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NERO
AN EMPEROR LOVED BY THE PEOPLE

 

The history is written by the winners. The one who loses is destined to be outraged.

Nero is the Roman emperor, together with Caligula, more vilified by the historians of the time.

They wrote of Nero:

- Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 about), contemporary of Domitianus and of Nerva, native of the Transalpine or Cisalpine Gaul, senator, proconsul of Asia in 112-113, great historian. He wrote fundamental works for the knowledge of the Roman history.

- Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 about), native of the province of Africa where he had been born at the beginnings of the principate of Vespasianus, member of the equestrian order, head of the department of the imperial correspondence. Removed by Hadrianus in 121, he started writing biographies of the emperors accentuating the anecdotal and sensational aspects.

- Dion Cassius Cocceianus (Nicaea 155 - Nicaea 235 about), coming from the Bithynia, a father senator, was twice consul and in 229 colleague of the emperor Severus Alexander. He wrote a Roman history in 80 books.

Therefore what we know about Nero derives from exponents of the senatorial class and of the equestrian class: exactly the two classes with which he had had to fight and by which he had been finally ruined.

The Jewish tradition is also contrary to Nero. Nero defended in Judea, as in the whole empire, the freedom of religion, the cohabitation between ethnic groups and different people: the ancient ideal of Alexander the Great. But the Jews didn't share this ideal and Nero had to intervene with the army to reconcile the region.

Adverseto Nero is the whole Christian tradition that saw in him the first persecutor of the Christians, the assassin of Peter and Paul, the antichrist. But there is no edict of Nero against the Christians or against the Christian religion. Nero condemned to death only a group of incendiaries or supposed such.

Till now any tradition favorable to Nero has been found.

Yet Nero was deeply loved by the Roman people who regretted for a long time his death.

Place: Roman Empire

Epoch: 37-68 AD

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The origins

Lucius Domitius Aenobarbus was born at Anzio the 15 December of 37.

His mother was Agrippina, daughter of Agrippina The Elder, Julia's daughter, daughter of Augustus, nephew of Julius Caesar.

His father, Gnaeus Domitius Aenobarbus, who had been consul in 38, died in 40.

The emperor Caligula, who died in 41, was brother of Agrippina.

Lucius Domitius studied with the Greek-Egyptian philosopher Chaeremon of Alexandria, the peripatetic philosopher Alexander of Ege and the astronomer Trasillus, who had been the astrologer of Tiberius.

From 49 he had as preceptor a senator: the philosopher of Iberian origin Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Cordoba 4 BC - Rome 65 AD).

The prefect of the praetorium of Gallic origin Sextus Afranius Burrus (? Vaison - Rome 62 AD) taught to the young Nero the military subjects.

In 49 Agrippina married her uncle the emperor Claudius.

On 25 February of 50 Lucius Domitius was adopted by Claudius. He took the name of Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus.

At sixteen, in 53, he married Octavia, the daughter of Claudius. She was twelve years old.

On 12 October of 54 Claudius died, probably poisoned by Agrippina.

Seneca wrote the funeral oration of Claudius, that Nero would have pronounced during the funeral ceremony, and contemporarily he wrote an sarcastic libel entitled "The transformation in pumpkin of the divine Claudius".

At 16 and ten months Nero became emperor with the name of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

In 58 Suillius, who had been consul in 50 under the emperor Claudius asked himself "with which moral wisdom, with which philosophical rules Seneca had accumulated in four years three hundred million sestertii". Suillius was exiled to the Balearic Islands. Seneca also tried to bring the son of Sullius to trial, but Nero opposed.

Britannicus

In 55 the fourteen years old Britannicus (41-55), son of Claudius and of Messalina Valeria, died during a banquet.

People said that he had been stricken by an attack of epilepsy. He was perhaps poisoned by Agrippina who feared the claims of the boy.

Donations

The first measures of the new emperor were constituted by donations and gifts.

400 sestertii were distributed to every citizen.

To the members of the senate in economic difficulty he assured a pension up to half million sestertii a year.

The praetorians had a distribution of free wheat every month.

The consulate

To give back dignity to the magistracy of the consulate he established that the position had to be held for at least six months.

Every year he named from two to four consuls.

Nero assumed the consulate four times between 55 and 60.

