Roman Empire, Nero, 54-68, BL Tetradrachma, Year 12 =65/66, Alexandria
Av.: Rad. bust r.
Rs.: Head of Alexandria with elephant skin
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (* 37 in Antium; †68 near Rome)
He was emperor of the Roman Empire from 54 to 68.
Nero saw himself as an artist and was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Nero was born in Antium to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Iulia Agrippina, a sister of the Emperor Caligula. He was a great-great-grandson of the Emperor Augustus through the female line. Like most of the male members of his family, Nero was blond or red-haired and blue-eyed (so Suetonius, Nero 51,1). He is said, as Pliny the Elder reports, to have been born feet first, that is, in the breech position (Pliny, Naturalis Historia 7, 46).
Because his mother had been exiled by Caligula, he spent part of his infancy with his aunt Domitia Lepida. Nero enjoyed an excellent education in literature, Latin and mathematics. From the age of twelve, Nero was taught by the well-known philosopher and influential politician Seneca, who had a decisive influence on the life of the later Nero.
The Great Fire of Rome and the Persecution of Christians
On the night of 18-19 July 64, a fire broke out in Rome, which spread rapidly due to strong winds and dense and high buildings. Within nine days, ten out of 14 districts were attacked and three were completely destroyed. Rumours abounded that Nero himself had set the fire in order to rebuild the city and, in particular, to make room for a huge palace, the "Golden House" (Domus Aurea) (Tacitus, Annals 15.42.).
Allegedly, he watched and sang about the fire from the tower of Maecenas, while accompanying himself on the lyre and declaiming verses of the fall of Troy. According to Tacitus, he did this at home (Suetonius, Nero 38; Tacitus, Annals 15, 39; compare Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 62, 29, 1.).
In fact, however, Nero was in his birthplace, his summer residence Antium, 50 kilometres away, while the Palatine was in flames. He travelled back to Rome, opened his buildings to the homeless and lowered the price of grain. (Tacitus, Annals, 15,39.).
Probably the fire, like many others, broke out in a market place through carelessness. Nevertheless, Nero has gone down in history as the arsonist of Rome. (Waldherr, p. 214 f.) That he himself set fire to the city can be ruled out, but a commissioning of others cannot, especially since after the initial extinguishing work other fires broke out near the house of the Praetorian prefect Tigellinus. (Tacitus, Annals 15,38-40)
Because of the rumours that he had set the fire or at least profited from it, Nero needed another culprit for the fire. The sect of the Christiani (Greek for "Christians"), who, according to Tacitus, were hated by the population, offered themselves for this purpose. (Waldherr, pp. 215-217.)
They were arrested and many sentenced to cruel death sentences. Most were burned, as this was the punishment provided in Roman law for arsonists, some crucified or put in skins and thrown to the beasts in the arena. (Tacitus, Annals 15:44.)
This persecution of Christians under Nero, which was confined to Rome, was the first of a presumed series of local pogroms that preceded the persecution under Domitian and the systematic persecutions in the 3rd century. How systematic and extensive it actually was, however, is highly disputed in recent ancient historical research. (Cf. Brent D. Shaw: The Myth of the Neronian Persecution. In: The Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), pp. 73-100).