Nero part 3
by John Thomas Lowe
While Nero had retained some control of the situation, support for Galba increased despite his being officially declared a "public enemy." The prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus, also abandoned his allegiance to the Emperor and came out in support of Galba.
In response, Nero fled Rome intending to go to the port of Ostia and, from there, to take a fleet to one of the still-loyal eastern provinces. According to Suetonius, Nero abandoned the idea when some army officers openly refused to obey his commands, responding with a line from Virgil's Aeneid: "Is it so dreadful a thing then to die?" Nero then toyed with the idea of fleeing to Parthia, throwing himself upon the mercy of Galba, or appealing to the people and begging them to pardon him for his past offenses "and if he could not soften their hearts, to entreat them at least to allow him the prefecture of Egypt." Suetonius reports that the text of this speech was later found in Nero's writing desk but that he dared not give it for fear of being torn to pieces before he could reach the Forum.
Nero returned to Rome and spent the evening in the palace. After sleeping, he awoke at about midnight to find the palace guard had left. Dispatching messages to his friends' palace chambers for them to come, he received no answers. Upon going to their chambers personally, he found them all abandoned. He cried, "Have I neither friend nor foe?" and ran out as if to throw himself into the Tiber.
Returning, Nero sought a place where he could hide and collect his thoughts. An imperial freedman, Phaon, offered his villa, located 4 mi (6.4 km) outside the city. Traveling in disguise, Nero and four loyal freedmen, Epaphroditus, Phaon, Neophytus, and Sporus, reached the villa, where Nero ordered them to dig a grave for him. Nero learned that the Senate had declared him a public enemy. Nero prepared himself for suicide, pacing up and down and muttering Qualis Artifex pereo ("What an artist dies in me"). Losing his nerve, he begged one of his companions to set an example by killing himself first. However, he still could not bring himself to take his own life but instead forced his private secretary, Epaphroditus, to perform the task. At last, the sound of approaching horseback riders drove Nero to face the end.
When one of the horseback riders entered and saw that Nero was dying, he attempted to stop the bleeding, but efforts to save Nero's life were unsuccessful. According to Sulpicius Severus, it is unclear whether Nero took his own life. Nero's final words were, "Too late! This is fidelity!" He died on 9 June 68, the anniversary of the death of his first wife, Claudia Octavia. He was buried in the Mausoleum of the Domitii Ahenobarbi, in what is now the Villa Borghese (Pincian Hill) area of Rome.
With his death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended. Chaos would ensue in the year of the Four Emperors.
Apotheosis of Nero, c. after 68. Artwork portraying Nero rising to divine status after his death.
According to Suetonius and Cassius Dio, the people of Rome celebrated the death of Nero. Tacitus, though, describes a more complicated political environment. Tacitus mentions that Nero's death was welcomed by Senators, nobility, and the upper class. The lower class, enslaved people, frequenters of the arena and the theater, and "those who were supported by the famous excesses of Nero," on the other hand, were upset with the news. Members of the military were said to have mixed feelings, as they had allegiance to Nero but had been bribed to overthrow him.
Eastern sources, namely Philostratus and Apollonius of Tyana, mention that Nero's death was mourned as he "restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character" and "held our liberties in his hand and respected them."
Modern scholarship generally holds that, while the Senate and more well-off individuals welcomed Nero's death, the general populace was "loyal to the end and beyond, for Otho and Vitellius both thought it worthwhile to appeal to their nostalgia."
In what Edward Champlin regards as an "outburst of private zeal," Nero's name was erased from some monuments. Many portraits of Nero were reworked to represent other figures; according to Eric R. Varner, over fifty such images survive. This reworking of images is often explained as part of how the memory of disgraced emperors was condemned posthumously. Champlin, however, doubts that the practice is necessarily damaging and notes that some continued to create images of Nero long after his death. Damaged portraits of Nero, often with hammer blows directed to the face, have been found in many provinces of the Roman Empire, three recently having been identified from the United Kingdom.
