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E&D 5: Nero and the End of a Dynasty: Playing with Empire I

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James Corke-Webster

on 16 November 2015

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Transcript of E&D 5: Nero and the End of a Dynasty: Playing with Empire I

first 5 years of reign
building projects
influence of Seneca / Agrippina?
significance... matricide [AD 59]
positive reaction / positive actions?
BUT cf. Caligula & teleological decline

AD 65 ‘Pisonian conspiracy’
Gaius Calpurnius Piso (same family as Piso from SCPP)
evidence of discontent (number & eminence co-conspirators inc. Seneca?)?

5 years... till when? [AD 62 = end Seneca/Burrus]
the last quinquennium (AD 63-68?)
or just five years, e.g. AD60-65

Nero and the End of a Dynasty: Playing with Empire I

Sources -

Tacitus (
breaks off in AD66)
Life of Nero
Cassius Dio,
Roman History
Seneca: philosopher & statesman
first-hand information but not writing histories

"Nero in no way was sparing of money, either in giving or taking. Because of his wantonness towards his eunuch he lost his life. For in his anger he revealed Nero’s plans to his followers, and thus they revolted from him and forced him to kill himself in whatever way he could. Not even now has this story come to light, since, as far as the rest of the people are concerned, nothing prevented him from ruling forever.
Even now everyone desires him to be alive, and the majority of people think he really is, even though in some way he died not once but often, along with those who have been convinced that he is still alive
Dio Chrysostom,
On Beauty
9-10 (
under Domitian, 81-96AD
"Fulfilling the debt to his ancestors, the manifest god Caesar has departed to them, and
the expected and hoped for imperator of the world has been proclaimed: the good spirit of the world, the origin of the greatest of all good things, Nero, has been proclaimed Caesar
. For this reason, all of us ought to wear wreaths and sacrifice oxen, to show to all the gods our gratitude. Year 1 of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, on the 21st day of the month New Augustus."

P.Oxy. 1021: draft on papyrus of proclamation of Nero as emperor (17 Nov, AD 54)
"What was worse than Nero? What is better than Nero’s Baths?


talkativeness of a single person prevented the city of Rome from becoming free after deliverance from Nero.
For it was just one night before the tyrant was to die and everything had been readied, and the man who was to kill him was going to the theatre and happened to see a certain one of the prisoners at the gates [of the Palatine?] about to be brought before Nero and bitterly lamenting his fate. He went up close to him and in a whisper said, “Good sir, pray that today above all others will pass by and that tomorrow you will thank me.” The prisoner grasped the obscure remark and, I guess, thinking that ‘a fool is one who leaves what is within his reach and pursues what is not’ [Hesiod, fr.1]
chose the more lasting form of safety instead of the more just.
For he betrayed to Nero the man’s message, and that man was immediately arrested, tortured by fire and whipped, but denied, in his reply to force, what he had revealed without it."

Plutarch, Moralia 505C-D) [cf. Tac. Ann. 15.54f]
AD 37: birth of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
AD 50: adoption of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus by Claudius, as Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar
AD 54 death of Claudius (13 Oct)
Nero escorted into praetorian camp by Burrus
Claudius voted ‘divine honours’ by the Senate
Nero doesn't emphasise
divi filius

"He that hath understanding, let him count
the number of the beast
; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six."

[aka Apocalypse of John] 13:18
64AD - Nero's legacy...
domus aurea
- extent?
Christian "persecution"
builds on his "Greek" reputation (stage... Troy?)
importance of Christian memory
"There was nothing however in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building.
He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House
. Its size and splendour will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its
vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long
. There was
a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities
, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals.
In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl
. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being."
Life of Nero
"People wondered at him for his strange obliviousness and unconcern. [... ... ...]
When he was going to adopt Nero, as if there was little cause for censure in his adopting a son-in-law, when he had a son of his own arrived at years of maturity
, he continually gave out in public ‘that no one had ever been admitted by adoption into the Claudian family’.
Towards the end of his life, he gave certain indications, and those evident enough, that
he repented both his marriage with Agrippina, and his adoption of Nero
. [... ... ...] Often, when he happened to meet Britannicus, he would embrace him tenderly, and charge him ‘to grow apace, and take account of me for all that I have done’. [... ... ...] And intending to give him his virile robe, while he was yet under age and a tender youth, because his growth would permit it, he added:
“I do so, that the people of Rome may at last have a true Caesar”, that is, Caesar by birth and not by adoption

