However, his public performances were nothing compared to what was to come a few years later during the Olympic Games. Though the games were not scheduled to be held in 67 CE, Nero forcibly changed the year of the games so that he may participate as a competitor while on an extended tour of Greece. While this may not seem as a big deal to a modern person, the Olympic Games were a sacred part of Greek culture. Changing the ancient Olympic calendar was deeply offensive. The ancient Olympics were not secular events as they are today. They were sacred occasions infused with religious meaning and spiritual gravity. Therefore, strict, religious-like rules were applied.
It was within this harsh and sanctified context that Nero committed some of his most eccentric and public offenses. Changing the revered Olympic calendar was not his only transgression. He changed the character of the games themselves, introducing artistic competitions for the first time such as lyre-playing, trumpeting, formalized heraldic contests, as well as acting and singing competitions. He entered many of these contests himself, despite not being Greek-born. Of course, he won all the contests he entered, further shifting the nature of the games from the sacred to the profane.
As outrageous as were the creation of contests specifically to indulge his personal interests, even greater offenses were to come. He entered a chariot race in which participants were supposed to use only four horses. Unbelievably, he arrived with ten horses. Incensed, but unwilling to stop him, officials allowed Nero to participate in the race. Despite such a massive advantage, he did not fair well. Nero was no athlete, known to be overweight and out of shape.
Shortly after the race began, he lost control of his chariot while entering a turn, injuring himself so severely, it almost killed him. Nero’s nearly fatal accident was not the most outrageous part of the race, however, as he was proclaimed the winner, even though he was unable to finish the race, due to severe injuries.
It is interesting to speculate what other sorts of madness Nero may have inflicted upon Greek spiritual culture had he the opportunity to stay longer, as he intended. However, his trip to Greece was shortened, as his advisors implored him to return to Rome, where a plot against his life was unfolding. His various indulgences and growing discontent with his rule among powerful elements of Roman society forced Nero to flee the city in disguise. Nonetheless, it was not long before he was found. Terrified of a painful and humiliating execution, he decided instead to commit suicide.
Ultimately, Nero died just as he lived – conceited and indulged. Unable to end his life on his own, he received help from a trusted advisor. A self-centered egotist until the end, before a knife was put to his throat, the Olympic victor melancholically proclaimed “what an artist dies in me!“