After Claudius came the rule of Nero, whose very name causes us to shudder. But, strange as it may seem, the first five years of his reign were characterized by mild and humane deportment. When the warrant for the execution of a criminal was brought him to sign, he expressed regret that he ever learned to write it. This tender-hardheartedness did not long continue. First, he poisoned Britannicus, son of Claudius, and therefore his step-brother. Next he became enamored of Poppaea, a woman of fierce ambition and as devoid of moral character as his own mother. He repudiated his wife Octavia in order to secure Poppaea. He was further obliged to send her husband Otho to preside over a distant province to get him out of the way.
Octavia was put to death on false charges. Poppaea did not continue to hold the affection of Nero, though she sought to preserve her beauty by a daily bath in asses’ milk. After a time he treated her brutally and she died from the effects of a kick she received from him.
He put to death the two men to whom he was most indebted for his power, Seneca and Burrus.
Along with his monstrous cruelty he was a man of contemptible vanity. He put himself forward as a musician and nothing so much pleased him as the applause of the people. He wrote poems and recited them, and was beside himself with rage when he found himself surpassed by others. He delighted to be known as a charioteer and constructed a circus on his grounds where he could show to the assembled people his skill as a driver. He at length became so insanely greedy for public applause, that he appeared on the stage.
His infamous distinction is that of a persecutor of the Christians. A great fire which consumed a large part of Rome was said to have been set by the emperor’s own hand out of mere wantonness. While the city was burning, he sat calmly enjoying the spectacle, while he sang verses to the music of his lyre.
The suspicion that he was the incendiary became so uncomfortable that, to divert the public mind, he charged the crime upon the Christians and caused great numbers to be put to death. In the words of Tacitus, the Latin historian,
“Some were nailed to crosses, others were sewed up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the fury of dogs; others, again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied with a horse race and honored with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer.”
Christian women were mixed up with these horrible sports and nameless indignities were inflicted on them as a part of the festivities. The heart sickens and the brain reels at the thought of these inhuman atrocities.
Nero rebuilt the city, laying out broad streets and erecting handsome buildings of stone in place of wooden or brick structures, but the magnificence of the city could not atone for the emperor’s atrocities.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.