Nero Claudius Cæsar Augustus Germanicus, born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus,
Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus.
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


Astro-Rayological Interpretation & Charts
Images and Physiognomic Interpretation

to Volume 3 Table of Contents


Nero—Emperor of Rome

December 15, 37 AD, Rome Italy, 7:30 AM, LMT.
(Source: Suetonius in his book The Twelve Caesars gives a sunrise birth).  Died, June 9, 68 AD.

(Ascendant, Sagittarius with the Sun, Pluto and Mars in Sagittarius, conjunct and rising; Mercury is also in Sagittarius; MC, Libra; Moon in Leo conjunct the Vertex; Venus in Capricorn; Jupiter in Scorpio; Saturn and Uranus in Virgo; Neptune in Aquarius)

“You can easily appreciate the fact that the evocation of the energy of the will and its effect upon the unprepared, materialistically minded person might and would prove a disaster. It would simply serve to focus and strengthen the lower self-will, which is the name we give to realised and determined desire. It could then create such a driving force, directed to selfish ends, that the person might become a monster of wickedness. In the history of the race, one or two advanced personalities have done this with dire results both to themselves and to the people of their time. One such figure in ancient times was Nero; the modern example is Hitler.” (EA 585)

Noteworthy Astro-Rayological Factors for Further Contemplation

1.      Although the chart used must be considered, in part, speculative, it is supported by a respectable source. The day is considered historically accurate and the time of birth is given by an historian of the period.

2.      It is probably best to trust the day of birth more than the hour. Another chart which would indicate an unbearable theatricality, grandiosity, self-display and self-indulgence, would show Leo rising, with the Moon in the first house and the Sagittarian stellium in the fifth house of self-expression (Leo’s house).

This second chart would put Jupiter in the fourth lefting the immense (and financially draining) building projects which Nero conceived and attempted to put into action.

3.      Yet there is no reason to prefer this second chart over the first. Some fairly close research would be needed. Whether or not it is worth expenditure of time to study such a perverted life to confirm or disconfirm the sunrise chart is debatable. Yet, always, there is something to be learned—even in considering the more notoriously mismanaged lives.

4.      The most notable rays of Nero are the fourth and the sixth. If the first ray was present, it was not his principle ray. He aspired to be a poet, actor and an artist more than a leader. He even mused upon giving up his responsibilities as emperor so that he could devote himself entirely to the stage. His last words are reputed to be, “What a artist the world is losing in me!”       

Surprisingly, Nero’s early reign was characterized by acts of generosity, leniency and accommodation—entirely contrary to his later and odious reputation. He pardoned many (often unwisely, and even when they had plotted against his life), sponsored contests in poetry, theatre and athletics to replace brutal gladiatorial games, banned capital punishment and was socially progressive. His image of himself was that of the magnanimous ruler.    

Accompanying these finer qualities were those of shameless, self-centeredness, unbelievable grandiosity and self-indulgence, all contributing to a colossal display irresponsibility. Few historical figures have equaled his rampant megalomania and monumental narcissism.

The lack of discipline characteristic of the fourth ray was evidenced early. He developed a scandalous reputation, not only for extravagance, theatricality and exhibitionism, but for his disgraceful nocturnal rioting in the streets.        

He was also irresponsibly permissive in his nature—little realizing (as those conditioned principally by the first ray would have realized) what it takes to govern a nation. His perception was much more that of an unrealistic, self-obsessed artist (fourth ray). For instance, due to unthinking generosity fed by an idealistic abhorrence of the abuses of tax collectors, he thought to simply abolish various forms of needed taxation, even though Empire depended upon these important sources of revenue. After the great fire of Rome (which he was accused of setting because he found Roman architecture distasteful) he begin to rebuild the city in the Greek style which he so much admired. Had his “Golden House” been completed, it would have covered fully one third of the city of Rome.    

He simply lacked the dignity of an emperor, and was generally repudiated for his insistence on playing almost any kind of part of stage—even acting the roles of “pregnant women and slaves about to be executed”. His lack of decorum, his embarrassing behavior, were disgusting to many in powerful positions. Finally, the widespread hemorrhage of respect proved fatal to his reign. He was forced to flee the city and is said to have committed suicide (perhaps with some assistance by one of his slaves) shortly afterwards. He did not live beyond his first Saturn Return.

5.      His grandiosity and extravagance—both aimed at indulging his artistic pretensions, are more than slightly reminiscent of the extravagant self-indulgences of Ludwig II of Bavaria, patron of Richard Wagner. Ludwig (by no means an evil figure) gradually outraged (and impoverished) the Bavarian government by his expenditures for Wagner’s operas, and, even more, on fabulously appointed castles for himself. He, too, was forced to abdicate. The rays were the same—the fourth and the sixth.

