One of history’s most depraved rulers, the Roman emperor Nero (37 – 68 AD), who ruled from 54 to 68, ascended the throne as a teenager and was under his mother’s thumb early in his reign. And not just her thumb: she seems to have controlled Nero with incest, as described by contemporary sources: “whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by stains in his clothing“. When he grew older and sought to assert his independence, Nero’s mother resisted ceding power and kept meddling in government. So he decided to murder her, resorting to elaborate means to make it look accidental. She survived each attempted “accidental death”, so Nero finally had some sailors club her to death with oars.
Once freed of his mother, he gave free rein to his impulses. He saw himself as an artistic avant-garde type, and so liked to shock contemporary sensibilities. Open displays of perverse and deviant sexual practices were among the easiest ways to do so. He reportedly “defiled every single part of his body“, and when he tired of run of the mill perversions, “he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freedman Doryphorus.”
At some point, he grew infatuated with a youth named Sporus, and married him in a public display calculated to shock: “He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife.”
He liked to organize and preplan his perversions, to the point of setting up sex rest stops in advance of his route during vacations, or as sources of the era put it: “Whenever he drifted down the Tiber to Ostia, or sailed about the Gulf of Baiae, booths were set up at intervals along the banks and shores, fitted out for debauchery, while bartering matrons played the part of inn-keepers and from every hand solicited him to come ashore“.
Between such perversions and misgovernment – he drained the treasury with extravagant spending, while neglecting the state and entrusting its running to corrupt henchmen who wrecked it – Nero doomed himself. In 68 AD, generals and provincial governors across the empire rebelled, the Senate declared Nero a public enemy, and his Praetorian Guard abandoned him. Fleeing Rome, he toyed with throwing himself upon the mercy of the public and begging its forgiveness, but changed his mind after being told that he would probably be torn apart by a mob if sighted in public. Out of options, Nero had a freedman stab him to death, while crying: “Oh, what an artist dies in me!”