Cruel Facts About Nero, The Unhinged Emperor of Rome

June 28, 2024 | Janet Mowat

Cruel Facts About Nero, The Unhinged Emperor of Rome

Nero, The Unhinged Emperor of Rome

Most people know Nero as the Mad Emperor of Rome—but he was so much more unhinged than most people even realize. From his numerous chaotic weddings (in one of which he was the bride) to his ruthless betrayals to his pathetic and humiliating end, Nero may just have been one of the most ridiculous and disturbing people to ever wield power in history.

Nero Split

1. He Came From A Twisted Family Tree

There was power in Nero's bloodline. His great-great-grandfather was Augustus, the first emperor of Rome and one of the most legendary figures in history. Unfortunately, madness lurked in his genes as well—just look at his crazed uncle Caligula. But his most important relative, the one who would shape his life more than any other, was his infamous mother, Caligula's sister Agrippina the Younger.

If you're wondering where Nero got his ruthlessness, look no further than dear old Mom.


2. His Mother Had Claws

Women held little power in Ancient Rome, but no one told Agrippina that. She fiercely protected her son Nero and schemed tirelessly behind the scenes for any political advantage she could glean. Their relationship would eventually devolve into a twisted, Oedipal mess, but whether he liked it or not, Nero owed pretty much everything he ever got to his mother.

If he'd only taken after her, maybe he'd have become an incredibly powerful emperor—unfortunately, he inherited some even darker tendencies from the men in his family.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

3. His Father Was A Brute

According to contemporary sources, Nero's brutality and bloodlust came from his Y chromosome. His grandfather's obsession with incredibly violent gladiatorial games was well documented, and his father was said to be "irascible and brutal." Allegedly, his father even once stated that "any child born to him and Agrippina would have a detestable nature and become a public danger."

Well, he was right about that part...

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4. He Never Really Knew His Father

Nero's father Domitius wasn't exactly the best role model—but at least he wasn't around for long enough to set much of a bad example. He spent the final years of his life embroiled in political scandals before falling ill and dying when Nero was only three years old. Just a boy, this future emperor lost his father—and he was about to lose his mother too.

Agrippina had scandals of her own, and they were about to come back and bite her.

Nero FactsFlickr, Egisto Sani

5. His Mother Left Him Alone

Ok sure, they didn't sound quite like a big happy family to begin with, but everything started falling apart after Nero's birth. His father croaked, and next the emperor exiled his mother and sisters to a remote island in the Mediterranean. Agrippina had allegedly been plotting to overthrow Caligula, but her scheme was uncovered and the Senate banished her.

Agrippina wanted power, but she flew too close to the sun and her family paid for it; no one more so than Nero.

Agrippina The Younger FactsWikimedia Commons, Carlos Delgado

6. He Lost It All

Nero lost everything in the aftermath of his mother's treachery. The Senate claimed his entire inheritance and sent him off to live with his aunt as an afterthought. He was just a boy and already his mother's meddling was causing problems for him. But Agrippina wasn't finished yet. A death in the family would soon present a new opportunity—and Nero's mother pounced on it.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

7. His World Changed Fast

While all this chaos plagued Nero's family, Rome faced a similar situation. Caligula was emperor, in all of his debaucherous, deviant, and deranged glory. Before he could totally run the empire into the ground though, his own guards took matters into their own hands. Four men cornered the infamous emperor in the halls of his palace, fatally stabbing him and putting an end to his reign of terror. If only they'd known they were just setting the stage for Nero, who was even more unhinged...

The much saner Claudius took the throne, and Rome found some semblance of stability. That is, until Claudius made a very, very stupid decision—a decision named "Agrippina."

Caligula factsWikimedia Commons

8. His Mom Became An Empress

A change in emperors meant new opportunities for the exiled Agrippina. She seduced Claudius and married him. Just like that, she was back in business. With that settled, it was time to put her focus on her son. She could never rule Rome herself—at least, not in name—but she could set Nero up for the role at least, then rule from the shadows. The only question is: Was Nero up to the task?

