Why the year '68' is important


68 BC


Nero was the fifth Roman emperor and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He is remembered as an ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader.

Nero was born near Rome on 15 December 37 AD and was known as a child as Domitius. Through his mother Agrippina he was the only surviving direct male descendant of the emperor Augustus. In 49 AD, Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and began to promote her own son's claim to the succession, at the expense of Claudius's own son, Britannicus. She persuaded Claudius to adopt Domitius - who now took the name Nero - as his son and when it seemed as if Britannicus would be favoured, she had Claudius poisoned and Nero became emperor.

Agrippina clearly wished to rule through Nero, and her portrait briefly appeared on the coins alongside his. But the new emperor paid more heed to his advisors Burrus and the philosopher Seneca, and the result was five years of exemplary government. Britannicus was poisoned by Nero a year into the new reign and in 59 AD, he had his mother put to death. In 62 AD, Burrus died and Seneca retired, removing the key restraining influences on Nero. He divorced his wife Octavia, who was later executed, and married his mistress Poppaea. Two years later, much of Rome was destroyed in a fire, for which Nero was blamed, although this is now regarded as unlikely. Nero diverted blame from himself by accusing the Christians - then a minor religious sect - of starting the fire, leading to a campaign of persecution. He provided help for Romans made homeless by the fire and set about the necessary rebuilding of the city, appropriating a large area for a new palace for himself. This was the architecturally and artistically innovative 'Golden House' (Domus Aurea).

Meanwhile, the Roman empire was in turmoil. Nero established Armenia as a buffer state against Parthia (Iran), but only after a costly war. There were revolts - in Britain (60 AD - 61 AD), led by Boudicca, and Judea (66 AD - 70 AD). In 65 AD, Gaius Calpurnius Piso led a conspiracy against the emperor and in the purge that followed, a number of prominent Romans were executed, including Seneca and his nephew, the epic poet Lucan. In 65 AD, Nero is believed to have kicked his wife Poppaea to death. His next wife was Statilia Messalina, whose first husband Nero had executed. In 68 AD, the Gallic and Spanish legions, along with the Praetorian Guards, rose against Nero and he fled Rome. The senate declared him a public enemy and he committed suicide on 9 June 68 AD. Disputes over his succession led to civil war in Rome.




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