Born on this day, December 15th, 37 AD, the great, great grandson of Emperor Augustus, known popularly as Nero, he was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.
Nero was a populist. He instigated broad improvement and reform programmes in his reign, and entertained the people with games, plays and music. All of which was funded by taxing the rich. As a result the wealthy Romans and Provincial magnates hated him and made numerous attempts to assassinate him.
The greatest damage to his name in posterity was his supposed persecution of Christians. The great fire of Rome in 64 AD destroyed a quarter of the city. Accounts of what happened vary, but the version handed down by the Medieval Christian Church is the one that stuck. Nero fiddled while Rome burned (violins had not been invented). He burned down the city himself to create space for his personal mansion. He blamed the Christians and had them fed to the lions in the Colosseum (which had not yet been built).
When Rome was rebuilt after the fire the insulae were well spaced on broad boulevards and constructed of brick, greatly reducing the risk of future conflagrations. At the heart of the rebuilding was the Domus Aurea, the Golden House of Nero, the palace that drew the wrath of the wealthy taxpayers.
In the vestibule of the Domus Nero erected a 100 foot bronze statue of himself, called the Colossus of Nero. For reference it was about the same size as the Statue of Liberty in New York. A generation later when the Flavians were building their amphitheatre they they modified the statue to convert it from Nero to a representation of Sol, the Roman Sun God.
In 128 AD Emperor Hadrian had the Colossus moved, a feat requiring the aid of 24 elephants and had it erected outside the Flavian amphitheatre. The Romans nicknamed the Flavian the “Colosseum” because of the statue, and the name stuck.
Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma;
quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma;
quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.
While the Colossus stands, Rome stands;
when the Colossus falls, Rome falls;
when Rome falls, the world falls.
Attributed to the Venerable Bede, the 8th Century monk, Father of English History.