Nero is one of the most infamous characters in Roman History. His downfall was strongly related to an unhealthy relationship with his mother.
Emperor Nero lost power to Galba, a governor from Hispania. He then tried to escape from the city but was unable to get far. Finally, Nero asked that his personal secretary kill the Emperor before his enemies could find him.
Emperor Nero was a vicious individual. However, the early years of his reign were quite successful.
A Young Emperor
Nero was heir to the proud Julio-Claudian family, which had produced Julius Caesar and Augustus. Appointed heir by his stepfather Emperor Claudius, Nero became the Roman Empire leader at age 17.
In his early years, Nero was a particularly popular Emperor. He reduced taxes and held great games for the entertainment of the people of Rome. He also granted much of the authority that the Senate had lost in the transition from Republic to Empire back to the deliberative chamber.
However, he preferred to sing and play his lyre over governing the Empire. The historian Suetonius mocked him, writing that “We read of women in the audience giving birth, and of men being so bored with the music and the applause that they furtively dropped down from the wall at the rear… and were carried away for burial.”
A Meddling Mother
Despite his popularity, Nero had a firm rival. His mother, Agrippina the Younger. Agrippina was likely behind the poisoning of her husband, Emperor Claudius. She often boasted that she was the real power behind her son’s rule.
Nero was unhappy with his mother’s behavior and banished her. She began to meddle against him by supporting Nero’s rivals. The Emperor tried to have Agrippina killed more than once before finally succeeding.
Getting into the spirit of murder, Nero also had his wife murdered to spend more time with his mistress. He would later kill his mistress, now his second wife, by kicking her in the stomach when she was pregnant with his child.
The Great Fire
Murdering his close family did not help Nero’s popularity. But things went from bad to terrible when a fire broke out in Rome 64 AD. Most of the city was destroyed as it got out of hand.
The legend spread by Nero’s enemies was that he played his beloved lyre while the city burned. It is unclear whether this is a true story (probably not), but the Emperor was nevertheless held responsible for the disaster.
To rebuild the city, Nero raised taxes throughout the Empire. The destroyed neighborhoods were rebuilt, and the Emperor also built a golden palace in his own honor.
The Seeds of Rebellion
After the fire, Nero was highly unpopular. The chain reaction leading to Nero’s death began with over taxation. In the year 68, the province of Gallia Lugdunensis rose in rebellion against Nero.
Of course, taxes were only part of the story. The governor of the province, Gaius Julius Vindex, was part of the faction supporting Empress Agrippina. Vindex joined forces with the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, one Servius Sulpicius Galba, and declared himself Emperor.
Nero ordered the governor of Upper Germany, Lucius Verginius Rufus, to put down the rebellious forces. Rufus won, but his legions encouraged him to rebel against Nero as well. However, Rufus proved a loyal subject of the beleaguered Emperor and refused to take up the cause.
With Nero’s other primary opponents dead and buried, Galba became the focus of the forces of rebellion. Even the Praetorian Guards abandoned the Emperor when the force’s commander declared his loyalty to the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis.
The Walls Close in on Nero
At this point, Nero was rightfully fearful for his life. Everyone remembered what the Praetorian Guard had done to Caligula. Therefore, he tried to escape Rome, but no one would help him get out.
At this point, the Emperor wrote a heartfelt speech that he intended to read out to the public to obtain forgiveness. But he was terrified that the common folk would kill him before he could deliver the speech.
At this point, Nero sent messages to his friends to support him. When he realized all hope was lost, Nero asked for someone to kill him, but no one heeded that call either. He famously called out, “Have I neither friend nor foe?”
However, he had plenty of foes. Nero had been declared a public enemy by the Senate, though they did not necessarily intend to kill him.
The Emperor was unable to work up the nerve to commit the act. He declared, “what an artist dies in me!” before asking his private secretary to stick the sword in. So died Nero and with him the Julio-Claudian dynasty.