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Unpopular Ancient Roman Emperor – Nero Part 2

By Yona Williams    8/30/12

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The Great Fire was devastating for Rome and the city wanted someone to blame, so Nero pointed the finger at the Christians. Because of this, they were horribly persecuted. Many people were arrested, impaled, and burned to death. In this article, you will learn of further incidents associated with Nero that made him quite unpopular with the people.

According to the writings of Suetonius, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, Nero is said to have used some of the bodies as torches to light his gardens. Some claim that he would breathe in the unpleasant odor and laugh while playing his lyre and signing his own songs.

Taxing the people was not a good move, especially with everything they had lost with the Great Fire. Revolts started to erupt in certain provinces. By 68 Ad, Nero was no longer loved by all – everyone hated the emperor. His guards turned their backs on him at his palace and he had to flee to a nearby villa.

When Nero returned to Rome, he spent the evening in his palace. After awakening around midnight, he learned that the palace guard had left. He sent messages to his friends' palace chambers so they could come, but he did not receive any answers. When Nero visited the chambers to see for himself, no one was there. He called for a gladiator or anyone else that knew how to use a sword to kill himself, he is quoted as saying, "Have I neither friend nor foe?"

Nero needed a moment to assess his circumstances so he visited the villa of an imperial freedman named Phaon who lived four miles outside of the city. In disguise, the emperor traveled along with four loyal freedmen. When he reached the villa, he ordered the men to dig a grave for him. Nero could no longer take it and decided to take his own life. In the meantime, a messenger visited the ruler to tell him that the senate had declared him a public enemy. He was told there was a sentence to beat him to death.

This news only sealed the deal of a suicide. Nero prepared for the moment, but at the last minute, couldn’t muster up the courage to take his own life. He initially pleaded with one of his companions to carry out his wishes. The sounds of approaching horses finalized the inevitable and he had to make a decision. Some say that he stabbed a dagger into his throat, which caused him to bleed to death. Others say that he forced his private secretary to kill him.

The last words of the emperor were "Qualis artifex pereo," which translates into "What an artist dies in me!" When the horsemen arrived, they saw Nero was on death's door – only one of the riders attempted to stop the bleeding. He died on June 9, 68, which was ironically the anniversary of the death of Octavia. Nero's body was buried in the Mausoleum of the Domitii Ahenobarbi, which is now called the Villa Borghese (or Pincian Hill).

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