One of ancient history's most infamous characters, Nero rose to power
in his mid-teens following the death of Claudius, his adoptive father. To speed
things along he had Britannicus poisoned and in league with his mother Agrippina
had had Claudius poisoned as well. His next few years were fairly unremarkable
one way or the other largely in part because of Agrippina's overbearing
influence. He corrected the problem, however, by having her executed on the
pretext that she had a unfavorable view of Poppaea, his new mistress. Because he
was already married to a certain Octavia he had her exiled and murdered as well.
He would later kick Poppaea to death while she was pregnant. To round things out
he had his teacher Seneca, another influential man of his age, commit suicide on
suspicions of him and others plotting against him.
Popular legend holds that he set fire to Rome. Modern historians dismiss this
account as an exaggeration but his decision to hold a poetry recital with the
conflagration as his background was a crass political blunder that would hurt
his popularity immensely. Needing to find a scapegoat, he chose to point the
finger at Christians who up until then had been but a fledgling cult. For the
next 300 years Christians would be vilified for every ailment within the empire
and used regularly as cannon fodder in the Coliseum. In one of the more bizarre
spectacles imaginable, Nero would set Christians on fire and held in position to
act as torches during his parties.
Becoming ever more hated for his cruelty and the demoralizing effect of the
execution of countless innocent individuals, one by one far-flung provinces
seceded and named emperors among their own. When Nero was unable to deal with
the insurgencies he lost hope and fled to the countryside. The Senate then
issued a warrant for his arrest and, on hearing of this, decided to commit
suicide... but not before asking one of his slaves to commit suicide first just
to see what it would be like!
AE As 54--68 A.D.
Lugdunum ca. 67 A.D.
Obv. IMP NERO CAESAR AVG P MAX TR P PP: Bare-headed bust right
Rev. S C: Victory flying left, holding shield inscribed with SPQR
RIC 605, Sear 590, Van Meter 32c
AR Denarius 54--68 A.D.
Obv. NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS: Laureate head right
Rev. IVPPITER CVSTOS: Jupiter seated left
Possibly issued after the Pisonian conspiracy to publicize Jupiter's role in safeguarding Nero