Born 37 – Died 68 AD, Age 31
Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (Nero) was born on the 15th of December at Annum, a small Italian seaside community, in 37 AD. He was the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina Jr., daughter of Germanicus, sister of Caligula and fourth wife to the Emperor Claudius. Nero’s natural father died when he was only three years old. His ambitious mother, Agrippina Junior, had been sent into exile by her brother Caligula for plotting against him. When Claudius came to power, he recalled Agrippina in 41 AD. Eventually, Agrippina was able to persuade Claudius, with the help of one of his advisors, to adopt her son. It is not certain why Claudius raised Agrippina’s son above that of his own son Britannicus, but in the end, that is precisely what took place. Upon his adoption by Claudius, Lucius’ name was changed to the more familiar NERO CLAUDIUS CAESAR DRUSUS GERMANICUS.
Nero as Princeps Iuventutis – Gold Aureus
This political power game between Nero and Britannicus became very obvious. Nero was raised to the rank of Princeps Iuventutis (Leader of Youth). While Claudius was still alive, coinage began to appear with the portrait of Nero both by himself as well as in conjunction with Claudius. This confirmed for the world that Nero was the legal heir and Britannicus’ portrait was nowhere to be found in Rome.
Gold Aureus of Claudius & Nero
Nero was carefully trained in stoic philosophy (“Virtue for Nature’s Sake”) and rhetoric by Seneca. For the first few years after succeeding to the throne, Nero was under the wise influence of Seneca and Burrus, the Praetorian Prefect. Despite his infamous reputation, the first five years of his reign were looked back upon as somewhat of a golden age where the government was fair and well managed.
First Aureus issued as Augustus
In the beginning, Nero offered a huge donative to the Praetorian guard to insure their loyalty. He also delivered a wonderful speech to the Senate promising to return to the principles by which Augustus had ruled so wisely. He also promised to increase the liberties of the Senate, which naturally won their support. All of this was the master plan of his tutor – Seneca.
Still, there were early signs of political ambition. On February 11th, 55 AD, Britannicus was poisoned while eating dinner less than four months after Claudius had died by the same method. When Britannicus collapsed at dinner, Nero claimed that he had an epileptic seizure and the following day the body was quietly buried with as little attention as possible.
All was not well behind the scenes of government. Nero was notorious for his sexual exploits and criminal behavior. It is said that he roamed the streets at night with his friends attacking woman and robbing shops and mugging people. He also married two homosexual lovers Pythagoras and Sporus. It was said that Nero acted as husband to Sporus and wife to Pythagoras.
In the year 58 AD, Nero seems to have fallen passionately in love with one Poppaea Sabina who was said to have been very beautiful. She was already married to Marcus Otho, who would later become a brief future emperor during the subsequent Civil War. Otho was actually one of Nero’s best friends. Otho was appointed governor of Lusitiania and Poppaea was moved to Nero’s bed.
Despite his murder of Britannicus, Nero remained married to Octavia (daughter of Claudius, sister of Britannicus). The marriage was politically important and his advisors, along with his mother, opposed any divorce in favor of Poppaea. Nero began to lash out at his mother, Agrippina Junior, for the restraints she was keeping on him, especially in opposing Nero’s divorce. Nero finally engineered Agrippina’s death in 59AD by stabbing, after several unsuccessful attempts, including a staged shipwreck (she was a very good a swimmer).
In 62 AD, Burrus died and Seneca retired, leaving Nero without restraining influences. Nero was at last free allowing him to show his full character. Octavia was initially sent off to Campania and then finally imprisoned on false charges of adultery. Within the year, she was murdered and her head was brought back to Rome so that Nero could show it to Poppaea.
Thereafter, Poppaea, and Tigellinus, the new Praetorian Prefect, encouraged Nero’s licentious tendencies. Nero’s now brutal sensualism was freely manifested while he was in Rome as well as on his travels. In addition, his obsession with conspiracies, both real and imagined, led to the condemnation of many suspects, most of whom were innocent, including Seneca himself. His enthusiasm for art, poetry, and sports, particularly chariot racing (in which he competed in the Olympic Games, and won, although it is doubtful anyone would dare to beat him), continued to downgrade his “royal image” with the population.
