Madman or genius? Criminal or artist? Psychopath or Dreamer? It’s tricky to define Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who became Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the emperor whose short life (he only lived to 31) was lived in a state of constant and ultimately destructive acceleration. What we do know about him is certainly not an absolute truth - his biographers, Suetonius and Tacitus, most famously, were not contemporaries, and drew mainly from spoken sources. These two have played a major part in attributing responsibility for any acts of wickedness – such as the great fire of Rome, among others – to Nero, a claim that is widely disputed by today’s historians.
What we do know, however, is that Nero wanted to become an artist – indeed, he felt he truly was one at heart. When, at just 16 years old, he became emperor of Rome under the oppressive and self-interested gaze of his mother Agrippina and of the courtiers who swarmed around him in his palace of power, Nero suffered. He suffered as a result of being forced to deal with issues he did not feel concerned him, and from having to discard his artistic and creative soul.
And he ruled in his own way, moving ever further away from his mother over the years, and guiding the empire in a different direction. During Nero’s reign, Rome enjoyed an extended period of peace – Nero was more interested in promoting the arts than in engaging in wars and conquering new territories. During a trip to Greece in 66 AD, he took part in the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean games, making his mark in singing competitions, theatre, athletics and chariot racing, and winning as many as 1808 medals and awards. He loved his people and they returned this sentiment, and he is remembered for his astonishing urban vision, represented by the design and construction of the Domus Aurea which spanned 250 hectares and which contributed to redesigning the city after it was burned in the great fire.
In this era of absolutism, he came up against vicious power games, and in resisting this pressure, he inevitably became more and more like those who surrounded him, ordering crimes and misdeeds such as the killing of his mother and his wife in order to defend his power. The vortex began to exert an ever-stronger grip on Nero, sucking him deeper and deeper until his suicide on June 9 of 68 A.D. Holding the knife at his throat, the last words he uttered were "Qualis artifex pereo" or "What an artist dies in me". A staged death, like a real cursed rock star - Nero was not only an unforgettable emperor, he was also the first great rock legend of history. “Divo Nerone” tells the story of Nero’s reign, and of 14 years that changed the world forever.