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As Roman emperor, Nero’s reign was lavish and tyrannical. He killed his mother, persecuted Christians and is said to have "fiddled while Rome burned."
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Nero was born in 37 A.D., the nephew of the emperor. After his father’s death, his mother married his uncle and persuaded him to name Nero his successor. Nero took the throne at 17, rebuffed his mother’s attempts to control him, and had her killed. He spent lavishly and behaved inappropriately. He began executing opponents and Christians. In 68, he committed suicide when the empire revolted.
Nero was born as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina, who was the great-granddaughter of the emperor Augustus. He was educated in the classical tradition by the philosopher Seneca and studied Greek, philosophy and rhetoric.
After Ahenobarbus died in 48 A.D., Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius. She persuaded him to name Nero as his successor rather than his own son, Britannicus, and to offer his daughter, Octavia, as Nero’s wife, which he did in 50 A.D.
Claudius died in 54 A.D., and it is widely suspected that Agrippina had Claudius poisoned. Nero presented himself to the Senate to deliver a eulogy in Claudius’s honor and was named Emperor of Rome. He took the name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, and ascended to the throne at the age of 17.
Agrippina was domineering and attempted to influence her son’s rule. She was angered by the more moderate advice of Nero’s advisors, his former tutor Seneca and the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Burrus.
Agrippina also tried to assert her authority in Nero’s private life. When Nero began an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave, and threatened to divorce Octavia, Agrippina advocated for Octavia and demanded that her son dismiss Acte. Although he and Octavia remained married, Nero began living openly with Acte as his wife in spite of his mother’s protests.
After Nero spurned his mother’s influence in both public and private affairs, she was infuriated. She began championing Britannicus, then still a minor, as emperor. However, Britannicus died suddenly in 55, the day before he was to be proclaimed an adult. It is widely assumed that Nero poisoned Britannicus, although Nero claimed that he died from a seizure. Even after Britannicus had died, Agrippina tried to agitate the public against Nero, and Nero banished her from the family palace.
By 58, Nero had dismissed Acte and fallen for Poppaea Sabina, a noblewoman who was married to a member of the Roman aristocracy. He wanted to marry her, but public opinion did not look favorably upon a divorce from Octavia and his mother staunchly opposed it. Fed up with his mother’s interference and no longer content with her removal from the palace, Nero took matters into his own hands. Agrippina was murdered in 59 at Nero’s command.
Until the year 59, Nero was described as a generous and reasonable leader. He eliminated capital punishment, lowered taxes and allowed slaves to bring complaints against their masters.
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