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Nero (AD37-68), fifth emperor of Rome and the last of the Julio-Claudian line.
Born Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus on December 15, 37, at Antium and originally named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, Nero was the son of the consul Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (died about 40) and Agrippina the Younger, great-granddaughter of Emperor Augustus. In 49 Agrippina married her uncle, Emperor Claudius I, and the following year she persuaded him to adopt her son, whose name was then changed. Later, Claudius married Nero to his daughter Octavia and marked him out for succession, bypassing his own son, Britannicus. On Claudius's death (54), the Praetorian Guards, under their prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, Agrippina's agent, declared Nero emperor at the age of 17.
The initial five years of Nero's reign, guided by Burrus and the philosopher Seneca, Nero's tutor, were marked by moderation and clemency, although Nero had his rival Britannicus poisoned. In 59 he had his mother put to death for her criticism of his mistress, Poppaea Sabina. In 62 he divorced (and later executed) Octavia and married Poppaea. Burrus died, possibly poisoned, and Seneca retired.
In July 64, two-thirds of Rome burned while Nero was at Antium. In ancient times he was charged with being the incendiary, but most modern scholars doubt the truth of that accusation. According to some accounts (now considered spurious), he laid the blame on the Christians—few at that time—and persecuted them. He sheltered the homeless, however, and rebuilt the city with fire precautions. The building programs, like the spectacles and free grain he provided for the populace, were financed by plundering Italy and the provinces. Viewing himself as an artist and a religious visionary, he scandalized the army and aristocracy when he appeared publicly as an actor in religious dramas.
Meanwhile, the empire was in turmoil. Nero established Armenia as a buffer state against Parthia, but only after a costly, unsuccessful war. Revolts broke out in Britain (60-61) and in Judea (66-70). In 65 Gaius Calpurnius Piso led a conspiracy against the emperor; 18 of the 41 prominent Romans implicated in the plot perished, among them Seneca and his nephew, the epic poet Lucan. Poppaea was kicked to death by Nero, and he married Statilia Messalina after executing her husband. In 68 the Gallic and Spanish legions, along with the Praetorian Guards, rose against him, and he fled Rome. Declared a public enemy by the Senate, he committed suicide on June 9, 68, near Rome.
"Nero," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
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