Nero

Nero by Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen (1620) (Wikimedia Commons)

Nero by Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen (1620) (Wikimedia Commons)

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was the fifth emperor of Rome and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which had been founded by Augustus.

Nero's mother was Agrippina, a ruthless and single-minded political operative in Rome. A member of the imperial family, she had conspired against her brother, Caligula, who had her exiled. After Caligula's assassination, Claudius came to the throne. He brought Agrippina back from exile and later married her, though she was his niece. Claudius adopted Nero, even though he already had a son, Britannicus, by his previous wife.

When Nero came of age, Agrippina allegedly murdered her husband in order to put her son on the throne. Before too long, Britannicus was also killed.

Nero - if the ancient historians are to be believed - was a cruel and foolish ruler, who not only killed Agrippina (after several ingenious attempts), but also slaughtered many of those around him. Most infamously, he is supposed to have deliberately started the Great Fire of Rome, playing his lyre and singing the Hymn of Troy as he watched the city burn.

Following a rebellion by the Roman general (and later emperor) Galba, and with insufficient military support in Italy, Nero committed suicide. With his death, the bloodline of Augustus was practically extinguished. The dynasty had murdered so many of its own members in the course of a century of intrigues that no candidate remained with a credible claim to rule Rome.

The Torches of Nero  by Henryk Siemiradzki (Wikimedia Commons). According to the ancient historian Tacitus, Nero used Christians as human torches, part of a massacre that followed the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.

The Torches of Nero by Henryk Siemiradzki (Wikimedia Commons). According to the ancient historian Tacitus, Nero used Christians as human torches, part of a massacre that followed the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.