Nero Caesar.

Sixth of the Caesars.


Period of principate.
54 to 68.

Related and attributed text(s).
Tacitus, Annals 13-16 (related), available in Latin (Latin Library) and English (Internet Classics Library).
Suetonius, Nero (related), available in Latin and English (LacusCurtius).
Cassius Dio, Roman History (related), available in English (LacusCurtius).

Useful links.
Nero at Wikipedia.
Nero at Roman Emperors.
Perseus.
Nero coinage.

Tacitus on Nero and the Christians.
Suetonius on Nero and the Christians.

Nero Caesar was the sixth of the twelve Caesars for whom Suetonius wrote a biography.

The Neronian persecution.

1 Peter 4.12-16 (?):

Αγαπητοι, μη ξενιζεσθε τη εν υμιν πυρωσει προς πειρασμον υμιν γινομενη ως ξενου υμιν συμβαινοντος, αλλα καθο κοινωνειτε τοις του Χριστου παθημασιν χαιρετε, ινα και εν τη αποκαλυψει της δοξης αυτου χαρητε αγαλλιωμενοι. ει ονειδιζεσθε εν ονοματι Χριστου, μακαριοι, οτι το της δοξης και το του θεου πνευμα εφ υμας αναπαυεται. μη γαρ τις υμων πασχετω ως φονευς η κλεπτης η κακοποιος η ως αλλοτριεπισκοπος· ει δε ως Χριστιανος, μη αισχυνεσθω, δοξαζετω δε τον θεον εν τω ονοματι τουτω.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fire among you which has happened as a test for you, as though something strange had befallen you, but rather so far as you share in the sufferings of Christ rejoice, so that also at the revelation of his glory you might rejoice with gladness. If you are reviled in the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler in the affairs of others. But, if he suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name.

Revelation 13.7, 15; 17.9-11:

Και εδοθη αυτω ποιησαι πολεμον μετα των αγιων και νικησαι αυτους, και εδοθη αυτω εξουσια επι πασαν φυλην και λαον και γλωσσαν και εθνος.

And it was given to him [that is, to the beast] to make war with the saints and to defeat them, and authority was given to him over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.

Και εδοθη αυτω δουναι πνευμα τη εικονι του θηριου, ινα και λαληση η εικων του θηριου και ποιηση ινα οσοι εαν μη προσκυνησωσιν τη εικονι του θηριου αποκτανθωσιν.

And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and make it so that as many as should not worship the image of the beast would be killed.

Ωδε ο νους ο εχων σοφιαν. αι επτα κεφαλαι επτα ορη εισιν, οπου η γυνη καθηται επ αυτων. και βασιλεις επτα εισιν· οι πεντε επεσαν, ο εις εστιν, ο αλλος ουπω ηλθεν, και οταν ελθη ολιγον αυτον δει μειναι. και το θηριον ο ην και ουκ εστιν, και αυτος ογδοος εστιν και εκ των επτα εστιν, και εις απωλειαν υπαγει.

Here is the mind that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, where the woman sits upon them. And they are seven kings. Five have fallen, the one is, and the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain for a little time. And the beast who was and is not, he himself is both an eighth and from the seven, and he proceeds to destruction.

John 21.18-19:

Αμην, αμην, λεγω σοι, οτε ης νεωτερος, εζωννυες σεαυτον και περιεπατεις οπου ηθελες· οταν δε γηρασης, εκτενεις τας χειρας σου, και αλλος σε ζωσει και οισει οπου ου θελεις. τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον. και τουτο ειπων λεγει αυτω· Ακολουθει μοι.

[Jesus said:] Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger you girded yourself and walked about wherever you wished; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and bring you where you do not wish. And he said this to signal by what kind of death he would glorify God. And having said this he says to him: Follow me.

1 Clement 5.1-6.2:

Αλλ ινα των αξρχαιων υποδειγματων παυσωμεθα, ελθωμεν επι τους εγγιστα γενομενους αλητας· λαβωμεν της γενεας ημων τα γενναια υποδειγματα.

