National Geographic: Nero’s not so bad after all?


** caution: some mature, graphic historical facts. parental & personal discretion is advised. **

The other day while waiting for an appointment, I flipped through a National Geographic magazine, and chanced upon an article that startled me, titled:

“Rethinking Nero

He killed two of his wives and possibly his mother.

He may have presided over the burning of Rome.

But he never fiddled, and now some scholars say he wasn’t all bad.”

How could anyone in their right mind, who knows what Nero did, think he was okay?

In this article, they admit to the crimes he committed, but completely downplay them and talk about him in awe, focusing more on him being a great “artist” as if that was enough to redeem him. And they basically depict him as the “misunderstood bad guy”.

Can’t you see something wrong with this picture?!

The writer of the article interviewed Roberto Gervoso, author of Nerone, who said

“They’ve made lots of films about Nero, but they couldn’t resist making a caricature of him. There’s no need to do that—he himself was a bit of a caricature anyway. Such picturesque depravity attracts a biographer. I could never write a biography of St. Francis! And I would certainly rather go to dinner with Nero than Hadrian.

“He was a monster. But that’s not all he was. And those who came before and after him were no better. The true monsters, like Hitler and Stalin, lacked [Nero’s] imagination. Even today he would be avant-garde, ahead of his time.

“I wrote my book 35 years ago precisely because I wanted to rehabilitate him. Maybe you could do more.”

The article continues:

“Well. One is hard pressed to “rehabilitate” a man who, according to historical accounts, ordered his first wife, Octavia, killed; kicked his second wife, Poppaea, to death when she was pregnant; saw to the murder of his mother, Agrippina the Younger (possibly after sleeping with her); perhaps also murdered his stepbrother, Britannicus; instructed his mentor Seneca to commit suicide (which he solemnly did); castrated and then married a teenage boy; presided over the wholesale arson of Rome in A.D. 64 and then shifted the blame to a host of Christians (including Saints Peter and Paul), who were rounded up and beheaded or crucified and set aflame so as to illuminate an imperial festival. The case against Nero as evil incarnate would appear to be open and shut. And yet

Almost certainly the Roman Senate ordered the expunging of Neronian influence for political reasons. Perhaps it was that his death was followed by outpourings of public grief so widespread that his successor Otho hastily renamed himself Otho Nero. Perhaps it was because mourners long continued to bring flowers to his tomb, and the site was said to be haunted until, in 1099, a church was erected on top of his remains in the Piazza del Popolo. Or perhaps it was due to the sightings of ‘false Nero’s’ and the persistent belief that the boy king would one day return to the people who so loved him.”

The writer quotes another author:

“In his revisionist book, Nero, Champlin describes his subject as ‘an indefatigable artist and performer who happened also to be emperor of Rome’ and ‘a public relations man ahead of his time with a shrewd understanding of what the people wanted, often before they knew it themselves.'”

Later in the article:

“’When I was a boy, I used to swim among the ruins of the villa,’ Mayor Bruschini told me one spring morning as we sat in his office overlooking the sea. ‘As children, we were taught that he was evil—among the worst emperors of all. Doing a little research, I came to conclude that it’s not true. I consider Nero to be a good, even great emperor, and maybe the most beloved of the entire empire. He was a great reformer. The senators were rich, and they owned slaves. He took from them and gave to the poor. He was the first socialist!’

A proud socialist himself, Bruschini smiled and went on, “After I was elected, I decided to do this rehabilitation of Nero. We put up posters that said: ‘Anzio, City of Nero.’ Some people said, ‘But Mayor, he killed lots of Christians.’ I told them, ‘Only a few—nothing like the thousands of Christians who were killed later in the empire.’”

Excuse me while I go scream and tear my hair out.

But let’s go back to the original books, yes? I’ve read Suetonius’ and Tacitus’ accounts about Nero. Here are a few …


– slept with his mom several times. then ordered her killed.

– kicked his favorite wife Poppaea to death, who was pregnant and ill, after she complained about him coming home too late from the races.

– would go out at midnight and prowl and thieve from several markets and homes and/or molest men, women, sons, and daughters. (yes, you read that right.)

– castrated and married a 12 year old boy.

