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Nero

Nero

 

 

NeroThe Emperor Nero, who began his reign as a virtuous and model ruler, is infamous in history not merely as the first Roman persecutor of the Christians, but as an utterly intolerable tyrant, deservedly execrated by his subjects and by posterity. He was born at Antium in December, 37 A. D. His original name was Lucius Domitius. He was a son of Cneius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was notorious for his crimes, and his mother was the infamous Agrippina, great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus and the wife of the Emperor Claudius. Nero's early training and education were directed by his mother. In 49 A.D. the young Domitius was betrothed to Octavia, a daughter of Claudius, and in the next year Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt her ,son, who then assumed the name of Nero Claudius Caesar. By adopting him into the Claudian family, the emperor placed him formally on the same line of succession with his own son Britannicus.

 

Nero's education was directed by the eminent philosopher Seneca, whom Agrippina chose for his tutor about 50 A.D. He is said to have made great progress in the Greek language, music, painting, magical art and dancing. By the influence of his mother he was gradually advanced toward imperial power. When he was invested with the manly gown, he was designated for consul as soon as he should reach his twentieth year. He also received the title of "Prince of the Roman Youth." Agrippina took occasion from these special distinctions to mark in every way the difference between her son as a public character, and the still infant Britannicus. At the age of sixteen he was permitted to celebrate his marriage with Octavia. On this occasion he acquired some popular favor by advocating several liberal measures in an oration composed for him by Seneca.

 

The aged emperor Claudius was poisoned by Agrippina in October, 54- A.D., and his death kept secret for many hours, while she prepared measures for the succession of Nero. The doors of the palace were suddenly opened, the death of Claudius was announced, and Nero was presented to the Praectorian guards as their master by Burrhus, their prefect. Nero was saluted as Imperator by the soldiers, and the Senate confirmed the decision of the army. Agrippina wished to reign in the name of her son, and her cruel and vindictive temper would have impelled him to acts of violence; but she was counteracted by Seneca and Burrhus, whom Nero chose for his chief ministers. Young Nero repressed the practice of delation, and in other ways made a favorable impression o.t the beginning of his reign. Agrippina caused coins to be stamped on which the heads of her son and herself were conjoined she received ambassadors and sent dispatches to foreign courts and assumed the power of life and death. The first five years of Nero's principate were long celebrated as all era of virtuous and able government. Under Seneca's guidance for Seneca was the ruling spirit of the time Nero held the balance between the Senate and the people and succeeded in gratifying both.

 

Agrippina was enraged to find that her power and influence were undermined by Seneca and Burhhus, whose plan was to govern Nero by yielding to him. She threatened to support the claim of Britannicus to the imperial throne, and hinted that he was the true and natural heir of Claudius. The jealousy of Nero was excited, and he caused Britannicus to be poisoned in 55 A.D. Already he was beginning to sink into licentiousness and debauchery. In the second year of his reign he roamed the streets disguised as a slave, attended by his boon companions, snatching the wares exposed for sale. Agrippina continued her disloyal intrigues; embraced Octavia, whom Nero utterly neglected  collected money, and caressed the officers of the legions. Having been accused of a conspiracy against Nero, she was subjected to an inquest which was conducted by Burrhus and Seneca. The accusers were perhaps unwilling to press the charge to a fatal issue, and the accused succeeded in rebutting it.

 

Nero inherited from Claudius a full treasury and a flourishing revenue, and the financial measures of his reign afford some indications of a wise and intelligent policy. More than any of his predecessors he suffered affairs to take their natural course, so that the Romans were conscious that they were ruled with a masterly inactivity. It is said that when he was required to set his name to a sentence of death, he exclaimed, I wish that I had never learned to write. But such tenderness was forgotten when he was captivated by the licentious Popprea Sabina, the wife of Salvius Otho, and one of the most dissolute women of imperial Rome. She was ambitious to share the imperial throne, and found that the death of Agrippina was necessary to her success. She persuaded Nero that his mother was conspiring against him, and Agrippina, to whom he owed his life and his throne, was put to death by his order in 60 A. D. After her death Poppa!a obtained complete sway over the tyrant, whose dissipation assumed coarser and more disgusting forms. It was at this period, in 61 A.D., that the apostle Paul arrived at Rome as a prisoner and Roman citizen, who bad appealed to Caesar. He was long detained untried, probably through the indolence of Nero, and finally, according to tradition, suffered martyrdom.

