The conspiracy of
Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 was a major turning
point in the reign of the
Nero (reign 54–68). The plot
reflected the growing discontent among the ruling class of the Roman
state with Nero's increasingly despotic leadership, and as a result is
a significant event on the road towards his eventual suicide and the
chaos of the
Year of Four Emperors
Year of Four Emperors which followed.
2 Named conspirators
2.1 Executed or forced to commit suicide
2.2 Exiled or denigrated
2.3 Pardoned or acquitted
3 Modern fiction
Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of
literature, and orator, intended to have
Nero assassinated, and
replace him as Emperor through acclamation by the Praetorian Guard. He
enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and
soldiers with a loosely conceived plan in which Faenius Rufus—joint
prefect of the
Praetorian Guard with Ofonius Tigellinus—would
conduct Piso to the Praetorian Camp, where the Guard would acclaim him
as emperor. The conspirators were said to have varying motives. Some
wished to replace
Nero with a better emperor, others wished to be free
of emperors altogether, and restore a purely Republican form of
government. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the ringleaders
included a Praetorian tribune named Subrius Flavus, and a centurion
named Sulpicius Asper, who helped Piso devise the plot.
The conspiracy was put in jeopardy by a woman named Epicharis, who
divulged parts of the plan to Volusius Proculus, a fleet captain in
Campania. Epicharis was involved with the conspiracy and was
attempting to move it along faster; When Proculus complained to
Nero did not favor him, she informed him of the
conspiracy. Proculus informed
Nero of the conspiracy and Epicharis was
arrested. Though she denied the accusations, the conspiracy collapsed
and Epicharis was tortured brutally. While on transport to be tortured
a second time, she committed suicide by strangling herself with her
On the morning that the conspirators' plot was to be carried out a
freedman named Milichus and his wife discovered the conspiracy and
reported it to Nero's secretary, Epaphroditos. The plot
collapsed as Scevinus, the man Milichus served, and Natalis, two
conspirators whom Milichus accused, quickly gave up everything they
Nero ordered Piso, the philosopher Seneca, his nephew Lucan, and the
Petronius to commit suicide. Many others were also killed. In
Plutarch's version, one of the conspirators remarked to a condemned
prisoner that all would change soon (because
Nero would be dead). The
prisoner reported the conversation to Nero, who had the conspirator
tortured until he confessed the plot.
The ancient Roman historian, Tacitus, writes in Annals that "It was
Subrius Flavus and the centurions had decided in private
conference, though not without Seneca's knowledge, that, once
been struck down by the agency of Piso, Piso should be disposed of in
his turn, and the empire made over to Seneca; who would thus appear to
have been chosen for the supreme power by innocent men, as a
consequence of his distinguished virtues."
See also Members of the Pisonian conspiracy
At least 41 individuals were accused of being part of the conspiracy.
Of the known 41, there were 19 Senators, 7 Equites, 11 soldiers, and 4
Executed or forced to commit suicide
Piso, Plautius Lateranus, Lucan, Afranius Quintianus, Flavius
Scaevinus, Claudius Senecio, Vulcatius Araricus, Julius Augurinus,
Munatius Gratus, Marcius Festus, Faenius Rufus, Subrius Flavus,
Sulpicius Asper, Maximus Scaurus, Venetus Paulus, Epicharis, Seneca
the Younger, Antonia, Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus.
Exiled or denigrated
Novius Priscus, Annius Pollio, Publius Glitius Gallus, Rufrius
Crispinus, Verginius Flavus, Musonius Rufus, Cluvidienus Quietus,
Julius Agrippa, Blitius Catulinus,
Petronius Pricus, Julius Altinus,
Caesennius Maximus, Caedicia, Pompeius, Cornelius Martialis, Flavius
Nepos, Statius Domitius
Pardoned or acquitted
Antonius Natalis, Cervarius Proculus, Statius Proximus, Gavius
Silvanus, Acilia.
The novel by Naomi Mitchison, The Blood of the Martyrs (1939) is set
in the months leading up to the failure of the conspiracy.
^ Pagán, Victoria Emma (2004).
Conspiracy Narratives in Roman
History. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. p. 73.
^ Tacitus, Annals, 15.51.1
^ Tacitus. "The Annals".
^ Pagán, p. 85
^ Bunson, Matthew (1994). "Pisonian Conspiracy". Encyclopedia of the
Roman Empire. New York: Facts on File.
^ Abbott, Jacob. "Nero".
^ Plutarch, Moralia 505C
^ Tacitus; Jackson, J. (1925–1937). Annals. Harvard University
Press. p. 321. CS1 maint: