Nero was the Roman Emperor from 54-68 AD. He was an actor, poet, and—most significantly—a dictator. He was born as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarus and Agrippina. Just like any other dictator, Nero used terror to stay in power. He was ruthless, cruel, and did not hesitate when it came to imposing power over the Roman people.
Nero executed many people during his 14 years as the Roman Emperor. He was heartless and politically expedient; he did not care about people closest to him when it came to protecting his status in Rome and consolidating power. This resulted in him murdering two of his wives and even his own mother, Agrippina. Nero’s command to murder his own mother in 59 AD was because he ‘had it’ with his mother’s interference into his private life, and because of her attempt to influence her son’s rule.
Nero also didn’t allow any alleged disloyalty or criticism during his rule. He purged anyone who went against this—such as a commander who criticised him at a party, and even a writer who made negative remarks about the senate in a book.
Nero was given his famous title as ‘the Emperor who laughed when Rome burned’ following the great fire in 64 AD. The title itself reveals just how merciless he was. The blaze that devastated 75% of Rome within 10 days began in stores in the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus. Many Romans believed the fire was part of the vicious dictator’s plan to build his villa, Domus Aurea.
Like many dictators, Nero was also an opportunist. He used the fire as an excuse to implement terror and purge the Christians in Rome, since Christianity was then a new and concealed religion. With this, the accusation, persecution, and torture of Christians began in Rome.
Unfazed by the great fire, Nero continued his plan to build the Domus Aurea. However, he needed money to finance his project, and so started taking new economic measures. These measures were no better than his social measures. It was so bad that he faced a heavy backlash, which eventually led to his downfall.
Nero began by selling positions in public office to the highest bidder—which ensured not only money, but also loyalty from the people. He increased taxes, took money from the temples, and devalued currency. Nero also reinstituted policies to seize property in case of suspected treason. This led to the then governor of Rome, Gaius Julius Vindex, and the Roman people, rebelling against Nero’s tax policies.
When the power of the people was revealed, Nero didn’t seem to be the heartless dictator he was. He became a coward. Instead of facing the people, Nero tried to escape them. However, he had to abandon his plans to head east since even his own officers refused to obey him. He was forced to return to his palace, where he received the news that the Senate had condemned him to death by beating.
And so, the authoritarian dictator decided to commit suicide, ending his life and his reign in 68 AD. He was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and his last words were, ‘What an artist dies in me!’