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Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (* December 15, 37 in Antium ; † June 9 or 11, 68 near Rome ) was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 54 to 68 . He saw himself as an artist and was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty .


Origin and youth

Aureus of 54, the young Nero with his mother Agrippina

Nero was born the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Iulia Agrippina , a sister of the Emperor Caligula , in Antium on the Lazio coast. He was a great-great-grandson of the Emperor Augustus through the female line . He was initially called Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus . Like most male members of his family, Nero was blond or red-blond and blue-eyed. As Pliny the Elder reports, he is said to have been born feet first, i.e. in the breech position .

Nero (?) As a boy. Marble, height 1.38 m, around 50 AD, Musée du Louvre (inventory number MR 337 / MA 1210)

Because his mother had been exiled by Caligula, he spent part of his early childhood with his aunt Domitia Lepida . Agrippina, considered beautiful, was known for her ambition, pride and courage, but also for her thirst for power. Ever since she married Emperor Claudius , her uncle, after the death of her second husband Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus in 49 , she pursued the goal of making her son Lucius emperor. That is why it ensured that Nero received an excellent education in literature, Latin and mathematics. After reaching the age of twelve, she carried out the recall of Seneca from exile and made him her son's teacher. Seneca was a well-known philosopher and influential politician who had a decisive influence on Nero's life. The young Nero received a proper education and was mainly interested in art, architecture and theater.

Ascent to ruler

Nero and Agrippina (approx. 54–59 AD).

On February 25, 1950 , Claudius adopted his stepson Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. His full name was now Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus . Shortly thereafter, he was at the top of the line of succession due to his mother's influence . At the age of 14 he was declared adult and appointed senator and proconsul. The three years younger son of Claudius, Britannicus , was not excluded from the line of succession, but apparently after him through adoption and the offices that Nero received. Even before his mother's marriage to the emperor in 47, Nero, at the age of 9, had received more applause than the six-year-old emperor's son at the 800th anniversary celebration of Rome as the leader of the aristocratic youth at the equestrian games.

Three years later, Agrippina forced a marriage between her 16-year-old son and Claudius' 13-year-old daughter, Octavia . To avoid incest , Claudius' daughter was adopted by the Octavians , so that she was no longer a member of the gens Claudia and could marry Nero, who belonged to the Claudian house through adoption. He was not only related to the Julio-Claudian house on his father's and mother's side, but was actually related by marriage to the current ruler. However, Nero's position was not yet finally secured, because Claudius no longer ruled out a power sharing between him and Britannicus, who would come of age in March 55. This led to violent disputes between the emperor and Agrippina. Claudius died on October 13, 54. According to the later chroniclers Tacitus and Suetonius , he was poisoned by Agrippina, who wanted to bring her son to the throne before the adoptive brother was of legal age. Nero was led out of the palace by the Praetorian prefect Burrus , a protégé of Agrippina, where the guard greeted him with cheers and shouts of emperor.

Nero's principal

Domestic politics

The rule started positively. In the first few years he showed himself to be a capable and independently acting judge who passed his judgment carefully. He emphasized the independence of senatorial jurisdiction, abolished the maiestas processes feared under Claudius and was popular with the people by lowering the price of grain and organizing games. The sentence “If only I couldn't write!” Is passed down from Nero. He is said to have said it when he first had to sign a death warrant. He sentenced most of the criminals to forced labor , while the nobility were exiled or forced to commit suicide . The first five years are considered the quinquennium Neronis , the happy five . The influence of Seneca, the Burrus and at the beginning also Agrippina on Nero at this time seems to be the cause of the good years of government.

Relationship with the Senate
Bust of the youthful emperor

The Senate was only able to approve the situation created by the Praetorians after Nero was proclaimed emperor. The exclusion of Britannicus was occasionally met with suspicion, and the rumors about Claudius' death would not be silent. But the eulogy of the young princeps on his deceased father, his divinization and the speech before the senators indicated a moderate ruler who accepted the mos maiorum . He followed the tradition of Augustus and praised the goodwill of the Senate and his advisors. In particular, the rejection of the imperial interference in senatorial affairs, which had led to bitterness under Claudius, must please the senators. Nero stated that his primary concern was foreign policy.

The first year of his principate was brought to a positive conclusion by rejecting his own statues and forbidding his fellow consul of the year 55 to swear on the emperor's actions. This emphasized the dignity and independence of the consulate , "which was highly praised by the fathers". The support of penniless senators, the filling of the consulate only four times and the refilling of senate posts in a conservative sense also testified to a good princeps.

