The Italian Almanac

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actor playing Emperor Nero

Emperors on Trial

Rome is putting two Ancient Roman emperors on trial this summer for dark deeds including immorality, arson, persecuting Christians and killing Jesus Christ. In the mock open-air trials at the famed Basilica of Maxentius, actors playing Nero and Tiberius will face historic charges that have brought them ill fame.

The main indictment against Rome's third emperor Nero (37-68 AD) is that he caused the great fire that devastated the city in 64 AD - and then blamed it on the Christians. He'll also be asked to answer for the murders of his mother and wife and lax morality that started to eat away at the upstanding state. His immediate predecessor Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD), the adopted son of Augustus, faces a rap sheet saying he undermined what was left of the Roman Constitution and later stomped off to seclusion on Capri leaving his lieutenant Sejanus to run wild back in Rome. Then there was the undeniable fact that Christ was crucified on his watch.

Both emperors are expected to claim they were framed and slandered by biased historians. Tiberius is also likely to plead a mitigating circumstance familiar to watchers of today's court TV - his actions and inactions were caused by an untreated depression, probably the result of childhood trauma inflicted by his charismatic stepfather and domineering mother Livia.

Each night from July 18 to 22, a 12-strong jury selected from among the audience at the Roman ruins will decide how Nero should be judged. Tiberius's historical reputation will be weighed by similar juries on the nights of July 25 through 29. The trials have been scripted by playwright Vladimir Polchi and popular writer and journalist Corrado Augias.

This summer will be the second time Nero has been put on trial. He was convicted more often than not during last year's Emperors In The Dock series, which proved highly popular with the summer crowds here. Juries were more lenient with his illustrious co-defendant Julius Caesar, the war hero and dictator who detractors say dealt the death blow to the old Roman Republic.