Life of Claudius

RPC 2371: coin from Ephesos. Obverse: bust of Britannicus, with legend BPETANNIKOC; reverse: bust of Nero with legend NEPOC KAICAP

RIC 76, BMC 84, coin issued under Claudius, AD 51-54). Obverse: bust of Nero, with legend ‘Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, princeps iuventutis’. Reverse: sacerdotal symbols, with legend ‘chosen supernumerary priest in all the colleges, by Senatorial Decree’. [Smallwood, no104a; Braund, no222a]
RIC 79; BMC 93, coin issued under Claudius (AD 51-54). Obverse: bust of Nero, with legend ‘to Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, consul designate’. Reverse: shield with legend ‘the equestrian order to the princeps iuventutis’ [Smallwood, no104b; Braund, no222b]

"Although he [Nero] was still very young when he occupied the throne - which he kept for as many years as his step-father -
the first five years of his reign [the quinquennium] were so splendid,
above all with regard to the enlargement of the city
, that Trajan had reason to remark many times that all other reigns were far removed from the value of Nero’s first five years
Aurelius Victor,
On the Caesars
. 5.2-4 [4th C]
"The Nile celebrates with a festival beside the holy water of the Tiber,
having vowed to make sacrifice for the preservation of Caesar
; one hundred ox-felling axes stained the willing necks of the bulls with blood on the altars of heavenly Zeus. [MS addesses the poem ‘to Nero Caesar’] [cf. Tac. Ann. 15.71-74]?

Anthologia Palatina 9.352 [religious act in celebration of Nero’s safety in AD 65]

His death brought such great joy to the people that they ran about the city with caps upon their heads
, to testify to their regained freedom. Yet
there were not wanting some who, for a long time after, decked his tomb with the gay flowers that spring and summer afford
, and who sometimes placed his image upon the rostra, dressed in purple robes of state."
Life of Nero
on AD 69
] About this time Achaia and Asia were upset by a false alarm. It was rumoured that Nero was on his way to them.
There had been conflicting stories about his death, and so numbers of people imagined - and believed - that he was alive.
I shall describe the adventures of the other claimants in their chronological context as my story develops. On this occasion the man concerned was a slave from Pontus, or, according to other accounts, a freedman from Italy. The circumstance that he was a harpist and singer by profession, when added to a facial resemblance, made the imposture all the more plausible. He was joined by some army deserters who had been roaming about in destitution until he bribed them to follow him by lavish promises.."
Tacitus, Histories 2.8.1
on AD 79
In his [Titus’] reign also the false Nero appeared, who was an Asiatic named Terentius Maximus
. He resembled Nero both in appearance and in voice (for he too sang to the accompaniment of the lyre). He gained a few followers in Asia, and in his advance to the Euphrates attached a far greater number, and finally sought refuge with Artabanus, the Parthian leader, who, because of his anger against Titus, both received him and set about making preparations to restore him to Rome.."
Cassius Dio,
Roman History
on AD 88
] to conclude, when, twenty years later, at which time I was a young man, some person arose among them (no one knew from whence, nor of what condition) who gave out that he was Nero, so gracious was the name among the Parthians, that he was very strongly supported, and not delivered up again without great reluctance.
o Tac. Hist. 1.2."
Life of Nero

Polybius, who speaks in a tone of pity of the events connected with the capture of Corinth, goes on to speak of the disregard shown by the army for the works of art and votive offerings
; for he says that he was present and saw paintings that had been flung to the ground and saw the soldiers playing dice on these…And I may almost say that
the most and best of the other dedicatory offerings at Rome came from there
; and the cities in the neighbourhood of Rome also obtained some; for Mummius, being magnanimous rather than fond of art, as they say, readily shared with those who asked. And when Lucullus built the Temple of Good Fortune and a portico, he asked Mummius for the use of the statues which he had, saying that he would adorn the temple with them until the dedication and then give them back.”
, Geography

