Nero(37–68 A.D.), emperor of Rome, 54–68. Nero was noted for his cruel and murderous rule, but also for his passionate interest in the arts. He was the last of the emperors related to Julius Caesar and Augustus.
Nero's original name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. His father was a Roman nobleman. In 48 his widowed mother, Agrippina, married Emperor Claudius. Claudius made his stepson heir to the empire in 50 under the name of Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. In 53 Nero married Claudius' daughter, Octavia. The emperor died in 54, probably a victim of poisoning by Agrippina.
During Nero's early reign, the young emperor displayed mildness and clemency. He received wise counsel from the philosopher Seneca. In 59, however, Nero had his mother murdered, and soon after, his wife. He indulged himself and scandalized Rome by public performances of acting, singing, playing the harp, and driving chariots, activities that were considered beneath the dignity of his office.
In 64 a fire destroyed much of Rome. Nero rebuilt the city at great expense, laying out broad streets in a rectangular pattern. He also planned to build a giant imperial palace and park, with a 120-foot (37-m) statue of himself. A popular, though untrue, rumor spread that Nero had set the fire and then sung one of his poems while the city burned. (The more recent story that he played the fiddle while Rome burned apparently originated from this ancient rumor.)
Nero accused the small Roman community of Christians of starting the fire. Some Christians were thrown to the lions in the amphitheater; others were dipped in pitch and made to burn at night like torches. According to tradition, Saint Peter and Saint Paul were put to death during Nero's persecution.
In 65, a conspiracy against Nero was discovered, and he had many innocent persons killed, including Seneca. During 67–68, while discontent spread, Nero toured Greece, entering acting, musical, and poetry competitions. In 68 a rebellion broke out in Spain, led by the proconsul Galba. Nero tried to rally the Praetorian Guard against Galba's legions, but it revolted. He planned to flee to Egypt, but escape became impossible, and he killed himself.