Nero’s death is in many ways the summary of the many historical as well as personal psychological contradictions. Suetonius gives an interesting account of it though one wonders what the source is. “What an artist dies with me!”
Nero’s death was by suicide, aged 31. His demise was favoured by the Senatorial class, perhaps mourned by the plebeians and liberti. Few actually saw his dead body and the place of his suicide remained vague. He was not buried with the usual imperial pomp, nor with the rest of the Julio-Claudian dynasty in Augustus’ mausoleum but rather in his family tomb of the Ahenobarbi on the pincian hill (near Piazza del Popolo). His funeral was provided for by Claudia Acte, a former slave who had held a long relationship with the emperor during Nero’s first marriage with his first wife Octavia.
The rather unclear circumstances of death gave rise to a great many popular myths around the figure of Nero and his expected return which persisted long after his death : even St. Augustine in the 4th century wrote that the myth lived on. At least three presumed Neros rose to some form of political challenge in later years, all of which were captured and sentenced to death. The myth was fueled further by forgeries of imperial proclamations in his name which encouraged his followers.
For evident reasons Nero’s name was closely related to that of the Antichrist by the Christians though this is interestingly at odds with his broad support among the plebeians and slaves in general.
The Nero myth lived on well into the middle ages, when it was widely believed that Nero’s ghost haunted the walls of Rome near the northern gate of the city, near the Pincian hill where his family tomb lay near a wood of Poplar trees (which later gave their name to Piazza del Popolo square). Furthermore Nero’s ghost was said to feast with devils and witches under a nut tree near the gates: leading to the tree being burnt down and a chapel built over it by Pope Pasquale II (1099-1118AD).
Though incorrect, popular belief has it that Nero’s tomb can still be seen along the ancient Roman road of the via Cassia.