6.      That Nero’s behavior was so contradictory (a part of his nature hating murder and destruction, and another part actively engaged in the very thing he hated) demonstrates, irrefutably, the presence of the fourth ray. Another historical figure who was the victim of similar terrifying inconsistencies (and similar cruelties) was Tsar Ivan the Terrible of Russia.

7.      In the year 63 Nero began to develop strange religious enthusiasms and became fascinated by preachers of novel cults; this trend indicates his latent fanaticism conditioned by the sixth ray. One can see how his stellium in Sagittarius would be implicated in such behavior.

8.      According to the Encyclopedia Britannica he had “delirious pretensions as both an artist and religious worshiper”—the combination, again, of the fourth and sixth rays.

9.      The astrological chart is remarkable for the conjunction of Sun, Pluto and Mars conjunct the Ascendant in Sagittarius. Mercury, too, is found in that sign. The Sun, Pluto and the North Node are also parallel the Ascendant. The cruelty for which his memory is execrated is well-embodied in this conjunction of murderous fanaticism. Even if this triple conjunction were not on the Ascendant, it would still be potent for cruelty.

As well, the conjunction tells of the brutality and murder with which he was surrounded in early life. He was very much a victim of his mother’s obsession with him and with power (to be realized through him). The Sun/Pluto conjunction shows this obsession.

10.  Jupiter is orthodox ruler of the Ascendant and placed in the sign Scorpio, indicating the many deaths for which he was responsible.

11.  His dramatic pretensions are indicated by his Leo Moon in the eighth house (a psychological placement. Extravagantly emotional excesses are indicated by the Jupiter square the Moon. Really, if a wide orb is allowed between Jupiter and Neptune, we have a T-square with glamorous Neptune opposed the instinctual Moon and both square Jupiter in Scorpio—the planet, negatively considered, of conceit and pomposity.

12.  His notorious financial irresponsibilities are indicated by Neptune, the planet of glamor, illusion and unreality, in the second house of finances, opposed the self-indulgent Leo Moon.

13.  His megalomania is accounted for by the Sun conjunct and exactly parallel the Ascendant. He simply could not see beyond himself.

14.  Saturn in Virgo is square to the Sun, Pluto and Mars, indicating ruthlessness and the tendency to purge his adversaries. As well, it indicates his many enemies. Saturn is square the Ascendant/Descendant, showing the morally motivated criticism to which he was subjected. It also augured poorly for his wives and partners, though finally a more sedate marriage with a Roman matron was contracted (after the murder of one wife and the death of another). Saturn is, after all, in trine to Venus.

15.  Nero is infamous as a matricide. He had his mother murdered because of her insanity and obsessive attempts to control him (Pluto—the “dark mother” conjunct the Sun)/ Mars the ruler of the fourth house (mother) is also conjunct Pluto (the planet of murder, death and treachery).

16.  Interestingly, we find the star Acrux on his Midheaven—not only indicating his demonization by the Christian Religion, but the idea of an individual who “puts matter first”.

17.  The closest aspect to a star-like object is a close parallel of Pluto (within seven minutes of arc) with Facies (the “eye of the Archer). Facies has  the reputation for being one of the cruelest ‘stars’ (really a nebula) in the heavens. Facies produces a perpetrator of violence or its victim and gives a strong streak of ruthlessness. Pluto, which is rising, is (negatively considered) the planet of death and perfidy; Facies is deadly as well. One can recognize the potential effect of this lethal combination.

18.  In a number of ways, the date and circumstances of his death confirm the sunrise chart, which, perhaps, should be a few minutes later (about three). First of all, he was experiencing a Saturn Return—within a degree of his natal Saturn at the time of his death. The progressed Moon was still conjunct both natal and progressed Saturn. T-Saturn was square to the proposed Sagittarian Ascendant/Descendant; he was under severe criticism from all quarters. Deadly Pluto was opposing his Moon in Leo in the eighth house of death. Rebellious Uranus was conjunct his progressed Sun by transit, and exactly inconjunct (150°) his progressed Vertex (fate). Transiting Neptune was at his fourth house cusp, undermining his stability, respect and social ‘standing’. Solar-Arc Uranus was conjunct his MC—dramatically changing his career (as death usually does!). If the birth were, as suggested, a few minutes later, the conjunction aspect from SA-Uranus would be exact, and the transit from Neptune conjunct the IC would be a little closer. There was also a lunar eclipse on progressed Jupiter in Scorpio (his Ascendant ruler) and close to the progressed MC, a month before his death.