But let us pass from ancient examples, and come unto those who have, in the times nearest to us, wrestled for the faith. Let us take the noble examples of our own generation.

Δια ζηλον και φθονον οι μεγιστοι και δικαιοτατοι στυλοι εδιωχθησαν και εως θανατου ηθλησαν.

Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most just pillars of the church were persecuted and came even unto death.

Λαβωμεν προ οφθαλμων ημων τους αγαθους αποστολους.

Let us place before our eyes the good apostles.

Πετρον, ος δια ζηλον αδικον ουχ ενα ουδε δυο αλλα πλειονας υπηνεγκεν πονους, και ουτω μαρτυρησας επορευθη εις τον οφειλομενον τοπον της δοξης.

Peter, who through unjust jealosy endured not one or two but many labours, also thus, having testified, journeyed unto the place of glory due to him.

Δια ζηλον και εριν Παυλος υπομονης βραβειον υπεδειξεν· επτακις δεσμα φορεσις, φυγαδευθεις, λιθασθεις· κηρυξ γενομενος εν τε τη ανατολη και εν τη δυσει, το γενναιον της πιστεως αυτου κλεος ελαβεν· δικαιοσυνην διδαξας ολον τον κοσμον και επι το τερμα της δυσεως ελθων, και μαρτυρησας επι των ηγουμενων, ουτως απηλλαγη του κοσμου και εις τον αγιον τοπον επορευθη, υπομονης γενομενος μεγιστος υπογραμμος.

Through envy Paul also showed by example the prize that is given to patience; seven times was he cast into chains, he was banished, he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the east and in the west, he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; having taught righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the limits of the west, and having testified before rulers, he thus departed at length out of the world and journeyed to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience.

Τουτοις τοις ανδρασιν οσιως πολιτευσαμενοις συνηθροισθη πολυ πληθος εκλεκτων, οιτινες πολλαις αικιαις και βασανοις, δια ζηλος παθοντες, υποδειγμα καλλιστον εγενοντο εν ημιν.

To these men who conducted themselves in holiness there was gathered a great multitude of the elect, who, having suffered through jealousy many insults and tortures, became a most excellent example among us.

Δια ζηλος διωχθεισαι γυναικες, Δαναιδες και Διρκαι, αικισματα δεινα και ανοσια παθουσαι, επι τον της πιστεως βεβαιον δρομον κατηντησαν και ελαβον γερας γενναιον αι ασθενεις τω σωματι.

Through jealousy women were persecuted, Danaides and Dircae, who, after enduring dreadful and unholy insults, attained to the confirmed course of the faith; and those women who were weak in body received a noble reward.

Tacitus, Annals 15.44:

Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat. auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis convicti sunt. et pereuntibus addita ludibria, ut ferarum tergis contecti laniatu canum interirent aut crucibus adfixi {aut flammandi atque}, ubi defecisset dies, in usu{m} nocturni luminis urerentur. hortos suos ei spectaculo Nero obtulerat, et circense ludicrum edebat, habitu aurigae permixtus plebi vel curriculo insistens. unde quamquam adversus sontes et novissima exempla meritos miseratio oriebatur, tamquam non utilitate publica, sed in saevitiam unius absumerentur.

But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good but rather to glut the cruelty of one man that they were being destroyed.

(Refer to my page on the testimony of Tacitus.)

Suetonius, Life of Nero 16.2:

Multa sub eo et animadversa severe et coercita nec minus instituta: adhibitus sumptibus modus; publicae cenae ad sportulas redactae; interdictum ne quid in popinis cocti praeter legumina aut holera veniret, cum antea nullum non obsonii genus proponeretur; afflicti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis novae ac maleficae; vetiti quadrigariorum lusus, quibus inveterata licentia passim vagantibus fallere ac furari per iocum ius erat; pantomimorum factiones cum ipsis simul relegatae.

During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made. A limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.

(Refer to my page on the testimony of Suetonius.)