– “Gradually Nero’s vices gained the upper hand: he no longer tried to laugh them off or hide or deny them, but turned quite brazen … feasts … prostitutes … Not satisfied with seducing freeborn boys and married women, Nero raped Vestal Rubria …” from The Twelve Caesars, sec 27-28 by Suetonius

– resorted to robbery and blackmail to pay his debts.

– tried to poison someone because he sang better than him

– strangled his wife Octavia on several occasions, because he was “bored” with her.

– “Once in the course of general conversation, someone quoted the line, ‘When I am dead, may fire consume the earth,” but Nero said that it should read, “While I yet live’, and soon converted this fancy into fact …he brazenly set fire to the city.” from sec 38, TTC, by Suetonius)

– murdered thousands of Christians, shoved their bodies on stakes, and lit them up as lanterns for his garden party.

If someone actually thinks that Nero is just “misunderstood”, they are either ignorant, or sick-minded. Because it is SO clear, he wasn’t just “a little insane”. He was downright evil.

But I think what disturbs me the most is seeing American mainstream media “calling evil good, and good evil …exchanging light for darkness, and darkness for light.” (Isaiah 5:20)

And think about it: history is slowly being re-written, and spoon-fed to us as ignorant masses. Why? Because truth, and truth found in history, is a dangerous thing. If we know truth, then we can think for ourselves.

Are you thinking?

14 thoughts on “National Geographic: Nero’s not so bad after all?

  1. Wow. It’s examples like this that just make me so mad about how people try and sometimes do get away with rewriting history in such crazy ways!! Goodness gracious…I mean, I get the part about wanting to write a biography about someone like Nero as opposed to St. Francis, but I mean he’s just taken things way too far. I think I’ll come join you in the screaming and tearing of the hair. XP

  2. After reading what National Geographic had to say (something I don’t often make a habit of doing) I can only say I mildly surprised. Magazines like National Geographic have been trying to rewrite history for some time. From evolution to making evil people look innocent, it is the way of the world to make what is bad, good and what is good, bad.
    And it isn’t just magazines. In our history books, our newspapers, our movies, our CHILDREN’S BOOKS. The media is feeding kids what the world wants them to hear. As Christians we use discernment with whatever material we read, watch, or listen using God’s word and FACTS as our guidelines.
    Good post!

    • I’ve never read much of National Geographic, but I didn’t know they were doing it THAT much.

      Very true! It seems shocking to some people, but, really, history has been slowly being rewritten for a long time so that people don’t detect it.

      Awesome thoughts, Caleb 🙂 And thank you!

    • Thank you! It *is* insane. But he’s not the only one, for sure. There are other people that we’ve grown up being taught that they were good people, and, come to find out, is not true. Squanto and Columbus, to name a couple.

  3. Bravo. young lady. You hit the nail on the head. I give you an A+ for content. Keep up the good work.

    Pastor Dan

    P.S. Cheryl would be proud of you.

    • Thank you! You and Mrs. Sieker taught me so much throughout the years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am so grateful ❤ Thank you for helping me see the world through a biblical lens, and teaching me the truth. You two are best of the best!

  4. Oh girl I’ve missed you. Not many teenagers are quoted saying this “But let’s go back to the original books, yes? I’ve read Suetonius’ and Tacitus’ accounts about Nero.” I really miss how Geneva had us reading those books. I could read an article about Charlemagne and relate it too what I had read in those books from last year. Or City of God by Augustine. I mean I can tell to my new classmates that I’ve read Dante and half of them don’t know what it is!! It’s terrible.

    I haven’t read about Nero but I can agree with you he was downright evil. A man who is willing to murder so many people, in my opinion has no conscience. I feel as though our society is made up of ignorant masses, most people wouldn’t care about Nero or even heard of him and in my opinion history is the greatest subject on the planet!

    • I miss you SOOOOOO much too, girlie!!

      I know! One of my favorite things about Geneva. That is so sad! Everyone should know at least who Dante *is*.

      He is, and you’re right, I love how you worded it: “A man who is willing to murder so many people, in my opinion has no conscience.” And, yeah, most people don’t even know who he is or don’t care 😦 History is VERY important, regardless of what people say!

      Thank you so much for commenting 🙂 You should start a blog!

your comments are a ray of sunshine:)

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