Marcus Cocceius Nerva was born on 8 November at Narnia, 50 miles north of Rome.
Nerva was born into the household of a wealthy lawyer whose family was well accustomed to holding high office. Nerva's great-grandfather had even been consul in 36 BC and his grandfather had been a member of emperor Tiberius' imperial entourage. Nerva's mother was even the great-granddaughter of Tiberius.
His grandfather was in the imperial entourage at the time of Nerva's birth. On his aunt on his mother's side of the family was even the great-granddaughter of Tiberius.
The young Nerva naturally followed in his fatherís and grandfatherís footsteps, gaining experience by holding a series of official positions. Nerva showed great political talent in his ability to hold onto high office as emperors came and went.
Nerva, much like Claudius earlier, was by all accounts most likely a reluctant emperor. He appear to especially seek out this office for himself. The historian Cassius Dio tells how Nerva, apparently in danger of being accused of treason by a paranoid Domitian, was approached by the conspirators planning the emperor's murder. It seemed he accepted the role of successor more to save his own life than out of ambition.
Nerva, already in his sixties when he came to power, was an old man by Roman standards. He is said to have been frail and often ill, with a tendency to vomit up his food and a habit to overindulge with wine. He was a kindly and amiable ruler. And he was one of the very few, perhaps even the only emperor, who could could make this famous claim: 'I have done nothing as emperor that would prevent my laying down the imperial office and returning to private life in safety.'
The senate acclaimed emperor by the senate on 18 September AD 96, on the very same day of Domitian's death. Domitian had been despised by the senate. Once the hated emperor was gone, popular anger vented itself on Domitian's statues and arches which were all demolished. Domitian's extensive network of informers abandoned, some of the spies were even executed. Furthermore, an amnesty was granted to those who had been banished from Rome by Domitian and their properties were restored to them. The tyrant gone there was a general sense of euphoria.
Though the feeling of rediscovered liberty among Romans brought with it new problems.
Nerva's policies were largely ment to increase his popularity, but could also be seen as good government. Storehouses were built for grain, and aquaeducts received much-needed repairs and maintenance.
Nerva may have been popular with the people and the senate, but the army still held dear the memory of Domitian, who had given them their first pay-rise since emperor Augustus.
Alas relations with the military reached crisis point in summer of AD 97. Nerva had made the mistake of replacing the praetorian prefects Secundus and Norbanus, who it was thought could not be kept in their positions after their part in the assassination of Domitian.
Though Nerva was unharmed, his authority was left in tatters by this incident. An emperor without the support of the army could not hope for a long reign.
Nerva's died after a brief reign of only 16 months, on 28 January AD 98. In a fit of anger he suddenly began sweating profusely. Soon after this he developed into a fever, and he died shortly afterwards. He was by the senate. As as a further sign respect, his ashes were placed in the Mausoleum of Augustus, next to those of the Julio-Claudian emperors.