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

9. He Married Young

After a lonely childhood, Nero was now 14 years old and ready to enter public life. He became politically active as a teen, giving speeches on behalf of struggling communities. He also married Claudius's daughter Octavia (technically his stepsister, yikes) at 16. This assertive, active young man started looking like a great candidate to become the next emperor, and Claudius named him his heir. If only anyone could have seen through the charade...

But, before Nero's true colors could come to light, another sudden death rocked Rome.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

10. His Stepdad Met A Suspicious Fate

Claudius suddenly passed in 54 AD—maybe a little too suddenly. Everyone in Rome shouted, "Poison," and anyone in the know pointed the finger straight at one person: Agrippina the Younger, his ruthless bride. You see, Claudius had begun to sour on Nero, and seemed likely to disinherit him. Agrippina couldn't have that, now could she!

If Nero was going to become emperor, Agrippina needed to do something about Claudius—and she knew just who to call.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

11. His Mom Had A Dark Ally

As we all know, every good story has a poisons expert. In this case, we've got Locusta, one of the most infamous women in Rome. She was so prolific, she actually supplied Agrippina with the poison for Claudius...while already imprisoned for poisoning someone else. Locusta would later become one of Emperor Nero's most powerful tools, so it's fitting she was there to help him take the throne in the first place.

But wait, if everyone knew that Agrippina had offed Claudius, why would they just let Nero become emperor? Once again, we're underestimating Nero's ruthless mother...

Agrippina The Younger FactsWikipedia

12. He Was All Set

Before getting rid of Claudius, Agrippina worked tirelessly to make sure that he'd take the throne. She ostracized Claudius's son and replaced two of his supporters in the Praetorian Guard. All that ensured that when Claudius croaked, even though everyone knew she was behind it, Nero was able to take power straight away with no trouble.

Agrippina had done it. From exile to mother of the emperor in just a few short years. She didn't realize one thing though: She'd created a monster.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

13. He Took Over

Nero became the Emperor of Rome in 54 AD when he was just 16 years old. That not only made him the youngest emperor ever, but he'd remain the youngest for nearly two centuries after. But, the thing with 16-year-olds is, they're not exactly great with money. Nero had all the power in the world now, and he very quickly started to screw everything up.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

14. He Bankrupted The Empire

The way Nero saw it, all great emperors built great works, so he wanted to do the same. The only problem is, he wasn't very good at it. His projects were ridiculously extravagant and way too expensive. Before he was done, he had nearly bankrupted the Empire. At this rate, the people would get fed up and get rid of him in a matter of years—but Nero still had a very dangerous secret weapon.

Agrippina The Younger FactsWikipedia

15. His Mother Overshadowed Him

Did you think Agrippina was finished just because Nero was emperor now? She was just getting started. She planned to rule Rome through her son, and she still had plenty of enemies who meant to stop her. After Claudius, she offed Nero's aunt (the woman who raised him while Agrippina was in exile) and several other people close to her son.

With so many bodies piling up, everyone knew who the real power behind the throne was. If it wasn't already obvious, the first coins minted during Nero's reign had...his mother's face on it. But he's something Agrippina didn't count on: Nero was growing up, and proving to be just as cruel and cunning as his dear old mom.

Nero FactsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

16. He Had Schemes Of His Own

Nero's mother wasn't the only one with enemies—nor the only one willing to do something about it. Nero knew that Claudius's son Britannicus could be a threat to him, so he called up an old friend of mommy's: Locusta. While still imprisoned for her last poisoning, Nero had Locusta concoct a poison for Britannicus—who, by the way, was only 14 years old.

Nero learned from the best (worst?) and he was willing to do anything to tighten his grip on power—but when Locusta's concoction didn't work properly, his reaction was utterly disturbing.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

17. He Didn't Take Failure Well

Nero spiked Britannicus's food, then sat back and waited...but nothing happened. The teenager was still frustratingly alive, and Nero wasn't happy about it. He raced back to Locusta and lashed out, flogging her in his fury. Driven by fear, Locusta created a new concoction, and this one worked like a charm. Britannicus croaked, and Nero gave Locusta a full pardon and a palatial country estate.

