54 - 69 AD
54 - 69 AD
Nero was seventeen years old when Claudius died. He was acclaimed Emperor on the palace steps that very day. He later was taken to the guards' camp, where he addressed his troops. He then visited the Senate House. Nero had virtuous intentions, and promised to model his rule on the principles laid down by Augustus, and he never missed an opportunity to be generous and merciful, or to show what a good companion he was. He lowered taxes, reduced a fee for denouncing evasions, and he presented the commons with forty gold pieces each. The first of Nero's four consulships lasted for two months, the third for four, the second and the last for six.
When Nero judged a case, he preferred the hold of a day on his decision, and he gave his decision in writing. After a while, all of Nero's successes went to his head, and it was not possible to excuse his insolent, lustful, extravagant, greedy, and cruel practices. Fate made certain unexpected additions to the disasters of Nero's reign as well. Thirty-thousand lives were taken by the plague in a single autumn, two British garrisons were taken by storm, and a huge number of Romans and allies were massacred. Also, a general administrative policy became established that the Name alone, that is to say simple membership in the Church, was enough for execution of these "atheists."
Nero practiced every kind of obscenity he could think of. He believed that fortunes were made to be squandered, and whoever could account for every penny he spent, seemed to him a stingy miser. His wastefulness showed most of all in the architectural projects. Nero's confidence in the national resources was not the only cause of his furious spending. He had also been excited by tales of a great treasure told to be still lying untouched in certain huge African caves and could easily be retrieved. Nero soon found himself bankrupt.
His financial difficulties were such that he could not give the soldiers their pay or pay for veterans' benefits. He then turned to robbery and blackmail. He robbed numerous temples of their treasures and melted down the gold and silver images. There was no family relationship Nero did not criminally abuse. For instance, Nero caused the murders of his mother, his aunt, and his high-minded wife Octavia. Nero was no less cruel to strangers than to members of his family. Nothing could restrain Nero from murdering anyone he pleased, on whatever pretext. Nero heard of the Gallic revolt against him on the anniversary of his mother's murder. He also got news of Galba's Spanish revolt. Nero insisted that to lose supreme power while still alive was something that has never happened to another emperor. Nero was now so universally despised that no punishment was bad enough for him.
The Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD was officially attributed to the Jewish sect of the Christians, whose first persecution now occurred. There were many threats against his life so Nero fled the Palace and stayed at a small villa. A runner brought him a letter from Phaon, an Imperial freedman, stating that he was declared a public enemy by the Senate and that when he was apprehended he would be punished "in ancient style". This style of punishment meant that an executioner stripped their victim naked, thrust his head into a wooden fork, and then flogged him to death with sticks. In terror, Nero stabbed himself in the throat. Nero died at the age of thirty-two.
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