Nero is one of the most controversial rulers of ancient Rome. For a long time he was considered the self-absorbed madman who persecuted Christians and set Rome on fire. But this picture is not complete. For Nero was also the victim of his domineering mother. The first years of his reign are considered today as probably the best for the Roman people and he promoted the arts, science and theater – yet his life was marked by intrigue, murder and imperiousness – like in a detective story.
Julia Agrippina, also called Agrippina the Younger, was the sister of Emperor Caligula. In her first marriage she was married to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. From this marriage came her only son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, later called Nero. In 49 Agrippina married her own uncle, Emperor Claudius. The latter had a biological son, the ailing Britannicus, but he was simply passed over in the later succession to the throne.
How Nero came to power
Nero was born on December 15, 37 AD. Agrippina tried by all means to make her son the ruler of the Roman Empire. To this end, she also provided him with a comprehensive education. Nero was taught Latin, mathematics and literature by the best teachers. One of his most important educators was the famous thinker Seneca. When Nero was 16 years old, he married the 12-year-old Octavia, at the instigation of his mother.
Without the extreme ambition of his highly controversial mother Julia Agrippina, he would probably never have become emperor. Murders and betrayals were already necessary on his way to the imperial seat. Nero was proclaimed successor to the throne of Emperor of the Roman Empire after the death of Claudius in 54, on October 13. He passed the test of the praetorians, the members of the ruler’s bodyguard and the strict senators without any problems. In general, everyone was initially enthusiastic about Nero as the new ruler.
It is not proven that Agrippina had Claudius assassinated. However, there is a claim that Agrippina poisoned her uncle and fourth husband, Emperor Claudius, with a mushroom dish. In any case, it is certain that she initially determined the politics of the empire. Seneca also had great influence on Nero.
For a year Nero held himself as a mindful regent, committed to traditions and respectful of the Senate and its decisions. Nero was enthusiastic about Greece and hellinism. This displeased the rich Roman nobility, because they were afraid they would have to give up advantages of status.
Politics – Power – Intrigue
Soon personal intrigues and murders began to dominate the regency. In 55 Nero’s stepbrother Britannicus died. Whether the emperor had him killed or Britannicus died of his illness is not clear. Nero divorced his wife Octavia and sent her into exile. At the same time he had mistresses again and again.
He quarreled so violently with Agrippina about these relationships that he wanted to get his mother out of the way. First he banished her, finally he had her murdered in March 59. More and more Nero turned into a vain ruler, who disempowered the senate and did what he felt like. The rule got more and more out of control.
Nero was on the throne until 68. But instead of ruling, he devoted himself to his pleasures. He loved art, acting, especially the great productions and so he staged himself again and again with great performances in front of his people. His self-absorption is often mentioned.
Because of his cruel deeds, his self-absorption and the tendency to megalomania, Nero is also described as insane, but this cannot be proven on the basis of historical sources.
In 64, Rome experienced one of the most catastrophic fires in its history. The fire broke out in a store of the Circus Maximus during the night of July 18-19. Fanned by the violent wind, it spread very quickly throughout the Circus. Three of the fourteen districts of Rome were completely destroyed. The fire had destroyed two-thirds of the city, raging for six days and seven nights.
Nero was suspected much later of having hired arsonists himself to set the fire. Sources of the time often spoke of negligent arson. However, he had the insane idea of having “his” Rome rebuilt according to his own ideas. More splendidly and more splendidly than ever before. So he had a huge palace complex built immediately after the fire.