previous next

Nerva, M. Cocceius

Roman emperor, A. D. 96-98, was born at Narnia, in Umbria (Aur. Vict. Epit. 12), as some interpret the words of Victor, or rather his family was from Narnia. His father was probably the jurist, No. 3. The time of his birth was A. D. 32, inasmuch as he died in January, A. D. 98, at the age of nearly sixty-six (D. C. 68.4). He was consul with Vespasian, A. D. 71, and with Domitian, A. D. 90. Tillemont supposes him to be the Nerva mentioned by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 15.72), but this Nerva is, perhaps, the father of the emperor.

Nerva was probably at Rome when Domitian was assassinated, and privy to the conspiracy, though Aurelius Victor (de Caes. 12) seems to intend to say that he was in Gaul, which is very improbable. His life was saved from the cruelty of Domitian by the emperor's superstition, who believed an astrologer's prediction that Nerva would soon die a natural death (D. C. 67.15). On the assassination of Domitian, in September, A. D. 96, Nerva was declared emperor at Rome by the people and the soldiers, and his administration at once restored tranquillity to the state. He stopped proceedings against those who, under the system of his predecessor, had been accused of treason (majestas), and allowed many exiled persons to return to Rome. The class of informers were suppressed by penalties (Plin. Pagyr.y 100.35); some were put to death, among whom was the philosopher Sura; and, conformably to the old law, Nerva declared that slaves and freedmen should never be examined as witnesses against their masters or patrons when accused of a crime (D. C. 67.1). These measures were necessary to restore order and confidence after the suspicious and cruel administration of Domitian. But there was weakness in the character of Nerva, as appears from the following anecdote. He was entertaining Junius Mauricus and Fabius Veiento at table. Veiento had played the part of an accuser (delator) under Domitian. The conversation turned on Catullus Messallinus, who was then dead, but had been an infamous informer under Domitian. " What would this Catullus be doing," said Nerva, "if he were alive now;" to which Mauricus bluntly replied, "he would be supping with us" (Aur. Vict. Epit. 12).

The public events of his short reign were few and unimportant; and it is chiefly his measures of internal administration of which there are any records. Nerva attempted to relieve the poverty of many of the citizens by buying land and distributing it among them, one of the remedies for distress which the Romans had long tried, and with little advantage. The practice of occasionally distributing money among the poor citizens, and allowances of grain, still continued under Nerva, one of the parts of Roman administration which continually kept alive the misery for which it supplied temporary relief. He also diminished the expences of the state by stopping many of the public shows and festivals. Many enactments, by which we must understand Senatus consulta, were passed in his time, among which the prohibition against making eunuchs is worthy of notice but Domitian had already made the same regulation in the beginning of his reign (D. C. 67.2), whence we must conclude that the law had either been repealed or required some stricter penalties to enforce it.

In the second year of his reign, Nerva was consul, for the third time, with L. Verginius Rufus, also for the third time consul. Rufus had been proclaimed emperor by the soldiers in the time of Nero, A. D. 68, but had refused the dangerous honour. The emperor made no difficulty about associating Rufus with himself in the consulship, but Rufus was a very old man, and soon died. Calpurnius Crassus, a descendant of the Crassi of the republic, with others, conspired against the emperor, but the plot was discovered, and Nerva rebuked the conspirators by putting into their hands at a show of gladiators, the swords with which the men were going to fight, and asking the conspirators, in the usual way, if they were sharp enough. This anecdote, if true, shows that the exhibitions of gladiators were in use under Nerva. The text of Diou does not state what was the punishment of Crassus, but Victor (Epit. 12) says that Crassus was relegated with his wife to Tarentum, and that the senate blamed the emperor for his leniency; but Nerva had sworn at the commencement of his reign that he would put no senator to death, and he kept his word.

The feebleness of the emperor was shown by a mutiny of the Praetorian soldiers, who were either urged on by their Praefectus, Aelianus Casperius, or had bribed him to support them. The soldiers demanded the punishment of the assassins of Domitian, which the emperor refused. Though his body was feeble, his will was strong, and he offered them his own neck, and declared his readiness to die. However, it appears that the soldiers effected their purpose, and Nerva was obliged to put Petronius Secundus and Parthenius to death, or to permit them to be massacred by the soldiers (Plin. Panegyr. 100.6; Aur. Vict. Epit. 12; D. C. 58.3). Casperius, it is said, carried his insolence so far as to compel the emperor to thank the soldiers for what they had done.

Nerva felt his weakness, but he showed his noble character and his good sense by appointing as his successor a man who possessed both vigour and ability to direct public affairs. He adopted as his son and successor, without any regard to his own kin, M. Ulpius Trajanus, who was then at the head of an army in Germany, and probably on the Lower Rhine. It was about this time that news arrived of a victory in Pannonia, which is commemorated by a medal, and it was apparently on this occasion that Nerva assumed the title of Germlanicus. He conferred on Trajan the title of Caesar and Germanicus, and the tribunitian power. Trajan was thus associated with Nerva in the government, and tranquillity was restored at Rome. In the year A. D. 98, Nerva and Trajan were consuls. The emperor died suddenly on the 27th of January, in the sixty-third year of his age, according to Victor; but according to Dion, at the age of sixty-five years, ten months and ten days. Eutropius incorrectly states that he was seventyone. Victor records an eclipse of the sun on the day of Nerva's death, but the eclipse happened on the 21st of March, A. D. 98.

The body of Nerva was carried to the pile on the shoulders of the senators, as that of Augustus had been, and his remains were placed in the sepulchre of Augustus. Nerva received the honour of deification. (The authorities for the reign of Nerva are contained in Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs, vol. ii., who has made some use of the doubtful authority of the Life of Apollonius by Philostratus ; Dio Cass. lib. lxviii. with the notes of Reimarus; Aurelius Victor. ed. Arntzenius; and C. Plinius, Panegyricus, ed. Schaefer.)


hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
98 AD (4)
96 AD (2)
90 AD (1)
71 AD (1)
68 AD (1)
32 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: