Nero, Roman Emperor

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Reigned a.d. 54 to 68; b. Anzio, Dec. 15, 37; d. Rome, June 9, 68. He was adopted in 50 by the Emperor Claudius, who had married his own niece, Agrippina, Nero's mother. In 53 Nero married Octavia, the daughter of Claudius. When Claudius was poisoned in 54 on the orders of Agrippina, Nero was presented to the soldiers as the new emperor. For the first five years his reign was popular, owing to the careful guidance of seneca and Burrus. In 55 when Agrippina threatened to side with Britannicus, the son of Claudius, against him, Nero had him poisoned, and in 59, weary of his mother's demands, he had her murdered. In 62 he divorced Octavia and married his mistress. In this same year Burrus died and Seneca retired; their place was taken by Ofonius Tigellinus, who converted the last years of Nero's rule into a reign of terror. Nero the Hellenophile surrounded himself with Greeks and Orientals; he was also an enthusiast for the arts and extravagant spectacles, which together with his tendency to autocracy cost him the support of conservative Romans. Despite the relief measures he provided for those left destitute, he was blamed for the fire of July 18, 64, that broke out in the Circus Maximus and destroyed half of Rome. Nero turned the blame on the Christians, according to tacitus, and many of them were put to death by cruel tortures. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome under Nero, but the year of their death is uncertain. A conspiracy against Nero in 65 under Calpurnius Piso failed, but in 68 the armies under Julius Vindex at Lyons and Servius Sulpicius Galba in Spain revolted. Deserted by the pretorian guards and condemned to death by the senate, Nero killed himself.

Bibliography: a. momigliano, The Cambridge Ancient History 10:702742. m. a. levi, Nerone e suoi tempi (Milan 1949). e. hohl, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft Suppl 3:349394. h. u. instinsky, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 7:881882.

[m. j. costelloe]