Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
December 15, 37 CE – June 9, 68 CE
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was Emperor of Rome from 54 to 68 CE. He was the last ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
During his reign, Nero focused on diplomacy, trade, and improving Roman cultural life. He was guided in all of this by his mother Agrippina, whose treachery against her husband Claudius paved the way for Nero’s ascent.
Even today, Nero’s rule remains controversial and the results of his initiatives were certainly mixed.
In 64 CE, most of Rome was destroyed by a great fire. Many Romans blamed Nero for it, claiming that he started it in order to clear land for a massive palatial complex. Proving that perception matters in politics, Nero’s alleged inaction inspired rumors that the emperor “fiddled while Rome burned”. He was also a religious persecutor, though unlike his adopted father Claudius, who pushed the Jews out of Rome, Nero directed his ire at Christians.
In 68 CE, the simultaneous rebellions of the Gallo-Roman governor Vindex in Gaul and governor Galba in Spain caused the remnants of Nero’s public support to collapse. In response, he tried to flee Rome for the Eastern provinces. When he could not secure passage, he returned to the palace and worked out his endgame: death by suicide.
Nero’s death brought a dynasty to its end, upset long-standing political alliances in the Senate, and set the stage for a period of civil wars known as the Year of Four Emperors.
A Numismatic Commemoration
The Temple of Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, was one of Rome’s most ancient and revered deities. It was believed that Romulus built the temple after he had made peace with the Sabines and that King Numa Pompilius, Romulus’ successor, decreed that the temple’s doors should be opened during times of war and shut during times of peace. Its door had been shut perhaps five or six times in all of Roman history prior to the reign of Nero: once under Numa (who originated the tradition), once at the end of the Second Punic War, three times under Augustus, and, according to the poet Ovid, once under Tiberius.
Thus, when peace had been generally established on all the empire’s fronts in 65 CE, Nero did not hesitate to close the temple’s doors. He marked the event with great celebrations and struck a large and impressive series of coins. The inscription on this issue is one of the most instructive on all Roman coins, for it announces “…the doors of Janus have been closed after peace has been procured for the Roman People on the land and on the sea.”
Despite Nero’s contentment with affairs on the empire’s borders, the year 65 was not a happy one on the home front: much of Rome was still in ashes from the great fire of the previous year, Nero had narrowly escaped murder in the Pisonian Conspiracy, and not long afterward he had kicked to death his pregnant wife Pappaea Sabina.
Timeline of Important Events during the reign of Nero
54 – Claudius is assassinated. Nero ascends to the throne.
56 – 57 – Nero expels actors from Rome and dictates reforms of circuses and festivals.
62 – Nero divorces his wife, Octavia, and marries his mistress Poppaea Sabina the Younger. The first signs of volcanic activity are recorded in Mt. Vesuvius when an earthquake damages some nearby Campanian towns.
64 – The Great Fire of Rome breaks out. Many speculate that Nero started the blaze to clear room for a new palace. Christians are scapegoated for the blaze. Nero begins the construction of the domus aurea.
65 – A plot against him, known as the ‘Psionian Conspiracy’, led by G. Calpurnius Piso. Nineteen are executed or forced to commit suicide.
67 – The future Emperor, Vespasian, is sent to Judaea to put down the Jewish revolt. Nero enters the Olympic games and is named the winner of every event that he enters. Paul the Apostle dies.
68 – A widespread revolt forces Nero to commit suicide, sparking a Civil War.