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Nero

A Sabine word meaning “brave,” cognate with ἀνήρ.


1.

Tiberius, a son of Appius Claudius, from whom all the Claudii Nerones were descended.


2.

A general in the Second Punic War, who defeated and slew the Carthaginian Hasdrubal at the battle of the Metaurus, thus probably saving Rome from capture (B.C. 207).


3.

Tiberius, father of the emperor and a partisan of Iulius Caesar and afterwards of Antony. He surrendered his beautiful wife Livia (q.v.) to Octavianus (Augustus), who married her. Nero died soon after (Tac. Ann. i. 10; v. 1; Dio Cass. xlviii. 44).


4.

Claudius Caesar. The sixth of the Roman emperors, born at Antium, in Latium, A.D. 37, nine months after the death of Tiberius. He was the son of Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina, the daughter of Germanicus, and was originally named Lucius Domitius. After the death of Ahenobarbus, and a second husband, Crispus Passienus, Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius, who gave his daughter Octavia in marriage to her son Lucius, and subsequently adopted him with the formal sanction of a lex Curiata.

The education of Nero was carefully attended to in his youth. He was placed under the care of the philosopher Seneca, and appears to have applied himself with considerable perseverance to study. He is said to have made great progress in Greek, of which he gave a specimen in his sixteenth year, by pleading in that tongue the rights of the Rhodians, and of the inhabitants of Ilium (Suet. Nero, 7; Tac. Ann. xii. 58). At the death of Claudius (A.D. 54), while Agrippina, by flatteries and lamentations, detained Britannicus, the son of Claudius and Messalina, within the palace, Nero, presenting himself before the gates, was lifted by the guard-in-waiting into the covered chariot used for the purpose of carrying in procession an elected emperor, and was followed by a multitude of the people, under the illusion that it was Britannicus. He entered the camp, promised a donative to the cohorts, was saluted emperor, and pronounced before the Senate, in honour of Claudius, a panegyric composed by his preceptor Seneca.

Coin of Nero.

Agrippina soon endeavoured to obtain the chief management of public affairs; and her vindictive and cruel temper would have hurried Nero, at the commencement of his reign, into acts of violence and bloodshed, if her influence had not been counteracted by Seneca and Burrus, to whom Nero had intrusted the government of the State. Through their counsels the first five years of Nero's reign were distinguished by justice and clemency; and an anecdote is related of him, that, having on one occasion to sign an order for the execution of a malefactor, he exclaimed, “Would that I could not write!” (Suet. Nero, 10). He discouraged public informers, refused the statues of gold and silver which were offered him by the Senate and people, and used every art to ingratiate himself with the latter. But his mother was enraged to find that her power over him became weaker every day, and that he constantly disregarded her advice and refused her requests. His neglect of his wife Octavia, and his criminal love of Acté, a woman of low birth, still farther widened the breach between him and his mother. She frequently addressed him in the most contemptuous language; reminded him that he owed his elevation solely to her, and threatened that she would inform the soldiers of the manner in which Claudius had met his end, and would call upon them to support the claims of Britannicus, the son of the late emperor. The threats of his mother only served to hasten the death of Britannicus, whose murder forms the commencement of that long catalogue of crimes which afterwards disgraced the reign of Nero. But while the management of public affairs appears, from the testimony of most historians, to have been wisely conducted by Burrus and Seneca, Nero indulged in private in dissipation and profligacy. He was accustomed, in company with other young men of his own age, to sally into the streets of Rome at night, in order to rob and maltreat passengers, and even to break into private houses and carry off the property of their owners. But these extravagances were comparatively harmless; his love for Poppaea, whom he had seduced from Otho, led him into more serious crimes. Poppaea, who was ambitious of sharing the imperial throne, perceived that she could not hope to attain her object while Agrippina was alive, and, accordingly, induced Nero to consent to the murder of his mother. The entreaties of Poppaea appear to have been supported by the advice of Burrus and Seneca; and the philosopher did not hesitate to justify the murder of a mother by her son (Tac. Ann. xiv. 11; Quint.viii. 5).