During the year of the Four Emperors, ancient historians described the civil war as a troubling period. According to Tacitus, this instability was rooted in the fact that emperors could no longer rely on the perceived legitimacy of the imperial bloodline, as Nero and those before him could. Galba began his short reign with the execution of many of Nero's allies. One such notable enemy included Nymphidius Sabinus, who claimed to be the son of Emperor Caligula.
Otho overthrew Galba. Otho was said to be liked by many soldiers because he had been a friend of Nero and resembled him somewhat in temperament. It was said that the typical Roman hailed Otho as Nero himself. Otho used "Nero" as a surname and reerected many statues to Nero. Vitellius overthrew Otho. Vitellius began his reign with a large funeral for Nero, complete with songs written by Nero.
After Nero died at 68, there was a widespread belief that he was not dead and would return, especially in the eastern provinces. This belief came to be known as the Nero Redivivus Legend. The legend of Nero's return lasted for hundreds of years after Nero's death. Augustine of Hippo wrote of the legend as a widespread belief in 422.
At least three Nero imposters emerged, leading rebellions. The first, who sang and played the cithara or lyre and whose face was similar to that of the dead Emperor, appeared in 69 during the reign of Vitellius. After persuading some to recognize him, he was captured and executed. Sometime during the reign of Titus (79–81), another impostor appeared in Asia and sang to the accompaniment of the lyre and looked like Nero, but he, too, was killed. Twenty years after Nero's death, during the reign of Domitian, there was a third pretender. He was supported by the Parthians, who only reluctantly gave him up, and the matter almost came to war.
In Britannia (Britain) in 59 AD, Prasutagus, leader of the Iceni tribe and a client king of Rome during Claudius' reign, had died. The client stated that the arrangement was unlikely to survive following the death of Claudius. The will of the Iceni tribal King (leaving control of the Iceni to his daughters) was denied. When the Roman procurator Catus Decianus scourged the former King Prasutagus' wife Boudica and raped her daughters, the Iceni revolted.
Peace with Parthia
Nero began preparing for war in the early years of his reign after the Parthian king Vologeses set his brother Tiridates on the Armenian throne. Around 57 AD and 58 AD Domitius Corbulo and his legions advanced on Tiridates and captured the Armenian capital Artaxata. Tigranes was chosen to replace Tiridates on the Armenian throne. When Tigranes attacked Adiabene, Nero had to send other legions to defend Armenia and Syria from Parthia.
The Roman victory came when the Parthians were troubled by revolts; when this was dealt with, they could devote resources to the Armenian situation. A Roman army under Paetus surrendered under humiliating circumstances, and though both Roman and Parthian forces withdrew from Armenia, it was under Parthian control.
First Jewish War
In 66, a Jewish revolt in Judea stemmed from Greek and Jewish religious tension. This revolt is famous for Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem and destroying the Second Temple of Jerusalem. In 67, Nero dispatched Vespasian to restore order. This revolt was eventually put down in 70, after Nero's death.
The history of Nero's reign is problematic in that no historical sources survived that were contemporary with Nero. While they still existed, these first histories were described as biased and fantastical, either overly critical or praising Nero. The sources were also said to contradict several events. Nonetheless, these lost primary sources were the basis of surviving secondary and tertiary histories on Nero written by the next generations of historians. A few contemporary historians are known by name. Fabius Rusticus, Clavius Rufus, and Pliny the Elder, wrote condemning histories on Nero that are now lost. There were also pro-Nero histories, but it is unknown who wrote them or what deeds Nero was praised for. I want to mention other historians who wrote about Nero, some were complimentary, and some were very negative. However, there are good reasons for holding either opinion. I will, though, only mention their names: Philostratus, Cassius Dio, Dio Chrysostom, Epictetus, Josephus, and Lucan.
I hope you found this article both interesting and informative. I appreciate your comments, and I will indeed learn from them. May our God bless you for Jesus' sake.