19.  It is not possible to use the esoteric rulers for an individuality like Nero; he was thoroughly and immaturely absorbed in his own personality. Occasionally, however, it is well to see how astrological and rayological energies can be frightfully misused, and thereby learn through contrast.


What an artist I die! -Qualis artifex pereo!

"Let the Christians be exterminated!"
(Pluto, Sun & Mars in Sagittarius conjunct Ascendant)

Hidden talent counts for nothing.
(Leo Moon opposition Neptune)


Emperor of the Roman Empire

Reign October 13, AD 54 – June 9, AD 68
Nero Claudius Caesar
Augustus Germanicus
Born December 15, AD 37
Died June 9, AD 68

Nero[1] Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (December 15, AD 37 – June 9, AD 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also called Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, was the fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (54–68). Nero was adopted by his grand-uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne. As Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus, he succeeded to the throne on October 13, AD 54, following Claudius' death.

Popular legend remembers Nero as a libertine and a tyrant; he is known as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" and an early persecutor of Christians. These characterizations follow the histories by Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. However, some ancient sources also indicate that Nero was quite popular with the common people during and after his reign.

In AD 68 a military coup drove Nero into hiding. Facing execution at the hands of the Roman Senate, he reportedly committed suicide with the help of his scribe Epaphroditos.

Nero ruled from 54 to 68. During his rule, Nero focused 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), the suppression of a revolt in Gaul led by Vindex (68) and improving diplomatic ties with Greece.

Galba's Hispania revolt of 68 led to his reported suicide and the civil war that ensued from his death.

Nero was born with name Lucius Domitius on December 15, 37, in Antium, near Rome.[2][3] He was the only son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, sister of Caligula.

Lucius' father was grandson to an elder Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Aemilia Lepida through their son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 16 BC). Gnaeus was also great-grandson to Mark Antony and Octavia Minor through their daughter Antonia Major. In addition, 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 as a consul.[4][5] Nero's father was described by Suetonius as a murderer and a cheat who was charged by emperor Tiberius with treason, adultery, and incest.[4] Tiberius died allowing him to escape these charges.[4] Gnaeus died of edema (or "dropsy") in 39 when Lucius was three.[4]

Lucius' mother was Agrippina the Younger, who was 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 and Livia and was the adoptive son of Tiberius. A number of ancient historians accuse Agrippina of murdering her third husband, emperor Claudius.[6] 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.[7] Caligula seized Lucius's inheritance and sent him to be raised by his less wealthy aunt, Domitia Lepida.[3]

Caligula produced no heir. He, his wife Caesonia, and their infant daughter Julia Drusilla were murdered in 41.[8] These events led Claudius, Caligula's uncle, to become emperor.[9] Claudius allowed Agrippina to return from exile.[3]

Claudius had married twice before marrying Messalina.[10] His previous marriages produced three children including a son, Drusus, who died at a young age.[11] He had two children with Messalina - Claudia Octavia (b. 40) and Britannicus (b. 41).[12] Messalina was executed by Claudius in 48.[13]

In 49, Claudius married a fourth time to Agrippina.[12] To aid Claudius politically, Lucius was officially adopted in 50 and renamed Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus (see adoption in Rome).[14] Nero was older than his step-brother, Britannicus, and became heir to the throne.[15]

Nero was proclaimed an adult in 51 at the age of fourteen.[16] He was appointed proconsul, entered and first addressed the Senate, made joint public appearances with Claudius, and was featured in coinage.[17]In 53, he married his step-sister Claudia Octavia.[18]

Claudius died in 54 and Nero was established as emperor. Many ancient historians claim Agrippina poisoned Claudius.[19] It is not known how much Nero knew or was involved with the death of Claudius,[20] but Suetonius wrote that:

...even if [Nero] was not the instigator of the emperor's death, he was at least privy to it, as he openly admitted; for he used afterwards to laud mushrooms, the vehicle in which the poison was administered to Claudius, as "the food of the gods, as the Greek proverb has it".[21]

The "Palatine Nero": Roman marble of the late first century, found on the Palatine Hill.Nero became emperor at seventeen, the youngest Emperor yet.[22] 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.[23] The first few years of 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.[24]

Very early in 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 Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene.[24] Nero's personal friends also mistrusted Agrippina and told Nero to beware of his mother.[25] Nero was reportedly unsatisfied with his marriage to Octavia and entered an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave.[26] 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.[27]

With Agrippina's influence over her son severed, she reportedly turned to a younger candidate for the throne.[28] Nearly fifteen-year-old Britannicus was still legally a minor, but was approaching legal adulthood.[28] 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 Nero.[28] However, the youth died suddenly and suspiciously on February 12, 55, the very day before his proclamation as an adult had been set.[29] Nero claimed that Britannicus died from an epileptic seizure, but ancient historians all claim Britannicus' death came from Nero poisoning him.[30] According to Suetonius,