Ascension of Isaiah 4.2-3:

[...στερεωμα]τος αυτου ε[ν ειδει] ανθρωπου βασιλεως ανομου μητραλωου, οστι[ς] αυτος ο βασιλευς ουτος την φυτ[ε]ιαν ην φυτευσουσιν οι δωδεκα αποστολοι του αγαπητου διωξε[ι], και [τ]ων δωδεκα [εις] ταις χερσιν αυτου π[αραδ]οθησεται. ουτος [ο αρ]χων εν τη ειδεα του βασιλεως εκεινου ελευσεται, [κ]αι αι δυναμεις πασαι [ελ]ευσ[ον]ται τ[ο]υτ[ου τ]ου κοσμου....

[...from] his [firmam]ent i[n the image] of a man, a lawless matricidal king, wh[o] himself as this king will persecut[e] the pl[a]nt which the twelve apostles of the beloved planted, and of [t]he twelve [one] will be d[eliv]ered into his hands. This man, [this pr]ince, will come in the image of that king, [a]nd all the powers of t[h]i[s] world will [co]me....

The following is the modern Latin rendition of the Ethiopic text as given in Norelli, et alii, Ascensio Isaiae, texts volume, page 375, along with my own translation of the modern Latin, since I do not know Ethiopic:

Et postquam consummatus est, descendet Beliar, angelus magnus, rex huius mundi, cui dominatus est ex quo exstat, et descendet e firmamento suo in specie hominis, regis iniquitatis, necatoris matris suae, qui ipse rex huius mundi, et plantam quam plantaverunt duodecim apostoli dilecti persequetur, e duodecim [unus] in manum eius dabitur. Iste princeps in specie illius regis veniet, et venient cum eo omnes potestates huius mundi, et oboedient illi in omnibus quae praeceperit.

And, after it is consummated, Beliar the great angel, the king of this world, will descend, he by whom it has been dominated since it came into existence, and he will descend from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a king of iniquity, the slayer of his own mother, who himself is the king of this world, and he will persecute the plant which the twelve apostles of the beloved planted; of the twelve [one] will be delivered into his hands. This prince in the likeness of that king will come, and there will come with him all the powers of this world, and they will obey him in all that he desires.

Acts of Paul 10.6-7 (English translation slightly modified from that of M. R. James):

Κακεινου ακουσαντος και επι πολυ θαυμαζοντος και διαπορουντος, ηλθεν ο Παυλος περι ωραν εννατην εστωτων πολλων μετα του Καισαρος φιλοσοφων και του κεντυριωνος, {και εστη} εμπροσθεν παντων και ειπεν· Καισαρ, ιδου, Παυλος, ο του θεου στρατιωτης, ουκ απεθανον, αλλα ζω εν τω θεω μου. σοι δε πολλα εσται κακα και μεγαλη κολασις, αθλιε, ανθ ων δικαιων αιμα αδικως εξεχεας, ου μετα πολλας ημερας ταυτας. και ταυτα ειπων ο Παυλος απηλθεν απ αυτου. ο δε Νερων ακουσας και ταραχθεις σφοδρα εκελευσεν λυθηναι τους δεσμιους, και τον Πατροκλον και τους περι τον Βαρσαβαν.

And when he heard it, while he marvelled long and was in perplexity, Paul came about the ninth hour, when many philosophers and the centurion were standing with Caesar, and stood before them all and said: Caesar, behold, I, Paul, the soldier of God, am not dead, but live in my God. But many evils and great punishment shall befall you, you wretched man, because you have shed unjustly the blood of the righteous, not many days hence. And having so said Paul departed from him. But Nero, hearing it and being greatly troubled, commanded the prisoners to be loosed, and Patroclus also and Barsabas and those that were with him.