With the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca's wish to withdraw from court, the divorce from Octavia and the appointment of Tigellinus as Praetorian prefect, Nero's relationship with the Senate deteriorated steadily. After the fire in Rome , the opposition increased and several conspiracies were uncovered. Well-known victims of the subsequent purges were Seneca , Lucan and Petronius (see also Pisonian conspiracy ). Nero's extravagance was also increasingly met with rejection.

The great fire of Rome and the persecution of Christians
Wall painting in the Domus Aurea

On the night of July 18-19, 64, a fire broke out in Rome , which spread rapidly due to strong winds and dense, high buildings. Within nine days, ten out of 14 districts were attacked and three completely destroyed. There were rumors that Nero himself had the fire started in order to rebuild the city and, in particular, to make room for a huge palace, the "Golden House" ( Domus Aurea ). Supposedly he watched and sang about the fire from the Tower of Maecenas , while he accompanied himself on the lyre and declaimed verses about the fall of Troy . According to Tacitus , he did this at home.

In fact, however, Nero was in his birthplace, 50 kilometers away, his summer residence Antium, while the Palatine was on fire. He traveled back to Rome, opened his buildings to the homeless, and lowered the price of grain. Like many others, the fire probably broke out in a marketplace through carelessness. Nevertheless, Nero went down in history as the arsonist of Rome. The fact that he set the town on fire himself can be ruled out, but not commissioning others, especially since further fires broke out near the house of the Praetorian Prefect Tigellinus after the first extinguishing work .

Given the rumors that he started the fire, or at least benefited from it, Nero needed someone else to blame for the fire. The sect of the Chrestiani or Christiani (Greek for "Christians"), who, according to Tacitus, were hated by the population, offered themselves for this. They were arrested and many sentenced to horrific death sentences. Most were cremated as this was the punishment provided for in Roman law for arsonists, some were crucified or put in furs and thrown to the animals in the arena . This persecution of Christians under Nero, which was confined to Rome, was the first of a suspected series of local pogroms that preceded the persecution under Domitian and the systematic persecutions of the 3rd century. How systematic and extensive it actually was is, however, very controversial in recent research on ancient history.

Tacitus reports that there was a rejection of persecution in Rome: "Therefore, even for those guilty, who deserved the harshest punishments, pity was lively, as if they were sacrificed not to the general best but to the lust for murder of one person."

The legally educated Christian apologist Tertullian (approx. 160–220) insisted in 197 that Christianity was not a provincial sect, but that the term "Christian" drew the attention of the imperial authorities from the start. He states that the only decree Nero that was not repealed when he died was the one against the Christians.

According to a widespread early church legend, the apostles Paul and Peter were also executed in Rome under Nero . However, this is doubted by some researchers, especially since tradition also reports that Paul was executed after a lengthy formal trial and that Peter was executed at a later date.

To finance the rebuilding, Nero looted temples across the empire. This may be one of the reasons for the escalation of the exploitation of Judea that led to the Jewish war in 66 . The story of Caesellius Bassus, handed down by Tacitus and Suetonius, testifies to the emperor's financial needs .

During the reconstruction of Rome, Nero had wider streets built and limited the maximum height of the houses, which now had to have their own walls, to 25 meters; everywhere he took care of fire protection measures . Despite these measures, the plebs urbana blamed the Princeps for the fire and saw an additional burden in his reconstruction according to fire protection aspects. Nero had himself built a huge, magnificent property with great art treasures and technical refinements, the Domus Aurea (the "Golden House"). The property was looted and partially demolished shortly after Nero's death. The Laocoon group was discovered in its ruins on January 14, 1506 . The Flavian emperors had the Colosseum built on the area of ​​the associated lake .

Foreign policy

In foreign policy, Nero relied on the governors and commanders he had chosen . Although he was the first princeps in the history of Rome to never take part in a campaign, he was able to celebrate some successes through the ability of the commanders.

Submission and integration of Armenia

Among the most important are the victories of his general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo over the Parthians in Armenia . The country was under the influence of both Rome and the Parthians and formed a buffer between the two empires. Already under Claudius tensions arose, as a result of which the Parthian great king Vologaeses I marched into Armenia and brought his brother Tiridates to the throne instead of Mithradates, who was friendly to Rome . In the winter of 54 Nero installed the proven Corbulo as governor of the province of Cappadokia . With a large army and local support, Corbulo began a campaign in 58 after trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with Vologaeses. The Roman troops took Artaxarta and Tigranocerta relatively quickly, and Tiridates fled to the Parthian court. Tigranes VI. who had spent most of his life in Rome was installed as ruler. The success was celebrated in Rome with a triumphal arch, to the surprise of many, the young emperor had proven himself with his reaction and the selection of Corbulos.