[Nero] attempted the life of Britannicus by poison, not less from jealousy of his voice (for it was more agreeable than his own) than from fear that he might sometime win a higher place than himself in the people's regard because of the memory of his father.[31]
After the death of Britannicus, Agrippina was accused of slandering Octavia and Nero ordered her out of the imperial residence.[32]

Matricide and consolidation of power
Over time, Nero became progressively more powerful. In 55, he removed Marcus Antonius Pallas, an ally of Agrippina, from his position in the treasury.[27] Pallas, along with Burrus, was accused of conspiring against the emperor to bring Faustus Sulla to the throne.[33] Seneca was accused of having relations with Agrippina and embezzlement.[34] Seneca was able to get himself, Pallas and Burrus acquitted.[34] According to Cassius Dio, at this time, Seneca and Burrus reduced their role in governing from careful management to mere moderation of Nero.[35]

In 58, Nero became romantically involved with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of his friend and future emperor Otho.[36] Reportedly because a marriage to Poppaea and a divorce from Octavia did not seem politically feasible with Agrippina alive, Nero ordered the murder of his mother in 59.[37] 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.[38]

The Remorse of Nero after killing his mother, by John William Waterhouse, 1878.In 62 Nero's adviser, Burrus, died.[39] Additionally, Seneca was again faced with embezzlement charges.[40] Seneca asked Nero for permission to retire from public affairs.[41] Nero divorced and banished Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry Poppaea.[42] After public protests, Nero was forced to allow Octavia to return from exile,[42] but she was executed shortly upon her return.[43]

Accusations of treason against Nero and the Senate first appeared in 62.[44] The Senate ruled that Antistius, a praetor, should be put to death for speaking ill of Nero at a party. Later, Nero ordered the exile of Fabricius Veiento who slandered the Senate in a book.[45] 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 Pallas, Gaius Rubellius Plautus, Faustus Sulla and Doryphorus. [46] According to Suetonius, Nero "showed neither discrimination nor moderation in putting to death whomsoever he pleased" during this period.[47]

Nero's consolidation of power also included a slow usurping of authority from the Senate. In 64, Nero promised to give the Senate powers equivalent to those under Republican rule.[48] By 65, senators complained that they had no power left and this led to the Pisonian conspiracy.[49]

War and peace with Parthia
Shortly after Nero's assension to the throne in 55, the Roman vassal kingdom of Armenia overthrew their prince Rhadamistus and he was replaced with the Parthian prince Tiridates.[50] This was seen as a Parthian invasion of Roman territory.[50] There was concern in Rome over how the young emperor would handle the situation.[51] Nero reacted by immediately sending the military to the region under the command of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo.[52] The Parthians temporarily relinquished control of Armenia to Rome.[53]

The peace was not lasting and full-scale war broke out in 58. The Parthian king Vologases I refused to remove his brother Tiridates from Armenia.[54] The Parthians began a full-scale invasion of the Armenian kingdom.[36] Commander Corbulo responded and repelled most of the Parthian army that same year.[55] Tiridates retreated and Rome again controlled most of Armenia.[55]

Nero was acclaimed in public for this initial victory.[56] Tigranes, a Cappadocian noble raised in Rome, was installed by Nero as the new ruler of Armenia.[57] Corbulo was appointed governor of Syria as a reward.[57]

The Parthian Empire c. 60. 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.[58] 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.[59] Corbulo tried convince Nero to continue the war, but Nero opted for a peace deal.[60] There was anxiety in Rome about eastern grain supplies and a budget deficit.[61]

The result was a deal where Tiridates again became the Armenian king, but was crowned in Rome by emperor Nero.[59] 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.[62] The Roman people were said to be overjoyed by lives saved through this peace deal.[62]

This peace deal of 63 was a considerable victory for Nero politically.[63] Nero became very popular in the eastern provinces of Rome and with the Parthians as well.[63] The peace between Parthia and Rome lasted 50 years until emperor Trajan of Rome invaded Armenia in 114.

Even Suetonius, who wrote very ill of Nero, said this of Nero and Parthia:

Vologaesus, King of the Parthians, when he sent envoys to the Senate to renew his alliance, earnestly begged this too, that honor be paid to the memory of Nero. In fact, twenty years later,[64] when I was a young man, a person of obscure origin appeared, who gave out that he was Nero, and the name was still in such favor with the Parthians, that they supported him vigorously and surrendered him with great reluctance.[65]

Administrative policies
Over the course of his reign, Nero often made rulings that protected and pleased the lower class at the expense of the rich and powerful. Nero was criticised as being obsessed with being popular.[66]

Nero’s began his reign in 54 by promising the Senate more autonomy.[67] In this first year, he forbade others to refer to him with regard to enactments, for which he was praised by the Senate.[68] Nero was known for being hands-off and spending his time visiting brothels and taverns during this period.[68]

In 55, Nero began taking on a more active role as an administrator. He was consul four times between 55 and 60.

