A Tourist in Rome - Nero

Birth:December 15, 37 AD
Death:June 9, 68 AD (suicide)
Emperor:54 - death

Nero became emperor at the age of 17 under suspicious circumstances; he might have been involved in his mother's murder of his adopted father Claudius. He worked very hard at making himself popular, throwing elaborate games that the people enjoyed, and cutting taxes. The first part of his reign was marked by good government, but things went downhill. He spent money without limits, and ended up driving the Roman economy into serious trouble. He loved to party and eliminated the people who tried to reign him in. He murdered his mother Agrippina; abandoned his advisor Seneca and ordered him to commit suicide, which he dutifully did; ordered his first wife, Octavia, killed; kicked his pregnant second wife, Poppaea, to death; castrated and then married a teenage boy, and eventually became a madman corrupted by power.

He is blamed for the great fire of 64 AD which burned for 7 days, completely destroyed 3 of the 14 ancient neighborhoods of Rome, and extensively damaged 7 others, and is said to have played the fiddle from a nearby tower while watching the city burn, although he was not in town at the time (and he didn't play the fiddle). He returned to Rome to shelter the now-homeless victims of the fire, and upgraded fire codes to prevent a fire from growing so large in the future. But he also took advantage of the fire to build a lavish palace named the Domus Aurea for himself, which went over quite poorly with the people, leading to the rumors that he started the fire (The ruins of the Domus Aurea are currently closed to tourists, in 2013.)

He deflected blame for the fire to the Christians. Nobody liked them anyhow, so they were easy scapegoats. He ordered many Christians, including Saints Peter and Paul, to be rounded up and beheaded or crucified. Sometimes he'd light the Christians on fire to illuminate his nightly parties. The crucifixion of St. Peter in the Circus of Nero on the Vatican Hill, and his burial right across the street, was especially noteworthy since it later determined the location of St. Peter's Basilica.

Nero eventually committed suicide when all his friends and allies had abandoned him and it was clear that he would soon be murdered. Since he had named no successor, this sparked a year-long civil war called the "Year of the Four Emperors". He was buried in what's is now Piazza del Popolo, and that site was thereafter considered haunted. In 1099, the church of Santa Maria del Popolo was erected above his grave, and the church's decorations include skeletons and other symbols of death.

Nero, in the Palatine Museum
See all Nero photos.
Places in Rome to see the contributions of Nero: See also:
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