But he didn't just do this out of the kindness of his heart. No, he had big plans for Locusta...

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

18. He Started A Special "School"

Nero learned early that assassination was a great way to get what you wanted, so he set up a sinister school to prepare for more. He sent pupils to Locusta's country estate so they could learn her craft, adding more spies and saboteurs to his personal army. He was growing up and learning how to take control of his own life. Unfortunately, that brought him on a crash course with his mother, who didn't appreciate his new backbone.

Mother and son were the two most dangerous people in Rome—and now they were at odds with each other. The fallout would be brutal.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

19. He Crossed The Line

Agrippina must have been proud of her son using Locusta to get rid of his rivals, just like she'd shown him! Then Nero went too far. He started replacing his mother's allies in the Senate, as he (rightfully) thought she was getting too powerful for her own good. Agrippina was furious—but that was nothing compared to what Nero would do next.

Nero factsWikimedia Commons

20. His Eyes Wandered

Nero wasn't Agrippina's sweet little boy any longer (OK, he was probably never that sweet, but still). He was mucking up her political schemes, and even more infuriating, he started looking at women. Ok, he did a little more than look. He took a slave girl, Claudia Acte, as one of his first mistresses, causing scandal throughout Rome.

Agrippina specifically told him to break it off, but he ignored her and carried on with his debaucherous affair. This was just a hint of the unhinged deviant Nero would become.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

21. He Had A Huge...Appetite

Anyone close to Nero could tell that this once well-spoken young man was turning into a total wild card. One of his advisors actually suggested that he shack up with Claudia Acte because they could tell that his wild bedroom impulses were too much for his poor wife, Octavia. He'd only been emperor for a few years, but already, the crazed, indulgent Nero had begun to reveal himself—and there was more where that came from.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

22. He Kicked His Own Mother Out

Agrippina was quickly starting to realize that Nero wasn't going to be the malleable puppet emperor she'd hoped for. Nero knew her better than anyone, and so when he saw that she started plotting with his wife, he nipped that right in the bud. He exiled his own mother from the palace to keep her from conspiring against him.

The fight between mother and son was growing worse with each passing day—it was only a matter of time before it got bloody.

Nero FactsGetty Images

23. He Had No Clue What He Was Doing

We aren't in the business of defending Nero—he really was a monster, after all—but it does appear that, at least in his early reign, he did try to be a good emperor. The only issue was, he was terrible at it. He tried out several new policies meant to appease the people of the empire. For instance, he tried to abolish all taxes in 58 AD.

The people adored him for it—but it doesn't take a political scientist to realize that might have been a horrible mistake. Rome paid for Nero's ignorance for years after, but for now at least, his big move worked like a charm.

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

24. He Got Off To A Good Start

Credit where credit is due: Rome loved first. He reformed taxation, improved conditions for slaves within the Empire, and generally made people first. After the psychotic Caligula and the feeble Claudius, many in the Empire rejoiced at the first great emperor in get the picture.

Nero reveled in the praise—but as Rome's adulation went to his head, his eyes started to wander yet again.

Agrippina The Younger FactsGetty Images

25. He Liked Married Women

That advisor who said that Octavia couldn't satisfy Nero's appetite might have been onto something. He began an affair with the beautiful and cunning Poppaea Sabina, who was married to Otho, another one of Rome's biggest power players. This was a whole new level of bold for Nero, but his newfound popularity gave him an ego the size of Jupiter.

The affair, though kept under wraps, scandalized those who knew about it—and some of them tried to use it against him.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

26. His Mom Spilled The Beans

Maybe it was just her own strange Oedipal impulses, but Agrippina disapproved of pretty much every woman Nero hooked up with, Poppaea Sabina included. The feud between mother and son had been building for months, and when she heard about the affair, she knew just how to stick it to him. She revealed the truth, outing the adulterous couple to everyone in Rome.