Nero worked to protect the rights on the lower class. Restrictions were put on the amount of bail and fines.[69] Also, fees for lawyers were limited.[70] 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.[71] Nero supported the freedmen and ruled that patrons had no such right.[72] The Senate tried to pass a law in which the crimes of one slave applied to all slaves within a household which Nero vetoed.[73]

Ancient graffiti portrait of Nero found at the Domus TiberianaLimiting public corruption was a major part of Nero’s rule. On accusations that high-ranking officers were collecting too much from the poor, Nero transferred collection authority to lower commissioners of competency.[69] Nero banned any magistrate or procurator from exhibiting public entertainment for fear that the venue was being used as a method to extract bribes.[74] Additionally, there were many impeachments and removals of government officials along with arrests for extortion and corruption.[75]

Nero’s actions attempted to the help the poor’s economic situation. When further complaints arose that the poor were being overly taxed, Nero attempted to repeal all indirect taxes.[76] The Senate convinced him this action would be too extreme.[76] As a compromise, taxes were cut from 4 and a half percent to two and a half percent.[77] Additionally, secret government tax records were ordered to become public.[77] To lower the cost of food imports, merchant ships were declared tax-exempt.[77]

Nero was an avid lover of arts and entertainment. Nero built a number of gymnasiums and theaters and had performers dress in Greek clothing.[78] Enormous gladiatorial shows were held.[79] Nero also established the quinquennial Neronia.[79][78] The festival included games, poetry and theater. Historians indicate that there was a belief that theater was for the lower-class and led to immorality and laziness.[78] Others looked down upon Greek influence.[80] Some questioned the large public expenditure on entertainment.[80]

In 63, fiscal crises began to emerge. The Parthian War and a lost shipment of grain threatened to increase the price of food in Rome.[81] Nero reassigned management of public funds, urged fiscal responsibility and gave a private donation to the treasury.[81] He then opted for a peace deal with the Parthians.[82] In 64, Rome burned.[62] Nero enacted a public relief effort[62] as well as reconstruction.[83] The provinces were heavily taxed following the fire[84]

A number of major construction projects occurred in Nero's late reign. To prevent malaria, Nero had the marshes of Ostia filled with rubble from the fire.[83] He erected the large Domus Aurea.[85] In 67 , Nero attempted to have a canal dug at the Isthmus of Corinth.[86] These projects and others exacerbated the drain on the State's budget.[87]

Major rebellions and power struggles
Artistic impression of Suetonius Paulinus, the imperial governor of BritanniaRome was relatively peaceful under Nero's reign with the war with Parthia as his only major war.[88] Like many emperors, Nero faced a number of internal rebellions and power struggles.

British Revolt (Boudica's Uprising)
In 60, a major rebellion broke out in the province of Britannia.[89] While the governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his troops were busy capturing Mona Island (Anglesey Island) from druids, the tribes of the south-east staged a revolt led by queen Boudica of the Iceni.[90] Boudica and her troops destroyed three cities before the army of Suetonius Paulinus was able to return, be reinforced and put down the rebellion in 61.[91] Fearing Suetonius Paulinus would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more passive Publius Petronius Turpilianus.[92]

The Pisonian Conspiracy
In 65, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a Roman statesman, organized a conspiracy against Nero wih the help of Subrius Flavus, a praetorian tribune, and Sulpicius Asper, a centurion.[93] According to Tacitus, many conspiraors wished to "rescue the State" from the emperor and restore the Republic.[94] The freedman Milichus discovered the conspiracy and reported it to Nero's secretary, Epaphroditus.[95] As a result, the conspiracy failed and its members were executed including Nero's former friend Lucanus, the poet.[96] Nero's previous advisor, Seneca was ordered to commit suicide after admitting he discussed the plot with the conspirators.[97]

Jewish Revolt (The First Jewish-Roman War)
In 66, there was a Jewish revolt in Judea steming from Greek and Jewish religious tension.[98] In 67, Nero dispatched Vespasian to restore order.[99] This revolt was eventually put down in 70, after Nero's death.[100] This revolt is famous for Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem and destroying the Temple of Jerusalem.[101]

