Nero Becomes Emperor

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Brief history of the events around Nero becoming Emperor of Rome

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus.

Nero became betrothed to Octavia (Claudius' daughter) and he was officially adopted in 50 A.D., and became the most probable heir to the throne, even over Claudius' own son Britannicus. Britannicus was four years younger than Nero and suffered greatly because of his disgraced mother Messalina. Nero’s mother Agrippina moved very shrewdly by appointing Nero as Britannicus' guardian and from that time on the young Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus would be known as Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus.

Having assured herself the title of Augusta, and her son the throne, Agrippina murdered Claudius in October of 54 A.D. and Nero, with the help of Burrus, was accepted by the praetorian guard and became emperor.

Nero succeeded and gave an inaugural address, probably written by Seneca, in which he promised to bring the empire the same peace and prosperity that existed in the days of Augustus, who exercised his authority in the midst of Republican rule and the Constitution.

Peaceful Order

During the first five years of his rule, Nero allowed Seneca and Burrus to run things within the empire. This first five years of Nero's reign were known as the "quinquennium Neronis" which became a legend within the provinces for sound administration and peaceful order.

The senate and the consul's powers seemed to get back their ancient functions. They enjoyed more security and initiative than they had known for many years. The coinage from 55 to 60 contained an inscription as a gesture pleasing to the senate. Nero governed wisely in these few years and maintained peaceful order. He prevented provincial governors and certain parties from extracting large sums from the local population to view the gladiatorial shows. He also took measures to improve public order. There were new laws against forgery and many reforms in the area of taxes and provincial administration. Nero made many promises to the senate concerning his plans for judicial fairness and these reforms also marked the beginning of his reign.

Pleasing the People

Nero had definitely come up with some interesting ideas. For example within the circuses and theaters there would normally be a large number of soldiers (Praetorian Guard) present, but Nero did not think that this gave the people a sense of freedom and at the end of 55 A.D. he had them removed from the games. This turned out to be a bad move because of the rival gangs and fights. The following year the soldiers were reinstated.

Nero was not pleased with killing unless it was deserved. In 57 A.D. he built a wood amphitheater for games, gladiator fights, and wild beast shows but he did not allow fighting to the death, even if those fighting were convicted criminals. It wasn’t long before the crowd cried for blood and Nero had to change his policy.

Nero soon became very suspicious and a bit paranoid. If he even suspected that someone was hostile to him in any way, he was ready to order their death, but he would not execute someone unless they committed some sort of treason. He did not like to execute people and when he was asked to sign an execution warrant, he would sigh "How I wish I never learned to write."

It is interesting that Seneca also did not like the idea of Roman executions. One situation that disturbed Seneca was in 61 A.D., when the city prefect Lucius Pedanius Secundus (a fellow Spanish citizen) was murdered by one of his slaves. According to Roman law (in case of a slave uprising) not only the murderer himself but every other slave in the house had to be killed. Lucius owned four hundred slaves including women and children. Though many protested against the slave executions Nero enforced the law.

Nero as Emperor

By 62 A.D. Nero was the established authority in Rome. His mother Agrippina was dead, Burrus, the praetorian commander, was also dead. Seneca had retired, Octavia was divorced and murdered. Poppaea was now married to Nero and she bore him a daughter in 63 A.D.

Poppaea had been Otho's wife and she had her eyes on Nero and plotted successfully to eliminate Octavia (Nero's wife), and Agrippina. Nero had his mother murdered in 59 A.D.

Nero considered himself an artist, although it is doubtful that he had much talent. He devoted his time to poetry, singing on the public stage, and to sport. He desired to replace the gladiatorial games with racing and Greek athletic contests, yet his biggest desires were never achieved.

Without those companions who had helped him in maintaining control of the empire, people were about to see Nero's true inward character. Ofonius Tigellinus, the new commander of the praetorian guard, was a bad influence on Nero. Nero also had many character flaws: vanity, greed, cruelty and a lust for power. He regarded the principate as tyrannical and none of his predecessors, he said “had realized what they could do” (Suetonius, Nero, 37).

Just like Claudius, Nero began to surround himself with the worst sort of people. The expense wars in Britain and Armenia caused many problems. There was also a deliberate depreciation of the coinage. The hated law of treason (maiestas) was revived and used to destroy the Senate and aristocracy.


 

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"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.

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The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)

Map of the Roman Mediterranean

Background

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 Senate.

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 executed.

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 dynasty).


The main people involved in the life of Nero were:

- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus

- Agrippina - Nero's dominating mother

- 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


Important events that happened during the life of Nero:

- The Great Fire of Rome – 64 A.D.

- The First Imperial 'Persecution' of Christians – 64 A.D.

- The first Jewish Revolt Against Rome – 66 A.D.


The main historical sources about the life of Nero were:


- Tacitus Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 A.D. approx.)

- Suetonius Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 A.D. approx.)

- Cassius Dio Dion Cassius Cocceianus (155-235 A.D. approx.)

- Jewish and Christian Tradition

- Archaeology: inscriptions, coins, written text.

Bibliography on the Emperor Nero

Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Scarre, 240 Pages, Pub. 2012
 

 

Nero, Emperor of Rome

Bible History Online


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