In 57 he maintained the consulate the whole year.

In 58 the senate proposed to Nero to acquire the consulate for life. Nero refused.

After 60 he didn't assume the consulate anymore up to the crisis of 68.

Measures in the judicial field

Nero abolished the secret and discretionary procedures (intra cubiculum principis) during the judicial procedures.

He changed the practice to bring in a verdict during the same day of the debate. He took at least one day of reflection to write the sentence with the motivations.

He tried to put a limit to the bills of the lawyers.

He put the judicial procedures at the Treasury expense.

He reduced the remunerations to the informers.

Between 54 and 61 he made to try twelve governors of the provinces for embezzlement. Six of them were convicted. Of these three had been named by Nero.

Other measures

Nero prohibited to all the governors of the provinces to organize shows with gladiators and wild beasts. It was true that the shows were appreciated by the population, but the expenses for their preparation were at the contributors expenses.

He forbade to not residents in Egypt to possess lands there. In this way it was prevented that rich Romans constitute latifundia.

He tried to repopulate southern Italy with the constitution of new colonies of veterans. But these to a large extent resold the lots.

The control of the treasury

In 57 he removed the control of the administration of the treasury (aerarium Saturni) from the senate.

The praefecti aerarii Saturni of imperial nomination were constituted. The prefects were senators of praetorial rank selected directly by the emperor.

The senate lost the power to coin coins.

The project of tax reform

In 58, he proposed a project of tax reform: the abolition of indirect taxes called portoria, that were mainly paid in the harbors. The project was about the elimination of the duties of entrance and exit of the commodities that passed from a province to the other of the empire. Nero wanted the free circulation of the commodities.

The diminution of the entrances of the Treasury would have been compensated by the increase of the volume of taxes of trading and by a moderate increase of direct taxes.

The abolition of duties would have damaged:

- the great Italian land owners, namely the senators, who would find themselves to face a bigger competition of the provincial producers;

- the contractors of taxes, namely the knights, who would have seen to disappear one of the principal sources of their income.

The rest of the population would have been benefited and would have enjoyed the diminution of the cost of life.

The senate, controlled by the rich agrarian owners, prevented Nero to proceed with his reform.

The contrast between Nero and the senate became clear. The land aristocracy became the greater enemy of the emperor.

Egypt

During his principate Nero named to the position of prefect of Egypt:

- Claudius Balbillus of Alexandria;

- Caecina Tuscus, whose mother, of Greek origin, had been nurse of Nero;

- Tiberiius Jiulius Alexander, a Hebrew of Alexandria.

Evidently Nero didn't privilege the westerners and didn't have problems with the Hebrews.

Measures about revenue

Stopped by the senate on the tax reform, Nero issued some provisions of minor impact, but not for this less hated by the senators and by the knights:

- The norms for the collection of taxes, until then secret, had to be made public.

- The taxes could not be asked after one year.

- All the surtaxes invented by the contractors had to be abolished.

- The trials against the contractors of taxes had to have the priority.

- The merchant ships employed in the transport of the wheat to Rome were exempted by the property taxes.

Armenia: agreement with the Parts

Armenia was a buffer state between the Roman and the Parthian empire. In 52 Vologeses, king of the Parthians, had put on the throne of Armenia his brother Tiridates. Nero, since the beginning of his principate, decided to intervene.

The general Corbulo and the legate of Syria Ummidius Durmius Quadratus were entrusted to free Armenia.

The military campaign mainly developed in 57-59. In 60 Tigranes V, a prince of Cappadocia educated in Rome, was installed on the throne of Tigranocerta.

In 61 Vologeses and Tiridates took back the hostilities. General Cesennius Petus's legions, sent to reoccupy Armenia, were defeated.

Corbulo took back the command and in 63 he reached an agreement with Vologeses: Armenia would have been governed by Tiridates, but he would have received the crown from Nero, since Armenia became a Roman protectorate.

Death of Agrippina

In March of 59 Agrippina was killed by order of Nero, probably after suggestion of Seneca.

Nero justified himself in front of the senate affirming that Agrippina had conspired against him and against the state.

In fact it seems that Agrippina had intention to dethrone Nero, who had kept her off the power, and to put on the throne another man with whom she intended to remarry.

