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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

M. Cocceius Nerva, who on being chosen Emperor was henceforth known as Imperator Nerva Caesar (sometimes Caesar Nerva) Augustus, son of M. Cocceius Nerva, a jurisconsult, and Sergia Plautilla, was born at Narnia on the Via Flaminia in Southern Umbria on 8th November, probably in a.d. 35. He was elected praetor for the year 66. He gained favour with the Emperor Nero by his interest in poetry and his help in the detection of the Pisonian conspiracy. After election to various priesthoods he attained the consulship (with the Emperor Vespasian) in the year 71 (for the second time in 90 with the Emperor Domitian). Under the Emperor Domitian he was falsely charged by astrologers with being in possession of the Emperor’s horoscope, and was banished, it is said, to Tarentum.

On the murder of Domitian on 18th September, 96, he was, at the instance of Petronius Secundus, prefect of the praetorian guard, and Parthenius, the murderer of Domitian, elected Emperor, though over sixty years of age. He held the consulship for the third time in 97, for the fourth in 98. In the autumn of 97 he adopted M. Ulpius Traianus. He died in his sixty-third year (25th [or 27th] Jan. 98), having ruled for sixteen months and ten days.

His reign was auspicious, though short. Anyone would have been welcome after the reign of terror under Domitian, and the Senate gave him a hearty reception. Some of the informers of Domitian’s reign were put to death, but in general a policy of clemency was followed, and some of the leading partisans of Domitian continued to enjoy places of honour. Many who had been unjustly banished under the Domitianic regime were recalled, amongst them the well-known rhetorician, Dio Cocceianus of Prusa, best known to us as Dio Chrysostom. It is highly probable also that the apostle John was automatically released from confinement in Patmos, as the death of Domitian of necessity constituted his acta null and void (Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)III. xx. 8; cf. W. M. Ramsay, The First Christian Century, London, 1911, p. 45). Nerva also recalled to public service worthy men who had been driven into retirement by the policy of Domitian. His task at home was nevertheless one of very great difficulty, and he was wisely guided in adopting Trajan (q.v.[Note: .v. quod vide, which see.]). There was also external trouble-a war with Germany. Our reports are difficult to reconcile and to understand, but at any rate both Nerva and Trajan received the honorary title Germanicus about the end of the year 97.

Nerva depended for support upon the Senate, and took an oath to put no senator to death. He had to replenish the exchequer, which had been much depleted by the folly of Domitian, and he proved a master of finance, not shrinking from great personal sacrifices in his efforts to right the situation. He appointed a commission of five men, minuendis publicis sumptibus, and was able to remit a good deal of taxation. Most remarkable of all his achievements from the modern point of view was his alimentary foundation, which there is reason to believe was the perpetuation of a scheme inaugurated by Domitian. In most of the Italian towns he provided contributions from the privy purse for the education of the children of freeborn parents of slender means. The money for this special purpose seems to have been derived from land. The Emperor’s plan was followed not only by his successors, but also by private persons like the younger Pliny. Nerva also had an agrarian law passed to relieve agriculture, and carried out a land-purchase scheme which enabled the poor to obtain small-holdings. Further, he established coloniae in various parts of the Empire, and conferred advantages, both material and political, on a number of towns, particularly in the Greek East (e.g. BerCEa). Like all the Emperors, he had the food problem of Rome to cope with, and in this he was successful. Other wise and beneficent legal provisions are attributed to him.

Though careful of expenditure, he did not neglect building, and the Forum Neruae (or Forum Transitorium) in Rome attests his activity in this direction. Part of the Temple of Minerva in it still stands in situ. Considerable improvement and development of roads and aqueducts both in Italy and in the provinces are also associated with this principate. Nerva died a natural death at Rome, the result of old age and illness. The burial in the Mausoleum of Augustus was superintended by Trajan, and Nerva was deified by the Senate. His reign began a new era of liberty and good government, which lasted for about eighty years.

Literature.-Xiphilinus (Epitome of Dio Cassius, lxvii. 15-lxviii. 3), Aurelius Victor (Epitome de Caesaribus), Pliny the Younger (Letters and Panegyric of Trajan), Philostratus (Apollonius of Tyana), Dio Chrysostom (Orations), Frontinus (De Aquis Urbis Romae) are the chief ancient authorities. Of modern authorities, the Histories of the Roman Empire should be consulted, also E. Klebs, Prosopographia Imperii Romani, saec. i., ii., iii., pars i. [Berlin, 1897], no. 974, p. 429 f., and Stein in Pauly-Wissowa[Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.], iv. 133-154.

A. Souter.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [2]

Roman emperor from 96 to 98, elected by the Senate; ruled with moderation and justice; resigned in favour of Trajan, as from age unable to cope with the turbulence of the Prætorian Guards.