He wholly despised philosophy and out of a patriotic zeal mocked all Greek culture and learning
plus made a prophecy that Romans would lose their empire when they began to be infected with Greek literature.”
Life of Cato the Elder
“In the consulate of Gaius Laecanius and Marcus Licinius [AD 64]
a desire that grew sharper every day impelled Nero to appear regularly on the public stage
– hitherto he had sung in his palace or his gardens at the Juvenile Games, which he now began to scorn as thinly attended functions, too circumscribed for so ample a voice. Not daring, however, to take the first step at Rome, he fixed upon Naples as a Greek city: after so much preface, he reflected, he might cross into Achaia, win the glorious and time-hallowed crowns of song, and then, with heightened reputation, elicit the plaudits of his countrymen.”

Captive Greece captured her savage victor
, and brought the arts to rustic Latium.”

“Not content with showing his proficiency in these arts at Achaia, as I have said, influenced especially by the following consideration. The cities in which it was the custom to hold contests in music had adopted the rule of sending all the lyric prizes to him. These he received with the greatest delight, not only giving audience before all others to the envoys who brought them, but even inviting them to his private table. When some of them begged him to sing after dinner and greeted his performance with extravagant applause, he declared that
"the Greeks were the only ones who had an ear for music and that they alone were worthy of his efforts."
So he took ship without delay and immediately on arriving at Cassiope made a preliminary appearance as a singer at the altar of Jupiter Cassius, and then went the round of all the contests.
To make this possible, he gave orders that even those which were widely separated in time should be brought together in a single year, so that some had even to be given twice, and he introduced a musical competition at Olympia also, contrary to custom.
To avoid being distracted or hindered in any way while busy with these contests, he replied to his freedman Helius, who reminded him that the affairs of the city required his presence, in these words: "However much it may be your advice and your wish that I should return speedily, yet you ought rather to counsel me and to hope that I may return worthy of Nero.

Suetonius, Nero 22-23
it was not a little rivulet that flowed from Greece into our city, but a mighty river of culture and learning

“For its good will and piety towards me I wish to give something in exchange to noble-minded Greece, and thus I order as many people as possible from the province to assemble…
I grant to you as great a gift as you would be unable to request. All Greeks inhabiting Achaea and what is now known as the Peloponnese receive freedom with no taxation!
A thing which none of you possessed in your most fortunate of times.”
ILS 8794

There followed a disaster, whether due to chance or to the malice of the sovereign is uncertain — for each version has its sponsors — but graver and more terrible than any other which has befallen this city by the ravages of fire.
It took its rise in the part of the Circus touching the Palatine and Caelian Hills; where, among the shops packed with inflammable goods, the conflagration broke out, gathered strength in the same moment, and, impelled by the wind, swept the full length of the Circus: for there were neither mansions screened by boundary walls, nor temples surrounded by stone enclosures, nor obstructions of any description, to bar its progress. The flames, which in full career overran the level districts first, then shot up to the heights, and sank again to harry the lower parts, kept ahead of all remedial measures, the mischief travelling fast, and the town being an easy prey owing to the narrow, twisting lanes and formless streets typical of old Rome. In addition, shrieking and terrified women; fugitives stricken or immature in years; men consulting their own safety or the safety of others, as they dragged the infirm along or paused to wait for them, combined by their dilatoriness or their haste to impede everything. Often, while they glanced back to the rear, they were attacked on the flanks or in front; or, if they had made their escape into a neighbouring quarter, that also was involved in the flames, and even districts which they had believed remote from danger were found to be in the same plight. At last, irresolute what to avoid or what to seek, they crowded into the roads or threw themselves down in the fields: some who had lost the whole of their means — their daily bread included — chose to die, though the way of escape was open, and were followed by others, through love for the relatives whom they had proved unable to rescue.
None ventured to combat the fire, as there were reiterated threats from a large number of persons who forbade extinction, and others were openly throwing firebrands and shouting that "they had their authority" — possibly in order to have a freer hand in looting, possibly from orders received.
Nero, who at the time was staying in Antium, did not return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the Gardens of Maecenas.
It proved impossible, however, to stop it from engulfing both the Palatine and the house and all their surroundings.
Still, as a relief to the homeless and fugitive populace, he opened the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own Gardens, and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude
The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighbouring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces
. Yet his measures, popular as their character might be, failed of their effect; for
the report had spread that, at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had mounted his private stage, and typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the destruction of Troy
Nero turned to account the ruins of his fatherland by building a palace
, the marvels of which were to consist not so much in gems and gold, materials long familiar and vulgarized by luxury, as in fields and lakes and the air of solitude given by wooded ground alternating with clear tracts and open landscapes...
But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order
. Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and
punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians
. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car.
Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man
"He devised a new form for the buildings of the city and in front of the houses and apartments he erected porches, from the flat roofs of which fires could be fought; and these he put up at his own cost. He had also planned to extend the walls as far as Ostia and to bring the sea from there to Rome by a canal.
During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale.
Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.
He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.

