The Bottom of the Barrel

Biographies of the emperor's of Rome were few and far between.  Most of them found themselves in the employ of the court, thus making the rules of their masters much more extravagant than they really were.  By about 90 CE, Rome had acquired someone who would become the authority on the rules and rankings of the "Twelve Great Caesar's."  That man is known as Suetonius, and for many of the emperors he wrote on, he serves as the only contemporary historian that is able to link with the emperors in this age.  Rome was a complicated issue in addition to being the primordial center of the world.  He writes ad nauseum on the decline of the emperors, marking one in particular as the peak of the downfall: Nero Claudius.

Apart from Suetonius' writing, historical documents that were dated to Nero's time alive show his ruthlessness.  He was particularly brutal towards the Christians and other non-conforming Roman citizens.  The historian Tacitus writes: "Besides being put to death, they were made to serve as objects for amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed."  Suetonius further wrote: "many abuses were severely punished and repressed, and judgement was passed upon the Christians."  Indeed, Rome was anything but holy in it's first and second incarnation.

However, Nero's exploits are far from limited to the ruthlessness against Christians.  He was "no less cruel to members of his family than he was to strangers", conspirators were subject to being hung by chains, where their children were exiled from Rome and poisoned or forced to starve to death.  A classic example of authoritarian dictatorship, Nero was Rome minded - rarely leaving his palace.  Only twice did he tour the empire, and these were generally limited to the visiting of Alexandria.  Showmanship was a major component of Nero Claudius' rule as well, with near constant extravagant festivals and games.  He was fascinated with architecture, but often times made demands that were beyond the means of his skilled craftsmen.

Nero was also fascinated with horses and chariots, often appearing in public with a chariot of his own.  He was known to race chariots as well, having participated in several races in his youth.

Prior to his ascending to the role of emperor, it was not immediately clear the path that he would take.  Upon his father's death, Nero had held a rather illustrious funeral.  It was supposed that Nero would continue his father's missions, but soon thereafter, Nero began to embark down a path of extravagance over empirical growth.  The Roman Empire did not grow or expand beyond its boundaries during Nero's reign, and outlying territories came under excessive economic burden to fund his desires in the capitol.

Cited as being a womanizer, a pedophile, a ruthless dictator, and many other choice colorful terms, Suetonius reports that Nero's erratic lifestyle and personality could only be rivaled by Caligula.

Nero's death at the age of thirty-two signified the end of the reign of the Caesar's.  Rome rejoiced at his death as it signified the end of the oppressive rule that had spanned more than a century.  It also signified the birth of a new age, with Galba ascending the throne after Nero's death.  Parades, parties, and other festivals were thrown to celebrate both Nero's death and Galba's ascension.  So goes the short, and "PG" version of Nero Claudius' tale.

Further Reading

Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. 105 CE.

Bettenson, Henry; Maunder, Chris. ed. Documents of the Christian Church. Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.  2011.

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