Nero, a Roman emperor, born at Antium on the coast of Latium, probably Dec. 15, A. D. 37, died by his own hand, June 9, 68. He was the son of Cneius Domitius Ahenobarbus, by Agrippina, the sister of Caligula, and his original name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. When he was 12 years of age his mother married her uncle the emperor Claudius, who four years afterward gave his daughter Octavia to Nero in marriage, having formally adopted him under the name of Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. Under the care of the philosopher Seneca he is said to have made some progress in learning, and in his 16th year he delivered an oration in Greek in behalf of the inhabitants of Ilium and Rhodes. In 54 the murder of Claudius by Agrippina placed him on the throne, his mother causing the emperor's death to bo kept secret until he could be safely proclaimed by the soldiers. The senate and the provinces at once submitted to him, and no attempt was made to secure the purple for Claudius's own son Bri-tannicus, who was four or five years his junior. The first five years of his reign were distinguished for clemency and justice, though his private life was from the first extremely licentious.
The conduct of affairs was left principally to Seneca and Burrhus, under whose influence many reforms were introduced into the state, and Nero daily rose in popularity; but the jealousy of Agrippina, who found herself shut out from power, soon overthrew the ascendancy of Seneca, though it did not establish her own. She threatened to disclose the circumstances of Claudius's death, and to incite the legions to support the claims of Britannicus; she abused Nero and upbraided him for his disgraceful amour with a low-born woman named Acte. Nero retaliated by causing Britannicus to be poisoned, and by plunging into still lower depths of immorality. In company with other dissolute young men He roamed the city by night, beating and robbing passengers and breaking into houses. One of his boon companions was Otho, with whose beautiful but profligate wife Poppaea Nero became enamored, and sent Otho to Lusi-tania to get him out of the way; but Poppaea, who aspired to share the imperial throne, encountered in Agrippina an enemy who thwarted all her plans.
Persuading the emperor that his mother entertained designs upon his life, she finally procured an order for her assassination (59), and her death was communicated to the senate by Seneca, who was an accomplice in the crime. (See Agrippina.) This was followed by the divorce of Octavia, who was soon afterward put to death, and the marriage of the emperor to Poppaea. In 02 Burrhus died, and Seneca wisely asked leave to retire. Two years afterward a dreadful conflagration raged in Rome for a week, totally destroying three of the 14 districts of the city, and leaving only a few half-ruined houses in seven of the others. Dion Cassius and Suetonius relate that Nero fired it himself, and it is said that, as he watched the progress of the flames from the top of a high tower, he amused himself with chanting to his own lyre verses on the destruction of Troy. The truth of the story is doubtful, but it was believed at the time, and Nero sought to transfer the odium of the conflagration to the Christians, many of whom he caused to be put to death. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs, and others were crucified and set on fire by night in the imperial gardens, while the emperor drove his chariot by the light of the flames.
The tyrant was liberal to the sufferers by the conflagration, and upon the ruins of the old city built a much finer one on a different plan, one of its most striking features being a vast palace for himself, which was called "the golden house," and the cost of which he defrayed by robbery and extortion. The discovery of a conspiracy against him served to develop his ferocity. C. Calpurnius Piso, Plautius Lateranus, the poet Lucan, and Seneca were put to death for alleged complicity in it. The senate was induced to receive the intelligence of their fate as the news of a great victory, and triumphal honors were decreed to the infamous Tigellinus, the emperor's principal instrument. Having killed Poppsea by a kick when she was with child, Nero now proposed to marry Antonia, his sister by adoption, and on her refusal ordered her to be put to death. He then bestowed his hand upon Statilia Messalina, whose husband Vestinus he had assassinated for marrying Messalina after the emperor had cohabited with her. The jurist Longinus was exiled, and the most virtuous citizens were put to death. In the midst of these executions Nero's highest ambition seemed to be to excel in the games of the circus.
He visited Greece to display his skill as a musician and charioteer, and the Olympic games were delayed two years (from 65 to 67) that he might be present at them. At the Isthmian games he ordered the death of a singer whose voice overpowered his own. He returned to Rome as a conqueror, entering the city through a breach in the wall, riding in the chariot of Augustus, with a musician by his side, and the 1,800 crowns which he had won at the games displayed as the trophies of his expedition. He had already appeared upon the stage in Rome and other cities of Italy, and chariot racing, music, and every frivolous amusement now engrossed his time. But in the mean while a formidable insurrection was preparing. It broke out in Gaul, under Julius Vindex, governor of the Celtic province, who raised an army and offered the purple to Galba, then governor of Hispania Tarraconensis. Galba accepted the proposal, but the troops of Vindex were defeated before Vesontio (Besancon), and their general was killed. There is little doubt that Galba would have yielded had not Nero, who had reluctantly left his extravagances in Naples to assume the consulship alone at the capital, been deserted by the praetorian guard, condemned to death by the senate, and forced to flee to the house of one of his creatures in the suburbs.
Here, after spending in an agony of fear and irresolution the night and part of the next day, he committed suicide, and died in the presence of the soldiers who had come to seize him. His corpse received an honorable burial from his concubine Acte and two of his nurses. - The military events of Nero's reign were upon the whole glorious to the Roman arms. In Armenia, which had been occupied by the Parthians, a war commenced in 55, and was terminated in 58 by Domitius Corbulo, who destroyed Artaxata, the capital, and captured the city of Tigrano-certa, thus rendering the Romans masters of the whole country. Tiridates, the king, who had been set up there by the Parthians, subsequently renewed the struggle, and after temporary successes was compelled to submit and go in person to Rome to do homage for his kingdom. Nero, however, soon afterward condemned Corbulo to death, a sentence which the old soldier anticipated by suicide. In 61 a great rising in Britain under Boadicea was put down by Suetonius Paulinus. A revolt also broke out in Judea, and Vespasian was sent to suppress it; but the history of this war, terminating with the conquest of Jerusalem, belongs to subsequent reigns.