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The Nero you do not know by Joseph Kleinman

Many of us consider the Emperor Nero to be one of the most evil men ever to march across the stage of world history. Right up there with Hitler, Stalin and our present day adversaries in the war on terror. But if we take an objective view and look at the facts, we come to the conclusion that history doesnít support all the bad press that is heaped upon the head of Nero.

Before going into some specifics associated with the career of Nero letís begin with his background and early education. Nero was a Roman Patrician and as such received a liberal education. In particular he was schooled in philosophy and law and studied the classics in both Latin and Greek. He was an accomplished athlete, artist and actor. In fact, it was his artistic activities that caused the nobility of Roman society to ridicule him.

Suetonius, in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, reports that he had a deep booming voice that would have required good training and much practice. He came to the throne in AD 54 at the age of 16. Early in his reign he improved the economy, reduced taxes and was generally kind and generous. The young emperor was even interested in the artistic merit associated with the coinage issued by his mints and did much to improve its style.

The two most dastardly and cowardly acts attributed to Nero was his starting the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64 and then blaming the Christians for the blaze in order to shift suspicion away from himself. Letís examine those charges. In the first place, Nero wasnít anywhere near the city when the fire broke out, but at his villa 35 miles away. When he received the news he rushed back to the city and made every effort to have the fire extinguished. Then he organized aid for the victims after the blaze was put out. At that time there were few Christians in Rome and the ones that were there were considered to be Jewish. Nero at the time was married to Poppaea, a woman who was well disposed to the Jews so any policy established against the Christians would have been opposed by Poppaea whom Nero loved. Additionally, there is no mention of a Christian persecution in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish Historian and a contemporary of Nero. Most importantly, there is no mention of a Christian persecution in any of the New Testament writings. Perhaps the only New Testament reference to Nero may be found in The Book of Revelation written by written by the Apostle John who mentions ďThe Beast.Ē This reference may be associated with the first Jewish War against Rome which broke out in AD 66, two years before the death of Nero.

The coin illustrated is a silver Denarius showing Nero and a Jupiter reverse. The picture of a good artist gone bad.

Photo credits: Perry Seigel of Herakles Numismatics and Dave Surber of WildWinds.
Click on photo to enlarge.