Nero: the man behind the myth: Exhibition at British Museum 27 May -24 Oct 2021

Lockdown is easing and if you are in London or are hoping to travel there soon, Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) is waiting to meet you at the British Museum.

Nero is one of the most well-known and infamous of the Roman Emperors – famed for his alleged debauchery and excess, for fiddling while Rome burned and for killing his overbearing mother, Agrippina the Elder.

He is also credited as defeating Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, who resisted Roman rule in Ancient Britain and burned London and Colchester to avenge the rape of her daughters by occupying Roman troops.

Emperor Nero, Borghese Museum, Rome (Image copyright A. Meredith 2019)

However, the British Museum is seeking to redress some of the myths about Nero in a new exhibition supported by bp.

His life was brief and turbulent, becoming the last Roman emperor of the Augustan line (the Julio-Claudian dynasty) in 54 AD at the age of 16 – and dying at the age of 30, after committing suicide.

Rather than being the firestarter of Rome and fiddling while Rome burned, it is thought Nero actually organised the firefighting effort and paid for it himself when news of the Great Fire of Rome (64 AD) reached him at his holiday villa.

His Imperial Palace, the Domus Aurea (the Golden House), was built following the fire and despite not being finished in Neros’ lifetime, was a site of great opulence.

Interior of the Domus Aurea, Rome (Image Wikipedia)

The British Museum exhibition has accumulated more than 200 objects from Rome and Pompeii, telling the story of of Nero’s reign – including items from the Domus Aurea, which reopened to the public in 2014 after an extensive multi-million pound renovation.

Read the museum blog and travel guide to learn about Roman baths, enjoy chariot races and discover how to snack like a Roman from the comfort of your sofa.

Emperor Nero believed in reincarnation – Emperor Constantine had erased all mention of reincarnation from the Bible when he espoused Christianity, but Nero was convinced that he would reincarnate, which is perhaps why committing suicide was to him not only a demonstration of Roman virtus – manly valour – but also a way of moving on to his next life.

Who did he reincarnate as? Well, my money is on Tudor King Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547), especially as, in his life as Nero, he would have defeated Boudicca in Ancient Britain.

Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, was an ally of the Romans and after his death in 60 AD, he left half of his fortune to his two daughters by Boudicca – and the other half to Emperor Nero. Both Nero and Henry had red hair and were party animals – and, like Nero, Henry was a teenager when he became King of England in 1509. Sometimes, perhaps, you just have to finish what you started…

Nero: the man behind the myth opens on 27 May at the British Museum in London. Tickets are available online.

Buon viaggio!

Emperor Nero (Image Wikipedia)

Tour the Domus Aurea online

Head off to Emperor Nero’s party pad in Ancient Rome now, with a virtual tour thanks to Kobean History online.

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