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Concluding Nero

Vasiliy_smirnov_Death of Nero

Vasily Smirnov, Death of Nero (Commons)

And so the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to a strange end. In a ruined villa, surrounded by his freedmen, the last Julio-Claudian killed himself.


  • Given his reputation, one wonders why his overthrow took so long?
  • Why did the Roman elite, especially those under attack, not remove him?
  • Is the tradition overly hostile towards him?
  • Why did his position collapse when it did?

More broadly, we need to assess Nero’s legacy. What does Nero tell us about the imperial position and power in Roman society.

  1. If we look at the timeline of Nero’s reign, in spite of all the criticism in our sources, there is no sign of serious discontent until the Pisonian conspiracy of 65. The disintegration of his political position thereafter was rapid.
  2. The Pisonian conspiracy failed in part because the conspirators were unwilling to act. The reluctance to act seems to have continued until 68 when the Vindex revolt slowly pushed the aristocracy to rebel.
  3. It looks as though the Roman elite wanted to control the political circumstances of Nero’s removal: they needed a viable plan for after Nero. If they did not have that, they preferred to wait. Nero survived in part because there was no better alternative.
  4. Opposition was real, but it was also marginal. Thrasea Paetus and his group were not in themselves a real threat to Nero, though they contributed to the undermining of the political consensus supporting Nero.
  5. Up until 65, Nero’s political and cultural dominance was unquestioned. Some may have disliked his behaviour and cultural politics, but many others seem to have supported him. We are not, therefore, looking at the same political crisis that beset Gaius.
  6. Nero’s political and military administration seems to have functioned well or relatively so.
  7. Nero’s treatment of the senate and his family cannot be whitewashed. These pages provide a very long list of the dead. Roman imperial politics was a blood-soaked business. But this tyranny does not seem in itself to have taken as incompatible with his continued rule. It was an expected part of Roman political behaviour.
  8. In the end, Nero’s failure was complete. The generals would not support him. There was no loyalty among the senators. The soldiers could see benefit in another emperor. The people of Rome despised him. He had no constituency loyal to him. Nero seems to have thought they would support him because he was Nero. But the political elites and the people of Rome appear to have been more calculating in their loyalty and support.
  9. The dynasty established by Augustus had lasted a century. With the death of Nero, there appears to have been no move for a return to the Republic. Rome wanted a different emperor, but wanted an emperor.


Nero                                                                                                       The Civil Wars of 68 – 70


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