Ventrem feri Imperium

The Romans tried so hard to erase Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus from the memory of the Eternal City, and now their centuries of hard work are thwarted by this street art ‘monument’ which celebrates the archetype of cruelty of imperial Rome’s history.

Through artist Chekos, the GRAArt project chose to depict the last emperor of the Gens Giulia (on his mother’s side) and the Gens Claudia (on his father’s) on this wall of the GRA near Tor Vergata in an almost heroically large portrait .

But it is certainly not antiquarian spirit, nor praise for the monsters of history, and much less some risible nostalgia for authoritarian and repressive forces that we choose remember the tyrant who, by popular tradition, set fire to the city, but to continue to investigate which stories and legends nestle in the corners and streets of the capital.

As we look at this mural, our gaze is directed in the direction of Campania Felix, and it is of this that Chekos’s painting speaks to us: the remains of Pompeii, the yellow outline of Vesuvius that looms threateningly and the face of Agrippina in the foreground, there to harshly remind her son that she was killed on his order on March 23, 59 AD in the villa of Baia – where she had taken refuge after a first attempt by her son’s assassins to drown her – then to be rapidly buried in Bacoli (Naples),

In this piece, in fact, only the shadow empress, the mother of Nero Agrippina Minor, manages to obscure the face of the paranoid matricide.

Chekos’ aim is to turn these elements into symbols that reference the stories and legends of that first century after Christ which are linked to the area.

Only eleven years after the death of Nero – who committed suicide after being deposed by the Senate and left without protection although many wanted him dead – in 79 AD, Herculaneum and Pompeii were destroyed by fire during the eruption of Vesuvius.

Thus ended the love story that linked Rome to Campania, one of the favourite residences of the Gens Julia family.

Who knows if Nero had not already foreseen the sad outcome of this idyll in 62 AD when he was surprised by a violent earthquake during one of his concerts on the stage of a theatre in Naples – one of the tremors that had been occurring for some time and which foretold the imminent tragedy.

Stories of distant times, the dynamics of whose thinking it is difficult for us now to imagine, despite the writings of contemporary witnesses such as Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Elder, who lost his life in the eruption of Vesuvius .

To this thought the artist dedicates the final image, the one that closes the work: the statue of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite which is in the Louvre in Paris, a second century AD imperial Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue.

In this composition it seems to represent the personification of a serene Rome which enjoys the benefits of its holidays in Campania and which is as much woman as it is man – as though, in the carousel of pre-Christian carnival pleasures, sexual gender was not so important.

Work in progress

La storia

Hinc felix illa Campania est

This piece’s proximity to the motorway which connects Rome to Naples invites us to speak of the ancient bond that links these two territories. What for the Romans was the Campania Felix, in the definition of Pliny the Elder, is the historical theme of inspiration which narrates a bond that is emotional as well as territorial between a part of Campania and Rome, and which was broken dramatically in 79 AD with the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, Herculaneum and other towns in the area.

Pliny himself died that day. We know this thanks to his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who in a letter to the historian Tacitus recounted the tragic circumstances of his uncle’s disappearance and at the same time became a chronicler of the cataclysm that swept away a part of Rome which, despite its distance from Capitoline territory, was fundamental for the city.

The search for this relationship between Rome and ‘its’ Campania Felix also leads us necessarily to the imperial courts. And in this case to a story which had its epilogue in the first century, in a patrician villa in Baia in Campania: the murder of Agrippina Minor by her son Nero.

The life of the last emperor of the Julian-Claudian dynasty and of his associates is a perfect starting point for speaking about an entire system of values and its virtues and its vices, but also the grand culture that pervaded these areas and its geographies, and which, at least in the first century, favoured the restful landscapes of Campania. Naturally, therefore, the road leads back to Rome, to what remains of the Domus Aurea, and therefore, also to the Flavian Amphitheater or Colosseum, built to erase Nero’s memory.

But in speaking of the many shadows and lights of court life, there is one crucial method of resolving political conflicts in the eternal city that we cannot ignore: poison. The ubiquitous companion of the nobles of the day, it was a loyal ally of Augustus Agrippina and of her son Nero. In fact, both of them availed themselves of the services of Locusta the Gaul, the official poison-maker of the imperial court, who had her workshop on the Palatine Hill until power passed into the hands of the emperor Galba, who condemned her to death in a bloody public event the violence of which has gone down in history.



Born in Lecce in 1977, at the age of 13 Chekos moved to Milan where he began his artistic career, debuting as a graffiti artist in 1995.

After years of experimentation with graffiti art, the self-taught Chekos began to make Street Art with stencils and collages between the end of the ’90s and early 2000s. He has participated in numerous exhibitions and also works in graphic design, photography, publishing and event organization and creates illustrations and book covers.