I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Life of Nero at a Glance

Here is an essay Israel did last year (8th grade) on the life of Nero.


Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was the son of Gnaeus and Agrippina, and was the successor of his great uncle and stepfather, Claudius. Claudius was Agrippina’s second husband after the death of her first, Lucius’ father. Lucius was more commonly known as Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, or just Nero, an Emperor of Rome and Tyrant of the World and Persecutor of the Christian Church. Lucius was illustrious for many things, such as, the persecution of the Christian Church and the Great Fire of Rome; also for the murders of his mother, Agrippina, his stepbrother, Britanicus, and his wives, Octavia and Poppea. This emperor was not always so fowl, however. He did have the makings of a good ruler until there was no one to restrain him.

Childhood and Background

This young ruler was born on December 15, A.D. 37. After his mother, Agrippina, was exiled by the Emperor Caligula, Lucius went to live with a distant aunt. But following the murder of Caligula and his family, his uncle, Claudius came to power. Claudius then allowed Agrippina to come out of exile, and married her not long after that.

Lucius was officially adopted into the Emperor’s family in A.D. 50. Claudius then renamed him Nero. This young man was quite a bit older than his new stepbrother Britanicus, and consequently became the immediate heir to the throne of his uncle. At the age of 14, he was proclaimed an adult and started to aid the emperor politically, make public appearances with him, and appear on coinage.

Early Years of Reign

Claudius died in A.D. 54, (many assumed that Agrippina poisoned him, but there was no evidence) and Nero became ruler of the Roman Empire at the age of 16. His mother appointed two men to be his tutors. One was a well-known and scholarly Stoic named Seneca, who would instruct Nero in the way Rome wished him to act; and the other was a praetorian prefect named Burrus, who would instruct him in the matters of warfare.

The first five years of Nero’s rule went very well with these two advisers molding Nero’s mind into a proper emperor. Agrippina had always had a lust for power and always used the men in her life to get there; such as, Claudius, Nero, and later through Claudius’ son, Britanicus.

Through this period of time, Agrippina grew exceedingly jealous of the amount of influence Seneca and Burrus had on her son. Seneca had previously warned Nero of his mother’s growing lust for his power. It became evident when she was pushing for Britanicus to assume the throne as the rightful heir, because she knew she could influence him as she once did Nero, and Claudius before that. Although, before Britanicus could make any decisions, he quickly and mysteriously died in A.D. 55. Nero then had Agrippina executed for conspiring against the Emperor of Rome.

The Latter Years: Nero’s Decent into Madness

After the death of the Praetorian Prefect, Burrus, Seneca gradually detected his grip on Nero’s mind loosening. Seneca knew he could no longer influence Nero as he once did with the help of Burrus. Consequently, Seneca requested to be released from his service as Nero’s political advisor. With no one to restrain him, Nero quickly became foolish and reckless. He became infatuated with many types of entertainment. He even possessed his own circus, in which he would put Christians on display as bait for lions and wild dogs. It was said that Nero believed that it was right to eliminate rivals to the throne. He also felt that the Christians were a threat to his life, and therefore deserved death.

The Great Fire of Rome

When the Great Fire of Rome took place in A.D. 64, the Romans believed that Nero might be responsible for the fire, and Nero redirected the blame to the Christians. At this point in time, not many people tried to stop Nero when he did what he thought was just to the people of the Christian community. Many lost their lives at that time, whether it was by gruesome ways of slow demise in Nero’s circus, by crucifixion, or by setting their bodies ablaze to illuminate his garden parties. As historian Tacitus once described the event:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination, when daylight had expired" (Tacitus, Annals XV.44).

At this point in Nero’s reign, he began to loose the respect of the Roman citizens, because he no longer valued life and order as he once did. He had become a ruler that believed what was just was what he himself believed was just and the murders that he had once been accused of: Agrippina, Octavia, Brittanicus, and Poppea, were now being added to by the thousands.

The Finality of Nero’s Life

Like any other emperor, Nero received several threats from surrounding countries and from within Rome. Many rebellions took place but only one drove Nero to his end. The revolt of Vindex and Galba, which began when the Vindex rebels sought aid from Galba. They tried to place a new emperor on the throne in opposition to Nero. The people began to abandon their loyalty to Nero and to throw their support toward Galba. Nero sent out messengers in hopes of gathering anyone who supported him to rally behind him; he received no response. He eventually went into hiding. Right before a group of angry rebels closed in on him, he asked his servants to dig him a grave. He exclaimed over and over, “What an artist dies in me!” (Suetonius, Nero, xlix). A messenger from the Senate arrived and told Nero that he had been proclaimed an enemy of the State and that he would be executed by being beat to death. Followed by this, he stuck a dagger through his throat and said, “Too late! This is fidelity!” and then he died (Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero 49).


Yes, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus was a tyrant and a major persecutor of the Christian community. Although, he did not behave this way until his lust for autonomous supremacy grew to a level that no one could influence him to do whatever thing that Nero himself thought was unmerited. With the death of Nero, so ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

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