When I Grow Up…

It’s easy to imagine the proud parents of this adorable little boy–particularly his doting IMG_4974mother, who was convinced for much of her son’s life that he was the gods’ gift to Rome.  As can be seen from the child’s portrait-bust, the wealthy Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and his wife Agrippina had produced a real cherub! But no parents really know how their children are going to turn out, do they? 

Born in 37 A.D., the young lad had the great philosopher Seneca as his private tutor, which would be rather like hiring Stephen Hawking to teach your kid math and science. And when Daddy passed away, his widow managed to ingratiate herself with the Emperor of Rome–who eventually married her, and moved her and her son into the imperial palace. (The palace, by the way, no longer exists. But we can tell you where it was, and what happened to it!)

Mommy was convinced that her boy was smart, talented, and attractive to boot–and lots of people agreed, including the Emperor himself, who made the kid his heir. It seemed pretty fortuitous that the Emperor died very soon after, and the boy took the throne at the age of 16, with his mother at his side to help  out.

What went wrong? To this day, historians aren’t sure, but after some months of prudent behavior, the new Caesar seems abruptly to have changed for the worse. Annoyed at his mom’s never-ending intrusion into power politics, he arranged for her to be assassinated. His step-brother was the next one to die, and his tutor-turned-advisor Seneca was ordered to commit suicide… or else.

Oh, and he’s also responsible for the very first Christian persecution, which claimed the lives of Sts. Peter and Paul, among thousands of others. There’s much, much more; but in short, the people of Rome finally had enough,  and stormed the palace, prompting this psychotic coward to kill himself. “What an artist dies in me!” were among his last words– indicating that by that point, he was totally living in an alternate reality.

But what a cute little boy he had been! This charming bust is one of several existing childhood portraits of the infamous Emperor Nero.