 

Burrhus having died in the year 62, the infamous Tigellinus became Nero's favorite minister. Nero divorced Octavia and married Popprea, who became empress. He entered on a new career of bolder crime and atrocity, putting to death many of the nobles who tempted him by their wealth, and at the same time he courted the favor of the rabble. He appeared as an actor on the stage; he descended into the arena and con .. tended with professional musicians; he engaged in contests of the circus. His figure, though of middle stature, was in-proportioned, the neck was thick and sensual, the stomach prominent, the legs slender.

 

In 64 A. D. the city of Rome was nearly destroyed by a conflagration, which raged for six days, and consumed many of the most venerable temples and ancient monuments. Of the fourteen wards of the city, four, it is said, were completely destroyed, and four others were seriously damaged. Nero was suspected of having set the city on fire for his amusement, and the historians, Suetonius and Dion Cassius, charge him with the deed. It is also reported that as be watched the conflagration from a tower, he chanted to his lyre the Sack of Troy. The indignation and mutinous spirit which this rumor excited in the populace he essayed to counteract by supplying their necessities with money and provisious, and erecting houses for their shelter. In order to remove suspicion from himself, the ruthless tyrant charged the crime On the Christians. Many of these innocent people were seized by his order, and some were condemned to be wrapped in pitched cloth and burned to illuminate his own garden. The trembling Christians regarded their persecutor as the dreaded Antichrist, foretold in their prophecies.

 

In the same year a conspiracy was formed against Nero, which comprised many nobles and senators, but the secret was betrayed. In the number of those who suffered death as conspirators were the poet Lucan and the philosopher Seneca, the latter being probably innocent. though that availed him not In a fit of passion the brutal Nero killed his wife Poppaea by a kick. He raised the money required for his enormous luxury by proscribing rich men and confiscating their fortunes, and he even robbed the temples. For himself he built a vast palace called the Golden House, which is supposed to have embraced several mansions on the Palatine, Esquiline and Crelian hills, connected by bridges or corridors. It included gardens, lakes and pleasure grounds. In 66 A.D., Nero visited Greece, where he remained about a year, and gratified his passion for dancing and singing in public. He also contended for prizes in the public games and national festivals. When he returned to Rome all classes were disgusted with their vicious and worthless sovereign. Soon the news arrived that Galba, a virtuous veteran, who commanded an army in Spain, had revolted in concert with Vindex, who commanded in Gaul. The Praetorian guards deserted Nero, and the Senate proclaimed him a public enemy. In this crisis he displayed abject cowardice, tearing his robes and his hair, and seeking refuge in obscure holes. Detected and about to be captured by rude soldiers, he committed suicide in June, 68 A.D. He left no children. The Roman empire became a prize to be awarded to the boldest general.

 

THE BURNING OF ROME.

 

Nero's life as Emperor was one long series of stage effects, of which the leading feature was a feverish extravagance. His return from the art-tour in Greece outdid all the triumphal processions of the past. Thousands of carriages were needed for his baggage; his sumpter-mules were shod with silver and all the towns he passed upon his way received him through a breach made in their walls, for such he heard was the sign of honor' with which their citizens were wont to welcome the Olympian victors of old days. The public works which he designed were more to feed his pride than serve the public. He wanted, like another Xerxes, to cut a canal through the Corinthian isthmus thought of making vast lakes to be supplied from the hot springs of Baire:, and schemed great works by which the sea might be brought almost to the walls of Rome.

