Nero in Inscriptions

Damnatio Memoriae 

When the acts of an individual are judged suitably terrible to the Roman Empire, they can receive a damnatio memoriae. The purpose of this punishment was to remove any and all mentions of the affected individual, erasing them from history. It is debatable whether a successful damnatio memeoriae has ever been carried as future generations by definition would not know.

After his suicide, Nero received a damnatio memeoriae. The problem with attempting to erase such an extremely public figure such as the emperor was that it was not feasible to erase or cover up every single mention of his name. Cities and towns across the empire had put up statues and inscriptions honoring Nero, there were imperial decrees from Nero, and simply people who referred to Nero in their own inscriptions. To truly remove Nero from history would be an impossible task, and that is why today there are still inscriptions mentioning Nero. Some of them still have Nero mentioned while others seem to have him removed. What became apparent to me while searching through inscriptions was that those that mentioned Nero as an identifier were mostly left unmolested. Those that mentioned Nero in an honorific sense seemed to be the ones that were most desecrated. Several examples are listed below.

F034618

Figure 1

The transcription is as follows:

Marti Cicol/lui sacrum
pro salute [[Ne]]
[[ronis Caes(aris)]] Au[g(usti)]
German[i]ci i[mp(eratoris)]
p(atris) [p(atriae)]
cives Lingonum qui Cib[ernoduri?]
consistun[t ——
EDH: HD001275

This inscription above is from Germany. As you can see above, Nero Caesar has been removed completely. The beginning “Au” of Augustus is all that remains at the end of the line, but everything preceding that has been removed.

Vetus
Neronis Claud(i)
Caesar(is) Aug(usti)
corp(oris) cus(tos) n[atione]
Ba[ta(v)us —]
[——
EDH: HD000011

This inscription was found in Rome near the Tiber River. It is a tombstone for one of Nero’s many bodyguards.

Nero [Claudius divi Claudi f(ilius) Germanici Caes(aris)]
n(epos) Ti(beri) Ca[esaris Aug(usti) pron(epos) divi Aug(usti) abn(epos) Caesar Aug(ustus) Germ(anicus)]
pontif(ex) [max(imus) trib(unicia) pot(estate) — imp(erator) — co(n)s(ul) —]
[——
EDH: HD025493

This inscription was also found in Rome. It is one of the few found in Rome in which Nero has not been removed or altered.

Nero Claudius divi C[laudi Aug(usti) f(ilius)]
Germanici Caeseris(!) [Aug(usti) nepos]
Ti(beri) Caeseris(!) Aug(usti) [p]ro[nepos]
divi Aug(usti) abnepos
Caeser(!) Aug(ustus) Germa[nicus]
pont(ifex) max(imus) tri(bunicia) potesta[te V]
imp(erator) V co(n)s(ul) [III]
CCLIX
EDH: HD012023

This inscription comes from the provinces where Nero was still very popular at the time of his death, potentially explaining why Nero still appears in the inscription.

Inscriptions in Rome 

As mentioned above, Nero went through a damnatio memoriae. While clearly not completely successful because of the inscriptions shown above, it nevertheless significantly altered many inscriptions especially in Rome. As a result, the most common inscription still containing Nero in Rome turns out to be on tombstones, specifically for slaves. A possible explanation for this was that since it wasn’t viewed as an honorific for Nero, but rather as an identifier like a slave under Nero or a slave freed under Nero, these mentions were left untouched.

Nero Cla[udius divi Claudi filius —?]
Caesar Aug(ustus) Ger[manicus, pont(ifex) max(imus) —?]
[——]
EDR: EDR071874

This inscription was found in the Roman Forum. It is one of the few honorifics for Nero found in Rome.

