Nero - The Worst of Them All
You would be hard pressed to find a worse Roman Emperor than Nero. Other horrid men come to mind; Caligula and Commodus to name a few, but none can match the disgrace that Nero brought to the title. From his incestuous habits to his excessive spending of the Roman Treasury, nearly everything he touched turned foul.
The Start of the Madman
Born in 37 AD, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was the adoptive son of the very popular emperor Claudius. When his father died from poison secured by his own wife, Nero, only 17 at the time, was given the reins of the most powerful empire in the world. He was the last of the Julio-Claudian line to control the Roman Empire. Many surmise that Nero was insane by the time he took command, and with his record, it would be hard to dispute this assertion.
During the early part of his reign he was advised by the great orator Seneca, Nero's mother, Agrippina, and the leader of the Praetorians, Burrus, and these first five years were much lauded. Eventually though, Nero would choose a course that would loosen the bonds with his mother.
The Family Bonds
Nero had years before married his adopted sister, but soon grew tired of this relationship and started an affair with a slave girl, Claudia Acte. However, Agrippina, stood up for Nero's wife, Octavia, and demanded that Acte be banished. When Nero showed his independence from his mother by refusing, she threatened to support the claims of Britannicus, Claudius' son, to the throne of Rome. In response, Nero had the boy poisoned; perhaps learning too much from his mother. Agrippina began to lose prestige and power, as Nero's circle with Burrus and Seneca tightened. He met and included Marcus Otho into this "council" of favorites. It seems that Otho was as immoral as Nero was and this served as a common link between the two of them. They even shared a woman, Poppaea Sabina, who would end up marrying both men. It was rumored that these three could often be found in bed together, "discussing the matters of state".
For the second time, Agrippina sought to come between Nero and a woman, and this time it would cost her. Poppaea and Nero plotted, and succeeded, in murdering Agrippina. Nero thrice attempted to poison his mother, but she had long been immune to almost all poisons through the constant use of antidotes. He then invented a machine to drop ceiling tiles upon her in her sleep, but this failed to accomplish the desired task. His final ploy was to have her drowned. He had her take a journey via ship and during the cruise, part of the mast dropped down upon her. Agrippina though was able to avoid this last grand scheme, and so the captain, sure that death awaited him if he failed, attack Agrippina with a dagger. She reportedly said, "Stab me in the womb for that is the place that spawned the monster".
Nero also ordered his ill aunt to be forcible overdosed so that she would no longer be any sort of threat to his power. In short, being a relative of Nero was dangerous business.
A Reign in Crisis
In 62, Otho was relocated to Lusitania to serve as governor, Burrus died and Seneca retired, leaving Nero short on reliable advisors as well as trustworthy friends. To fill this void emerged Tigellinus. Tigellinus was a notorious adulterer and proved to be vile enough that even Caligula ordered him to exile. Tigellius was intelligent enough to work his way into bed (literally) with Nero and Poppaea. He soon found himself the new trusted advisor to Nero.
Also in 62, Nero was finally able to attain his divorce from Octavia. Although this proved to be an exodus within itself. He tried to have the divorce granted on grounds of adultery, but his own record was far too well known for anyone to agree on that count. So, Nero ordered the divorce on the grounds of infertility and married his pregnant mistress Poppaea.
While the British revolt led by Boudica was a serious blow to an already horribly scarred reign, the worst would occur with the Great Fire of 64. Although out of town when the fire started, he quickly returned to Rome. It is reported that he spent a week watching Rome burn, and celebrated the death and destruction. When the fire was finally extinguished, Nero announced plans to replace the public housing with a monument to his greatness. The citizens of Rome demanded someone to blame for the loss of property and life, and to insure that they did not come to him, Nero condemned Christians as the cause of the calamity. Hundreds were either fed to the lions or crucified.
While many plotted to remove Nero from power, including Seneca, Nero began to see threats everywhere. He adopted a policy in which he ordered popular generals to kill themselves to prohibit them from growing too powerful. Along these same lines, Nero ordered Saint Peter and Paul of Tarsus to be put to death when they developed a strong following within Rome.
During a fight Nero even beat his wife, Poppaea, to death while she was pregnant with his second child. Their first child had died at the age of four months, and so Nero was left without an heir.
The End of the Madness
In 67, Nero found that Rome had turned a cold shoulder to her emperor. After going on a hunt for assassins, both real and imagined, Nero had either killed or alienated several of the Roman governors around the Empire. In 68, the Senate overthrew Nero, and a few months later he killed himself.
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