The infamous Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is widely known for being the callous fifth emperor of Rome who payed the fiddled while Rome burned. Currently at the British Museum is an exhibit called “Nero: The Man Behind the Myth” to run up to October 24, 2021.
Through an email, Project curator Francesca Bologna, clarified to Art News that their goal is not to further the perceptions about the notorious Roman ruler. What they hope to achieve is to display critical archaeological evidences from ancient sources to show that there are other narratives and observations pertaining to Nero.
The infamous Nero is known for his madness and cruelty during his reign as a young Roman emperor after he inherited the the throne at the age 16. Among the most notable of his dastardly acts was ordering the execution of at least one wife and of his own mother.
In the press release for this latest exhibit, British Museum’s curator Thorsten Opper stated that the Nero of the common imagination is actually an artificial figura crafted 2000 years ago. The exhibit’s more that 200 objects reveal Rome’s society at that time was dynamic and prosperous but filled with inner tension, which eventually led to the Roman Senate’s declaration of Nero as Rome’s public enemy.
The declaration forced Nero into exile and shortly, at the age of 30, he committed suicide. Although his death marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, it had sparked civil wars.
How did Nero Become the Caricature Personification of Evil?
The artifacts and historical documents unearthed by archeologists show that generally, the emperor’s actions had popular support, but not from a particular group of elites. After his death, Nero’s legacy as a Roman emperor was disputed to which the hostile elite won by circulating anti-Nero propaganda. These are some of the objects currently on display at the British Museum’s Nero exhibit, including the recognizable marble bust with the hollow eye sockets.
According to Ms. Bologna, excavations of the Palatine in Rome provides bases for a total reappraisal of historical narratives; challenging the traditional preconceptions in order to explain the inner conflicts occurring in the Roman society during Nero’s reign.