Και ως εταξατο Παυλος, ορθρου πορευθεντες ο Λογγος και ο κεντυριων Κεστος μετα φοβου προσηρχοντο τω ταφω Παυλου. επισταντες δε ειδον δυο ανδρας προσευχομενους, και μεσον Παυλον, ωστε αυτους ιδοντας το παραδοξον θαυμα εκπλαγηναι, τον δε Τιτον και Λουκαν φοβω συσχεθεντας ανθρωπινω ιδοντας τον Λογγον και τον Κεστον προς αυτους ερχομενους εις φυγην τραπηναι, των δε διωκοντων λεγοντων· Ου διωκομεν υμας εις θανατον, ως υπονοειτε, μακαριοι θεου ανθρωποι, αλλ εις ζωην, ινα ημιν δωτε, ως επηγγειλατο ημιν Παυλος, ον ιδομεν μεσον υμων προ μικρου εστωτα και προσευχομενον. και ταυτα ακουσαντες παρ αυτων ο Τιτος και ο Λουκας μετα πολλης ευφροσυνης εδωκαν αυτοις την εν κυριω σφραγιδα, δοξαζοντες τον θεον και πατερα του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου, ω η δοξα εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων. αμην.

And, as Paul charged them, Longus and Cestus the centurion went early in the morning and approached with fear the grave of Paul. And when they had come thither they saw two men praying, and Paul between them, so that they were amazed while beholding the wondrous marvel, but Titus and Luke, being stricken with the fear of man when they saw Longus and Cestus coming toward them, turned to flight. But they pursued after them, saying: We pursue you not for death, as you suppose, you blessed men of God, but for life, that you may give it unto us, as Paul promised us, whom we saw just now standing between you and praying. And when they heard that, Titus and Luke rejoiced and gave them the seal in the Lord, glorifying the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tertullian, Apology 5.3:

Consulite commentarios vestros; illic reperietis primum Neronem in hanc sectam cum maxime Romae orientem Caesariano gladio ferocisse. sed tali dedicatore damnationis nostrae etiam gloriamur. qui enim scit illum intellegere potest non nisi grande aliquod bonum a Nerone damnatum.

Consult your records; you will there find that Nero was the first who raged with the Caesarean sword the blood of Christians, when our religion was just springing up in Rome. But we even glory in being first dedicated to condemnation by such a one. For whoever knows him can understand that unless it was something grand and good it would not have been condemned by Nero.

Eusebius, History of the Church 2.25.1-8:

Κραταιουμενης δ ηδη τω Νερωνι της αρχης εις ανοσιους οκειλας επιτηδευσεις, κατ αυτης ωπλιζετο της εις τον των ολων θεον ευσεβειας. γραφειν μεν ουν οιος τις ουτος γεγενηται την μοχθηριαν ου της παρουσης γενοιτ αν σχολης.

But, when the principate of Nero was already gaining strength in the pursuit of unholy objects, he took up arms against the worship of the God of all things. It is not for the present work to write down what kind of man this was in his wretchedness.

Πολλων γε μην τα κατ αυτον ακριβεσταταις παραδεδωκοτων διηγησεσιν, παρεστιν οτω φιλον εξ αυτων την σκαιοτητα της τανδρος εκτοπου καταθεωρησαι μανιας, καθ ην ου μετα λογισμου μυριων οσων απωλειας διεξελθων, επι τοσαυτην ηλασε μιαιφονιαν ως μηδε των οικειοτατων τε και φιλτατων επισχειν, μητερα δε ομοιως και αδελφους και γυναικα συν και αλλοις μυριοις τω γενει προσηκουσιν τροπον εχθρων και πολεμιων ποικιλαις θανατων ιδεαις διαχρησασθαι.

Since many indeed have delivered things about him in the most accurate narratives, it is permitted to any interested to learn from them the rudeness of the extraordinary madness of the man, according to which, after he had brought about the destruction of so many myriads without reason, he leapt to such bloodguilt that he did not spare even his nearest housemembers and dearest friends, but destroyed likewise his mother and brothers and wife along with myriads of others belonging to his family in the manner of enemies and foes with various kinds of death.

Ενεδει δ αρα τοις πασι και τουτ επιγραφηναι αυτω. ως αν πρωτος αυτοκρατορων της εις το θεον ευσεβειας πολεμιος αναδειχθειη.

