From his youth Nero (emperor from AD 54 to 69) was a great fan of Greek culture and he spoke Greek fluently. His main interests were poetry and music: he supported young poets and performed himself as kithara singer in the intimate circle of admiring friends. Of his poetic works, one of which dealt with the fall of Troy, nothing is preserved, however.

In AD 60 Nero established the first regular Greek games in the city of Rome; he called them Neronia. Literature and music played the main role and the victors dedicated their crowns to the emperor. Nero's first public participation was at the Naples Sebasta in AD 64. One year later he came on scene again as poet and kithara singer during the second Neroneia of 65 (not after 4, but after 5 years!). The next year he also appeared as charioteer in the Circus Maximus and he started his grand tour of Greece, his peregrinatio Achaica. All games of the periodos were held in a single year (the Olympic games were postponed almost two years for this occasion), so that Nero could become periodos-victor in just one year. He won all crowns for the musical contests (Olympia organised for this occasion a unique musical competition) and he also won the chariot races, though he fell from his chariot, when driving a ten-horse chariot instead of the usual four horses! The climax of his tour was his second appearance in Korinth, where he personally announced freedom for all the Greeks - after the example of Quinctius Flamininus -, a few months after having opened the new canal through the Isthmos.

On his return he held four 'triumphal entries', in Naples, in his birth place Antium, in his country residence Alba Longa and in Rome. On the last occasion he entered the city on the triumphal chariot of Augustus, dressed in a Greek garb, with the Olympic crown on his head and the Pythian crown around his right arm, through a breach which had been cut in the city wall. This was the triumph of the artist, not of the general. For this reason it ended in the temple of Apollo instead of that of Iupiter Capitolinus.

The Roman elite did not like the public appearance of an emperor in the games, especially as participant in the chariot races. They certainly disapproved when he forced them to participate in Roman spectacles, an activity for slaves. But it certainly contributed to Nero's popularity with ordinary men in the East. Being no longer able to cope with the hopeless political situation Nero took refuge in the applause of his Greek admirers, the only persons who "know how to appreciate me and my art". Eventually, he was killed and the Neronia abolished.

Reconstruction of the grand tour of Nero

Oct. 66 (?)                   Actia
early 67(?)                  Olympia
early 67(?)                  Nemea
April- May 67               Isthmia
Aug. 67                       Pythia
Aug. 67                       solemn inauguration of the Isthmos canal
28 Nov. 67                  proclamation of Greek independence in Korinth
Dec.67-early 68           the four triumphal entries
9 June 69                    Nero is killed

© KU Leuven, 2012