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 father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, gaining experience by holding a series of official positions.In AD 65 Nero awarded Nerva spacial honours for for his help in suppressing the conspiracy of Piso.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.'

Though the feeling of rediscovered liberty among Romans brought with it new problems.

For an elderly Nerva had difficulty restoring order. If under Domitian, nobody had been allowed to do anything, then now under Nerva everyone did whatever they liked.