Poppaea herself did not last very long. On January 21, 63 AD she bore Nero a daughter whom they namedClaudia. The child survived only four months and was briefly remembered on a few colonial coinage issues. By the summer of 65, Poppaea was pregnant again. As the story goes, Nero kicked her to death during one of his temper tantrums. He then married another woman named Statilia Messalina the following year. However, she did not please him and Nero reverted back to his homosexual lover Sporus, because it is said that he resembled Poppaea in appearance.
The financial affairs of state were once again declining. As was the case with Caligula, Nero turned to treason trials, confiscation of assets and raising taxes. The coinage was even debased and the seeds of long-term inflation were planted. The debasement of the silver coinage and the reduction in weight of the gold coinage under Nero began the final decline of the Roman monetary system and subsequent emperors would follow Nero’s practice of debasement until by the mid 3rd century AD, silver would virtually disappear altogether.
When it came to building projects, Nero seemed to take an active interest. Of course the reconstruction of the Port of Ostia began by Claudius, but was finally completed under Nero. For this, Nero tried to take credit as demonstrated by the issuance of a famous sesterius displaying a map of the new port at Ostia. In fact, it would be this design that would ultimately serve as the model for the entrance to Saint Peter’s at Vatican City.
It was in fact Nero’s passion for architecture that gave rise to the most famous of all aspects of his life. Perhaps Nero is best remembered for his rumored part in the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD. Fires throughout Rome’s poorer sections were commonplace, and sometimes intentionally begun by the authorities to clean out the rats and garbage that always collected. Nero was blamed for the great fire, which destroyed half of Rome. It began in the neighborhood of the Circus Maximus on July 19th. The fire spread quickly leaving only 4 of the cities 14 regions untouched. Even portions of the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill were destroyed.
Lalarium from Nero’s Golden House – Vatican Museum
Nero was at Antium at the time the great fire began in 64 AD. He did rush back to Rome when he heard of the magnitude of the disaster. Nero responded in a responsible way organizing relief, cheap grain and took part in the reconstruction plans. That is the part that perhaps led many to blame him for starting the fire in order to expand his new Golden House.
While there was no convincing proof that Nero had started the fire, citizens felt it was something he would likely do. Nero used the occasion to blame the small Christian community in Rome for the disaster, which resulted in a systematic search and subsequent persecution of the Christians. But the citizens of Rome did not believe that the Christians had anything to do with the affair and preferred to blame Nero.
Of course Nero’s reputation was not helped by stories that he stood in the tower of Maecenas watching the disaster only to remark about the “beauty of the flames” as he sang the entire song of the “Sack of Ilium” (his own composition) while dressed in a stage costume.
Finances of the state were already strained under Nero. A plot emerged led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso in which Nero was to be assassinated while attending the Circensian Games in April of 65 AD. Several senators and others were involved. When the plot was revealed, a full-scale witch-hunt began. Another plot was discovered while Nero was planning a tour of Greece again involving leading senators including a distinguished general, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. This time Nero regarded the Senate as his enemy.
Nero returned from his Greek tour in 67 AD. The relationship between him and the Senate had reached an all time new low. Nero’s tax increases in the provinces had also weakened his support. Finally, in March of 68AD a revolt in Galla Lugdunensis (France) broke out led by Julius Vindex, the governor at the time. Vindex had no legions at his command but he did attract the attention of the then governor of Hispania Tarracomensis (Spain) one Servius Sulpicius Galba.