Vindex's Rebellion
In late 67 or early 68, Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis in Gaul, rebelled against the tax policies of Nero.[102] Virginius Rufus, the governor of superior Germany was sent to put down the rebellion.[103] To gain support, Vindex called on Galba, the governor of Hispania Citerior in Spain, to become emperor.[104] Virginius Rufus defeated Vindex's forces and Vindex committed suicide.[105] Galba was declared a public enemy and his legion was confined in the city of Clunia.[106]

The Rise of Galba
Nero had regained the control of the empire militarily, but this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. By June of 68 the senate voted Galba the emperor[107] and decared Nero a public enemy.[108] The praetorian guard was bribed to betray Nero by the praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, who desired to become emperor himself.[109] The praetorian guard captured Nero and he reportedly committed suicide.[110]

After Nero's death, Rome descended into a period civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Nero's enemies fought among themselves for power. Galba, Otho and Vitellius were each briefly emperor until Nero's general Vespasian returned from Judea and restored order as emperor.

Great Fire of Rome
Main article: Great Fire of Rome
The Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of July 18 to July 19, 64. The fire started at the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus in shops selling flammable goods.[111]

How large the fire was is up for debate. According to Tacitus, who was 9 at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burnt for five days.[112] It completely destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven.[112] The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder who wrote about it in passing.[113] Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and Epictetus) make no mention of it. The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause."[114] This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 apartment blocks.

It was said by Suetonius and Cassius Dio that Nero himself was the arsonist and sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume while the city burned.[115] However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire.[116] Tactitus said that Nero playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only rumor.[116] Popular legend remembers Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the fiddle had not yet been invented, and would not be for over 1,000 years.[117]

According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds.[116] After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.[116] In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads.[118] He built the complex known as the Domus Aurea along with many new gardens and statues.[119] To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.[120]

It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire. Tacitus says that Nero had Christians arrested and condemned "not so much for incendiarism as for their hatred of the human race."[121] Christians confessed to the crime, but it is not known whether these were false confessions induced by torture.[121] Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist, with the motive being either city renovation or space for an imperial palace[122] However, major accidentally started fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned again under Vitellius in 69[123] and under Titus in 80.[124]

According to Tacitus, the population searched for a scapegoat and rumors held Nero responsible.[125] To diffuse blame, Nero targeted a sect called the Christians.[121] He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned.[121]

Tacitus described the event:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.[121]

Public performances

Nero coin, c. 66. Ara Pacis on the reverse.Nero enjoyed driving a four-horse chariot, singing to the harp and poetry.[126] He even composed songs that were performed by other entertainers throughout the empire.[127] At first, Nero only performed for a private audience.[128]

In 64, Nero began singing in public at Neapolis in order to improve his popularity.[129] He also sang at the second quinquennial Neronia in 65.[130] It was said that Nero craved the attention,[131] but historians also write that Nero was encouraged to sing and perform in public by the Senate, his inner circle and the people.[132] Ancient historians strongly criticize his choice to perform, calling it shameful.[133]

Nero was convinced to participate in the Olympic Games of 67 in order to improve relations with Greece and display Roman dominance.[134] As a competitor, Nero raced a ten-horse chariot and nearly died after being thrown from it.[135] He also performed as an actor and a singer.[136] Though Nero faultered in his racing and acting competitions,[137] he won these crowns nevertheless and paraded them when he returned to Rome.[138] The victories are attributed to Nero bribing the judges and his status as emperor.[139]

Year of the Four Emperors
Placentia - Locus Castrorum - 1st Bedriacum - 2nd Bedriacum - Castra Vetera - Augusta Treverorum
In late 67 or early 68, Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis in Gaul, rebelled against the tax policies of Nero.[140] Virginius Rufus, the governor of superior Germany was sent to put down the rebellion.[141] To gain support, Vindex called on Galba, the governor of Hispania Citerior in Spain, to become emperor.[142] Virginius Rufus defeated Vindex's forces and Vindex committed suicide.[143] Galba was declared a public enemy and his legion was confined in the city of Clunia.[144]

Nero had regained the control of the empire militarily, but this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. By June of 68 the senate voted Galba the emperor[145] and decared Nero a public enemy.[146] The praetorian guard was bribed to betray Nero by the praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, who desired to become emperor himself.[147]

Accordind to Suetonius, Nero fled to Via Salaria, a suburb of Rome with his remaining friends.[148] They urged him to flee, but he prepared himself for suicide.[149] Reportedly, the praetorian guard entered to capture Nero just as he stabbed himself with the help of his secretary, Epaphroditus.[150] Upon seeing the figure of a Roman soldier, he gasped "this is fidelity."[151] It was said by Cassius Dio that he uttered the last words "Jupiter, what an artist dies in me!"[152]

