I think that to understand and answer this question you must first consider what things Nero did or is believed to have done that gave him this reputation. After all, everyone wants to think an Emperor was evil or had greedy intentions – that’s just people wanting something dramatic.
After reading a bit more on the topic, I’ve realised that four main points contribute towards Nero being “demonic”. Before you read these, please consider that I have picked my personal opinion of the four main points, and simplified things so as not to get to complicated.
1. Nero tried and succeeded in poisoning the rightful heir to Emperor, Claudius’ son Britannicus
The new Emperor feared that the plebeians would come to like Britannicus, the legitimate son of Claudius, better than they liked him. He also know that Britannicus actually had a better claim to being Emperor than he did.
Nero solved this problem by poisoning his food, so at a feast, he unfortunately died.
2. He had his mother killed
Nero’s mother, Agrippina, was crucial in placing him at the helm of Rome. Claudius was seen as an excellent Emperor in the short time when he first ruled, and his mother took advantage of his popularity and success by boasting to other people, claiming that she had the greatest influence in this. In fury, the Emperor reduced her rights, refused her protection from the Praetorian Guard and used many other means to prevent her from interacting with his contacts and personal business.
Agrippina tried to regain control by using Britannicus, but this failed, and he died. Nero got his revenge by organising her murder, and she was stabbed. This event would scar him forever. However, Agrippina was a devious woman enough – a topic I will not get into here.
3. He “fiddled while Rome burned”
It’s the tale we all know. Apparently Nero set fire to Rome so he could build his massive Golden Palace on the site of the Palatine Hill. Fiddling away as the fire spread, people ran, clutching their possessions and calling for help from the Gods.
Christians all over the empire were blamed for the incident.
4. There was great happiness at the end of his reign
It is said that people walked about praising and rejoicing that they had finally been freed of Emperor Nero’s evils. This just proves that the people were glad to be rid of him. His father even remarked that anything produced by him and Agrippina would be an abomination.
But was Emperor Nero all bad?
When Rome first saw the new Emperor in power, they were happy, to say the least. Nobility thought that this would be the start of a new golden age of the Empire, and he seemed to encourage this.
Here’s a list of all the good things he did:
- Reduced taxes
- There was much fun in Rome – contest and mass eating
- An increase in power for the senate (but probably only for the Emperor’s own purposes)
- Much success with the war and Parthians
- Rebuilding of the capital was actually payed for by him – so did he really start the fire? Many historians nowadays disagree, and it seems logical. However, I’m not starting that discussion today
- Agrippina was actually interfering with and damaging Nero’s rule, so she deserved her murder in a way
You can really see that Nero started off very well. In fact, we cannot be sure he was the terrible tyrant we think he was – we just don’t have enough clear sources to let us know for certain. I reckon he was quite greedy, which we do know about from looking at his possessions, and his hidden anger exploded when people threatened his ambitions.
The rest is up to you – do a bit of research and decide for yourself. Was Nero really that bad? Or was he like any other Emperor, but struggling from dangers in multiple directions and desperate to hold it all together? It’s just one of history’s many controversies.
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