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Nero after the burning of Rome by Karl von Piloty (before 1886) Lenbachhaus (Public Domain)

The Tainted Love Life Of Nero, Fickle Emperor Of Rome


In 49 BC, Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero sent a letter to his friend Atticus informing him about the current gossip in Rome. This time, the big news involved the famous Mark Antony. “ Marcus Antonius,” Cicero writes in disgust, “ is carrying Cytheris about with him in an open litter, like a second wife.” Apart from being Antony’s mistress, Cytheris was also a famous actress who was known to be the mistress of several other notable Roman leaders. Cicero was even more surprised two years later to find Cytheris at a dinner party, reclining in a position of honor next to the host, as if she were the lady of the house, instead of a lowly mistress. After the party, Cicero immediately wrote to his other friend Paetus to express his outrage. Considering Cicero’s apparent fury about Antony and his mistress, one could easily envision him being well-nigh having a heart attack if he had lived to witness Emperor Nero’s relationship with his wives and lovers many years later.

Remorse of Nero by John William Waterhouse (1878) (Public Domain)

Remorse of Nero by John William Waterhouse (1878) (Public Domain)

The life of Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was brief but colorful. His marriages and relationships were also brief and colorful, with most of them ending on a gruesome note. He forced his first wife, Octavia, to commit suicide and kicked his second wife Poppaea Sabina to death during her pregnancy after she reprimanded him for arriving home late from the races. In 66 AD, Nero compelled consul Marcus Junius Vestinus Atticus, the husband of his former mistress Statilia Messalina, to commit suicide so he could marry her. Then there were his lovers, among them Acte, Pythagoras and Sporus.

Claudia Octavia, the Neglected Young Empress

Born either in the late 39 AD or early 40 AD, Claudia Octavia was the only daughter of Emperor Claudius by his third wife, Valeria Messalina.  When she was about eight years old, her father had her mother executed and proceeded to marry his fourth wife, her cousin, Agrippina the Younger. Nero, two or three years Octavia’s senior, was Agrippina’s son from her marriage to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus.

Octavia as a child, statue at the Archaeological and Art Museum of Maremma in Tuscany (Public Domain)

Octavia as a child, statue at the Archaeological and Art Museum of Maremma in Tuscany (Public Domain)

To the surprise of most people around him, Claudius began to show preference towards Nero as his successor over his own son Britannicus (Octavia’s brother). In 50 AD, Claudius officially adopted Nero and bestowed upon him the title Princeps Iuventutis (“Prince of Youth”) a year later. 


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Martini Fisher is an Ancient Historian and author of many books, including "Horatio’s World”Check out

Top Image: Nero after the burning of Rome by Karl von Piloty (before 1886) Lenbachhaus (Public Domain)

By: Martini Fisher

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Martini Fisher comes from a family of history and culture buffs. She graduated from Macquarie University, Australia, with a degree in Ancient History. Although her interest in history is diverse, Martini is especially interested in  mythologies, folklores and ancient funerary... Read More

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