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Mediterranean Chronology

The Emperor Nero



Nero was the Roman emperor from 54 to 68 AD. He is remembered most for his perverse mind and his persecution of Christians.

Nero was born in Antium in 37 AD to Agrippina the Younger and Gnaeus Domitius Anenobarbus, a great-grandson of Augustus. He experienced a very unstable childhood. The emperor Caius Galigula banished his family around 39 AD, seizing the entire family's fortune, and his father died when he was only three years old. He was raised by his mother and they were poor, but that changed when Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius. At this time, Nero was being tutored by the famous philosopher Seneca the elder. Agrippina convinced Claudius to adopt Nero and in 50 AD he became the probable heir to the throne, even ahead of Claudius's own son! In 54 AD Agrippina murdered Claudius and Nero became ruler at the age of 17.

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At first Nero's mother had a great deal of authority within his reign. However, Nero grew resentful of her power and Agrippina was removed from the palace in 55. At this time, two of Nero's men, the Praetorian Prefect Burrus and his tutor Seneca, took over and ruled the empire successfully. Biographers cite that up until 59 Nero was known for his generosity and mildness. [1] During this period he forbade capital punishment and contests involving bloodshed in the circus. He even reduced taxes. This side of the emperor disappeared when he ordered the murder of his mother, who was accused of treason in 59. In 62 Burrus died, reportedly from a throat tumor, although he believed that Nero had poisoned him.

One of the most famous events of his reign was the fire of Rome in 64 AD Nero was in Antium when the fire started in the Circus Maximus. The fire spread and raged furiously over Rome for nine days. When Nero returned he started to rebuild the city, which caused some to suspect Nero of planning the fire in order to make room for a new city built in his honor. Nero, needing a scapegoat for the fire, chose to put the blame on the Christians. His brutality was exhibited through the persecution of these early Christians. This persecution took on different forms for the Christians, as some were torn to death by dogs while others were used as torches to light Nero's gardens and parties. [2]

His reign began disintegrating when the senate became unimpressed with him and his unfulfilled promises and turned against him. A group of these senators banded together in 65 to form the Pisonian Conspiracy, whose aim was to murder Nero and replace him with C. Calpurnius Piso. Eventually they were discovered and punished severely with the number of executions increasing daily. One of these victims was Seneca.

Nero was obsessed with Greece and Greek culture, frequently traveling there and participating in poetry, singing, and games as well as orgies and parties. In 68, after an extensive time there, a food shortage and unrest brought him back to Rome. After his return there were many uprisings against him. One was lead by Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugaunensis, and this spurred on many others who wanted to see the tyrannical Nero removed. Rome was as a whole tired of Nero, as he was more interested in his own self-seeking life of pleasure than in ruling the most powerful empire in the world.

Nero's reign finally came to an end in 68 AD when he committed suicide with the help of his secretary, Epaphroditus. He is said to have muttered before his death, "What an artist dies in me!" [3]


[1] Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 965

[2] Essays in Early Christian History, p. 83

[3] The Cambridge Ancient History, p. 741


Bunson, Matthew. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1994.

Merril, Elmer Truesdell. Essays in Early Christian History . London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1924.

"Nero." Encyclopedia Britannica. 1984.

The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol.X Cambridge: University Press, 1963.

Edited by: Lara C. Warg
Researched by: Katherine L O'Connor
Written by: Karalin D. Boeke
October 27,1997

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