Civil War was starting to break out fueled by the financial decay and high taxation imposed by Nero. The armies of the Rhine marched against Vindex who had NOT proclaimed himself emperor. Vindex was defeated at Besancon in May of 68 AD. Despite the fact that the Rhine armies fought on behalf of Nero, they too lacked true support for the emperor. Instead, the Rhine armies tried to proclaim their own leader emperor, Verginius Rufus, but he refused the office. Galba, meanwhile, laid back patiently in Spain sending his agents to Rome in an effort to undermine Nero. As support for Nero disappeared, he began to openly make plans to flee. The praetorian commander Nymphidius Sabinus abandoned Nero and switched his allegiance to Galba. Nero’s plan was to take a ship from the Port of Ostia and flee to the eastern provinces. The guards refused to help him. Nero was forced to return to the palace. He woke around midnight to find that he had been completely abandoned. He ran into the streets and found one of his freeman named Phaon who led him is disguise to his villa a few miles north of the city. Most likely Phaon led Nero into a trap. The next day the soldiers came to arrest him. Nero was forced to stab himself in the neck and his secretary Epaphroditius finished the job. Nero died without an heir, thereby ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Titles and Powers, 50 – 68 AD
YR Tribunician Power Imperatorial Acclamation Consulship Other
54 TR.P. —————————— AVGVSTVS.
55 TR.P. – TR.P.II. COS. P.M.P.P.
57 IMP.III. COS.II.
58 TR.P.IIII. – V. IMP.IIII. – V. COS.III.
59 TR.P.V. – VI. IMP.VI.
60 TR.P.VI. VII. IMP.VII. COS.IIII.
61 TR.P.VII. – VIII. IMP.VIII. – VIll.
62 TR.P.VIII. – VIIII.
63 TR.P.VIIII. – X.
64 TR.P.X. – XI.
65 TR.P.XI. – XII.
66 TR.P.XII. – XIII. IMP.XI.
67 TR.P.XIII. – XIIII. IMP.XII.
68 TR.P.XIIII. COS.V.
Note: Nero received the Tribunician power on December 9th, 54 AD, and it was subsequently renewed each year on that date.
Mints: Rome, Lugdunum, Caesarea
As Caesar under Claudius
NERO CLAVD CAES DRVSVS GERM PRINC IVVENT
NERONI CLAVDIO DRVSO GERM COS DESIGN
NERONI CLAVD CAES DRVSO GERM (used at Pergamum)
NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS
NERO CAESAR AVG IMP
NERO CAESAR AVG P M TR POT P P
NERO CAESAR AVG GERM IMP
NERO CAES AVG IMP
IMP NERO CAESAR AVG P P
IMP NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS
IMP NERO CAESAR AVG P MAX TR POT P P
IMP NERO CAESAR AVG PONT MAX TR POT P P
NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GERMANI
NERO CL DIVI F CAES AVG P M TR P II
NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P
NERO CLAV CAE AVG GER
NERO CLAVDIVS AVG GERM P M TR P IMP P P
NERO CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERMA
NERO CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERMANIC
NERO CLAVD DIVI CLAVD F CAESAR AVG GERMANI used in Caesarea only
Monetary Reform of Nero
In 64 AD Nero introduced several monetary reforms. The weight of the gold aureus was reduced from 7.85 grams to 7.2 grams. The silver coinage issued in Rome and in Caesarea was reduced to about 93% pure silver. Nero also experimented with issuing the traditional bronze coinage in orichalcum (brass). In order to render the dupondius distinguishable from its half-denomination, As, a radiate crown was added to this denomination leaving the traditional laurel wreath style portrait for the As. The dupondius reform prevailed until the end of dupondius regular issues while the experiment in brass died out following Hadrian.
As Prince of Youth (Caesar)
AU Aureus bare head left (6.54 grams)
AU Aureus bare head right (6.54 grams)
AU Aureus with Claudius (6.54 grams)
AR Denarius bare head left
AR Denarius bare head right
AR Denarius with Claudius
Gold Aureus as Augustus
AU Aureus bare head right (6.54 grams)
AU Aureus laurel head right (6.54 grams)
AU Quinarius (4.61 grams)
Struck in Orichalcum (brass)
Struck in Copper
Mint of Caesarea
AR Didrachm of Caesarea
AR Hemidrachm of Caesarea