The Pisonian Conspiracy: The Beginning of the End For Emperor Nero

Seneca the Younger. Wikimedia

Brutal Retribution

Nero wanted to learn all the details of the plot, so he had Epicharis captured and tortured. On the second day of torture, the battered and beaten Epicharis refused to divulge any information and managed to strangle herself to defy her interrogators. Nero doubled his bodyguard and sent troops to arrest more suspects.

Even with the uncovering of the plot, there were some calls for Piso to mount the Rostra and try to get the people on his side. However, Piso refused and secluded himself in his home until Nero’s troops came to collect him. Nero encouraged Piso to commit suicide, and the statesman severed the arteries of each arm and bled to death.

The emperor moved swiftly to execute the remaining members of the conspiracy. Lateranus was dragged to a location normally used to execute slaves. He was killed by the tribune, Statius. Seneca was the next to die even though his part in the plot was never established according to Tacitus. A Tribune named Gavius Silvanus chased after Seneca and eventually found him at one of his country houses a few miles outside Rome. As Seneca was old and emaciated, the method of severing arteries in his arms was unsuccessful as the blood flowed so slowly. He hastened his demise by severing the arteries in the leg and behind the knee. His wife Paulina also tried to commit suicide but soldiers, acting on the orders of Nero, prevented her from bleeding to death.

Aftermath

There were at least 41 people involved in the Pisonian Conspiracy, and 19 were either executed or forced to commit suicide. Another 17 were exiled or denigrated, and only 5 were acquitted; including Natalis.

Although the conspiracy was uncovered in 65 AD, there was probably some plan to murder Nero for at least a year before it. By the time of the failed plot, Nero was a tyrannical leader and the fact that so many people wanted him dead meant his days were numbered.  He continued to be an unpopular ruler; his cause not helped by his antics in the Olympic Games in 67 AD as part of his obsession with being popular. Despite performing poorly in almost every event he entered, Nero was awarded victory because he bribed and intimidated the judges.

In March 68 AD, a governor rebelled against the emperor’s tax policies and called upon Servius Sulpicius Galba, another governor, to rise against Nero. Galba was named ‘hostis publicus’ (public enemy), but support for him grew. With nowhere left to turn, Nero fled to the villa of a freedman named Phaon some four miles outside Rome and committed suicide.

The people of Rome celebrated the death of the tyrant but the next year was a chaotic one as emperors came and went before Vespasian restored some order. Although the Pisonian Conspiracy was a failure, it was indicative of the unpopularity of Nero and a sign that his days were numbered.