The “madness” of the emperors: Nero II Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 in Roman culture

As we said in the previous post, at first Nero’s government was totally dominated by the imposing presence of his mother. The new emperor was a docile and timid boy who ruled in the shadow of his mother.

Nero was also fascinated by the festivities so much that any occasion was an excuse to organize: the appearance of his first beard led to the organization of the first Youth Games. However, this good idea would lead to the onset of depravity and madness inside the imperial palace.

In its early days, other pleasant details of the new Emperor surprised the people. His great expenses to organize all kinds of amusements and entertainment for the Romans, acting as a “kind father” that prevented the death of gladiators fighting the circus (including prisoners of war and sentenced by the courts). In addition, as proclaimed universal artist, he insisted on designing the new houses in the city while attempting to limit their excessive luxury. In turn, he planned to extend the walls of Rome to the port of Ostia.

However, after the death of his mother, Nero strongly changed the direction of his government. He ordered the execution of his two teachers, Burrus and Seneca, and other artists and writers (as the poet Lucan, Seneca’s nephew). Progressively he introduced an era of delusions and murderous madness. However, before making any hasty conclusion about his changing government, it would be useful to know that his teacher and philosopher from Cordoba, Seneca, had embarked in a conspiracy to kill Nero and replace him with his former preceptor from Cordoba.

But this reason does not resolve the reason for the categorical change of Nero. So why happened the change?

One possible answer is the influence of heredity: as we know, Nero belonged to the Julia-Claudia family, a dynasty with representatives so unusual and with mental disorders as Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus or Tiberius.


Gaius Julius Caesar was a sexual freak, he did not distinction between men and women, although women were (from unknown women to the wives of senators), who were most at risk (“Lock up your wives, the bald is coming! “remained as cliché that warned of the raids of the general assassinated by Brutus). Augustus, the first Roman emperor had a weak health, he could not bear nor cold nor heat, he was very short, limping and had blemished skin. As his adoptive father and relative, he was considered bisexual, and as with Julius Caesar, women could not be very safe at his side. Finally, Tiberius met all the debauchery and no one doubted that he was possessed by a dangerous kind of schizophrenia, whose symptoms certainly appeared sharpened in Caligula. In the same family, with more or less close relationships there were Germanicus, Livia Drusilla or her predecessor, Claudio, an emperor regarded as stupid.




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