The peace in Armenia, however, was fragile. After Corbulo had taken command in Syria , Tigranes showed himself to be incapable and invaded Adiabene , which belonged to the Parthian Empire , with Roman troops . Vologaeses then marched on Syria himself, while his brother was supposed to attack Armenia. Corbulo was able to stop the invasion on both lines, removed Tigranes from the Armenian throne and negotiated again. His proposal was still to give the throne to Tiridates, but he should receive the royal dignity in Rome and from Nero. The Parthian great king consented and sent an embassy to Rome, which arrived in 62 and left again without result. Vologaeses opened the war again. After initial successes, the position of the Roman troops became dangerous until Corbulo reached negotiations again with a mixture of threat, military severity and diplomacy. The Parthians and Romans withdrew from Armenia, which was to be left to itself. It was reported to Rome that the situation had developed positively.

When the second Parthian embassy arrived in Rome in 63 and basically showed readiness to receive the crown from Nero's hands, but postponed this to a future that was not precisely determinable, they were sent back the second time. Corbulo received an imperium maius with the order to finally pacify Armenia in the Roman sense. The Commander-in-Chief gathered five legions and auxiliaries. The threat had an effect, Tiridates now declared himself ready to receive the royal dignity in Rome. In a personal conversation between Corbulo and Vologaeses, the great king agreed. The award of the royal dignity from Nero's hand to the Armenian King Tiridates in 66 was the greatest triumph for the princeps and a successful production at the same time.

Pacification of Britain

Under Claudius part of Britain had already been made a Roman province. There was no hard limit line for unpacified area to stabilize tribal leaders were as client kings used. In 58, Nero appointed Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, an experienced legate who had to be measured against Corbulo's successes in Armenia. So he proceeded with the greatest severity against the rebels on the island of Mona : He had men, women and druids killed and desecrated the sacred groves.

Meanwhile, a riot broke out in the province. The friend of the Romans tribe of Iceni , who near the provincial capital Camulodunum moved, saw only option because of some ruthless Roman politics to proceed by force of arms against the occupiers. The Romans had previously ignored the royal widow Boudicca's inheritance claims and raped her and her daughters. In addition, Roman lenders had canceled their loans to British nobles, which brought them into considerable trouble. The rebels were initially successful, Londinium , Camoludunum and Verulamium were looted and partly destroyed, the temple of Claudius razed and the procurator in command Caetus Decianus defeated in the absence of Paulinus . The situation seemed so catastrophic that Nero is said to have considered giving up the island. Paulinus tried to come to the rescue with his four legions from Wales as soon as possible . He met the allied insurgent troops led by Boudicca and put them to battle. She was defeated and committed suicide, most of her followers were killed, Britain was pacified.

In order to regain economic control after the military victory, Nero Gaius sent Iulius Alpinus Classicianus to the province as the new financial administrator. Classicianus and Paulinus had a deep dislike for each other and did not work together, so that the financial procurator asked for the general to be replaced. In order to get an idea , Nero sent his freedman Polyclitus to Britain. This measure met with incomprehension and rejection of both the Roman governors and the local nobility. Nevertheless, Polyclitus managed to find an acceptable solution: Paulinus was able to remain in Britain, but had to hand over his army to Publius Petronius Turpilianus , who “indulged in idle idleness” and thus ensured peace.

The uprising in Iudaea

Another arena of foreign policy was Judea . Under the procurators Marcus Antonius Felix , a brother of the freedman Pallas , and Gessius Florus , a favorite of Poppaea, the climate between Jews, Greeks and Romans had not developed positively. When Florus had outstanding taxes paid from the Jerusalem temple treasure , the Jewish uprising began. In May 66, Roman auxiliaries were killed in Masada , the Syrian governor Gaius Cestius Gallus suffered a severe defeat at the end of 66. Thereupon Nero, who was staying in Greece, entrusted the proven military leader Vespasian with the supreme command in the Jewish war and Gaius Licinius Mucianus with the governorship of Syria. Vespasian pulled together 60,000 men from the troops and auxiliary troops in Syria and achieved successes in a short time. In July 67 he captured Iotapata , which was commanded by Joseph ben Mathitjahu . The final suppression of the uprising dragged on due to Nero's suicide and the four-emperor year until 74.

Family relationships

Sesterce of Nero, 64–66 AD. On the reverse: Nero during a congiary .

Nero is charged with numerous crimes; he is said to have poisoned his stepbrother Britannicus in the year 55 . However, since he has suffered from epilepsy since childhood and was physically weak, historiography does not agree on the truth of this story. It's also possible that Britannicus died of a seizure.