 

But it was only by his buildings that he left enduring traces, and to this the great disaster of his times gave an unlooked for impulse. Some little shops in the low grounds near the Circus took fire by chance. The flames spread fast through the narrow streets and crowded alleys of the quarter, and soon began to climb up the higher ground to the statelier houses of the wealthy. Almost a week the fire was burning, and of the fourteen wards of the city only four escaped unharmed. Nero was at Antium when the startling news arrived, and he reached Rome too late to save his palace. He threw his gardens open to the homeless poor, lowered at once the price of corn, and had booths raised in haste to shelter them. He did not lack sympathy for the masses of the city, whose tastes he shared and catered for. And yet the story spread that the horrors of the blazing city caught his excited fancy, that he saw in it a scene worthy of all Emperor to act in, and sung the story of the fall of Troy among the crashing ruins and the fury of the flames. Even wilder fancies spread among the people: men whispered that his servants had been seen with lighted torches in their hands as they were hurrying to and fro to spread the fire. For Nero had been heard to wish that the old Rome of crooked streets and crowded lanes might be now swept clean away, that he might rebuild it on a scale of royal grandeur. Certainly he claimed for himself the lion's share of the space that the flames had cleared.

 

The palace to which the Palatine hill had given a name now took a widet range and spread to the Esquiline, including in its vast circuit long lines of porticoes, lakes, woods, and parks; while the buildings were so lavishly adorned with every art as to deserve the name of the " Golden House which the people's fancy gave to them. In its vestibule stood the colossal figure of the Emperor, one hundred and twenty feet in height, which afterwards gave its name to the Colosseum. From it stretched porticoes a mile in length, supported on triple ranges of marble pillars, leading to the lake, round which was built a mimic town, opening out into parks stocked with wild animals of every sort. The halls were lined with gold and precious stones; the banqueting-rooms were fitted with revolving roofs of ivory. perforated to scatter flowers and perfumes on the guests while shifting tables seemed to vanish of themselves and re-appear charged with richest viands. Thousands of the choicest works of art of Greece and Asia had been destroyed, but their place was taken by the paintings and the statues brought from every quarter of the empire. Nero sent special agents to ransack the cities for art-treasures, and many a town among the isles of Greece mourned in after days the visit that had despoiled it of some priceless treasure.

 

When all was done and the Emperor surveyed the work, even he was satisfied, and he cried, .. Now at least I feel that I am lodged as a man should be. If It was in balls like these that the privileged few gathered round their lord when he returned from the grave business of the circus and the stage to indulge in the pleasures of the table. Otho, the profligate dandy, who had been complaisant enough to lend his wife to Nero Tigellinus, praefect of the guards, ready to pander to his master's worst caprices Sporus, the poor eunuch, and Pythagoras, the freedman, both degraded by the mockery of marriage with the wanton prince-these, and many another whose names have not been gibbeted in history, left their memories of infamy in that " House of Gold.

 

The mood of the citizens meanwhile was dark and lowering as they brooded over their disasters, and Nero looked to find some victims to fill their thoughts or turn their suspicion from himself. The Christians were the scapegoats chosen. Confused in the popular fancy with the Jews, whose bigotry and turbulence had made them hated, looked upon askance by Roman rulers as members of secret clubs and possible conspirators disliked probably by those who knew them best for their unsocial habits or their tirades against the fashions of the times the Christians were sacrificed alike to policy and hatred. They deserved their fate, says Tacitus, not, indeed, because they were guilty of the fire, but from their hatred of mankind. There was a refinement of cruelty in their doom. Some were covered with the skins of beasts, and fierce dogs were let loose to worry them. Others were tied to stakes and smeared with tar, and then at nightfall, one after another, they were set on fire, that their burning bodies might light up Nero's gardens, while the crowds made merry with good cheer, and the Emperor looked curiously on as at the play. No wonder that ill the pages even of the heathen writers we hear something like a cry of horror, and that in the Christian literature we may trace the lurid colors of such scenes in the figures of Antichrist and in the visions of the coming judgment.-W. W. CAPES.

 

Nero

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