But he showed no greater mercy to the people or the walls of his capital. When someone in a general conversation said: "When I am dead, be earth consumed by fire," he rejoined "Nay, rather while I live," and his action was wholly in accord.
For under cover of displeasure at the ugliness of the old buildings and the narrow, crooked streets, he set fire to the city so openly that several ex-consuls did not venture to lay hands on his chamberlains although they caught them on their estates with tow and fire-brands, while some granaries near the Golden House, whose room he particularly desired, were demolished by engines of war and then set on fire, because their walls were of stone.
For six days and seven nights destruction raged, while the people were driven for shelter to monuments and tombs. At that time, besides an immense number of dwellings, the houses of leaders of old were burned, still adorned with trophies of victory, and the temples of the gods vowed and dedicated by the kings and later in the Punic and Gallic wars, and whatever else interesting and noteworthy had survived from antiquity.
Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas and exulting, as he said, in "the beauty of the flames," he sang the whole of the "Sack of Ilium," in his regular stage costume.
Furthermore, to gain from this calamity too all the spoil and booty possible, while promising the removal of the debris and dead bodies free of cost he allowed no one to approach the ruins of his own property; and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals.

Life of Nero
16 & 38
Transmission –

a single MMS
Laurentian Library MS. plut. 68.1
originally Corvey Abbey
11-16; Histories
a single MMS
originally Monte Cassino
Laurentian Library MMS 68.2]
11th C.
Books 7-10
parts 5, 6, 11 & 16

"Although he [Nero] was still very young when he occupied the throne - which he kept for as many years as his step-father -
first five years
of his reign [the quinquennium] were so splendid,
above all with regard to the enlargement of the city
, that Trajan had reason to remark many times that all other reigns were far removed from the value of Nero’s
first five years; during that period he also reduced Pontus to the status of a province by leave of Polemon, after whom it is called Pontus Polemoniacus, and likewise the Cottian Alps on the death of king Cottius
Aurelius Victor,
On the Caesars
. 5.2-4 [4th C]
I have started this essay on Clemency, Nero Caesar, in order to act for you as a sort of mirror
. I wish to reveal you to yourself, so as to show you how you will achieve the highest pleasure known to man."
On Clemency
1.1 [c.AD56 - Nero 19]
"When the death of Claudius was made public, Nero, who was seventeen years old,
went forth to the watch between the sixth and the seventh hour
, since no earlier time for the formal beginning of his reign seemed suitable because of bad omens throughout the day.
Hailed emperor on the steps of the Palace, he was carried in a litter to the praetorian camp, and after a brief address to the soldiers was taken from there to the House, which he did not leave until evening, of the unbounded honours that were heaped upon him refusing but one, the title of father of his country, and that because of his youth
Then beginning with a display of filial piety, he gave Claudius a magnificent funeral, spoke his eulogy, and
deified him
. He paid the highest honours to the memory of his father Domitius"
Life of Nero
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