Agrippina gradually lost control of her son. She therefore threatened to overthrow Nero through intrigues, conspiracies and bribery. Nero, who feared his mother, set up a commission of inquiry, which Seneca also belonged to, but which Agrippina could not prove. With the help of his former teacher Anicetus, who has since become an admiral, he wanted to sink Agrippina with a specially prepared ship. However, she managed to swim ashore. On March 23, 59 he had her murdered in her villa. As a justification, an attack on Nero was assumed and poorly proven. Seneca and Burrus' involvement in this crime is unclear. Presumably they did not know about the water attack, but they supported the subsequent assassination. Nero also had numerous high treason trials carried out and - as was customary practice - confiscated the property of the executed.

Nero fell in love with Poppaea Sabina at the end of 58 . She told him to cast Octavia out. Finally, the emperor let his childless wife have an affair with a slave and banished her to marry his mistress twelve days later. This led to serious unrest and uprisings because Octavia was very popular with the people. Therefore, Nero let the rumor spread that Octavia had tried together with her lover to depose the emperor, and Nero banished her to an island. Nero gave the order to cut open her wrists and smother her in hot steam, which happened a few days later.

Nero and Poppaea had a daughter, Claudia. She was born on January 21, 63, but died four months later. Two years later, Poppaea was pregnant again. It is alleged that Nero killed her by kicking her in the abdomen out of anger during this time. However, this representation is controversial; What is certain is that Poppaea died during her pregnancy in the year 65.

After Poppaea's death, Nero married Statilia Messalina , widow of the consul of 65, Marcus Iulius Vestinus Atticus , whom he had forced to commit suicide at a banquet after the Pisonian conspiracy was uncovered, although the latter was not involved. Nero probably wanted to turn him off in order to be able to marry Statilia, who had been his lover for some time. It is not clear whether the two had already had a relationship during Poppaea's lifetime.

Nero as an artist

Bust of Nero from Olbia , Sardinia

Since his youth, Nero had a penchant for all fine arts. Although artistic and literary ambitions were welcomed by the Roman upper class, they should be lived out in a small, private circle, not on the public stage and certainly not in front of the people. Since the 60s at the latest, the artist who vied for recognition began to appear more and more in Nero. Seneca and Burrus had already had to allow the ruler to make short excursions into the arena and onto the stage, although these initially only took place with friends and for friends and members of the court.

In 59 Nero held a festival around his traditional beard removal, the Iuvenalia . On this occasion, however, it was not professional artists who performed, but senators and knights, which was as disgraceful as it was condemnable for the Roman aristocracy. At the end of the games, Nero himself appeared. In the following year, the emperor founded the Neronia , games that were based on the agons common in Greece and took place in Naples , because the audience there was still strongly Greek and was more open to such performances than the people in Rome. Here, too, the Princeps appeared in public, for the first time in front of a large audience.

At the next Neronia , which only took place in 65 because of the fire in Rome, Nero then presented himself in Rome. The Senate, which considered this unworthy of an emperor, tried to prevent this by offering the princeps the victory and honor wreath beforehand, but Nero did not want any favor and insisted on the appearance. While the people enjoyed the portrayal of the emperor, according to Tacitus, senators and foreign state guests were disgusted and appalled. Vespasian is said to have been present at this performance and fell asleep, which almost cost him his life, because the emperor expected attention and forbade leaving the scene prematurely.

During his reign, Nero promoted the natural sciences , geography and trade, but especially art and culture, whereby he was connected to everything Greek and consciously saw himself as a philhellene . He organized an expedition to discover the source of the Nile , but it failed, and excavations in Carthage . He considered himself a talented singer, poet and lyric player . His first appearance in Naples brought him first prize in the musical competition, thanks mainly to the Praetorians who had traveled with him . His philhellenism also earned him the title of periodonica, a winner in musical competitions at the games of Delphi , Nemea and Corinth . In 66 Nero traveled to Greece , where he participated in the Olympic Games and gave theatrical productions in several Hellenic cities, where he also enjoyed himself in female roles, as a kithara singer and in sports competitions. The highlight of the production was that Nero gave most of Greece, which until then had formed the Roman province of Achaea , the freedom to be celebrated as a benefactor . However, this declaration of freedom was reversed under Vespasian.

On the occasion of the trip, coins with corresponding motifs were minted, including Alexandrian tetradrachms with the ship on the reverse, with which Nero traveled, and the inscription ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΦΟΡΟΣ (“Emperor Bearer ”). Other coin motifs refer to the temples of Zeus of Olympia he visited , that of Hera of Argos , Poseidon on the Isthmus and other stations on his journey. He is said to have received 1808 prizes in competitions of all kinds that year. He had all four Panhellenic Games held in one year. As an admirer of Greek culture, he stayed in Greece for over a year until he was urged by his freedman and governor in Rome, Helius, to return to Rome, where the mood had since deteriorated considerably. Although he returned to Rome in January 68 to great jubilation, he gave himself up entirely to his amusements, attended theaters and concerts, organized competitions and performed as an artist himself, incurring huge debts.

