4 – He Was a Murderer
When he wasn’t indulging in wild sexual behavior or gluttony, Nero enjoyed a spot of murder. He had his first wife Octavia banished because of alleged adultery and also because she was infertile. Not content with this punishment, Nero had her executed in 62 AD. The emperor married Sabina in the same year and had a child that died in infancy. In 65 AD, Nero reportedly kicked his wife in the stomach when she was pregnant with their second child, and this action caused her death. The following year, Nero married Statilia Messina after forcing her husband to commit suicide. He ‘married’ Sporus in 67 AD because he apparently bore a resemblance to Sabina.
One of his most infamous acts was the persecution of the Christians whom he blamed for the Great Fire of Rome. Nero did this to deflect the blame as it was believed he was responsible for the blaze. The Christians were an easy target because they were a small and immensely disliked minority in Rome. According to Tacitus, those who were rounded up and arrested first confessed that they were Christians. Next, they were convicted, not for the crime of burning the city but for ‘hating the human race.’
Their horrific deaths were turned into a sport. First of all, Christians were covered with the hides of wild beasts and savaged to death by dogs. Alternatively, they were tied to crosses and set alight. As I mentioned in #3, some of these Christians would be set on fire for the amusement of guests at Nero’s parties.
At the beginning of his reign, Nero promised to give the Senate the kind of powers it had under the Republic. By 65 AD, the Senate complained that it had no power left and this resulted in the Pisonian Conspiracy. A leading statesman by the name of Gaius Calpurnius Piso plotted the assassination of Nero and intended to become emperor. A slave called Epicharis revealed the plot to a fleet captain without giving names. He turned her in and under torture; she offered more details including names although she did not completely betray the plot.
The conspiracy was eventually revealed by a freedman named Milichus and Nero ordered the plotters, including Piso and Seneca, to commit suicide. Over a dozen conspirators committed suicide or were executed as the emperor showed no mercy. The plot was a failure, but it was the beginning of the end for Nero.