With his death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to an end. Chaos ensued in the Year of the four emperors.[153]

According to Tacitus, Nero's death was welcomed by Senators, nobility and the upper-class.[154] The lower-class, slaves, 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.[154] Members of the military were said to have mixed feelings, as they had allegiance to Nero, but were bribed to overthrow him.[155]

The civil war during the Year of the Four Emperors was described by ancient historians as a troubling period.[156] 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.[154] Galba began his short reign with the execution of many allies of Nero and possible future enemies.[157] One notable enemy included Nymphidius Sabinus, who claimed to be the son of emperor Caligula.[158]

Otho overthrew Galba. Otho was said to be liked by many soldiers because he resembled Nero.[159] It was said that the common Roman hailed Otho as Nero himself.[160] Otho used "Nero" as a surname and reerected many statues to Nero.[160] Vitellius overthrew Otho. Vitellius began his reign with a large funeral for Nero complete with songs written by Nero.[161]

Apotheosis of Nero, c. after 68. Artwork portraying Nero rising to divine status after his death.Through the civil war and well into the Flavian dynasty, public sentimentality for Nero continued. This was especially prevalent in the eastern provinces, where Nero was the most popular. Philostratus wrote:

The fact is, Nero restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character; and the cities regained their Doric and Attic characteristics, and a general rejuvenescence accompanied the institution among them of a peace and harmony such as not even ancient Hellas ever enjoyed. Vespasian, however, on his arrival in the country took away her liberty, alleging their factiousness with other pretexts hardly justifying such extreme severity.[162]

Apollonius of Tyana, in a letter to Vespasian wrote:

Greeting: You have, they say, enslaved Hellas, and you imagine you have excelled Xerxes. You are mistaken. You have only fallen below Nero. For the latter held our liberties in his hand and respected them. Farewell.[163]

After Nero's suicide in 68, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return.[164]

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.[165] After persuading some to recognize him, he was captured and executed.[166] Sometime during the reign of Titus (79-81) there was another imposter who appeared in Asia and also sang to the accompaniment of the lyre and looked like Nero but he, too, was killed.[167] Twenty years after Nero's death, during the reign of Domitian, there was a third pretender. Supported by the Parthians, they hardly could be persuaded to give him up[168] and the matter almost came to war.[169]

The legend of Nero's return lasted for hundreds of years after Nero's death. Augustine of Hippo, disgusted by Nero's lingering admirers, wrote of the legend in 422:

Others, again, suppose that he is not even dead, but that he was concealed that he might be supposed to have been killed, and that he now lives in concealment in the vigor of that same age which he had reached when he was believed to have perished, and will live until he is revealed in his own time and restored to his kingdom. But I wonder that men can be so audacious in their conjectures.[170]

The history of Nero’s reign is problematic in that no historical sources survived that were contemporary with Nero. These first histories at one time did exist and were described as biased and fantastical, either overly critical or praising of Nero.[171] The original sources were also said to contradict on a number of events.[172] None-the-less, these lost primary sources were the basis of surviving secondary and tertiary histories on Nero written by the next generations of historians.[173] A few of the contemporary historians are known by name. Fabius Rusticus, Cluvius Rufus and Pliny the Elder all wrote condemning histories on Nero and are now lost.[174] There were also pro-Nero histories, but it is unknown who wrote them or on what deeds Nero was praised.[175]

The bulk of what is known of Nero comes from Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, who were all of the Senatorial class. Tacitus and Suetonius wrote their histories on Nero over fifty years after his death, while Cassius Dio wrote his history over 150 years after Nero’s death. These sources contradict on a number of events in Nero’s life including the death of Claudius, the death of Agrippina and the Roman fire of 64, but they are consistent in their condemnation of Nero.

A handful of other sources also add a limited and varying perspective on Nero. Few surviving sources paint Nero in a favorable light. Some sources, though, portray him as a competent emperor who was popular with the Roman people, especially in the east.

Nero Claudius Caesar

Nero Claudius Caesar (37-68) was the last of the Julio-Claudian line of Roman emperors. His erratic personal and public life caused numerous revolts and uprisings and set the scene for the ascension of the military emperors.

Born in Latium a few months after the death of the emperor Tiberius, Nero was the son of Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina. Agrippina was the daughter of Germanicus and therefore the great-grand-daughter of Augustus; and after the death of Ahenobarbus and a brief second marriage, she wedded the emperor Claudius. A powerful and clever woman, she persuaded her new husband to disown his own son, Britannicus, name Nero as his successor and heir, and give his daughter, Octavia, in marriage to her son in A.D. 50.

