Emperor Nero


Nero's reign has mostly been portrayed as a time of vice and tyranny.


Here is a table of events in the reign:



  • Nero becomes princeps: ‘Quinquennium Neronis’ begins

  • Murder of Junius Silanus, death of Narcissus

  • Parthian War


  • Nero is Consul for the first time
  • Fall of Pallas, murder of Britannicus
  • Nero and Acte; Agrippina loses influence


  • Nero’s debauchery around the town
  • The Senate tries to pass a law giving masters the right to revoke the freedom of their freedmen, but it is rejected by Nero
  • Lawyers fees limited, and a cap placed on fines and bail; corrupt officials arrested
  • Control of state finances moved from the quaestors to the prefects


  • Nero is Consul for the second time
  • New amphitheatre is built in the Campus Martius
  • Huge congiarium to the people of Rome
  • The Senate passes a law: when slaves in a household rebel, all the freedmen of that house must die with them


  • Nero is Consul for the third time
  • Nero falls in love with Poppaea Sabina
  • Nero frequents the Mulvian Bridge
  • Nero reduced indirect taxes; grain ships not taxed at all


  • Agrippina is murdered
  • Juvenalia games – Nero’s first performances as a kithera-player and charioteer; he forms a fan-club called the ‘Augustiani


  • Nero is Consul for the fourth time
  • Conquest of Armenia
  • Neronia games
  • Rubellius Plautus exiled


  • Bouddica’s revolt
  • The Senate passes a law: when one slave commits a crime, all the slaves in the household must be punished.


  • The maiestas law is re-instated
  • Death of Burrus, Seneca is accused and begs to retire
  • Tigellinus in command of the Praetorian Guard
  • Divorce, then exile and execution of Octavia; Nero marries Poppaea
  • Parthian war renewed


  • Nero’s baby daughter born, but dies soon after


  • Nero performs in Naples
  • Great Fire of Rome; huge relief effort, Christians executed
  • Work begins on Domus Aureus, leading to accusations that Nero started the fire.
  • Coinage devalued by 2% (aureus) and 8% (denarius) to pay for the huge expenditure


  • Pisonian Conspiracy to restore the Republic
  • Seneca killed, death of Poppaea


  • Thrasea Paetus is put on trial and commits suicide
  • Nero marries Statilia Messalina
  • Tiridates of Armenia pays homage to Nero in Rome
  • Revolt in Judaea (Vespasian destroys the Temple in Jerusalem, ad70)


  • Nero takes part in the Panhellenic Games, winning 1808 prizes
  • Isthmus Canal begun
  • Nero frees Greece from taxes and grants self-administration


  • Vindex Revolt in Gaul (eventually crushed by Verginius Rufus)
  • Galba is proclaimed emperor in Spain; the Senate declares him emperor
  • Nero commits suicide, saying: ‘Qualis artifax pereo


This sestertius from ad64 shows Nero (seated on the tribunal, right) with the Praetorian Prefect Tigellinus beside him, whilst in the foreground an official gives aid to a citizen.  Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and poetry watches in the background.



The following web pages will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant sections of the set
OCR Textbook.


You MUST read Mr Clare's article - The Singing Dilemma - on the historiography

And this article looks at the unpleasant subject So – did Nero commit incest with his mother?







Our opinion of Nero's reign has been fatally damaged by the acounts of Tacitus and Suetonius - even though they are massively unreliable. 

Imagine that Tacitus and Suetonius did not exist. Taking Fergus Millar's dictum (1977) that ‘the emperor was what the emperor did’ - i.e. using only the facts in the table - analyse the events to make FIVE comments on 'the reign of Nero'. Then click the yellow pointer to compare the comments that my pupils made:

  •  Analysis of the reign of Nero from the facts:
    • •  The Quinquennium: at first Nero ruled well - he promised the Senate in his first speech, he took measures to root out corruption, and he abolished indirect taxes on grain (which would help the poor). But was this Nero or - as Willian Smith (1849) said: 'the words of Seneca, uttered by the mouth of Nero'.
    • •  The reign BEGAN (first speech) by rejecting the way Claudius had ruled, and mocking Claudius (this involved also, therefore, a rejection of Agrippina's rule).
    • •  Seneca did NOT influence Nero towards democracy or republicanism; De Clementia shows that he believed in a benign absolute monarchy.
    • •   There was a streak of Panhellenism in Nero's reign - c.f. his performances, the Panhellenic Games, the abolition of taxes and the granting of devolution to Greece.
    • •  There seems to have been a significant change of direction in Nero's reign after ad59 - possible causes:
         - Acte started his breach with his mother, ending with her murder
         - increasing debauchery and profligacy (e.g Mulvian Bridge)
         - Seneca and Burrus had failed him during the murder crisis
         - his insistence on taking part in the Juvenalia was a mark of his over-ruling Seneca and Burrus
         - he shaved his beard in ad59 (i.e. became an adult) and may have seen this as a defining moment
         - it may just be a case of the power going to his head.