Emperor nero statueDepending on what you’ve heard about Nero, you might not think there can be “fun facts about Nero.” But, you would be mistaken. Emperor Nero was the last emperor in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was born in A.D. 37, became emperor in A.D. 54 and committed suicide in A.D. 68. In 14 short years as emperor, Nero became one of the most infamous men in history. The history of Nero is muddled with myth, and at this point, it is difficult to distinguish the facts about Nero from the legends surrounding him. Nero’s mother, Agrippina, married the emperor Claudius and made sure that her son was adopted by the emperor and received all the benefits of the lineage. Agrippina all but ruled the empire for Claudius, and expected to do the same for her son. However, Nero had her murdered less than two years after becoming emperor.

All’s Well, That Ends Well

Emperor nero statue domus aurea RomeAs emperor, and despite his legacy, Nero enjoyed popular support. Even the killing of his mother was quickly forgiven and explained away by contemporary senators and philosophers. While contemporaries appreciated much of his work for Rome and the arts, they began to turn on him over treatment of his wives. He murdered his first wife after banishing her and possibly killed his second wife after kicking her pregnant belly. His brutal and sadistic execution of Christians weren’t unpopular at the time (Christians were a small and unpopular sect), but as Christians rose to prominence in the empire, Nero’s actions were viewed in a much harsher light.

Here are 7 fun facts about Nero!

  1. He was Tutored by the great Stoic philosopher Seneca.
    While it might not seem like it, Nero received training in the most stringently virtuous school of philosophy of the day. Seneca ended up being an apologist for Nero, however, even writing his excuse for the execution of his mother to the Roman senate.
  2. It was risky being close to Nero.
    Nero was responsible for the deaths of many of his most intimate acquaintances, including his mother, his first and likely second wife, and his tutor and trusted advisor Seneca whom he ordered to commit suicide, who, like a good Stoic, complied.
  3. Nero did not play the fiddle as Rome burned .
    This is perhaps the most enduring legacy of Nero, and is patently false. Nero was not in Rome when it caught fire (though he quickly returned) and the fiddle had not been invented yet.
  4. Nero did make use of the area cleared by the fire.
     Nero rebuilt much of Rome after it burned to the ground and contemporaries praised his efforts to bring the city back from the ashes. Much of the Roman city center was the result of Nero’s efforts.
  5. Nero loved Greek Culture.
    Nero was passionate about Greek culture. Greece had been under Roman rule for two centuries, and Nero visited Greece, participated in stage plays, musical performances, and athletic competitions, including the Olympics. He gave them their freedom, which meant tax exemption.
  6. The Greeks “loved” Nero.
     The Greeks delayed the Olympics by a year just so Nero could compete in them. He won numerous events, including a chariot race where he fell out of the chariot and didn’t finish. He brought home 1,808 first prizes for his artistic presentations. He performed in plays and played concerts. Surely none of the awards were granted because he was the ruler of the Greeks and known for his sadism.
  7. Nero fell out of favor over money.
    After all that Nero did to gain his bad reputation, it was a lack of money and high taxes that ultimately cost him the empire, and his life. After the Pretorian Guard abandoned him, Nero committed suicide. Even in death he was still quite popular with many Romans.

Despot Emperor or Complex Character?

While Emperor Nero did plenty to deserve his reputation as a violent and volatile emperor, the history of Nero shows that his reputation suffered the most after Christianity became a powerful influence in the empire. In his own day, he was quite popular. One contemporary, Suetonius, even wrote, “He let slip no opportunity for acts of generosity and mercy, or even for displaying his affability.”

Nero was a much more complex figure than many of the popular legends reveal. So whether one considers these fun facts about Nero or not, at least they portray a clearer picture of the man.


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