The future emperor was given an excellent education in the classical tradition; under the tutelage of the philosopher Seneca, Nero was schooled in Greek, philosophy, and rhetoric. When Claudius died in 54 (some say he was poisoned by Agrippina), the 17-year-old Nero appeared before the Senate, delivered a panegyric in honor of the dead emperor, and was proclaimed by the Senate as the new ruler of Rome.

Nero and His Mother

In the beginning, Nero's rule was relatively peaceful; Agrippina's desire to control the empire through her son was tempered by the advice and counsel which Seneca and Burrus, commander of the Praetorian Guard, gave the young emperor. Agrippina became angered as she saw her influence over Nero wane, and the estrangement between them grew when Nero became involved with Acte, a freedwoman, and threatened to divorce Octavia. Although divorce was averted, Nero, in spite of his mother's objections, began living openly with Acte as his wife.

Meanwhile, the Senate, to which Nero had promised on his accession a full restoration of the republic, was governing, but poorly without any powerful leader to guide it. Agrippina, who saw her son increasingly neglect the imperial duties and devote himself to the imperial pleasures, turned to Britannicus and threatened Nero by supporting the former's claims to the throne. However, Britannicus died suddenly (perhaps murdered by Nero) toward the end of 55. Agrippina then began to stir up opposition to Nero, and the Emperor retaliated by banishing her. In 58 the final and disastrous breach between mother and son came. Nero, who had by this time abandoned Acte, became enamored of Poppaea Sabina, a young woman of noble birth who was married to Otho, a noted member of the Roman aristocracy.

The Emperor now proposed to marry Poppaea, but two things stood in his way: adverse public opinion over a divorce of Octavia, and his mother, Agrippina. Agrippina's opposition was removed by her murder in 59, and public horror at the crime was diverted by a successful campaign against the Parthians and the conquest of Armenia, as well as the quelling of revolt in Britain.

Decline into Hedonism

With Agrippina now out of the way, Nero's dissipated and profligate nature began to reveal itself. Partly to satisfy his own desire and partly to win the support of the Roman people, the Emperor spent money freely on spectacles and circuses and initiated great public works in Rome. He encouraged competitions in music, singing, dance, and poetry, in which the himself took part. In 62 Burrus died, and the final restrictions on the Emperor were removed. Seneca retired from the court, and Tigellinus took Burrus's place. Nero divorced Octavia on grounds of adultery, exiled her, and later had her killed. Shortly after, he married Poppaea.

Nero now seemed to take increasing delight in flaunting the traditions and ideals of Rome. In 64 he appeared on the public stage as a singer, but the scandal that this act might have caused was averted by a great calamity: the fire which burned for 10 days in July of 64, thoroughly destroying three-quarters of the city. Although Nero seemingly did everything he could to mitigate the effect of the disaster - opening public buildings to the homeless, building temporary shelters, providing food against the possibility of famine - rumors quickly spread as to the cause of the fire. Suetonius and Dio Cassius positively assert that Nero himself started the conflagration, but Tacitus admits that he was not able to prove the truth of this accusation. Although in all probability the fire was an accidental catastrophe, rumors that the fire was purposely set were so rife that it was necessary to find a guilty party. The blame was laid at the door of the Christians, and the first large-scale persecution against this new and secret sect began.

Destruction of most of the city gave Nero an opportunity to fulfill his ambition of building a more glorious Rome. This project, however, required capital, and in order to gain it Nero reinstituted condemnations and confiscations on grounds of treason; he took money from the temples, sold public offices and contracts, raised taxes, and devalued the currency.

The reaction to this policy was a conspiracy led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a Roman aristocrat. Among the members of the plot were a number of knights and senators, the poet Lucan, and Nero's old tutor, Seneca. Its purpose was to kill Nero and apparently then make Piso emperor. The plan was discovered quite by accident, and the leading conspirators, as well as many other noted Romans (especially those with money and property), were condemned and killed. It was during that same year that the Emperor's pregnant wife died, after having been kicked in the stomach by her husband.

Last of the Julio-Claudian Emperors

The following year Nero went to Greece, and while he entertained himself with dramas, circuses, and contests, the affairs of the empire worsened. The revolt which was to lead to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem broke out in Judea. In Gaul the governor of the province himself led an insurrection against Rome. Although this revolt was quickly crushed, the man who crushed it, the governor of Germania Superior, was proclaimed emperor on the battlefield. Soon after, Galba, commander of the Spanish legions, joined the revolt.

Galba was now declared a public enemy, but Nero was lacking the support of the Senate and the army; the Senate pronounced the sentence of death against him, and Galba was proclaimed the new emperor of Rome. In June 68, when he learned of the events in Rome, Nero committed suicide. The last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, the line which had in effect created the concept of the Roman Empire, was dead.



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