In the eighth year of his reign, Nero lost his best counsellor, Burrus; and Seneca had the wisdom to withdraw from the court, where his presence had become disliked, and where his enormous wealth was calculated to excite the envy even of the emperor. About the same time Nero divorced Octavia and married Poppaea, and soon after put to death the former on a false accusation of adultery and treason. In the tenth year of his reign (A.D. 64) Rome was almost destroyed by fire. Of the fourteen districts into which the city was divided, four only remained entire. The fire originated at that part of the Circus which was contiguous to the Palatine and Coelian Hills, and raged with the greatest fury for six days and seven nights; and, after it was thought to have been extinguished, it burst forth again, and continued for two days longer. Nero appears to have acted on this occasion with the greatest liberality and kindness; the city was supplied with provisions at a very moderate price; and the imperial gardens were thrown open to the sufferers, and buildings erected for their accommodation. But these acts of humanity and benevolence were insufficient to screen him from the popular suspicion. It was generally believed that he had set fire to the city himself, and some even reported that he had ascended the top of a high tower in order to witness the conflagration, where he amused himself with singing the “Destruction of Troy.” From many circumstances, however, it appears improbable that Nero was guilty of this crime. His guilt, indeed, is asserted by Suetonius ( Nero, 38) and Dio Cassius (lxii. 17), but Tacitus admits that he was not able to prove the truth of the accusation ( Ann. xv. 38). In order, however, to remove the suspicions of the people, Nero spread a report that the Christians were the authors of the fire, and numbers of them, accordingly, were seized and put to death. Their execution served as an amusement to the people. Some were covered with skins of wild beasts, and were torn to pieces by dogs; others were crucified; and several were smeared with pitch and other combustible materials, and burned in the imperial gardens in the night: “Whence,” says the historian, “pity arose

Nero. (Bust in the Louvre.)

for the guilty (though they deserved the severest punishments), since they were put to death, not for the public good, but to gratify the cruelty of a single man” (Tac. Ann. xv. 44).

In the following year (A.D. 65) a powerful conspiracy was formed for the purpose of placing Piso upon the throne, but it was discovered by Nero, and the principal conspirators were put to death. Among others who suffered on this occasion were Lucan and Seneca; but the guilt of the latter is doubtful. (See Seneca.) In the same year Poppaea died, in consequence of a kick which she received from her husband while she was in an advanced state of pregnancy. A long list of victims is to be found in the pages of the annalists. The distinguished general Domitius Corbulo, Thrasea Paetus, and Barea Soranus are among these.

During the latter part of his reign, Nero was principally engaged in amateur theatricals, and in contending for the prizes at the public games. He had previously appeared as an actor on the Roman stage; and he now visited in succession the chief cities of Greece, and received no less than 1800 crowns for his victories in the public Grecian games. He also began the canal across the Isthmus of Corinth, but ordered the work to be stopped (Dio Cass. lxiii. 6 foll.), leaving its completion to our own times (1893). On his return to Italy he entered Naples and Rome as a conqueror, and was received with triumphal honours. But while he was engaged in these extravagances, Vindex, who commanded the legions in Gaul, declared against his authority; and his example was speedily followed by Galba, who commanded in Spain. The praetorian cohorts espoused the cause of Galba, and the Senate pronounced sentence of death against Nero, who had fled from Rome as soon as he heard of the revolt of the Praetorian Guards. Nero, however, anticipated the execution of the sentence which had been passed against him, by requesting one of his attendants to put him to death, after making an ineffectual attempt to do so with his own hands. He died A.D. 68, in the thirty-second year of his age, and the fourteenth of his reign. See the chapter in Baring-Gould's Tragedy of the Caesars, vol. ii. (1892).

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