In the early years of Nero's reign he is guided by wise counselors, particularly his old tutor Seneca. But soon he feels free to follow his own inclinations. Within a few years his riotous personal behavior is deeply offending the Romans, who are also unimpressed by his insistence on performing in public - as charioteer, lute-player, poet and actor.
The murder in AD 55 of his young stepbrother Britannicus is hardly surprising in the context of the time; the boy is inevitably a threat as the son of the previous emperor. More unusual are the deaths of Nero's mother and wife.
In 58 Nero falls passionately in love with a married woman, Poppaea, the wife of Otho. Agrippina criticizes her son's liaison and is murdered in 59. Octavia, as his wife, is an unfortunate impediment; Nero divorces her, on a false charge of adultery, and then has her killed. He marries Poppaea in 62.
Nero becomes so unpopular that many believe he started the great Fire of Rome in 64, so as to give himself the grandiose pleasure of rebuilding the city. The accusation (which leads to the first persecution of the Christians) is unjust. So is the legend that the histrionic emperor plays his fiddle while Rome burns. But the stories reflect more genuine grievances.
Nero's extravagances have drained the imperial coffers. His inattention to affairs of state is reflected in serious rebellions at both extremes of the empire, in Britain in 60 and Palestine in 66. Soon even Romans are in revolt.
In AD 68 Roman officials and legions in Gaul and Spain declare themselves against the emperor. In Rome the praetorian guards follow suit. The senate passes a vote of censure on Nero. Recognizing the inevitable, he slits his throat.
There is no living male member of the Julian or Claudian families to claim the imperial crown. But the legions in various parts of the empire have their own ideas. For the first time it is realized, as Tacitus later writes, that emperors can be made elsewhere than in Rome. In the resulting clash of interests, AD 69 becomes the year of the four emperors.
Nero has gone down in history as one of Rome's most cruel, depraved and megalomaniac rulers, often indulging in orgies and blamed for a devastating city fire which allowed the emperor to rebuild the city to his own tastes.
Poppaea was also criticized at the time. When, according to ancient records, Nero killed his first wife Octavia, Poppaea was said to have been presented with her head.
She then convinced Nero to commit matricide and was, according to the records, the real power behind the throne.