Great Fire of Rome

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The Torches of Nero, by Henryk Siemiradzki. According to Tacitus, Nero targeted Christians as those responsible for the fire.

The Great Fire of Rome was an urban fire that started on the night between 18 and 19 July in the year 64 AD.[1]

Historical accounts[edit]

The varying historical accounts of the event come from three secondary sources — Cassius Dio, Suetonius and Tacitus. The primary accounts, which possibly included histories written by Fabius Rusticus, Cluvius Rufus and Pliny the Elder, did not survive. These primary accounts are described as contradictory and gross exaggerations.[2] At least five separate stories circulated regarding Nero and the fire:

  • Motivated by a desire to destroy the city, Nero secretly sent out men pretending to be drunk to set fire to the city. Nero watched from his palace on the Palatine Hill singing and playing the lyre.[3]
  • Motivated by an insane whim, Nero quite openly sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero watched from the Tower of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill singing and playing the lyre.[4]
  • Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and played his lyre from a private stage.[5]:XV.38–44
  • The fire was an accident. Nero was in Antium.[5]:XV.38–9
  • The fire was caused by Christians.[5]:XV.44

Modern scholarship[edit]

Modern scholars tend to agree with Tacitus and believe that Nero probably did not cause the fire. It is postulated that the fire had been intentionally started to create room for Nero's Domus Aurea, but the fire started 1 km (0.6 miles) away from the site where this palace would later be built, on the other side of the Palatine Hill. Moreover, the fire destroyed parts of Nero's own palace, the Domus Transitoria. It seems unlikely that Nero wanted to destroy this palace since he actually salvaged some of the marble decoration and integrated it into the new Domus Aurea. Even the paintings and wall decorations of the new palace were similar to the ones that had been burned. Last, the fire started just two days after a full moon, a time that, it is presumed, would not have been chosen by arsonists who would not have wished to be observed.[6]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Dando-Collins, Stephen (September 2010). The Great Fire of Rome. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81890-5. 
  2. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38
  3. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16-17
  4. ^ Suetonius. "Life of Nero". Lives of Twelve Caesars. p. 38. 
  5. ^ a b c Tacitus. Annals. 
  6. ^ Griffin, Miriam T. (2000). Nero: The End of a Dynasty. Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-415-21464-3. 

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