Nero brought for the rest of his life the burden of this horrendous crime. Awful nightmares tormented him.

Britain: the revolt of Budicca

In 59 Nero sent to Britain the general Gaius Svetonius Paulinus.

In 60, while Svetonius Paulinus was eliminating a hotbed of resistance in the island of Mona (Anglesey), put in the Ibernicus sea, between Britain and today's Ireland, the revolt burst in the territory of the Iceni (Norfolk).

The revolt had at its base a fiscal problem and the greediness of Seneca who, after having made remarkable loans to the Britons, he collected the sum with the interests using the Roman army.

Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni, drove the rebels to the conquest of Camulodunum (Colchester), then she headed towards Londinium (London). The troops of Svetonius Paulinus didn't arrive in time and the city fell. Over 70.000 people between Romans and allies were killed.

With the few troops at disposal, no more than 10.000 men, Svetonius Paulinus attacked Boudicca. The Britons were defeated. Boudicca killed herself.

Ethiopia Meroitica: trade agreements

In 61 Nero sent an expedition in Ethiopia Meroitica to create new commercial ways and new maritime bases.

The Romans had the use of the harbor of Assab and they established diplomatic relations with the kings of Axum.

Gaul

The Gaul, at the time of Nero, was a rich and flourishing territory. The mint of Lyon frequently coined coins.

In 61 Nero decided to make a census of the province to improve the fiscal imposition.

Changes to the summit

In 62 notable changes happened to the summit of the state.

The prefect of the praetorium Afranius Burrus died. He was replaced by Fenius Rufus and by the Sicilian Tigellinus.

Seneca withdrew to private life.

In June Nero repudiated Octavia to marry Poppea Sabina, wife of Oto. Oto had been sent to make the governor of Lusitania since 58.

Octavia was exiled. People demonstrated in favour of Octavia. Then Nero obliged her to suicide.

Mesia and Black Sea

The legate of Mesia, T. Plautius Silvanus Elianus, succeeded in subduing over 100.000 inhabitants of the regions beyond the Danube. He rejected an invasion of the Sarmatians. He put under control the western and northern coasts of the Pontus Eusinus, arriving up to Crimea.

In 63 the whole northern coast of the Black Sea was garrisoned by Roman troops. The wheat of today's Ukraine could be commercialized inside the empire.

In 64 the Pontus Polemoniacus was annexed to the province of the Galatia. The whole Black Sea was controlled by the Romans.

The monetary reform

In the period 63-64 Nero proceeded to a monetary reform. It was lowered the fineness of the aureus and of the denarius. Contemporarily the relationship between the denarius and the aureus was improved.

Ratio
Before Nero
Ratio
63 Nero reform
Ratio
aureus
1
1/40 of pound
(7,7 gold grams)
1 gold gram
1/45 of pound
(7,3 gold grams)
1 gold gram
denarius
25
1/84 of pound
(3,7 silver grams)
12 silver grams
1/96 of pound
(3,25 silver grams)
11 silver grams

The reform increased the currency and brought a profit in the coffers of the state. Nero also expected a raising of the economy.

Besides an advantage was had for the middle classes that didn't use the aureus but the denarius.

The rich ones that had treasured up the aureus were the most damaged.

Rome fire

The night of plenilune of 19 July of 64 a fire spread in Rome. It began in the zone of the Circus Maximus and it reached the Palatinus, the Suburra, the Viminalis, Porta Capena, the Caelium, the Carinae, the Horti luculliani and the Horti sallustiani, the Campus Martius, the flaminia zone.

The fire blazed six days, then it seemed to burn out but took back and lasted other three days.

Nero hastened to Rome to organize the aid. Then he began the work of reconstruction. He made a new urban development plan. The houses had to be spaced out, built in bricks, faced by porticos on wide roads.

It was built the complex known as Domus Aurea:

- an imperial building, near Mons Opium, one of the three hills of the Esquilinus;

- the whole gardens, little ponds and statues in the valley between the Esquilinus and the Palatinus, where the emperor Titus, in 80, will have the Colosseum to build.

To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction it was imposed an extraordinary tribute to all the provinces of the empire.

They sought the culprits of the fire.

The Jewish community of Rome was protected by Poppea, the wife of Nero.