Alexandrian tetradrachm of Nero, reverse with ship of his journey in the year 66

The scandal in Nero's artistry was not his love for acting, theater, poetry and music, but his pursuit of artistic perfection and production in front of an audience. According to the conventions of the aristocracy and the expectation of a princeps, appearances at competitions, races and plays were unheard of - this was not the behavior of the ruler of the known world, father of the fatherland and guarantor of the well-being of the state.

Loss of power and death

Even before his trip to Greece, Nero had developed suspicion of powerful generals and ordered Corbulo to commit suicide in Corinth. It is unclear whether Corbulo was initiated into the Vinician conspiracy . Gaius Iulius Vindex , governor of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, took the first step towards Nero's downfall . He came from the Gallic nobility and called his compatriots and the governors of the neighboring provinces, primarily Galba in Hispania Tarraconensis and Verginius Rufus and Fonteius Capito , to revolt against the unworthy Princeps . However, Galba and the Germanic commanders waited.

Nero received the news in Naples and remained calm. Further news from Gaul and decrees from Vindex induced the emperor to ride to Rome. It was only when he learned that Galba had joined Vindex and Otho with the province of Lusitania that he reacted with complaints and hesitation. Allegedly, he should have fainted. In the meantime, the emperor's two Praetorian prefects must have come to the conclusion that they no longer want to support Nero. It cannot be said whether Tigellinus has already fallen away from his patron; the sources are silent about him. His official colleague Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus , who had taken over the post after the departure of Lucius Faenius Rufus , was now responsible for the act. After the debauchery of the emperor and the executions in their ranks, the senate and the Roman upper class were opposed to the princeps anyway. They now secretly received an envoy from Galba, the freed man Icelus Marcianus.

When the news arrived that more armies had defected to Galba , Nero panicked. Only now did he decide - or perhaps had planned to do so for some time in an emergency - to flee to Egypt. He gave his supposedly most loyal advisers, including Nymphidius, the order to make a fleet ready for sea in Ostia . On his way to the harbor he stopped for the last time in one of his country estates and fell asleep there briefly. When he woke up, he found that his bodyguard, which was supposed to protect him, had withdrawn: Nymphidius had gone to the Praetorian camp immediately after the emperor left and had claimed there that Nero was already on his way to Egypt. It was also he who persuaded the emperor to stop over at the estate. With a promise of 30,000 sesterces per man, he was able to “convince” the Praetorians to proclaim Galba as the new emperor.

Nero recognized the seriousness of his situation and tried to find shelter with one of his former friends. Nobody wanted to give him asylum except his freedman Phaon. Immediately the Princeps set off with only four companions. On his flight he heard the soldiers wishing Galba the new Princeps luck. Again and again he is said to have exclaimed: "What an artist perishes with me!"

In the meantime, he received a letter stating that he had been declared a hostis ( enemy of the people ) by the Senate and that he was being sought in order to give him the appropriate punishment - including the damnatio memoriae . Despite the panic, Nero put off his suicide until he heard horses approaching. With the help of his secretary Epaphroditos , he stabbed his throat with a dagger. When a Roman soldier wanted to save his life in order to receive the reward that was offered to the living Nero, he is said to have misjudged the facts: “Too late. That is loyalty. ”Said.

So Nero died on June 9th or 11th, 68. Among his last loyal followers were Spiculus , the commander of the Germanic bodyguard, and Sporus , whom he had made his wife in an official ceremony in 67 and then named Sabina. Nero's body was cremated and buried at great expense in the family grave of the gens Domitia on the collis hortulorum (now Pincio ). Claudia Acte , a freedwoman who had been Nero's lover for about 55 years, paid for the funeral .

The statues of Nero, who had been declared an enemy of the state, were destroyed, but due to the circumstances of his death and his way of life, rumors kept circulating, especially in the East, that he was still alive and would ascend the throne again (see Terentius Maximus ).

The fact that the Roman Empire was not seriously damaged is due not least to the fact that the administrative apparatus continued to function and the border security by the army was still guaranteed. The reign of Vespasian , which finally prevailed in the year of the Four Emperors and stabilized the empire again, represented a new beginning compared to Nero's rule.


Nero in the judgment of posterity

Nero is one of the most controversial emperors in Roman history. While ancient authors found positive aspects in him, soon after his death the rejection of politics and especially of Nero's personality predominated. The Senatorial historiography , as Suetonius and Tacitus , whose works alongside Cassius Dio are the most important sources for the life of the Emperor, gave their contempt openly expressed. With Aurelius Victor , the first years of the principate are portrayed as very positive, before Nero caused "shame and disgust". Petronius and Lucan briefly mention the emperor in their works; however, the locations are not sufficient for characterization.