Agrippina clearly had no chill, but this was the final straw. Nero's response to her betrayal was absolutely twisted.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

27. He Plotted Against Hist Mother

Outing him and Poppaea was the straw that broke the camel's back. Mother or not, Agrippina had officially run out of her usefulness. Nero hired one of his agents, Anicetus, to take his mother on a voyage—the last voyage she'd ever take. The plan was, Anicetus would sail out to open water, scuttle the ship, and row himself back to safety, leaving Agrippina to the sea's mercy.

But how many times can people learn this lesson: NEVER underestimate Agrippina the Younger.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

28. She Didn't Go Down Easily

Agrippina was in her mid-40s, but getting rid of her was no easy feat. After Anicetus scuttled the ship, Agrippina somehow managed to swim back to shore and survive. Unfortunately, that was the last miracle she was able to pull off. Anicetus waited on shore, saw her haul herself out of the ocean, and went to finish the job. He reported her passing as a suicide—but pretty much everyone knew the truth.

Nero, the beloved emperor, had eliminated his own mother; his own flesh and blood. This was just a grim omen of the madness that was soon to come.

Agrippina The Younger FactsWikipedia

29. He Went Off The Deep End

The end of Agrippina marks a dark turning point in Nero's life. There are no more moments of respect or adulation left in his story—from this point on, he was little more than a psyocopath. As one writer put it, "Nero lost all sense of right and wrong and listened to flattery with total credulity." The Mad Emperor was born—and Rome was about to suffer for it.

Agrippina The Younger FactsWikimedia Commons

30. His Mistress Rejoiced

I doubt anyway was happier that Agrippina was gone than Nero himself, but his lover Poppaea might have been a close second. Poppaea craved power as much as everyone else in Nero's life, and Agrippina had been her greatest obstacle. With her gone, Poppaea knew that nothing stood in her way any longer, so she pushed Nero to make yet another scandalous decision.

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31. He Swapped One Wife For Another

Poppaea wanted to be empress; Nero wanted an heir—it was a match made in heaven. Nero and Octavia had been married for eight years, yet no little emperors or empresses were in sight. Poppaea pushed Nero to leave his wife and marry her, and Nero didn't need much pushing. He claimed Octavia was barren and unceremoniously divorced her. It must have hurt—but what he did next twisted the knife.

Nero married Poppaea, whom everyone already knew was his mistress, just 12 days after his divorce. But this was no fairy tale union—it was more like a horror story.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

32. He Lost His Only Daughter

I'm going to editorialize here: I don't think Nero wouldn't have made a good father. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), he never got the chance to find out. He and Poppaea rejoiced in 63 AD, when they welcomed a daughter, Claudia Augusta. We tremble to think of the kind of monster she might have become, but tragically, little Claudia passed at just four months old.

The heartbroken couple mourned their terrible loss—but Nero didn't stay down in the dumps for long. He had plenty to keep him distracted...

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

33. He Was The Greatest Athlete Of All Time

Ever seen the trope where the all-powerful ruler wants to play sports, but they force everyone to let them win? Yeah, that was Nero to a tee. Convinced he was a brilliant athlete and artist, Nero entered the Olympics, and wouldn't you know it, he won every single contest he entered! He even won a chariot race in which he was thrown from his chariot and didn't finish. Obviously he would have won if he hadn't fallen, so organizers gave him the top prize all the same.

Nero got more and more unhinged, and there were fewer and fewer people left who could say no to him. That's a dangerous combination.

Nero FactsGetty Images

34. He Stopped Playing Ball

One of the few people left in Rome who could stand up to Nero was Burrus, his close advisor. So imagine what happened when Burrus passed. Nero went on a killing spree, unceremoniously executing several of his rivals with little or no reason given. Before, with Burrus's advice, he'd played ball with the Senate to a certain degree.

Not anymore—this was Nero unchained. Rome was about to get absolutely insane.

Nero FactsPicryl

35. He Was A Blushing Bride

Roman Emperors could be a hedonistic bunch, but Nero took it to the next level. During the Saturnalia, a debaucherous annual festival, he married Pythagoras, a freedman whom he'd known for some time. Not only was he already married, and not only was Pythagoras a man, but Nero actually took the role of the bride in the ceremony, wearing a veil himself.