The struggles inside the community between Christians and orthodox Jews were known to Nero. The prefect of the praetorium and the prefect of the city knew of the violences between the two groups. The order of arrest was sent forth against some Christians, considered the authors of the fire. They were condemned to death.

There was no persecution neither against the Christian religion neither against the Christians.

The conspiracy of Piso

In 65 a conspiracy was discovered for killing Nero and to elect emperor the senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso. The conspirators were senators and knights, supported by officers of the praetorian guard.

Of the 41 participants to the conspiracy only eighteen died. The others were exiled or forgiven.

Piso committed suicide. Seneca committed suicide. The prefect Fenius Rufus, who had taken part in the conspiracy, was killed. He was replaced by an officer: Nimfidius Sabinus.

The poet Annaeus Lucanus and Petronius Arbiter also took part to the conspiracy.

New marriage

In 65 Poppea Sabina probably died because of an illness during the pregnancy.

Nero married Statilia Messalina.

Tiridates in Rome

In October of 66 the king of Armenia Tiridates arrived to Rome after a long trip. The caravan had departed from Artaxata (today's Artasat), had crossed Asia Minor, crossed the Bosporus, travelled over the Balkan peninsula and reached Ancona.

Nero welcomed Tiridates at Ancona from where the triumphal procession started toward Rome. In the capital Tiridates, brother of the king of the Parthians, was crowned by Nero king of Armenia.

After the ceremony of crowning Nero closed the doors of the temple of Janus. Peace dominated the world.

The Vinicianus conspiracy

In 66 the conspiracy of Annius Vinicianus, son-in-law of the general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, was discovered. He refused to present himself in front of the emperor to provr his innocence and committed suicide in 67.

Nero in Greece

At the end of 66 Nero began his journey to Greece. He established his base in Corinth. He made journeys to Delphi, Olympia, Argos and Nemea.

He started the works for the cutting of the isthmus of Corinth.

He got Greece out of the administration of the senate, to which he gave Sardinia in change.

He granted the fiscal immunity to Greece.

At the beginning of 68 he reentered to Rome, also recalled by the news of the revolt of Vindex.

The revolt of Judea

At the end of 66 some conflicts bursted between Greek and Jews in Jerusalem and in Caesarea. Nero sent the general Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Falacrinae, in the territory of Rieti, 9 - Aquae Cutiliae, near Rieti, 79), future emperor, to bring back the order.

The military operations, begun in 67, continued for a long time. They were brought to an end by Titus, son of Vespasianus, in 70.

The revolt of Vindex

In 68 Julius Vindex, a 34 year-old Gaul become Roman, imperial legate in Lyon, rebelled against the fiscal politics of Nero. The revolt spread in the whole Gaul and the other western provinces.

There was the rebellion:

-on 2 April of 68, of the governor of Hispania Citerior, Servius Sulpicius Galba, named by Nero in 60; belonging to the rich senatorial aristocracy; 73 years;

- of the legate of the Lusitania, Salvius Oto, ancient friend of Nero.

At the end of April Nero took over the consulate to have the necessary powers to react.

The legate of superior Germany, the Milanese Lucius Virginius Rufus (14-97), and the legate of inferior Germany, Fonteius Capito, lined up with Nero.

The governors of Pannonia and Dalmatia publicly took sides for Nero.

All the oriental provinces kept faithful.

At the end of May at Vesantium (Besanšon) the troops of Virginius Rufus defeated those of Vindex who committed suicide.

Sulpicius Galba with his only legion was confined in the city of Clunia.

Nero had recovered the control of the situation.

The betrayal of the praetorians

The revolt had failed. But the enemies of Nero in Rome did not give up.

The prefect of the city Tigellinus, with the pretext that he was sick, left Rome.

The prefect of the praetorium Ninfidius Sabinus:

- convinced Nero that all had abandoned him, he convinced him to abandon the Domus Aurea and transferred him to the Horta Servilliani;

- then he announced the flight of Nero, the news was false, but it was enough to make disappear from Rome the supporters of Nero;

- finally he promised, in the name of Galba, a considerable gift to every praetorian and to every legionary.

The sentence of the senate

On June 8 the senate declared Nero public enemy: whoever could kill him.

