Marcus Cocceius Nerva

 By Livioandronico2013 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Marcus Cocceius Nerva ruled Rome as emperor from 96-98 A.D., following the assassination of the much hated Emperor Domitian. Nerva was the first of the "five good emperors" and the first to adopt an heir who wasn't part of his biological family. Nerva had been a friend of the Flavians without children of his own. He built aqueducts, worked on the transport system, and built granaries to improve the food supply.

Family of Nerva

Nerva was born November 8, A.D. 30. His family was from Narnia, in Umbria. His grandfather Nerva had been consul under Tiberius. His mother was Sergia Plautilla.

Career of Nerva

Nerva was augur, sodalis Augustalis (priest of the deified Augustus), a Palatine salius (leaping priest of Mars), and a quaestor. He was praetor-designate in 65 when he was involved in revealing the conspiracy of Piso to Nero. In 71, Nerva held the consulship with Emperor Vespasian, and then in 90, with Domitian. In later years, Nerva fell out of favor with Domitian. Philostratus says he was banished to Tarentum.

Nerva as Emperor

When Nerva became emperor he swore not to execute senators; he released people who had been imprisoned under Domitian for treason; he prohibited slaves and freedmen from charging their masters with treason or adopting a Jewish lifestyle. Many informers were executed. Nerva destroyed Domitian's arches and statues, using the gold and silver elsewhere. He gave the property to those from whom it had been taken by his predecessor and put senators in charge of a land allotment to the poor. He forbade castration and uncles marrying nieces.


The praetorian guard was upset by the assassination of Domitian and demanded that Nerva surrender the assassins to them. The Empire was in trouble, but timely news of a victory over the Germans in Pannonia arrived. Nerva announced both the triumph of Trajan and that he was adopting Trajan as heir. Nerva wrote to Trajan telling him he was the new Caesar. Trajan would be the first non-Italian emperor.


In January 98 Nerva had a stroke. He died three weeks later. Trajan, his successor, had Nerva's ashes put in the mausoleum of Augustus and asked the Senate to deify him.

Sources: Lives of the Later Caesars
Cassius Dio 68
DIR - Nerva