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Nero Commits Suicide As His Enemies Closed In

Today on June 9, 68 CE, Nero, perhaps the most infamous emperor of Rome, committed suicide after thirteen years of tyrannical rule.

At the age of 13, Nero was adopted by the reigning-emperor Claudius (his great-uncle), who subsequently named him as his sole successor to the throne. On October 14, 54, the Roman Senate proclaimed Nero as the fifth emperor of Roman following the sudden death of Claudius. It's widely believed Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, had a hand in orchestrating Claudius' death. Classic sources suggest that she fed Claudius poisoned mushrooms. Many credit Agrippina with being the mastermind behind his ascension to power. Yet the young emperor eventually grew tired of his mother's constant interference and conspiring nature. Tensions escalated between them, and Nero had her banished from the capital. Five years later, he had Agrippina stabbed to death in her villa.

Nero ruled for over 13 years and was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty — the first imperial family to rule over the Roman Empire. He had a notorious reputation that was outmatched by few in history. He's predominantly remembered for his debauchery, political murders, and harsh persecution of the Christians. In some ways, he was simply destined to be a tyrannical ruler. His predecessors, namely Tiberius and Caligula, were also distinctly cruel emperors — the apple certainly didn't fall from the tree.

Rome's senators and elite class viewed Nero's behavior as utterly disgraceful and inappropriate. The emperor was known to be particularly ruthless toward anyone that opposed him — sometimes opting to burn his enemies alive. He often cast blame on the ever-growing Christian population for pretty much anything. Throughout his reign, he experienced several major events, including a major revolt in Britain from the famous Iceni Queen Boudica, the Great Fire of Rome, the First Jewish-Roman War, and the successful expansion into the Parthian Empire.

As a patron of the arts and athletics, he often made public appearances as an actor, poet, and charioteer — all of which was very unusual for an emperor. He even drove a chariot at the Olympics games. Nero also had a passion for architecture and development. He sought to transform the capital with a new massive public works program following the great fire. Some have even suggested the emperor intentionally caused the fire to make more room for future development. Either way, Nero looked to raise taxes on the middle and upper classes to fund his projects — a move that certainly did not sit well with the nobles. Over time, Nero's taxes created more and more political enemies.

By 68 CE, uprisings were breaking out across the empire, especially in Gaul, Spain, and North Arica. And the emperor was wholly ineffective and disinterested in dealing with the problems. In response, a prominent Roman governor named Galba proclaimed himself legate of the Senate. The Praetorian Guard (the emperor's elite personal bodyguards) quickly renounced their support for Nero and declared their allegiance to Galba. The Roman senators promptly followed suit.

Nero, now an enemy of the state, was hunted down like a common criminal. The emperor attempted to flee but did not get very far. With word of his enemies closing in, Nero decided to take his own life. His last words were said to have been "what an artist dies in me!" Nero's death sparked a tumultuous period known as the 'Year of the Four Emperors.'


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