Statue of Emperor Nero

On this day in history: Death of Emperor Nero

History of Italy News

On 9th June 68 AD, Emperor Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, met his end in a dramatic manner. His death marked the conclusion of a tumultuous reign that began with promise but descended into tyranny and chaos.

Born on 15th December 37 AD, in Antium (modern Anzio), Nero was originally named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. His mother, Agrippina the Younger, was a powerful woman with imperial ambitions. She married her uncle, Emperor Claudius, and persuaded him to adopt her son.

Following Claudius’ suspicious death in 54 AD, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Agrippina, Nero ascended to the throne at the tender age of 16.

The Golden Years

The early years of Nero’s reign, often referred to as the quinquennium Neronis, were marked by competent governance. Under the guidance of his mother Agrippina, his tutor Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect Burrus, Nero implemented policies that benefited the empire.

He focused on reducing taxes, enhancing public infrastructure, and supporting arts and culture. His initial popularity was bolstered by these reforms and also his efforts to maintain peace and stability.

Nero’s theatre uncovered in Rome

Descent into ‘Madness’

However, Nero’s character soon revealed darker traits. Ambitious and paranoid, he gradually distanced himself from his advisors and sought absolute power. In 59 AD, he ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina, accusing her of plotting against him.

This act of matricide, not entirely unknown in the Roman world, still shocked Rome and signalled a turning point in his rule.

Nero’s later years were marked by extravagance, cruelty, and increasing detachment from reality. He indulged in lavish public entertainments, including musical and theatrical performances in which he participated, and extravagant building projects like the Domus Aurea, a massive palace complex. These expenditures strained the empire’s finances.

In 64 AD, the Great Fire of Rome devastated much of the city. Rumours spread that Nero had started the fire to clear land for his new palace. In response, he blamed the Christians, initiating brutal persecutions that earned him further infamy.

Downfall and Death

Nero’s erratic behaviour and oppressive policies led to widespread discontent. In 68 AD, rebellion broke out. The governor of Gaul, Gaius Julius Vindex, and the governor of Hispania, Servius Sulpicius Galba, declared their opposition to Nero. The Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s personal bodyguard, also turned against him.

Faced with imminent capture, Nero fled Rome. He took refuge in a villa owned by his freedman, Phaon, accompanied by three other freedmen, Epaphroditos, Neophytus, and Sporus. Nero had hoped to escape to Egypt but realised there was no one left to provide the means. He asked the four freedmen to begin digging his grave, in readiness for his death by suicide.

In the meantime, the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy. Soon a courier arrived with news of the Senate’s declaration and their intention to have him beaten to death in the Forum. Armed men had been despatched to apprehend him.

On June 9, 68 AD, as soldiers closed in, Nero chose suicide over capture. However, when it came to the ultimate drama of taking his own life he was found wanting and begged one of his freedmen to help. Out of loyalty, Epaphroditos obliged and plunged a knife into the emperor’s chest. According to historical accounts, Nero’s final words were, “Qualis artifex pereo,” meaning “What an artist dies in me.”


Nero’s death plunged Rome into a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors, as various factions vied for control. His rule left a lasting legacy of tyranny and decadence, and he is often remembered as one of Rome’s most infamous emperors.

Despite his many faults, Nero’s reign also had moments of cultural and architectural significance.

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