Pisonian conspiracy

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The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 was a major turning point in the reign of the Roman emperor 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 which followed.


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.[1]

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;[2] When Proculus complained to Epicharis that Nero did not favor him, she revealed the plot without giving him names. Instead of joining the conspiracy, as Epicharis thought he would, Proculus turned her in. She revealed nothing under torture and managed to avoid extended suffering through suicide.

Right before the conspirators plot was put into motion a freedman named Milichus discovered the conspiracy and reported it to Nero's secretary Epaphroditos.[3][4] The plot promptly collapsed as many conspirators quickly gave up everything they knew. Nero ordered Piso, the philosopher Seneca, his nephew Lucan, and the satirist 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.[5]

Named conspirators[edit]

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 women.

Executed or forced to commit suicide[edit]

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 Vestinus Atticus.[citation needed]

Exiled or denigrated[edit]

Novius Priscus, Annius Pollio, 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[citation needed]

Pardoned or acquitted[edit]

Antonius Natalis, Cervarius Proculus, Statius Proximus, Gavius Silvanus, Acilia.[citation needed]

Modern fiction[edit]

The novel by Naomi Mitchison, The Blood of the Martyrs (1939) is set in the months leading up to the failure of the conspiracy.


  1. ^ Pagán, Victoria Emma (2004). Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-292-70561-1. 
  2. ^ Tacitus, Annals, 15.51.1
  3. ^ Pagán, p. 85
  4. ^ Bunson, Matthew (1994). "Pisonian Conspiracy". Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. New York: Facts on File. 
  5. ^ Plutarch, Moralia 505C