Historical Imperfect Parents - Emperor Nero

…written by Up All Hours

  1. #history
  2. #imperfect parent
  3. #parenting
  4. #parentfail

Imperfection is the state of being not quite 100% in a certain area. I am imperfect when it comes to keeping my nails well filed. My sister is imperfect because she tends to overestimate things. My father is imperfect because he likes a little too much whiskey in his whiskey and water.

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These are all small examples of imperfection, and imperfection in humanity is to be expected. We can’t expect all our friends, relatives and traffic wardens to be perfect – life would be damned boring if it were so. But today I intend to introduce you to the definition of imperfection in human form; the Roman Emperor Nero.

Nero isn’t an Imperfect Parent I must hasten to add. He did have a daughter, Claudia, but she died very young. In fact, he was actually pretty good Daddy, dedicating temples and creating gold statues of her to celebrate her birth. Makes my Birthday prezzies from last year look a little paltry.

Today we will focus on his being an imperfect son; and by saying that is the equivalent of saying that Hitler and Stalin were “slightly nasty”…

Nero’s mother was a lady called Agrippina the Younger, and she was also an imperfect parent. Trying to rule through countless Emperor’s of all different areas of her Family, Agrippina got rather big for her lacy Roman sandals. She was considered one of the Vestal Virgins – terribly important ladies of Rome who didn’t un-cross their legs for anyone and were second only to the goddesses they served. But Agrippina had also been an Empress herself. There were coins with her face on them, she was allowed to attend the meetings of the Senate (NOT the done thing) and she pretty much ruled the Imperial Roost as it were.

Your basic family one up one down!

But when her son, Nero, was announced as Emperor in 54 AD, Agrippina expected to carry on as once before. Ruling from, if not the throne itself, then at least slightly to the side and behind it.

For the first few months of Nero’s reign, all was well and good. Agrippina kept attending Senate meetings and maintained control over her son superbly. But, when Nero started shacking up with a lady of common birth, who started to exact her own toll over Nero, Agrippina started looking to another chappy to don the Imperial crown. The chap in question was Britannicus, son of the late Emperor Claudius.

Nero heard of his mother’s little plot, and had Britannicus poisoned at his own banquet – not particularly kind of you ask me. Then again, we are talking about an Emperor who used to use Christians as burning torches to light his Palace grounds.

Mother and son were now not getting on very well. Never the usual arguments of “Don’t just leave your pants there” or “You can do your own washing up you know”. No, no, no! These were about influence, power and privilege. Nero stripped his mother of all of her titles, powers and privileges in order to lower her influence. He kicked her out of her Palace and made her live in slightly less elegant digs in the Imperial compound.

They were now in a state of “I’M NEVER SPEAKING TO YOU AGAIN!!!” and Nero started to look at certain ways to free himself from the issues of his mother for good.

Agrippina was fond of taking little boat rides down the River Tiber on barges – sort of like an open topped tour of London I suppose. Nero had little chats with his old tutor, and they came up with a brilliant scheme to knock off his mother, and yet make it look like a complete accident. Matricide was, shall we say, frowned upon in Ancient Rome… although in this case it was almost understandable. Stabbing and poisoning were a little too “on the nose” for Nero, so they came up with something even better…

A Self-Sinking Boat.

Nero had designed the boat to have a collapsing ceiling made of lead. The ceiling would fall, hopefully crush Agrippina, and then the boat would sink, taking all evidence to the bottom of the mighty Tiber. The ceiling did collapse, however a sofa broke the fall of the lead and saved Agrippina. Roman manufacture at it’s best eh?! Her Bezzie mate on the other hand, was thrown into the water, and bludgeoned by the oarsmen… she had claimed to be the Emperors Mother in order to be saved first… stupid cow.

Do you ever get that sinking feeling?

The boat failed to sink straight away, so the crew, who worked for Nero, started punching holes in the bottom. As the boat slowly sank, Agrippina managed to swim all the way to the bank, where friends and admirers saved her.

Nero was furious, and so sent three assassins to do away with his troublesome mother. Talk about throwing your toys out the pram! Jesus… or should that be Jupiter?

The attempts on Agrippina’s life got more and more like a “Carry On” film.

Collapsing beds, poisoned figs, stabbers hiding in her bedroom – it was all rather stupid. Finally though, death caught up with her. The story goes that as the assassin raised his knife, Agrippina said “Smite my womb!” an implication taken by some that it was from there her “abominable son” had come into the world.

Makes you feel sorry for her eh?

Nero was haunted by the murder of his mother for the rest of his life. He was tormented by her ghost, and sent throughout the Empire for someone to free him from her torments… I’d have settled for some nice Roman wine but hey ho.

But Nero got his comeuppance in the end.

Rebellion plagued the once peaceful Empire. Surrounded by enemies, Nero fled Rome to a villa, and from there was told that men were on their way to assassinate him for the Roman people. He stabbed himself, with the words “What an artist dies in me!” Someone get a BAFTA for that man!

So there you have it. The next time you feel your temper rising against your mother or even your mother - in -law, try to quell it as soon as possible. It’s only a short step from losing one’s rag and having a boat made with collapsible ceilings in order to get a bit of peace and quiet!

Up the Imperfect Parenting Revolution!

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