient sources on Nero's tyrannical acts, considering his popularity among the Roman commoners. In the eastern provinces of the Empire, a popular legend arose that Nero had not died and would return. After his death, at least three leaders of short-lived failed rebellions presented themselves as "Nero reborn" to gain popular support.
Nero was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on 15 December 37 AD in Antium (modern Anzio). He was an only child, the son of the politician Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger. His mother, Agrippina, was the sister of the third Roman Emperor, Caligula. Nero was also the great-great-grandson of former emperor Augustus (descended from Augustus' only daughter, Julia).
The ancient biographer Suetonius, critical of Nero's ancestors, wrote that emperor Augustus had reproached Nero's grandfather for his unseemly enjoyment of violent gladiator games. According to Jürgen Malitz, Suetonius says that Nero's father was known to be "irascible and brutal." Both "enjoyed chariot races and theater performances not befitting their position." Suetonius also mentions that when Nero's father Domitius was congratulated by his friends for the birth of his son, he replied that any child born to him and Agrippina would have a detestable nature and become a public danger.
Domitius died in 40 AD. A few years before his father's death, his father was involved in a serious political scandal. His mother and his two surviving sisters, Agrippina and Julia Livilla were exiled to a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea. His mother was said to have been exiled for plotting to overthrow Emperor Caligula. Nero's inheritance was taken from him, and he was sent to live with his paternal aunt Domitia Lepida the Younger, the mother of later Emperor Claudius's third wife, Messalina.
After Caligula's death, Claudius became the new Roman Emperor. Nero's mother married Claudius in 49 AD, becoming his fourth wife. By February 49 AD, his mother had persuaded Claudius to adopt her son Nero.
After Nero's adoption by the Emperor, "Claudius" became part of his name: Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. Claudius had gold coins issued to mark the adoption. Classics professor Josiah Osgood has written that "the coins, through their distribution and imagery alike, showed that a new Leader was in the making."12: 231 However, David Shotter noted that, despite events in Rome, Nero's stepbrother Britannicus was more prominent in provincial coinages during the early 50s.
Nero formally entered public life as an adult in 51 AD at approximately 14 years old. When he turned 16, Nero married Claudius' daughter (his step-sister), Claudia Octavia. Between the years 51 AD and 53 AD, he gave several speeches on behalf of various communities, including the Ilians, the Arameans (requesting a five-year tax reprieve after an earthquake), and the northern colony of Bologna, after their settlement had suffered a devastating fire.
Claudius died in 54 AD; many ancient historians claim that he was poisoned. Shotter has written that "Claudius' death in 54 AD has usually been regarded as an event hastened by Agrippina due to signs that Claudius was showing a renewed affection for his natural son". He also notes that the Roman historian Josephus was uniquely reserved in describing the poisoning as a rumor.
Contemporary sources differ in their accounts of the poisoning. Tacitus says that the poison-maker Locusta prepared the toxin, which was served to the Emperor by his servant Halotus. Tacitus also writes that Agrippina arranged for Claudius' doctor Xenophon to administer poison if the Emperor survived. Suetonius differs in some details but also implicates Halotus and Agrippina. Like Tacitus, Cassius Dio writes that Locusta prepared the poison, but in Dio's account, it is administered by Agrippina instead of Halotus. In Apocolocyntosis, Seneca the Younger does not mention mushrooms at all. All modern scholars do not accept Agrippina's involvement in Claudius' death.
Before Claudius' death, Agrippina maneuvered to remove Claudius' sons' tutors to replace them with tutors that she had selected. She also convinced Claudius to replace two prefects of the Praetorian Guard (who were suspected of supporting Claudius' son) with Afranius Burrus (Nero's future guide). Since Agrippina had replaced the guard officers with men loyal to her, Nero could subsequently assume power without incident.
Reign (54–68 AD)
Most of what we know about Nero's reign is from three ancient writers: Tacitus, Suetonius, and Greek historian Cassius Dio.
According to these ancient historians, Nero's construction projects were overly extravagant. Many 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.
Nero became Emperor in 54 AD, at the age of 14. This made him the youngest sole Emperor until Elagabalus, who became Emperor at 14 years in 218. As Pharaoh of Egypt, Nero adopted the royal titulary Autokrator Neron Heqaheqau Meryasetptah Tjemaahuikhasut Wernakhtubaqet Heqaheqau Setepennenu Merur ('Emperor Nero, Ruler of rulers, chosen by Ptah, beloved of Isis, the sturdy-armed one who struck the foreign lands, victorious for Egypt, ruler of rulers, chosen of Nun who loves him').
Nero's tutor, Seneca, prepared Nero's first speech before the Senate. During this speech, Nero spoke about "eliminating the ills of the previous regime." H.H. Scullard writes that "he promised to follow the Augustan model in his principate, end-all secret trials intra cubiculum, do with the corruption of court favorites and freedmen, and above all to respect the privileges of the Senate and individual Senators."