Tombstone of Nero’s bodyguard

Figure 4: Tombstone of Nero’s bodyguard

The transcription is as follows:

Fannius
Neron(is) Claudi
Caesaris Aug(usti)
corpori(s) custos
dec(uria) Cotini
nation(e) Ubius
vixit ann(is) XIIX. H(ic) s(itus) e(st).
Posuit Corinthus,
dec(uria) aedem, heres eius,
ex colleg(io) German(orum).
EDR: EDR073884

Above is the tombstone for one of Nero’s many bodyguards (Figure 4). While the actual image of the tombstone is not the best, we have a transcription. From it, we can determine that this is a tombstone for one of Nero’s bodyguards, corporis custos, who is from Germany. Furthmore, we know that Corinthus, his heir, was the one who put up the tombstone. This specific tombstone is from the Portuense neighborhood of Rome.

Figure 4: A slave freed under Nero is a doctor at a Gladiator School

Figure 5: A slave freed under Nero is a doctor at a Gladiator School

The transcription is as follows:

Eutychus
Aug(usti) lib(ertus)
Neronianus,
medicus Ludi
Matutini, fecit sibi et
Irene lib(ertae) coniugi
carissimae
bene meritae et
libertis libertabusq(ue)
posterisque
eorum.
EDR: EDR110672

In this tombstone inscription,”Eutychus”, a slave freed under Nero, tells us that he is a doctor in a gladiatorial school, “medicus Ludi Matutini”. He also tells us of his wife Irene, who was also a former slave.

Inscription in the Provinces 

Nero was much more popular in the provinces than compared to Rome. He hosted many spectacles throughout the empire that the public enjoyed immensely. A result of his popularity was that the provinces have many more unaltered inscriptions than Rome, where Nero did not enjoy as nearly high levels of popularity.

Nero Claudius divi C[laudi Aug(usti) f(ilius)]
Germanici Caeseris(!) [Aug(usti) nepos]
Ti(beri) Caeseris(!) Aug(usti) [p]ro[nepos]
divi Aug(usti) abnepos
Caeser(!) Aug(ustus) Germa[nicus]
pont(ifex) max(imus) tri(bunicia) potesta[te V]
imp(erator) V co(n)s(ul) [III]
CCLIX
EDH: HD012023

This inscription is from Spain. It is from a milestone and it mentions all of Nero’s titles.

Inscription with Nero’s name removed

Figure 2: Inscription with Nero’s name removed

The transcription is as follows:

Marti Camulo
sacrum pro
salute [[Neronis]]
Claudi Caesaris
[A]ug(usti) Germanici Imp(eratoris)
[c]ives Remi qui
[t]emplum constitu
erunt
o(b) c(ives) s(ervatos)
EDH: HD004267

As you can see above, almost all of Nero’s title is still visible except for Nero. While he was more popular in the provinces, that did not mean that the damnatio memoriae did not apply. As shown above, whomever altered this inscription left Cladius Caesar Augustus Germanicus while covering Nero with Tiberius.

Nero Claudius divi Claudi f(ilius) Germani[ci]
Caesaris n(epos) Ti(beri) Caesaris Aug(usti) pron(epos) divi
Aug(usti) abn(epos) Caesar Aug(ustus) Germanicus
pont(ifex)
max(imus) trib(unicia) pot(estate) XI imp(erator) VIIII p(ater) p(atriae) co(n)s(ul) IIII
peditibus et equitibus qui militant
EDH: HD004855

This inscription was located in what is now Croatia. It is a good example of how it became more common for Nero to survive unscathed as the damnatio memoriae became less effective and enforced when moving further away from Rome.

Inscription with Nero’s complete title

Figure 3: Inscription with Nero’s complete title

The transcription is as follows:

Q(uinto) Paesidio C(ai) f(ilio)
Aem(ilia) Macedoni
prim(o) pil(o) leg(ionis) IX Hisp(anae)
praef(ecto) castror(um) leg(ionis) IV
Scythic(ae) trib(uno) milit(um) leg(ionis)
eiusdem auguri
flamini Neronis Claudii Caesaris Aug(usti)
Germanici
EDH: HD026035

This inscription was found Dyrrachium, modern day Alabania.