Roman Emperor Nero was born Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (December 15, 37 – June 9, 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also called Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus, was the fifth and lastRoman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Emperor Nero was adopted by his great uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne. As Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar, he succeeded to the throne on October 13, 54, following Claudius’ death. Emperor Nero ruled from 54 to 68, focusing much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the empire. He ordered the building of theatres and promoted athletic games. His reign included a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire (58-63), the suppression of the British revolt (60-61) and improving diplomatic ties with Greece. In 68 a military coup drove Emperor Nero into hiding. Facing execution, he reportedly committed forced suicide. Emperor Nero’s rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He is known for a number of executions, including his mother and adoptive brother, as the emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned” and an early persecutor of Christians. This view is based upon the main surviving sources for Emperor Nero’s reign Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. Few surviving sources paint Nero in a favorable light. Some sources, though, portray him as an emperor who was popular with the Roman people, especially in the east. The study of Nero is problematic as some modern historians question the reliability of ancient sources when reporting on Emperor Nero’s alleged tyrannical acts. It may be impossible to completely separate fact from fiction concerning Emperor Nero’s reign.
Nero was born with the name Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on December 15, AD 37, in Antium, near Rome. He was the only son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, sister of emperor Caligula. Lucius’ father was grandson to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Aemilia Lepida through their son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. Gnaeus was a grandson to Mark Antony and Octavia Minor through their daughter Antonia Major. Through Octavia, he was the grand-nephew of Caesar Augustus. Nero’s father had been employed as a praetor and was a member of Caligula’s staff when the future-emperor traveled to the East. 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. Gnaeus died of edema (or “dropsy”) in 39 when Lucius was three. Lucius’ mother was Agrippina the Younger, who was great-granddaughter to Caesar Augustus and his wife Scribonia through their daughter Julia the Elder and her husband Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Agrippina’s father, Germanicus, was grandson to 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’ second elder sister. Germanicus was also the adoptive son of Tiberius. A number of ancient historians accuse Agrippina of murdering her third husband, emperor Claudius.
Rise to power of Nero:
It was not expected for Lucius to ever become emperor. His maternal uncle, Caligula, had begun his reign at the age of twenty-four with ample time to produce his own heir. Lucius’ mother, Agrippina lost favor with Caligula and was exiled in 39 after her husband’s death. Caligula seized Lucius’s inheritance and sent him to be raised by his less wealthy aunt, Domitia Lepida. Caligula produced no heir. He, his wife Caesonia and their infant daughter Julia Drusilla were murdered in 41. These events led Claudius, Caligula’s uncle, to become emperor. Claudius allowed Agrippina to return from exile. Coin issued under Claudius celebrating young Nero as the future emperor, c. 50Claudius had married twice before marrying 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 (b. 40) and Britannicus (b. 41). Messalina was executed by Claudius in 48. In 49, Claudius married a fourth time, to Agrippina. To aid Claudius politically, Lucius was officially adopted in 50 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus. Nero was older than his step-brother, Britannicus, and became heir to the throne. Nero was proclaimed an adult in 51 at the age of fourteen. 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 step-sister Claudia Octavia.
Early rule of Roman Emperor Nero:
Claudius died in 54 and Nero was established as emperor. Though accounts vary greatly, many ancient historians claim Agrippina poisoned Claudius. It is not known how much Emperor Nero knew or was involved with the death of Claudius. Nero became emperor at sixteen, the youngest Emperor yet. 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. The first few years of Emperor Nero’s rule were known as examples of fine administration. The matters of the Empire were handled effectively and the Senate enjoyed a period of renewed influence in state affairs. Very early in Emperor Nero’s rule, problems arose from competition for influence between Agrippina and Nero’s two advisers, Seneca and Burrus. In 54, Agrippina tried to sit down next to Emperor Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene. Emperor Nero’s personal friends also mistrusted Agrippina and told Nero to beware of his mother. Emperor Nero was reportedly unsatisfied with his marriage to Octavia and entered 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 turned to a younger candidate for the throne. Nearly fifteen-year-old Britannicus 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 Emperor Nero. However, the youth died suddenly and suspiciously on February 12, 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. After the death of Britannicus, Agrippina was accused of slandering Octavia and Nero ordered her out of the imperial residence.
Matricide and consolidation of power of Roman Emperor Nero:
Over time, Emperor 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 was able to get 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 Emperor 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, Emperor 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 Emperor 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 planned shipwreck, but when she survived, he had her executed and framed it as a suicide. The Remorse of Nero after Killing his Mother, by John William Waterhouse, 1878.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. Emperor Nero divorced and banished Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry the pregnant Poppaea. After public protests, Nero was forced to allow Octavia to return from exile, but she was executed shortly upon her return. Accusations of treason 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, Emperor 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. Emperor Nero’s consolidation of power also included a slow usurping of authority from the Senate. In 54, Emperor 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.
War and peace with Parthia:
Shortly after Nero’s accession to the throne in 55, the Roman vassal kingdom of Armenia overthrew their prince Rhadamistus and he was replaced with the Parthian prince Tiridates. This was seen as a Parthian invasion of Roman territory. There was concern in Rome over how the young emperor would handle the situation. Emperor Nero reacted by immediately sending the military to the region under the command of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. The Parthians temporarily relinquished control of Armenia to Rome. The peace did not last and full-scale war broke out in 58. The Parthian king Vologases I refused to remove his brother Tiridates from Armenia. The Parthians began a full-scale invasion of the Armenian kingdom. Commander Corbulo responded and repelled most of the Parthian army that same year. Tiridates retreated and Rome again controlled most of Armenia. Nero was acclaimed in public for this initial victory. Tigranes, a Cappadocian noble raised in Rome, was installed by Nero as the new ruler of Armenia. Corbulo was appointed governor of Syria as a reward. Emperor Nero’s peace deal with Parthia was a political victory at home and made him beloved in the east. In 62, Tigranes invaded the Parthian city of Adiabene. Again, Rome and Parthia were at war and this continued until 63. Parthia began building up for a strike against the Roman province of Syria. Corbulo tried to convince Nero to continue the war, but Nero opted for a peace deal instead. There was anxiety in Rome about eastern grain supplies and a budget deficit. The result was a deal where Tiridates again became the Armenian king, but was crowned in Rome by emperor Nero. In the future, the king of Armenia was to be a Parthian prince, but his appointment required approval from the Romans. Tiridates was forced to come to Rome and partake in ceremonies meant to display Roman dominance. The Roman people were said to be overjoyed by lives saved through this peace deal. This peace deal of 63 was a considerable victory for Nero politically. Emperor Nero became very popular in the eastern provinces of Rome and with the Parthians as well. The peace between Parthia and Rome lasted 50 years until emperor Trajan of Rome invaded Armenia in 114.
Administrative policies of Roman Emperor Nero:
Over the course of his reign, Emperor Nero often made rulings that pleased the lower class. Emperor Nero was criticised as being obsessed with being popular. Emperor 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 being hands-off and 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 which Emperor Nero vetoed. Emperor Nero transferred collection authority to lower commissioners of competency. Emperor Nero banned any magistrate or procurator from exhibiting public entertainment for fear that the venue was being used as a method to sway the populace.Additionally,