Not all of Nero's exploits were horrific or gruesome—some were just plain bizarre. But while Olympics and bridal veils were fun, at some point, Nero was going to have to deal with the Empire. And, right on cue, the greatest catastrophe of his reign was right around the corner.

Nero FactsGetty Images

36. His City Caught Fire

"Nero fiddled while Rome burned." If you've heard anything about Nero, it's probably that. Well, the first part may or may not be true (Nero did fancy himself a great musician), but Rome definitely burned on his watch. The Great Fire of Rome began in a merchant's shop in 64 AD, and quickly raged out of control. The winds whipped the flames up, and the wooden city caught ablaze in moments.

Now, Rome had suffered fires before, so perhaps Nero wasn't too worked up about it—but this was something the city had never seen before.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

37. The Damage Was Catastrophic

Rome burned for seven long days. The flames finally fizzled down, only to reignite and start burning again for three more days. By the time authorities finally got the blaze under control, three of Rome's 14 districts lay in ashes. The fire had also severely damaged seven more. It would take a truly great leader to recover from this—but all Rome had was Nero.

Then, to make matters worse, people began to whisper. Everyone wanted to know how the fire had started, and one name came up again and again.

Nero factsWikipedia

38. They Thought He Did It

The Great Fire of Rome very well could have been an accident. With that much wood, all it would take was a single spark to ravage the city—but this was Rome, after all. In a city so infected with intrigue, the first question on everyone's lips was: Who had the most to gain from a fire? Maybe the deranged emperor whose grasp on reality grew more tenuous with each passing day?

That's right: Nero was the prime suspect for burning down his own city—and honestly, there's a pretty good case for it.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

39. He Had A Reason To Do It

Nero wanted a ridiculously over-the-top and indulgent palace to go with his ridiculously over-the-top and indulgent tastes, but he had a problem: There was just no room left in the city for such a project. That is, there wasn't before...After the fire, he had all the space in the world! Though Nero did organize relief efforts, he also started construction on his new palace, the Golden House, in the wreckage.

The Golden House would eventually feature vast artificial landscapes and a 30-foot-tall statue of Nero himself, a fittingly gaudy and expensive monument to the emperor. We may never know the truth, but it definitely looked bad for Nero. So, to take the pressure off himself, he found a scapegoat.

Nero FactsShutterstock

40. He Found A Scapegoat

According to the historian Tacitus, Nero deflected the blame for the fire onto Christians. Though he had no evidence, his punishment was horrifying. The authorities rounded up Christians en masse and brutally had them executed by "being thrown to the beasts, crucified, and being burned alive." Tacitus even makes a point of saying that Nero chose such horrific punishment not out of any sense of justice, but only to satisfy his personal taste for brutality.

But while that made him feel better, no amount of Christians could save Nero from the nightmare that lay ahead.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

41. He Made Things Worse

The problem with bankrupting an empire is, when your capital city burns down, you don't really have the money to rebuild it. Not that that stopped Nero, of course. He set about rebuilding Rome—and his Golden House, of course—requiring massive tax hikes, heavy tributes from the provinces, and the devaluation of the Roman currency.

If all of those sound like bad things to you, you aren't alone. People were furious, and they meant to do something about it. For Nero, this was the beginning of the end.

Nero factsFlickr, William Warby

42. They Started Plotting Against Him

I'm amazed it didn't come to this earlier, but in 65 AD, several Roman statesmen conspired to eliminate Nero and restore the Roman Republic. Sure, Augustus had been pretty good, but in just a few short decades, the Empire had seen Caligula and now Nero. Maybe this whole "all-powerful emperor" thing wasn't such a good idea after all.

Nero's enemies were after his head—but the Mad Emperor wasn't finished quite yet.

Nero FactsShutterstock

43. He Grew Paranoid

A freedman loyal to Nero discovered the plot on his life and reported it before the traitors could put their plan into motion. Nero's response was swift and brutal: He had each of the men involved executed—but their fate was better than his onetime advisor, Seneca. Someone accused Seneca of taking part in the plot, something he vehemently denied.

