NERO (Nee' roh) Personal name meaning, “brave.” Roman emperor A.D. 54-68.

Nero became emperor in A.D. 57 at the age of thirteen. He succeeded his stepfather, Claudius, who was probably murdered at the behest of Agrippina, Nero’s mother.

For the first years of his reign, Nero was content to be dominated by his mother and his two mentors, Burrus and Seneca. The latter was a leading Stoic philosopher who was able, for a time, to moderate Nero’s more excessive tendencies.

As he grew older, Nero threw off these moderating influences and took control. To remove opposition, he probably was involved in the death of his half brother, Britannicus, and he had his mother murdered.

Nero was a complex personality. He could be extremely cruel, and his life was marked with debauchery and excess. Yet he was also a poet, an actor, a musician, and an athlete. He attempted to turn the crowds of Rome away from the brutal gladiatorial contests to an appreciation of the Greek-style Olympic games and other forms of cultural competition.

During Nero’s rule the Great Fire broke out in Rome (A.D. 64). Much of the city was destroyed including Nero’s palace. The story, probably true in part, goes that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Nero took measures to provide relief for those affected by the fire. Still he could not dispel the rumor that he had the fire set. People knew that he planned to build a much larger palace for himself and they reasoned that he used the fire to clear off the land. Nero felt the need to divert suspicion to another group. He selected the Christians as his scapegoats. He claimed that they had set the fire. A systematic persecution of the Christians followed. Because of his life-style and the persecution, many Christians viewed him as the antichrist.

Nero neglected the army. This proved to be his downfall. He lost the loyalty of large segments of the army. Finally, several frontier armies revolted. Nero’s support at home melted away. Realizing that the end was inevitable and near, he committed suicide by stabbing himself in A.D. 68. See Rome.

Gary Poulton (From Holman's Multimedia Dictionary)

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