Monday, September 19, 2005

Nerva (96-98 A.D.)

Nerva (96-98 A.D.). This is a good biography of the elderly man who replaced the hated Domitian as Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Edward Gibbons claimed that Nerva was the first of the Five Good Emperors. He changed the practice of Imperial succession where the Emperor picked his successor based on ability rather than on family inheritance. The system worked for the next 90 years until Marcus Aurelius had the bad sense to allow his son Commodus to inherit the throne.

From the site:

Nerva was born on 8 November, 30 A.D.[[2]] Little is known of his upbringing beyond the fact that he belonged to a senatorial family and pursued neither a military nor a public speaking career. On the other hand, he did hold various priesthoods and was a praetor-designate.[[3]] More importantly, as praetor designate in 65, Nerva was instrumental in revealing the conspiracy of Piso against the emperor Nero.

As a result, he received triumphal ornaments and his statue was placed in the palace.[[4]] Following Nero's fall in 68, Nerva must have realized that support of Vespasian and the Flavian cause was in his best interests.[[5]] In 71 his loyalty was rewarded with a joint consulship with the emperor, the only time that Vespasian ever held the office without his son Titus. It was under the reign of Vespasian's other son, Domitian, that Nerva's political fortunes were ultimately determined, however. He shared the ordinary consulship with Domitian in 90, an honor that was perhaps the result of his alerting the emperor about the revolt of Antonius Saturninus, the governor of Upper Germany, in 89.[[6]] Even so, like so many others of the senatorial class, Nerva came under scrutiny in the final years of Domitian's reign, when the emperor was unwilling to tolerate any criticism.

Whether or not Nerva was forced to withdraw from public life during Domitian's final years remains an open question.[[7]] What is not in dispute is that he was named emperor on the same day that Domitian was assassinated in September, 96. Indeed, in some respects the accession was improbable, since it placed the Empire under the control of a feeble sexagenarian and long-time Flavian supporter with close ties to the unpopular Domitian. On the other hand, Nerva had proven to be a capable senator, one with political connections and an ability to negotiate. Moreover, he had no children, thereby ensuring that the state would not become his hereditary possession.

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