The Life and Rule of Nero

Beginning his rule on December 15, 37, Nero became one of Rome’s most well-known emperors through both his positive and negative actions, starting with how he got his place on the throne. Much of his early rule was controlled by his mother Agrippina, who killed and manipulated her way to power through her son. She started by killing her second husband in order to marry her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and married off his daughter Octavia to Nero to give him a better chance of being picked to rule next. Once Nero was picked, she most likely killed Claudius with poisonous mushrooms to solidify Nero as Rome’s ruler.

The first five years of Nero’s rule were controlled by Agrippina and two other advisors, Burrus and Seneca. He was politically generous in his first five years, as he promoted the share of power within the Senate as well as making political trials open to the public and well-known. After five years had passed his advisor Seneca pushed him to rule on his own, but as this would take power away from Agrippina she was against it. She countered by saying that Claudius’ blood son should be on the throne instead of Nero and used his affair with Poppaea Sabina to say he was unfit to rule. His response to this was one that Agrippina herself would have come up with, his stepbrother “mysteriously” died, his wife Octavia was exiled and killed, and Agrippina was stabbed to death on his orders. He married Poppaea after this ordeal, but their marriage lasted for only three years before he killed her as well.

After his familial ordeal, Nero began to focus on art and entertainment throughout Greece. He encouraged dance and art lessons within the upper class, sang and performed at private events, started and participated in quinquennial public games, and recreated Rome after the tragic fire starting on June 19, 64. The fire damaged 10 of Rome’s 14 districts, with 3 being completely destroyed, and rumors began to spiral that Nero burned Rome to gain more land for a larger palace complex on the Palatine Hill. Along with this rumor was one that said Nero performed parts of “The Sack of Ilium” while standing on a roof, which has changed into the modern false fact of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. After the fire Nero used most of the treasury money to rebuild Rome around his palace complex, with a 100-foot-tall bronze-casted statue of himself, the Colossus Neronis, standing in the center. Regardless of if he played a part in the fire, Nero blamed the disaster on the Christians in the area and had them persecuted and killed for years.

After the fire, British and Judean revolts, Parthian conflicts, and rebuilding costs, Nero was forced to devalue the currency, with the silver denarius becoming worth 10% less. Not many people were happy with him after this, so there was an attempt on his life in 65 that led to him ordering the deaths of many prefects and senators, including his former advisor Seneca. He took this time to do a tour of Greece where he continued his artistic passions, but eventually returned to Rome in 68. With his return he ignored a Gallic revolt, leading to continued unrest in Africa and Spain, and governor Galba took this as an opportunity to claim leadership of the Senate and Roman People. The Praetorian Guard and the Senate allied with Galba, declaring Nero an enemy of the people. Nero tried to escape, but was unable to and took his life instead, with his last words being “What an artist dies in me!”


Sophie Hogan