But there was no mercy left in Nero, just cruelty—so he condemned his old friend to a disturbing end.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

44. He Ended An Innocent Man

Most historians agree that Seneca likely had nothing to do with the conspiracy, but Nero didn't really care. Seneca had fallen out of favor, and Nero didn't need him around anymore. While he didn't have Seneca executed, he did force him to take his own life, so same difference. No one was safe around Nero anymore—not even his own wife.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

45. He Fought With His Wife

Nero and Poppaea had seemed like a match made in heaven at first—but behind closed doors, their relationship had begun falling apart. It would take a truly special kind of woman to put up with Nero, and Poppaea didn't have it in her. They fought constantly, and fighting with Nero was never a good idea. Even though she became pregnant with their second child, their relationship was doomed.

Still, what followed was one of the most disturbing acts of Nero's entire life.

Nero FactsGetty Images

46. Rumors Said He Did It

Poppaea suddenly passed in 65 AD, while pregnant with Nero's second child. Several ancient historians described that day the exact same way: She and Nero had been fighting over how much time he spent at the chariot races. Nero flew into a rage and viciously kicked her in the abdomen. She went into labor, and neither she nor the child survived. Nero was now fully and truly a monster.

And yet he wasn't even finished yet...

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

47. He Doth Protested Too Much

After Poppaea's passing, Nero went into an extremely public period of mourning. He gave her a luxurious funeral, bestowed her with divine honors, and planned to build a temple for her cult. Maybe he felt guilty, maybe he was genuinely sad, or maybe he was just covering in his tracks. Either way, what he did next—to Poppaea's own son—erased any goodwill he might have built.

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

48. He Went On A Grim Fishing Trip

As if what he'd done to his wife wasn't brutal enough, Nero still had her young son to worry about—but in for a penny, in for a pound. Nero invited the boy on a fun fishing trip with him...then drowned him before they made it back to shore. The bodies were starting to pile up, and yet if anything, they only fueled Nero's bloodlust.

But now Nero was an emperor without an empress...for about five minutes.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

49. He Found A New Girl

Nero didn't off his wife without a backup in mind; he wasn't stupid. He already had a mistress, Statilia Messalina, waiting in the wings. Whoops, just one issue: Statilia was married herself! Bet you can guess what happened next...That's right, Nero forced the unlucky husband to kill himself so he could marry his latest fling.

Statilia would prove to be one of the few sane, quiet people in Nero's life—but his next marriage more than made up for that.

Nero factsWikimedia Commons

50. He Married A Boy

Not long after marrying Statilia, Nero got married again—this time to a young boy, Sporus, who just so happened to look a lot like his ex, Poppaea. But Nero's obsession with the boy took a dark turn. Fueled by his own confusing feelings about his slain wife, Nero had Sporus castrated and thrown under a bridal veil, then married the boy.

This wasn't just some sick, one-time stunt, either.

Agrippina The Younger FactsPicryl

51. He Showed His New Wife Off

I don't know what you expected: Once they had married, Nero brought Sporus along to public appearances as his wife, complete with the full regalia of a Roman Empress. By this point, there wasn't a soul in Rome who didn't know that Nero was well and truly mad, and had to be stopped. He still wasn't even 30, but the people of Rome had finally had enough of Nero—and he knew it.

That's why he planned his next, desperate move.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

52. His Men Ignored Him

Nero could be oblivious, sure, but he could still see when the sharks started circling. He realized he was in danger, and hatched a plan to flee Rome for the Eastern provinces. He didn't realize yet that he was too late. When he ordered some officers to begin preparing for his flight, they openly refused his commands. Instead, they responded with one of the most legendary lines in history.

Nero's own officer, sworn to obey him, looked him in the eye and quoted Virgil: "Is it so dreadful a thing then to die?" Nero was in serious trouble now.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

53. Everyone Abandoned Him

As Nero hid in his palace, frantically trying to think of any exit strategy, he dozed off in his quarters. When he awoke, he came to a chilling realization. He sent for his guards...and no one came. He sent messengers to his friends' chambers, asking them to come to him...and again, no one came. Furious, he stormed to check on them himself, and found the palace all but abandoned.

