He is considered one of Ancient Rome’s most notorious emperors. Now the British Museum is set to open a major exhibition on the life of Nero.
Running at the institution’s Sainsbury Gallery until October this year, Nero: the man behind the myth promises to challenge ‘traditional preconceptions’ about him.
Nero reigned as Roman emperor for 14 years between AD 54 and 68, succeeding his adopted father Claudius aged 16. Five years into his rule, he had his own mother, Agrippina, killed for trying to influence his decisions.
His reign is remembered for the Great Fire of Rome, which some accounts claim he started, as well as his suicide in June AD 68, in the face of rebellious political and military figures.
After Nero’s death, the Roman senate excised his name from official records. He was vilified by his successors, while historians of the era, Tacitus and Suetonius, and later Cassius Dio, all portrayed him as a tyrant.
The British Museum claims it will present Nero, who was also widely admired for popular policies, extravagant games, and building projects, in a balanced light and allow visitors to make up their own minds.
As well as rare loans from Europe, the exhibition will feature more than 200 objects from the museum’s collection, many of them reflecting Nero’s influence in Britain. On his ascent to power, the island was just a decade into its Roman occupation.
Artefacts include a bronze head of Nero found in Suffolk in 1907, believed to have been part of a statue destroyed during a rebellion led by Boudica in Colchester, and the Fenwick Hoard, uncovered in the same city in 2014, which is filled with Roman coins, military armlets, and jewellery.
Commenting on the opening of the exhibition, British Museum curator Thorsten Opper said: ‘The Nero of our common imagination is an entirely artificial figure, carefully crafted 2,000 years ago. It is fascinating to unravel how and why this was done.’
‘The exhibition reveals a society that was prosperous and dynamic, yet full of inner tensions, which erupted in a violent civil war after Nero’s death. The objects tell these stories, starkly and immediately.’
The exhibition, sponsored by BP, will open on 27 May.