Nero exhibition to look at misogynistic treatment of women

Sherna Noah, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent
·2-min read

An exhibition on Nero will examine the misogynistic treatment of women in the Roman Empire.

The British Museum is hoping to open its exhibition on Nero, who succeeded to the throne aged 16, next month.

It is billed as a “fresh look at the Emperor”, who is said to have killed his mother after an incestuous relationship with her, as well as killing his first and second wife and setting fire to Rome.

The exhibition will feature more than 200 objects to “question” the traditional depiction of the “tyrant”, which is based on a “narrow range” of “brutally biased and partisan” sources from just after Nero’s death, curators said.

A section will also examine the role of Imperial women, with women having been “vilified” and portrayed as “adulterous and incestuous”.

Head from a copper statue of the emperor Nero, found in England, AD 54–61 (The Trustees of the British Museum/PA)
Head from a copper statue of the emperor Nero, found in England, AD 54–61 (The Trustees of the British Museum/PA)

Curator Thorsten Opper said it is “shocking how misogynistic the sources are,” with tales of adultery being “politically motivated”.

“It has an impact on how little positive is remembered about these women,” he said.

The exhibition will feature “humble graffiti next to grand sculpture” and rare loans from Europe to go on show in the UK for the first time.

Visitors will be able to see graffiti, sculpture, manuscripts, objects destroyed in the fire of Rome, jewellery and slave chains from Wales, “telling the story of rich and poor”.

Other objects include a bronze head of Nero, long-mistaken as Claudius, which was found in the River Alde in Suffolk in 1907.

Terracotta relief showing a chariot-race, Italy, AD 40–70 (The Trustees of the British Museum/PA)
Terracotta relief showing a chariot-race, Italy, AD 40–70 (The Trustees of the British Museum/PA)

Treasure the Fenwick Hoard, discovered in 2014 beneath the floor of a shop in Colchester, will be shown.

British Museum director Hartwig Fischer defended the exhibition’s sponsorship by BP in the wake of controversy about links to the oil giant, saying partnerships are “crucial to delivering our mission”.

He said of the exhibition: “Nero: The Man Behind the Myth is the first major exhibition in the UK to look beyond the commonly-held view of Nero as the Emperor who fiddled while Rome burned.

“The exhibition’s representation of Nero is one that resonates with our times, in a world with deepening social and economic challenges, contested facts and the polarisation of opinion.”

Nero: The Man Behind the Myth runs from May to October 24 in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum. The Museum plans to reopen on May 17 and free tickets to visit the permanent collection are also available to book now.