The end

The morning of 9 June Nero discovered that the praetorians didn't garrison the building and that his wife Statilia Messalina had disappeared. Abandoned by everybody, he left the city with few followers and he sheltered in the country in the house of Phaon, one of his freedmen.

On 9 June of 68, before being captured by the praetorians, he committed suicide.

Before dying, according to Svetonius, he said "Qualis artifex pereo".

He was 30 years old. He had reigned for 13 years.

The funerals

He was cremated wrapped up in white covers interwoven with gold that he had used at the calendes of January.

His nurses Egloge and Alexandria and the concubine Atte closed the rests of him in the mausoleum of the Domitii family in Campus Martius.

He had a sarcophagus in porphiry with above an altar in stone of Luni, surrounded by a balustrade in stone of Taso.

The mourning

The death of Nero left the Roman people in hands of the land aristocracy, of the rich financiers and of the soldiers.

Many hoped that Nero was not dead and had run away from Rome.

Some legends on the return of Nero, the defender of the people and the poor men were born.

Civil war

Three emperors came after Nero in one year: Galba, Oto and Vitellius. It was only at the end of 69 that Vespasianus, the general that Nero had sent to reconcile Judea, succeeded in bringing the order in the empire.


Statilia Messalina

Statilia Messalina, skilled in abandoning Nero in the adversity, was enough wise to refuse the proposal of marriage of the emperor Oto, who would have reigned few months. She remained one of the women in the public eye up to the time of Domitianus (81-96).

Caius Ninfidius Sabinus (? -68)

Galba immediately named another prefect of the praetorium to put beside Ninfidius. This one didn't accept the affront and started to conspire to access the principate. His attempt failed and he was put to death by Galba in 68.

Ofonius Tigellinus (Agrigento? - Sinuessa 69)

Galba saved the life to Tigellinus to thank him for his inactivity during the revolt but he didn't maintain him in his position. When Galba fell the followers of Nero and the followers of Oto hunted him. He committed suicide.

Servius Sulpicius Galba (Terracina 3 a.Cs. - Rome 69 AD)

Galba governed few months. He arrived to Rome in October of 69.

He exterminated thousand of soldiers and sailors faithful to Nero and that na´vely had delivered themselves to the new emperor.

He eliminated without trial those people who had collaborated with Nero or that had changed sides only at the last moment. They died among the others Fonteius Capitone, Clodius Macro, Petronius Turpillianus.

Tacitus, who absolutely is not benevolent with Nero, wrote "With Galba there was not to wait for the confinement combined to a position in a second Lusitania". (Histories 1, 21)

He committed the error not to pay the praetorians. And on 15 January of 69 they barbarously killed him. To his place they named emperor Oto.

Marcus Salvius Oto (32 - Brixellum, today's Brescello, 69)

Oto governed three months. On 2 January of 69 the legions of the Rhine named emperor the legate of Germania Superior Vitellius, who began his march to Rome. On April 14 Oto was defeated at Bedriacum, near Cremona. On April 16 Oto committed suicide.

Aulus Vitellius (15 - Rome 69)

Vitellius governed few months. On 1 July of 69 the general Vespasianus, commander of the troops working in Judea, was acclaimed emperor by his troops.

The general Antonius Primus, native of Tolosa, commander of the Danubian troops, adhered to the revolt and on October he defeated at Bedriacum the troops of Vitellius. On December 21 Antonius Primus entered Rome and took possession of the throne in the name of Vespasianus. Vitellius was lynched.

Tiberius Julius Alexander

Tiberius Julius Alexander, Hebrew of Alexandria, nephew of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria (13 BC-54 AD); procurator of Judea from 45 to 48; head of general staff of Corbulo in Armenia in 63; prefect of Egypt; he supported the nomination to emperor of Vespasianus; he was with Titus to the siege of Jerusalem; he became prefect of the praetorium.

 

Bibliographical references:

Dione Cassio

Storia romana

Fini M.

Nerone

Levi M. A.

Nerone e i suoi tempi

Mazzarino S.

L'impero romano

Scullard H. H.

History of the Roman world

Suetonius

De viris illustribus

Tacitus

Annali

 

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TO KNOW THE HISTORY TO CREATE THE FUTURE