The Italian Almanac

emperor Nero

A Bad Reputation

The Rome exhibit "Nerone", examining the life and dark legends of Emperor Nero (37-68 AD), opens across five different landmarks of the ancient imperial capital. Nero has been infamous throughout history for tyranny, extravagance, cold-blooded murder, and cruel persecution of Christians. Ancient Roman historians accused him of killing his mother, stepbrother and two wives, and of burning Christians at night in his garden for firelight.

Nero's reputation has twisted and writhed through greats of Western literature like Chaucer and Shakespeare. He was known as the emperor "who fiddled while Rome burned", although fiddles weren't invented for more than 1000 years after his death. Instead, Suetonius wrote that Nero played the lyre and sang while much of Rome was consumed by flames in 64 AD. Suetonius also accused Nero of arson that started the fire.

New archeological findings, displayed in the Colosseum, reconstruct details of the day before, the day of, and recovery efforts after the devastating fire that occurred on July 18, 64 AD, and sweep away much of the mystery and ignominy that swirled for millennia around the event.

Nero's family portraits illustrate the dramatic, often violent domestic affairs of his upbringing in the house of the ancient Roman senate, the Curia Julia

The luxury in which he lived - and the black propaganda of extravagance it spawned - are the subject of an exhibit in the Cryptoporticus of Emperor Nero, a vaulted gallery Nero built to provide shady passage from his own palace to other imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill. The luxury of the imperial palace is treated also in the Palatine Museum.

An exhibit in the Temple of Romulus shows the legends of Nero as elaborated by the cinema.