To this day, not only the role Seneca played as a teacher and advisor is controversial, but also the evaluation of his writings. In (ad Neronem Caesarem) de clementia , the philosopher indirectly shows the emperor as a benevolent ruler whose development one can hope for. However, since Seneca was directly involved in the government through Nero's upbringing and indirectly through his position at court and thus dependent on the Princeps, the neutrality of his statements is questionable. On the other hand, it can be said that Seneca would not have shown his pupil the positive side of gentleness if he had not been convinced of the benefits and thus of Nero's influenceability in the better sense.

The contempt expressed in most sources was partly due to the Romans' aversion to Nero's preference for everything Greek, partly - for example in Tacitus - to the rejection of the empire in general, as its degeneration appeared to Nero's rule. Another reason was Nero's unpredictable actions, such as the family murders, waves of executions, or assisted suicides, as well as his neglect of the state and his attitude towards the Senate. On the other hand, probably due to the discontent of the military, Nero was one of the three Roman emperors who closed the gates of the Temple of Janus as a sign of external peace.

Christian authors of later centuries, who already condemned Nero for executing their fellow believers after the fire in Rome, finally shaped the image of the emperor as a megalomaniac tyrant. In the Middle Ages he was considered to be the embodiment of the Antichrist . This image of the tyrant - which can be found not only in later Christian sources but also in the oldest ancient pagan sources - prevails to this day. Some writers have recently made efforts to rehabilitate Nero as a humanist ruler. The main focus was on the threefold division of Roman society into emperors, aristocracy and people. The most emphatic attempt to rehabilitate Nero was made by Massimo Fini in his 1994 non-scientific biography with the unequivocal subtitle Two Thousand Years of Defamation .

Nero pursued a more popular policy, which was also reflected in outward appearances. For example, he was a supporter of the “Greens”, one of four classic chariot racing teams that were also popular with the plebs. His artistic performances and participation in races reinforced his popular reputation. However, the approach of the emperor to the people led to a bad judgment in the aristocracy and patriciate. Sources from the point of view of the plebeians do not exist or have not survived. It is noteworthy that after Nero's death the people in Rome celebrated their regained freedom, but soon after his burial his grave was visited and decorated with flowers at state expense. Among the Parthians , Nero was revered as a good princeps, and in the eastern provinces in particular, false neros appeared again and again in the following years, which gave new nourishment to the rumor that he was still alive and would come back, or resulting from it.

Modern research sees the (first) five years of his government, the Quinquennium Neronis , as a reform-oriented, change-willing period in which the relationship between Nero and his advisors Burrus and Seneca was decisive. Even Nero's fondness for artistic pleasure had a positive aspect: The urban Roman people had not received so much distraction and attention for a long time. The additional grain deliveries made for relative prosperity, the veterans and Praetorians were well supplied. The break in the years 59 and 62 and the decadence up to the tyranny of the following reign, however, can hardly be understood without assuming that the princeps had a vicious character from the beginning. With the withdrawal of the advisors and state leaders of the first hour and with the assassination of Agrippina, Nero's 'dark' side unfolded more and more. With the reinforcement and influence of Tigellinus, the emperor probably felt more and more confirmed in his role as an actor and singer and developed into a tyrant. The consequence of this was the neglect of state affairs with extreme borrowing.

Nero reception

Emperor Nero , painting by Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen , around 1620

The time of Nero, especially the fire in Rome and the persecution of Christians, inspired numerous dramatic and musical arrangements, such as those by Claudio Monteverdi ( L'incoronazione di Poppea 1642), Jean Racine ( Britannicus , 1669), Georg Friedrich Händel ( Nero 1705, Agrippina 1710 ), Reinhard Keizer ( Octavia 1705), Anton Rubinstein ( Nero 1879), Arrigo Boito ( Nerone , premiered posthumously 1924), Feliks Nowowiejski ( Quo vadis ?, 1903 ), Jean Nouguès ( Quo vadis? 1910) and Pietro Mascagni ( Nerone 1935 ).

Of the historical novels , Henryk Sienkiewicz ' Quo Vadis , published in 1895, is probably the best known. The book was made into a film several times. The monumental film Quo vadis? from 1951, in which Peter Ustinov embodied the emperor and was nominated for an Oscar for it. In 2001, the Polish film version by film director Jerzy Kawalerowicz was made , and in 2004 the two-part TV series Nero - The Dark Side of Power with Hans Matheson in the lead role. Feuchtwanger's novel The False Nero takes place after the emperor's death. There are over 100 novels dealing with Nero or his time, with genres ranging from crime novels to supposed autobiography to love tragedies. In addition to Fini's non-scientific treatise, other biographies of Nero appear again and again that want to meet a scientific claim. The last is by Jacques Robichon from 2004. He is based primarily on Suetonius and sketches Nero as a half-mad, sex-obsessed and incompetent tyrant and self-loving artist.

