Seneca and Burrus and Nero

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Brief overview of Nero's tutors, Seneca and Burrus

It wasn't long before Agrippina promoted her son Nero in the imperial household. She had already arranged for him to have excellent instructors, the famous philosopher Seneca the Elder, and also the commander (Prefect) of the Praetorian Guard, Burrus.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (5 A.D.-65 A.D.) was a poet and a writer, and one of the major literary figures and foremost Stoic philosophers of the first century A.D. He was the son of Seneca the Elder, born in Spain and taken to Rome as a youth. Caligula and the Senate saw Seneca the younger as an incredibly gifted orator and writer. When Claudius became emperor in 41 A.D. he exiled Seneca to Corsica, Spain (the place of his birth). Seneca finally saw the end of his exile when Agrippina The Younger, probably the most powerful person in Rome, called him back to Rome to become a tutor for her son, Nero.

Sextus Afranius Burrus was prefect of the praetorian guard during the reigns of Claudius and Nero. According to an inscription became from Gaul, and was recognized for his military leadership. He served as a Tribune, and then as a procurator and private bodyguard for the Empress Livia, and later for Tiberius and Claudius. It was through Claudius that Burrus met Agrippina The Younger, who found him to be useful and trustworthy, and in 51 A.D. she made him the sole prefect of the guard. Burrus returned the favor by supporting Nero over Claudius’ son Britannicus, and Claudius died in 54 A.D. Burrus presented Nero to the cohorts of the praetorians. Burrus also became an advisor to Nero along with Seneca, and together they managed to preserve the Empire from Nero's eccentricities and to break the hold that Nero's mother had on him.

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.
 

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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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