At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The death of Nero

Brutal emperor killed himself with help of aide


The bust of Nero in the Capitoline Museum in Rome
The bust of Nero in the Capitoline
Museum in Rome
The Roman emperor Nero, whose rule was associated with extravagance and brutality, died on this day in 68 AD in what would now be described as an assisted suicide.

Effectively deposed as emperor when simultaneous revolts in the Gallic and Spanish legions coincided with the Praetorian Guard rising against him, with Galba named as his successor, Nero fled Rome, seeking refuge from one of his few remaining loyalists.

Phaon, an imperial freedman, gave him the use of a villa four miles outside Rome along Via Salaria, where he hastened, under disguise, along with Phaon and three other freedman, Epaphroditos, Neophytus, and Sporus.

Nero had hoped to escape to Egypt but realised there was no one left to provide the means and asked the four freedmen to begin digging his grave, in readiness for his death by suicide.

In the meantime, the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy. As well as ordering the executions of numerous rivals, real or perceived, and even having his mother and two wives killed, Nero made many enemies through unpopular policies and confiscation of property.

He was suspected of starting the great fire that destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD in order to create space to build the vast Domus Aurea - a complex of palaces and pavilions in a landscaped park with an artificial lake and a gigantic bronze statue of himself. Nero blamed the fire on the small community of Christians, many of whom were put to death.

This bust of Nero can be found in the  Summer Garden in St Petersburg, Russia
This bust of Nero can be found in the
Summer Garden in St Petersburg, Russia
Nero had been unable to keep his hiding place a secret and soon a courier arrived with news of the Senate’s declaration and their intention to have him beaten to death in the Forum. Armed men had been despatched to apprehend him.

Nero was famous for his love of the theatre, which largely involved him performing on the stage quite literally in front of a captive audience, with the doors of the theatre locking the audience in.  But, according to legend, when it came to the ultimate drama of taking his own life he was found wanting and begged one of his freedmen to help. Out of loyalty, Epaphroditos obliged and plunged a knife into the emperor’s chest.

It had the desired effect. When soldiers arrived, Nero was dying and attempts to stop his bleeding so that he could be returned alive to meet his fate failed.

Ironically, after the soldiers had been despatched, the debate in the Senate had continued and Nero might have been spared.

He was the last member of the revered Julio-Claudian dynasty and many of the senators felt a loyalty to the bloodline, if not to Nero himself, who had no heir. There was talk of a compromise that would preserve Nero's life, at least so a future heir to the dynasty could be produced.

Thus the line ended after 95 years. In the interests of maintaining public order, the Senate did posthumously declare Nero a public enemy.

Galba was proclaimed the new emperor, precipitating the chaos of what became known as the year of the Four Emperors.

Nero was buried in the Mausoleum of the Domitii Ahenobarbi, in what is now the Pincian Hill area of Rome, where the Villa Borghese stands.

The small side arches of the Ponte Salario are thought to be part of the original Roman structure
The small side arches of the Ponte Salario are thought to
be part of the original Roman structure
Travel tip:

The Via Salaria ran from Porta Salaria in Rome’s Aurelian Walls to what was then Castrum Truentinum - Porto d'Ascoli today - on the Adriatic coast, a distance of 242 km (150 miles), passing through Reate (Rieti) and Asculum (Ascoli Piceno). It was originally built for the transportation of salt. Today, Via Salaria (SS4) is a state highway that runs more or less on the same path from Rome to the Adriatic sea. The remains of a number of Roman bridges along the route still exist, including the Ponte Salario, which crosses the Aniene, a tributary of the Tiber, just outside Rome. The bridge has been rebuilt and altered over the years but there are visible side arches which are thought to be from the original structure, built in the first century BC.

One of the rooms in the rediscovered and partially restored Domus Aurea
One of the rooms in the rediscovered and
partially restored Domus Aurea
Travel tip:

After Nero’s death, the Domus Aurea - Golden Housewas stripped of its treasures, with its marble, jewels and ivory removed. The vast complex was filled with earth and built over. The Baths of Titus, the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colossus Neronis, the Baths of Trajan and the Temple of Venus and Rome were all built on the site, obliterating all visible trace of the Golden House. It was rediscovered during the Renaissance, when a young man fell down a hole on the site and found himself in the cavernous, subterranean rooms of Nero’s palace. It was discovered that beautiful, intricate frescoes remained, preserved from dampness by the buildings above. Since then, various restoration projects have taken place and are ongoing, with guided tours of parts of the complex now available.

Also on this day:

1311: Duccio's Maestà altarpiece in the Cathedral of Siena is unveiled

1898: The birth of Luigi Fagioli, the oldest driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix

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