In the final months of World War II , an order from Hitler to destroy German infrastructure called the Nerobefehl went down in history. It was alluded to the fact that this order, like the arson of Rome, was directed against its own people.

From May 14 to October 16, 2016, the exhibition Nero: Kaiser, Künstler, Tyrann was shown in Trier , which was spread over three museums: The main exhibition Nero: Kaiser, Künstler, Tyrann was in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum , two other themed exhibitions Nero and the Christians in the museum at the cathedral as well as lust and crime. The myth of Nero in art in the Simeonstift city museum . A total of over 272,000 visitors came.



Web links

Commons : Nero  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. The Chronicle of Jerome ( English translation ) states that Nero ruled for 13 years, seven months and 28 days, which leads to June 9, 68 when he assumed power on October 13, 54.
  2. Cassius Dio 63, 29, 3 and Flavius ​​Josephus , Jüdischer Krieg 4, 9, 491 name 13 years and eight months as the duration of Nero's rule.
  3. ^ Suetonius, Nero 51.1 ; subflavus can be translated as "almost blond" as well as "red blond" or "light blond". For the appearance of the male Ahenobarbi see Suetonius, Nero 1,1.
  4. Pliny, Naturalis Historia 7:46 .
  5. Toga statue with portrait of Nero in the archaeological database Arachne ; a possible interpretation as Britannicus is discussed in Ulrich W. Hiesinger: The Portraits of Nero. In: American Journal of Archeology . Volume 79, 1975, pp. 113-124, here p. 116; Peter C. Bol (Ed.): Research on Villa Albani. Catalog of ancient sculptures. Volume 2: sculptures in the porticos, the vestibule and the chapel of the casino. Mann, Berlin 1990, p. 55 ("... Togatus in the Louvre named as youthful Nero or Britannicus ..."). See also the statue of the same type from Parma, which may have been reworked for Nero from a statue depicting Britannicus: Hans Rupprecht Goette : Studies on Roman toga representations (= contributions to the development of Hellenistic and imperial sculpture and architecture. Volume 10). Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1990, p. 33 with note 146, 125 cat. 246.
  6. ^ Gerhard Waldherr : Nero. A biography , pp. 29-37.
  7. The form of the name Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar is only found sporadically and not officially . See Dietmar Kienast , Werner Eck , Matthäus Heil: Römische Kaisertabelle. Basic features of a Roman imperial chronology. 6th, revised edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2017, p. 88.
  8. Waldherr, p. 47 f.
  9. Waldherr, p. 58.
  10. Waldherr, pp. 57-60.
  11. At least the death was announced on October 13th. Tacitus , Annals 12: 65-67; Suetonius , Claudius , 43-45.
  12. Tacitus, Annals 12.69.
  13. ^ Suetonius, Nero 15, 1 .
  14. ^ Suetonius, Nero 10: 2–3.
  15. Seneca, De Clementia 2.2; Suetonius, Nero 10.2.
  16. ^ Aurelius Victor : De Caesaribus 5 : 2-5 . It is disputed whether this is actually the first five years, cf. Miriam Griffin: Nero. The End of a Dynasty , p. 37 f.
  17. To Seneca and Burrus et al. a. Tacitus, Annales 13.4; on the "Golden Age" in general and on the constellation Agrippina, Burrus, Nero and Seneca s. Griffin, pp. 50-66.
  18. Tacitus, Annalen 13,3, which also speaks of a "funeral comedy"; Suetonius, Nero 10.1.
  19. Tacitus, Annals 13.4.
  20. Tacitus, Annals 13: 11-12.
  21. Suetonius , Nero 14-15.2.
  22. Tacitus, Annalen 14.51 f.
  23. ^ Tacitus, Annals 15:42.
  24. ^ Suetonius, Nero 38; Tacitus, Annals 15, 39; compare Cassius Dio , Historiae Romanae 62, 29, 1.
  25. Tacitus, Annalen , 15:39.
  26. Waldherr, p. 214 f.
  27. ^ Tacitus, Annals 15:38.
  28. Tacitus, Annals 15.40.
