Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Don’t Get Burned By Prejudice

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Friday, June 30, 2017

Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors and ascended to the Roman throne at age 17 following the death of his great uncle Claudius the emperor. 

Nero, who was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, was the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina, the great-granddaughter of the emperor Augustus. 

After Ahenobarbus died in 48CE, Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and persuaded him to name Nero as his successor rather than his own son, Britannicus, and to offer his daughter, Octavia, as Nero’s wife, which he did two years later.

Claudius’ death in 54CE is widely suspected as poisoning by Agrippina, and thereafter, Nero delivered a eulogy to the Senate in Claudius’ honor, was named Emperor of Rome, and took the name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Agrippina was manipulatively domineering and openly tried to control Nero in numerous ways, from his public decisions, to his private life, and her every suggestion to him was consistently selfish. Infuriated that he rebuffed her manipulation, she openly advocated Britannicus as emperor, but he died “mysteriously” in 55CE, the day before he was to be proclaimed an adult. It’s widely thought that Nero had him poisoned, though Nero claimed he died from a seizure. Disgusted with her controlling behavior, Nero banished his mother from the family palace. 

Agrippina’s manipulation and efforts to control Nero extended even to his sex life. Nero began an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave, and threatened to divorce Octavia, but his mother advocated for Octavia and demanded that Nero dismiss Acte. Although he and Octavia remained married, Nero began living openly with Acte as his wife in despite his mother’s protests. But by 58CE, Nero dismissed Acte and had fallen for Poppaea Sabina, a noblewoman married to a member of the Roman aristocracy, and wanted to marry her, but public opinion was unfavorable toward a divorce from Octavia and his mother vehemently opposed it. Nero had become completely fed up with his mother’s interference and was no longer content with her removal from the palace, and ordered Agrippina murdered in 59CE. 

That marked a turning point in Nero’s behavior. From there, he descended into a hedonistic lifestyle marked by lavish self-indulgence and tyranny. And in a radical departure from etiquette, around 59CE, Nero began giving public performances as a poet and lyre player, a significant breach for a member of the ruling class.

When Burrus died and Seneca retired in 62CE, Nero divorced Octavia and had her killed, then married Poppaea. Accusations of treason against Nero began to arise in the Senate, and he reacted harshly to any form of perceived disloyalty or criticism by executing political opponents and Christians.

The speed at which he degenerated, and the depths to which he went with his abuse of power was rampant. 

Claims that Nero started the Great Fire are unconfirmed, but it was widely believed by many that he started the fire to make room for his planned villa, the Domus Aurea.

Afterward, he resumed plans for the Domus Aurea, and set about financing the project in vicious ways. He sold positions in public office to the highest bidder, increased taxes, confiscated money from the temples, devalued currency, and reinstituted policies to confiscate property in cases of suspected treason.

The Senate and others abandoned him, and conspired to have him killed, but he escaped to more friendly environs, where in 68CE, following open revolt of the empire, he committed suicide with the assistance of his secretary, Epaphroditos. 

It’s says that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Some blamed him for failing to fight the Great Fire which burned in Rome for 10 days and consumed 75% of the city. 

Nero himself looked for a scapegoat, and pointed the finger at Rome’s Christians and used the fire as an excuse to persecute them. No one – even modern historians – really believed the Christians were responsible, yet many were eager to denounce them for the tired old reason of prejudice. Prejudice still exacts its price in a world that doesn’t always care for the truth. Don’t fall for it.

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