The Great Fire of Rome

Robert,_Hubert_-_Incendie_à_Rome_- 2

During the night of July 18, 64 AD, a fire had broke out in the merchant area of the city. Strong summer winds fanned the fire, with flames quickly spreading throughout the old dry wooden buildings of the city. As the fire grew larger, it took on a life of its own, consuming everything in its path. It burned for six days and seven nights before finally coming under control. By then, the city of Rome was in ruins, with some seventy percent of the city destroyed.

Through a messenger, the emperor Nero was informed of the events in Rome, he returns from his house at Antium (where he was supposedly staying at the time) and organises an extensive relief and building program for the people of Rome. However, this story has a darker twist to it. In the aftermath of the fire, rumours spread that Nero, himself, was the culprit who started the fire. Some historical accounts also claim that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but could this be simply a metaphor for his inaction during the early days of the fire ? He likely didn’t start the fire nor fiddle as Rome burned, however the Romans were very suspicious of his motives later for wanting to rebuild Rome greater than before. One cannot simply put these suspicions aside particularly since many new buildings, courtyards, villas and monuments were in his name and favour. In order to throw off suspicion that he was not responsible for the fire he needed a reliable scapegoat. He found it in the Christians. He would blame them for the fire because of their apocalyptic belief that Rome and the world would end by fire. This would then lead to an active campaign against them with  horrible prosecutions.  Both, the fire and the persecution of the Christians would become the defining image of his reign.

As, for Rome, a city made of marble and stone would grow from the ashes. The rebuild would incorporate wider streets, plenty of pedestrian arcades and ample supplies of water to extinguish any future fires.

Categories: Disasters, Roman History

Tags: , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I read a theory somewhere – I can’t remember where – that the Great Fire of London may have been allowed to spread deliberately by those invested in tearing down the old city and rebuilding it with much greater monuments, architecture and a whole new city plan. That may have echoed, if true, the Burning of Rome. I’ve also always considered it – if Nero started it himself – to be one of the earliest historic examples of what people nowadays call a ‘false-flag’: committing a crime for your own agenda but blaming it on someone else for sociopolitical purposes.


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