Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nero didn't actually fiddle while Rome burned

But today is the anniversary of the start of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D.

We may acquit the Emperor Nero of the charge of fiddling while Rome burned mainly because the fiddle had not yet been invented.

While some sources say Nero was out of town when the fire happened, and that he rushed home to launch a personal public relief campaign, the Roman historian Dio Cassius, however, not only accuses Nero of having the fire set, he also charges that, "While the whole population was in this state of mind and many, crazed by the disaster, were leaping into the very flames, Nero ascended to the roof of the palace, from which there was the best general view of the greater part of the conflagration, and assuming the lyre-player's garb, he sang the 'Capture of Troy,' as he styled the song himself, though to the enemies of the spectators it was the Capture of Rome."

What happened after the Great Fire is not disputed. The Great Fire provided an excuse for the first major persecution of Christians at Rome. In addition all other sorts of public executions, since Nero wanted the Christians blamed for the fire, some unlucky Christians were burned as torches.

Also undisputed is that a large tract of land was set aside from the burned out areas for use by Nero himself. Among other things, he built himself a truly gigantic, luxurious palace, the Domus Aurea.

This was a bad move from every conceivable public relations standpoint -- and as soon as Nero was eliminated, the Domus Aurea began to be eliminated, too, the area being rededicated to public uses including the Flavian Amphitheater (you know it as the Coliseum) and the Baths of Trajan.

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