Are you heading to Rome anytime soon and want something new and cool to see? I just found out about a new ancient site that has recently re-opened that I absolutely have to visit, and maybe you will want to too!
Let’s Talk Nero…
I didn’t know too much about Nero until somewhat recently. I knew he was a madman and an emperor, but not much more. During a visit to his golden palace in Rome (you can read about it in the Underground Rome section of my new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, available on Amazon.com) I was asking my guide, an archaeologist from the site, some questions about him. She pulled me to the side and very emphatically told me Everything you know about Nero is wrong! I am down here with him every day. I know him! They have lied about him and I know the truth.
Which is why I say I didn’t know too much about him until then. It would appear the senate changed the stories of more than one emperor once he died, so maybe we will never know the full truth, but her urgency got me interested in Nero and I plan on tracking her down when I get back to Rome to get the next part of the story.
Who Was Nero?
Nero was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was born December 15 in 37 A.D and died June 9th in 68 A.D at the age of 30. He ruled the empire for 13 years and 8 months.
A Guy With Mommy Issues…
Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger was an interesting character. He was adopted by his great uncle Claudius and became the her and successor upon Claudius’ death. Agrippina is thought to have had a hand in the death of Claudius and in Nero’s nomination to be emperor. Apparently she dominated his early life and weighed heavily on all of his decisions a.k.a. controlling mother/stage mom. Five years into his reign he had her murdered.
… And A Guy With Many Wives
The story of Nero’s marriages is intriguing by itself. First he married his step sister Claudia Octavia, daughter of Emperor Claudius.
It was a very unhappy marriage (because he was nuts) and he tried to strangle her on more than one occasion. While married to her he had many affairs including one with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of his friend Ortho.
Poppaea divorced Ortho and became pregnant with Nero’s child, which in turn prompted Nero to divorce Claudia and banish her to Campania. The baby died at 4 months old.
Claudia complained about her banishment, so Nero had her maids tortured. The people of Rome like Claudia and marched in the streets to have her returned to them, which scared Nero so he not only had her brutally murdered but also had her head chopped off and sent to Poppaea.
Nero and Poppaea had a tumultuous relationship but it would seem that she was his favorite wife, even though he ended up killing her too. In the summer of 65 A.D Nero kicked a pregnant Poppaea in the belly, killing both her and the child. After her death he went into deep mourning.
While married to Poppaea Sabina Nero had been having an affair with another married woman, Statilia Messalina. When Poppaea died in 65 A.D Statilia’s husband was forced to commit suicide so that Nero could marry her.
And then things got even crazier.
In sometime around 66 A.D-67 A.D Nero also married a young boy called Sporus, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Poppaea. Nero had Sporus castrated and paraded him around dressed in the clothing of a Roman Empress, and called him Lady, Empress, Mistress, and Poppaea. It is thought that he used his marriage to Sporus as a way to assuage his guilt for killing Poppaea.
After Nero’s death Sporus was then taken on by Praetorian Guard Prefect Nymphilius Sabinus who treated him as a wife and also called him Poppaea. Nymphilius wound up getting killed by his guardsmen, and the story got even crazier when in 69 A.D Poppaea’s ex husband Ortho, who now became emperor albeit for only 3 months, then took up with Sporus!
Sporus ended up committing suicide to avoid being used as a victim in a gladiator show. He was probably not even 20 years old at the time.
But back to the wives of Nero, there was actually one more. Back in 64 A.D after a series of banquets during the Saturnalia Nero married one of his former slaves, a freedman named Pythagorus. Except this time Nero was the bride and Pythagorus the groom. Nero even wore a bridal veil! After the ceremony the witnesses had to watch the consummation of the marriage too.
The Rule Of Nero
Nero’s time as emperor is generally associated with tyranny, compulsive behavior and extravagance. (As well as lunacy). Many historians believe he started the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D to clear the way for him to build his gigantic pleasure palace, the Domus Aurea. Apparently he blamed Christians for the fire and had them burned alive.
There are modern historians however who believe the ancient sources who wrote about Nero were unreliable. The archaeologist I went through Domus Aurea with is convinced that the history we know of Nero is in fact based on lies and hatred, not the truth.
The Domus Transitoria
Nero’s first palace, the Domus Tansitoria is now open to the public after a 10 year renovation.
Transitoria was a lavish palace decorated with marble, inlaid marble, porphyry, mother of pearl, frescoes and mosaics, dating back to 54 A.D. It connected the Palatine Hill with the Esquiline Hill, which is how it got its name. It was built partially underground to help Nero beat the Roman heat.
Most of the Domus Transitoria was burned to the ground during the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The ruins were discovered, robbed and looted during the 18th century.
What remained has been restored, so you can see the floors, frescoes and structure. One of the best preserved areas of the complex contains the 50 communal toilets thought to have been used by the slaves and workers, almost 2000 years ago.
You can take a guided tour of Domus Transitoria, but the tours are for small groups only, around 12 total. There is new lighting down there, so you are not wandering in twilight. There is also a virtual reality component to the tour. This is something that Rome is doing so brilliantly, the multimedia and V.R. components to the newer tours are just sensational.
Domus Transitoria is open Friday – Monday and is part of the new SUPER Foro-Palatino ticket. Check the website for more details and ticket options.
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