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Claudius and Nero
Brief overview of Claudius and the Emperor Nero
Tiberias Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (10 B.C.-54 A.D.) was emperor of
Rome from 41 A.D. to 54 A.D. He was born at Lyons and his parents were Drusus
the Elder and Antonia. From his infancy he suffered from some sort of illness,
many think that it was some form of cerebral palsy. His own family thought that
it would be impossible for him to have any sort of public career, and they were
humiliated by him. Yet underneath the surface was the mind of a scholar and
Tiberias and Caligula saw no threat in Claudius, although many others and his
family were either executed or went into exile. Claudius had served as consul
for Caligula. By 41 A.D. Caligula was assassinated, and the praetorian guard had
a difficult time finding a replacement. They chose Claudius and persuaded all of
Rome to follow him, even the legions were happy because the brother of
Germanicus was on the throne. The Senate had no choice in the matter because
they feared the praetorian guard who were rewarded greatly by Claudius.
There was never a time in the Roman Empire when the Emperor was given so much
power. There were six plots against his life, many of them being organized by
the Senators. Claudius had married four times, and after his third marriage to
Messalina he swore he would never marry again, and if he did the praetorian
guard was to kill him. His first marriage bore him to children Drusus (died in
childhood) and Claudia (illegitimate). His marriage to Messalina gave him two
more children, Octavia and Britannicus.
When Claudius became emperor in 41 A.D. Agrippina (his niece) was recalled from
exile and allowed to return to Rome, and her estate was returned to her. In 49
A.D. following the fall and execution of Empress Messallina, Claudius married
Agrippina, and many things changed for the young Domitius (Nero).
This was Julia Agrippina’s third marriage, she was 34 years old and Claudius was
59 years old at the time of their marriage. This marriage proved to play a big
part in the diabolical planning of Agrippina. Claudius was a strong leader and a
very influential man, and throughout his life he suffered from some form of
sickness, and this is probably why historians mentioned Claudius as a man with
many strange behaviors. Agrippina knew that she could have an influence over the
affairs in Rome through Claudius, and his life expectancy played a big factor in
She convinced Claudius to adopt her son and in 50 A.D. Nero became the probable
heir to the throne, even over Claudius's real son Britannicus. Seneca became
Nero’s tutor, and in 53 A.D. Nero married Claudius's daughter Octavia. In 54
A.D. Agrippina murdered Claudius by giving him a plate of poison mushrooms, and
Nero became ruler at the age of seventeen.
"I began to hate you, when, after murdering mother and wife, you turned out to
be a jockey, a mountebank, and an incendiary." (Tacitus ann. 15:67).
Nero - A Devotional Message
Primary Sources for the Study of the Emperor Nero are:
Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, Christian
and Jewish Tradition, and Archaeology.
The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)
The Roman Empire beyond Italy was divided into about 40 provinces
(territories), with each province having its own governor who kept order and
collected taxes for Rome. He was either appointed by the emperor or named by the
During the first century A.D. the Roman Empire was near its peak with a
population of 50-60 million. This was more than 1/5 of the world's population at
that time. Jesus lived and died during the period known in Roman history as the
Pax Romana or the "Peace of Rome".
It was an amazing time in history when the risen Jesus empowered His church to
go into all the world to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In
fact the apostles journeyed throughout the Mediterranean world which was part of
the Roman Empire. They traveled through Roman cities on Roman roads and
everywhere that they traveled they came into contact with Rome.
Julius Caesar had a dream for Rome but he was assassinated before he could see
it fulfilled. The big problem was who would become the next emperor after his
assassination. Very few had expected the young Octavian (Augustus) to become the
chief heir and new emperor after Julius Caesar, but it was Augustus who turned
out to be the most important emperor in all of Roman history.
Augustus was very aware of what had happened with Julius Caesar, and desired to
avoid the same problems with the Roman Senate. He wanted his stepson Tiberius to
be emperor after his death and to make sure that this would happen he began to
share his power with Tiberius. When Augustus died in 14 A.D. Tiberius was easily
accepted as emperor. In fact this became the new way that emperors would be
chosen. Each emperor would choose a successor from among his family or he would
adopt someone who he thought would be fit to rule after him.
During the 200 years after the death of Augustus, four dynasties (family lines)
ruled the Roman Empire. Some of the emperors in each dynasty were somewhat moral
emperors and others were horribly cruel. Each of the four dynasties ended with a
violent overthrow of an unfit emperor.
Augustus’ family line ended in disgrace in 68 A.D. with the Emperor Nero, who
came to power when he was a young boy at the age of 17. Nero Claudius Caesar was
born in December of 37 A.D. at Antium and reigned as the fifth emperor (Princeps)
of Rome, from 54-68 A.D. under the political system created by Augustus after
Civil War had finally put an end to the Roman Republic.
Throughout the early years of his rule Nero was directed by his tutors
(including the famous writer Seneca) and there was peace throughout the Empire.
The Emperor Nero loved performing in the Theatre, races and games. He was not
respected by the senators or the army. He was criticized by the people of Rome
for being more interested in entertaining himself than in governing the empire.
However, when his main advisors had either retired, or were dead, Nero revealed
his true character. It did not take long for the people to realize that Nero was
a tyrant. In 59 A.D. Nero executed his mother, his wife, Claudius’s son
Britannicus, and several of his advisors and anyone that opposed him was
In 64 A.D. a devastating fire swept through Rome destroying everything in its
path. Everyone thought that Nero had started the fire so that he could rebuild a
more beautiful city, including his Golden House. According to the Roman
historian Suetonius, Nero sang and played the lyre while Rome burned. When Nero
felt that the rumor had turned everyone against him he found some scapegoats to
bare the blame for the fire, the Christians. He punished them severely and had
many of them burned alive or torn apart by wild beasts. It is believed that the
apostles Paul and Peter were martyred during this persecution.
There were many who sought Nero’s death and in 68 A.D. his own army rebelled
against him and various military commanders attempted to seize the throne. The
Emperor Nero was forced to flee from Rome and soon afterward he committed
suicide. He was the last emperor who was of the dynasty of Augustus (Julio-Claudian
- Agrippina - Nero's dominating mother
The main people involved in the life of Nero were:
- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
- Claudius - The emperor before Nero
- Octavia - Claudius' daughter and Nero's first wife
- Britannicus - Claudius' son and rightful heir to the throne
- Seneca and Burrus - Nero's trusted tutors
- Poppaea - Nero's second wife
- Galba - General in Spain and the next emperor of Rome
- The First Imperial 'Persecution' of Christians – 64 A.D.
Important events that happened during the life of Nero:
- The Great Fire of Rome – 64 A.D.
- The first Jewish Revolt Against Rome – 66 A.D.
- Suetonius Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 A.D. approx.)
The main historical sources about the life of Nero were:
- Tacitus Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 A.D. approx.)
- Cassius Dio Dion Cassius Cocceianus (155-235 A.D. approx.)
- Jewish and Christian Tradition
- Archaeology: inscriptions, coins, written text.
Nero, Emperor of
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Birth and Youth
Great Fire of Rome