But it remained in addition to all these things also to attribute this to him, that he should be the first of the autocrats to be shown to be the enemy of the worship of God.

Τουτου παλιν ο Ρωμαιος Τερτυλλιανος ωδε πως λεγων μνημονευει· Εντυχετε τοις υπομνημασιν υμων· εκει ευρησετε πρωτον Νερωνα τουτο το δογμα, ηνικα μαλιστα εν Ρωμη, την ανατολην πασαν υποταξας, ωμος ην εις παντας, διωξαντα. τοιουτω της κολασεως ημων αρχηγω καυχωμεθα. ο γαρ ειδως εκεινον νοησαι δυναται ως ουκ αν, ει μη μεγα τι αγαθον ην, υπο Νερωνος κατακριθηναι.

Of this again the Roman Tertullian makes mention, saying this: Consult your records; there you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this dogma, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome.* We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.

* Kirsopp Lake, on pages 180-181, note 1, of the Loeb edition of Eusebius, writes that the Greek is scarcely translatable and is clearly a bad rendering of Tertullian.

Ταυτη γουν ουτος, θεομαχος εν τοις μαλιστα πρωτος ανακηρυχθεις, επι τας κατα των αποστολων επηρθη σφαγας. Παυλος δη ουν επ αυτης Ρωμης την κεφαλην αποτμηθηναι και Πετρος ωσαυτως ανασκολοπισθηναι κατ αυτον ιστορουνται, και πιστουται γε την ιστοριαν η Πετρου και Παυλου εις δευρο κρατησασα επι των αυτοθι κοιμητηριων προσρησις.

In this way then was he the first to be heralded as above all a fighter against God, and he was raised up to slaughter against the apostles. It is related that in his time Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified, and the title of Peter and Paul, which is still given to the cemeteries there, confirms the story.

Ουδεν δε ηττον και εκκλησιαστικος ανηρ, Γαιος ονομα, κατα Ζεφυρινον Ρωμαιων γεγονως επισκοπον, ος δη Προκλω της κατα Φρυγας προισταμενω γνωμης εγγραφως διαλεχθεις, αυτα δη ταυτα περι των τοπων, ενθα των ειρημενων αποστολων τα ιερα σκηνωματα κατατεθειται, φησιν·

No less than does a writer of the church named Gaius [confirms it], who lived when Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome, and who in a written discussion with Proclus, the leader of the opinion among the Phrygians, speaks as follows of the places where the sacred relics of the apostles in question are deposited:

Εγω δε τα τροπαια των αποστολων εχω δειξαι. εαν γαρ θελησης επελθειν επι τον Βασικανον η επι την οδον την Ωστιαν, ευρησεις τα τροπαια των ταυτην ιδρυσαμενων την εκκλησιαν.

But I can point out the trophies of the apostles, for if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way you will find the trophies of those who founded this church.

Ως δε κατα τον αυτον αμφω καιρον εμαρτυρησαν Κορινθιων επισκοπος Διονυσιος εγγραφως Ρωμαιοις ομιλων, ωδε παριστησιν· Ταυτα και υμεις δια της τοσαυτης νουθεσιας την απο Πετρου και Παυλου φυτειαν γενηθεισαν Ρωμαιων τε και Κορινθιων συνεκερασατε. και γαρ αμφω και εις την ημετεραν Κορινθον φυτευσαντες ημας ομοιως εδιδαξαν, ομοιως δε και εις την Ιταλιαν ομοσε διδαξαντες εμαρτυρησαν κατα τον αυτον καιρον. και ταυτα δε ως αν ετι μαλλον πιστωθειη τα της ιστοριας.

But that both were martyred at the same time Dionysius the bishop of the Corinthians wrote in his conversations with the Romans, as follows: Through such an instruction you joined the plant made by Peter and Paul of the Romans and the Corinthians. For both also planted us in our Corinth and taught likewise, and likewise also in Italy taught and were martyred at the same time. And these things also [I quote] so as that the things of the history might be even more confirmed.