  29. As Tacitus of Chrestiani speaks suspected of a minority in the research, the measures that not against Christians but against followers of a under Claudius had directed that occurred rebel named Chrestus (Suet. Claud. 25.11).
  30. Waldherr, pp. 215-217.
  31. Tacitus, Annals 15:44.
  32. See Brent D. Shaw: The Myth of the Neronian Persecution . In: The Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), pp. 73-100.
  33. Tacitus, Annals 15:44.
  34. Tertullian, ad nationes 1,7,8–9 : Principe Augusto nomen hoc ortum est, Tiberio disciplina eius inluxit, Nerone damnatio invaluit, ut iam hinc de persona persecutoris ponderetis… Et tamen permansit erasis omnibus hoc solum institutum Neronianum, iustum denique ut dissimile sui auctoris .
  35. Tacitus, Annalen , 15:45; Suetonius, Nero 38.3.
  36. Tacitus, Annals 15:43; Suetonius, Nero 16.1.
  37. Waldherr, pp. 210-214.
  38. Suetonius, Nero 31, 1-3; Tacitus, Annals 15:42.
  39. On Nero's foreign policy, see Waldherr, pp. 154-156.
  40. Tacitus, Annals 13: 34-40.
  41. Tacitus, Annals 13:41.
  42. Tacitus, Annals 15: 1-5.
  43. Tacitus, Annals 15: 1-18.
  44. Tacitus, Annals 15.25.
  45. Tacitus, Annals 15: 26-31.
  46. Suetonius, Nero 13: 1-2; Waldherr, pp. 228-232.
  47. Tacitus, Agricola 14, speaks of the proxima pars , the part that was closest to the continent.
  48. Tacitus, Annals 14: 29-30.
  49. Waldherr, p. 142 f.
  50. Tacitus, Annals 14.31-32.
  51. ^ Suetonius, Nero 18.
  52. Tacitus, Annalen 14.35; Tacitus, Agricola 16.2; Cassius Dio 62.5-7 .
  53. Tacitus, Annalen 14.39.
  54. Cassius Dio 63:22 .
  55. Flavius ​​Josephus 3: 9-34.
  56. On the course of the war and its end see Flavius ​​Josephus, 4th to 7th book.
  57. Tacitus, Annals 13: 15-17; Suetonius , Nero 33.2-3.
  58. Griffin, p. 74; Waldherr, p. 74 f.
  59. ^ Suetonius, Nero 34.
  60. Tacitus, Annals 14: 5-8; Griffin, p. 74 f.
  61. Suetonius, Nero 35, 1-3; Tacitus, Annals , 14: 64-65.
  62. Tacitus, Annals 16.6; Waldherr, p. 226 f.
  63. Tacitus, Annalen 15, 69 .
  64. ^ Gerhard Waldherr : Nero. A biography . Regensburg 2005; P. 226
  65. Waldherr, p. 107 f.
  66. Tacitus, Annals 14,15.
  67. ^ Cassius Dio 61.20 .
  68. Tacitus, Annals 15:33; Suetonius, Nero 20.2-3.
  69. ^ Suetonius, Nero 21.
  70. ^ Tacitus, Annals 16: 4-5.
  71. Tacitus, Annals 16.5.
  72. Ursula Kampmann , Thomas Ganschow: The coins of the Roman mint Alexandria. Battenberg Verlag, Regenstauf 2008, p. 54.
  73. ^ Gisela Förschner: The coins of the Roman emperors in Alexandria. The holdings of the Münzkabinett (= small writings of the Historisches Museum Frankfurt. Volume 35). Historisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main 1987, p. 44.
  74. Cassius Dio, from 63.8 to 11 .
  75. Cassius Dio 63.19 to 21 .
  76. Waldherr, p. 128 f .; Griffin pp. 160-163.
  77. Cassius Dio 63,17,5-6 ; Waldherr, p. 242.
  78. ^ Suetonius, Nero 40.1.
  79. Suetonius , Nero 41.2-42.1.
  80. Suetonius, Nero 47, 1; Cassius Dio 63.27 .
  81. Suetonius, Nero 49.1.
  82. The most detailed description of Nero's last hours can be found in Suetonius, Nero 48–49.
  83. ^ Suetonius, Nero 50.
  84. ^ Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus 5.4 .
  85. Seneca, De clementia passim ( complete text in Latin ).
  86. See the afterword by Karl Büchner on the translation of De clementia , Reclam, Stuttgart 1992.
  87. ^ Suetonius, Nero 57.1.
  88. ^ Suetonius, Nero 57.2; Waldherr, pp. 267-271.
  89. Griffin, pp. 37-66; Waldherr, pp. 63-102.
  90. Griffin, pp. 185-189; Waldherr, p. 257 f.
  91. ^ Nero: Kaiser, Künstler, Tyrann , page of the Nero exhibition in Trier.
  92. With unclean content, see Matthäus Heil: Review by Gerhard Waldherr, Nero. A biography. In: Klio 89, 2007, p. 528 f.
predecessor Office successor
Claudius Roman Emperor