The Great Fire of… Rome?

By: The Scribe on Friday, January 28, 2011

It is likely that many people have heard of the Great Fire of London which swept through the city in 1666 and which burned for four days. Rome also suffered a devastating fire that burned through the city for five and a half days in 64 CE. Like the Great Fire of London, this blaze consumed much of the city of Rome. This was the blaze that earned Nero his nefarious, but untrue reputation. Although he was believed to have been responsible for the fire he would not have been able to fiddle while the city burned, since it took another thousand years for the instrument to be invented.

A bust of the Roman Emperor NeroNero was not a popular Emperor, so it is no wonder that he is held at least partly to blame for the blaze. Nero ruled Rome from 54 to 68 CE. He was known for two main things: his focus on diplomacy and his persecution of Christians. He was also known for executing his mother and stepbrother and as a ruler who was extremely extravagant. It was no wonder that an angry population blamed him for the fire even though he was, according to the accounts of the historian Tacitus, away in Antium at the time that the fire broke out.

The fire destroyed a massive portion of the city and left many people homeless. The city at the time was divided up into fourteen separate districts. Of these, three were completely destroyed by the fire. Seven others were damaged and four were left untouched. When the blaze came under control almost a week after it began, a tenth of the city had been burned by the fire.

This left a large number of people homeless. When Nero returned to the city, he opened up his own residence in order to provide shelter to people who had been burned out of their homes. As the supply of food was also an issue, Nero paid to have food delivered as well.Part of the interior of the Domus Aurea

The city was rebuilt. One new structure was the Domus Aurea, a new palace complex. Some rumors hinted that Nero had actually arranged for the city to burn just so that he could build his majestic new residence but that theory is debated simply because the fire started some distance away from where the palace was built.

One other theory was that Christians had started the blaze. At that time, they were not welcome in Rome and were subjected to horrific treatment at the hands of Nero. Some were thrown to dogs as a way of torturing them for their beliefs. There were also accounts of Christians being set ablaze and used as lighting for some areas at night. Although some Christians did confess to starting the Great Fire of Rome it is suspected that they only did so after being tortured so that they could serve as scapegoats.

Although this was one of the largest fires that Rome experienced there were several others that are worth noting. The fires took place first in 69 CE, during the reign of the Emperor Vitellius and again in 80 CE during the reign of the Emperor Titus.


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