Everyone had resigned Nero to his chilling fate—now, it was just a matter of who would do the deed.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

54. No One Answered His Call

In his final hours, Nero was nothing more than a coward. He cried out in the palace, begging for a gladiator or anyone else with a sword to come and end him before the mob could. But no one was even willing to grant him that mercy. Since he was too craven to do the deed himself, Nero had no choice but to flee—not that that could save him now.

Nero FactsGetty Images

55. He Made Them Dig His Grave

Owing back to his slavery reforms, the only people left loyal to Nero were ex-slaves. One such freedman, Phaon, offered up his humble villa, a few miles outside the city, for Nero to hide out and plan his next move. Nero gathered three more freedmen, including his "wife," Sporus, and went to the safehouse. True to form, he subsequently ordered the four men to dig his own grave.

Still demanding, even to the very end.

Nero FactsGetty Images

56. He Planned For The Worst

Before he fled the palace, Nero had sought out an old friend: Locusta. He had her make him a poison that he could use on himself if all other options ran out. He carried the concoction with him in a golden box as his few remaining supporters dug a grave for him. But, for all the bluster he must have had while asking Locusta for the potion, he couldn't bring himself to take it.

Not even when a courier arrived and sealed Nero's fate.

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57. He Was Public Enemy Number One

A messenger found Nero at the villa and delivered the final nail in his coffin: The Senate had declared Nero to be a public enemy, and they intended to execute beating him to death. Even worse, they knew where he was, and armed forces were on the way to the villa to apprehend him right at that moment.

And even then, Nero still made a fool out of himself.

Nero factsNero (2004 TV Movie), Rai Fiction

58. He Couldn't Do It

Nero now knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was finished, yet he just couldn't bring himself to open that golden box. He paced back and forth, allegedly muttering the infamous phrase, "What an artist dies in me..." Each time he came close to ending it, he lost his nerve. According to reports, he begged one of his companions to take their own life first, to show him how it was done.

Finally, when he heard the approaching hoofbeats, he turned to his secretary and begged them to do the deed.

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

59. He Never Faced Justice

Nero's secretary ran him through with a sword just as the Senate's horsemen rode up. They attempted to save his life so that he could face justice back in Rome, but they were too late. Nero passed from this life, and Rome was better off for it—though this unhinged emperor still wasn't done making a mess of the Empire just yet.

Nero FactsFlickr

60. Chaos Followed Him

Nero's end left a power vacuum in Rome, leading to the bloody Year of the Four Emperors. There would be another year of pure chaos before Vespasian finally took the throne and brought things back in order. Even after he was gone, Nero just couldn't help but make a complete mess of things—just ask his unfortunate partner, Sporus.

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

61. His Final Spouse Met An Even Darker Fate

As so often is the case with evil rulers, the innocent people close to them end up meeting the darkest fates of all. Sporus, Nero's castrated spouse, married Otho, the second of the Four Emperors. After Otho's defeat, the next emperor, Vitellius, captured Sporus and came up with a disturbing plan for the unfortunate freedman. He wanted to execute Sporus at a gladiator show, in a fatal reenactment of a historical event.

Thankfully, Sporus took control of his fate by taking his own life before Vitellius had the opportunity to humiliate him in front of the entire city.

Nero factsQuo Vadis (1951), MGM

62. Leaving His First Wife Wasn't Enough

Almost everyone who married Nero met horrible fates, but let's not forget about his first wife, Octavia. Remember how he'd divorced her so he could marry Poppaea? Well, that wasn't the end of the story. You see, after Nero had banished Octavia from Rome, the people revolted. Rome loved Octavia, and they protested her banishment.

Nero hadn't expected this—but he knew just what to do.

Nero FactsWikimedia Commons

63. So He Got Rid Of Her

Apparently, infertility wasn't grounds for divorce in the eyes of the people of Rome. So, Nero did what he always did: He lied and had her executed. He fabricated a story that she'd committed adultery and executed her just like that. That's just the kind of thing that happens to anyone who got too close to Nero.

Poppaea Sabina FactsWikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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