The last Emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, Nero (r. 54-68) was the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, sister to the Emperor Caligula. Born in 37 A.D., the same year as Caligula’s accession, his mother became the fourth and last wife of the emperor Claudius. Agrippina’s main objective was to facilitate Nero’s succession by having Claudius adopt him in 50 A.D., thus giving him precedence over Britannicus, Claudius’s own son from his previous marriage. Nero’s succession to the empire was then sealed by his marriage to Claudius’s daughter Octavia in 53 A.D.
The seventeen-year-old Nero ascended to the throne after Claudius’ death in 54 A.D., initially demonstrating his devotion to Claudius by having him deified and promising to rule according to the principles of Augustus (Suetonius, “The Life of Nero,” 10.1, Lives of Caesars). These principles were promoted under the guidance of his advisors, the distinguished stoic philosopher Seneca and the commander of the praetorian guard, Afranius Burrus. However, as the years passed, a gradual change came over Nero’s reign and he became known as a profligate ruler. Ancient sources such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio tell how he raised taxes, resumed treason trials and was accused of appalling acts such as executing his mother, two of his wives and celebrating while Rome was consumed by fire in 64 A.D. Facing certain execution due to revolt of the governor Servius Sulpicius Galba and the public response to his notorious behaviour, Nero committed suicide on June 9th, 68 A.D.
Despite the fact that the Senate issued a damnatio memoriae following his suicide, enough portraits of Nero survive that a typological sequence has been compiled. Five types have been identified that relate to events in Nero's life. The present head corresponds to the third and most widely represented type, otherwise known as the accession or Cagliari type after a head of Nero now in the Museo Nazionale, Cagliari, see D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture, p. 138, fig. 111. The coiffure corresponds to the earlier types but with a fleshier face. The hair is brushed forward from the crown in slightly curved strands that fall low against the forehead and fork slightly to the left of the centre. To each side of the face there are two large curved sideburns, which reach far down the cheeks. For another Roman marble head of Nero of the Cagliari type, see Inv. No. 616 at the Museo delle Terme, Rome.