Nerva  

18 September 96 - 27 January 98



18 September 96 - 27 January 98

Nerva

Nerva
Nerva
National Roman Museum

When it was publicly known that Domitian was slain, the senate loaded his memory with every reproach. His statues were commanded to be taken down, and a decree was made, that all his inscriptions should be erased, his name struck out of the registers of Fame, and his funeral omitted. Cocceius Nerva was chosen emperor by the senate, the day on which the tyrant was slain.

Nerva was of an illustrious family, by birth a Spaniard, and above sixtyfive years old when he was called to the throne. He was then the most remarkable man in Rome, for his virtues, moderation, and respect to the laws.

The people being long accustomed to tyranny, regarded Nerva's gentle reign with rapture. He swore that no senator of Rome should be put to death during his reign. This oath he so strictly observed, that when two senators had conspired his death, he used no severity against them; but carried them to the public theatre : there presenting each a dagger, he desired them to strike, as he was determined not toward off the blow.

During his short reign he made several good laws. He put all those slaves to death who had, during the last reign, informed against their masters. He permitted no statues to be erected to his honor. He retrenched many unreasonable expenses at court.

A life of such generosity and mildness was not without enemies. Virgilius Rusus, who had opposed him, was pardoned, and made colleague in the consulship. Calpurnius Crassus, with others, formed a conspiracy to destroy him. But the most dangerous insurrection against his interests was from the praetorian bands, who insisted upon revenging the death of Domitian.

Nerva did all in his power to stop this insurrection; he presented himself to the mutinous soldiers, and opening his bosom, desired them to strike there, rather than be guilty of such injustice. The soldiers paid no regard to his remonstrances, but seizing upon Petronius and Parthenius, slew them in the most ignominious manner. They even compelled the emperor to approve of their seditions.

So disagreeable a constraint upon his inclinations was attended with the most happy effects, as it caused the adoption of Trajan for his successor. About three months after, having put himself into a violent passion with one Regulus, a senator, he was seized with a fever, of which he died, after a short reign of a little more than one year.

He was the first foreign emperor who reigned in Rome, and justly reputed a prince of great generosity and moderation.

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