Augustus AD 54 - 68 (13 October AD 54 - 9 January 68)
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus) born in A.D. 37 - died 68.
Son of Agripina Junior (by Ahenobarbus);
Husband of Claudia Octavia, Poppaea and Statilia Messalina;
Father of Claudia Neronis;
Adopted son, son-in-low, grand-nephew, and successor of Claudius;
Nephew of Caligula.
On his father’s side, Nero came from a very old noble family and had the given name Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He owed his rise to power to his mother Agrippina, however, who belonged to the Julian clan, being the daughter of Germanicus and thus niece of Claudius. Agrippina endeared herself to Claudius, who married her, adopted her son, and married him off to his daughter Octavia. Upon Claudius’ death in 54, in which Agrippina might have had a hand, she allied herself with the Praetorian Prefect Sextus Burrus and secured the throne for Nero, as he became known. He was only seventeen.
Ridding himself off from the excessive influence of his mother the very next year, 55, during the next several years Nero gave free hand to two capable men, Sextus Burrus and Lucius Annaeus Seneca, his former teacher and prominent Stoic philosopher, to run the empire. Nero himself worked hard under their supervision, to improve governance and the judicial system and to straighten up the imperial finances. Faced with the immense task of overhauling a centuries-old, conservative system however, with limited administrative tools and without public support, Nero gradually grew disillusioned with public life and developed the private interest in horse-racing, singing, theater acting, dancing, endless parties and, ultimately, the cruel murders with which he was destined to go down in history.
The change took a marked turn for worse when Nero had Agrippina, who vociferously attacked his new way of life, murdered without mercy in 59. The decisive break came in 62, however, when Burrus died of an abscess and with him one the restraining forces in Nero’s life. Then came the retirement of Seneca, who, unable to stop Nero’s aberrations, excused himself from public life. The same year Nero got rid of his wife Octavia. She was exiled and then murdered, and Nero wed Poppaea, a blond beauty who liked bathing in mares’ milk. Nero later killed her by kicking her in the stomach while pregnant in a fit of rage. Free from supervision, Nero indulged in all excesses, the sexual ones among them being prominent as the rumor in Rome had it. Fortunately for him, there were no major pressures on the frontiers, apart from a major revolt of the Icenii in Britain that cost many lives but was swiftly put down, and a couple of minor setbacks against the Parthians. The Romans put up with the emperor-artist and so did the Senate, at least superficially, but the relationship steadily worsened.
A turning point in this uneasy public peace was the great conflagration of Rome in 64, during which Nero had the bad idea to have a public hearing of his poetry. Rumors spread that he caused the fire to secure a dramatic backdrop for his art. Nero found a scapegoat in the Christians and unleashed a persecution, during which Saul, known also as St Paul, and Peter the disciple and head of the Roman community, reportedly perished. Rumors persisted however, and Nero began to see enemies and treason everywhere. In 65 a major “plot” was uncovered, and among those implicated were leading senators, one of the joint Praetorian Prefects, and Seneca. Executions and forced suicides quieted the suspicions of the emperor for a while and he took off for Greece to take part in the Olympic Games, but soon another wave of state terror engulfed the leading men of the empire. Top military commanders and senators were eliminated without respite and this, combined with a severe food shortage made the situation untenable. In January 68 Nero returned to Rome but time was running out for him. The governor of Gaul rose in revolt, so did the one of North Africa. Spain joined and even the Rhine legions refused to accept Nero’s authority. Nero’s chief supporter in Rome, the Praetorian Prefect Tigellinus, was ill and powerless; the other Prefect ordered the elite guards to withdraw their allegiance. The Senate, emboldened, ordered Nero arrested and flogged to death. Paralyzed by the news, Nero lost his nerve and on June 9, 68 committed suicide by stabbing himself in the throat with a dagger.
Mints: Caesarea Cappadociae, Lugdunum, Rome.
List all Nero coins in the Catalog.