Shelf 2: Judaea Under Nero
The first Roman imperial dynasty, the descendants of Augustus or his wife Livia, ruled the Mediterranean for a full century, 31 B.C. to A.D. 68. It was a time of internal peace (Pax Romanum), prosperity, and broad cultural homogeneity - but also of an increasingly authoritarian government. The last of the family, Claudius Nero Caesar, became a despot, though he was very popular and considered to be a good emperor during his first 5 years. He was a lover of performing arts, classical culture, and all things Greek. But he hated republican virtues, his generals, and especially Christians in Rome, whom he tried to exterminate in A. D. 64 after the Great Fire there. While Nero’s persecution of the Christians did not extend beyond Rome (he was looking for a scapegoat to deflect blame that he had caused the fire), he caused the deaths of his step-brother, his mother, his wife, and thousands of innocents. He was a monster.
In the last years of Nero’s reign, his misgovernment dangerously undermined Roman authority: he refused to support adequately the Roman army, and he appointed unqualified friends and flatterers as provincial authorities. In Palestine, the incompetence and injustice of imperial procurators (administrators) over Judaea led to the Great Jewish Revolt. In A.D. 68, the army finally turned against him; his overthrow and suicide soon followed. Nero had built a huge, opulent palace complex in the center of Rome. Overlooking it was a huge statue of himself as a god, rivaling one of the ancient Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes. After his death, the statue was destroyed. Near its pedestal was erected the largest public amphitheater in the empire, from its location nicknamed the “Coliseum.” In a sense, Nero’s egoistic dream lives on.