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NERO00000001.gif Dio Cassius on Nero and the Great Fire 64 A.D.

Dio Cassius (c.155-235 CE): Roman History, 62.16-18

Nero had the wish---or rather it had always been a fixed purpose of his---to make an end of the whole city in his lifetime. Priam he deemed wonderfully happy in that he had seen Troy perish at the same moment his authority over her ended. Accordingly, Nero sent out by different ways men feigning to be drunk, or engaged in some kind of mischief, and at first had a few fires kindled quietly and in different quarters; people, naturally, were thrown into extreme confusion, not being able to find either the cause of the trouble nor to end it; and meantime met with many strange sights and sounds. They ran about as if distracted, and some rushed one way, some another. In the midst of helping their neighbors, men would learn that their own homes were blazing. Others learned, for the first time, that their property was on fire, by being told it was burned down. People would run from their houses into the lanes, with a hope of helping from the outside, or again would rush into the houses from the streets seeming to imagine they could do something from the inside. The shouting and screaming of children, women, men, and gray beards mingled together unceasingly; and betwixt the combined smoke and shouting no one could make out anything.

All this time many who were carrying away their own goods, and many more who were stealing what belonged to others kept encountering one another and falling over the merchandise. It was impossible to get anywhere; equally impossible to stand still. Men thrust, and were thrust back, upset others, and were upset themselves, many were suffocated or crushed; in short, no possible calamity at such a disaster failed to befall.

This state of things lasted not one day, but several days and nights running. Many houses were destroyed through lack of defenders; and many were actually fired in more places by professed rescuers. For the soldiers (including the night watch) with a keen eye for plunder, instead of quenching the conflagration, kindled it the more. While similar scenes were taking place at various points, a sudden wind caught the fire and swept it over what remained. As a result nobody troubled longer about goods or homes, but all the survivors, from a place of safety, gazed on what appeared to be many islands and cities in flames. No longer was there any grief for private loss, public lamentation swallowed up this---as men reminded each other how once before the bulk of the city had been even thus laid desolate by the Gauls.

While the whole people was in this state of excitement, and many driven mad by calamity were leaping into the blaze, Nero mounted upon the roof of the palace, where almost the whole conflagration was commanded by a sweeping glance, put on the professional harpist's garb, and sang "The Taking of Troy" (so he asserted), although to common minds, it seemed to be "The Taking of Rome."

The disaster which the city then underwent, had no parallel save in the Gallic invasion. The whole Palatine hill, the theater of Taurus, and nearly two thirds of the rest of the city were burned. Countless persons perished. The populace invoked curses upon Nero without intermission, not uttering his name, but simply cursing "those who set the fire"; and this all the more because they were disturbed by the recollection of the oracle recited in Tiberius's time, to this effect,

"After three times three hundred rolling years In civil strife Rome's Empire disappears."

And when Nero to encourage them declared these verses were nowhere to be discovered, they changed and began to repeat another oracle---alleged to be a genuine one of the Sibyl,

"When the matricide reigns in Rome, Then ends the race of Aeneas."

And thus it actually turned out, whether this was really revealed in advance by some divination, or whether the populace now for the first time gave it the form of a sacred utterance merely adapted to the circumstances. For Nero was indeed the last of the Julian line, descended from Aeneas.

Nero now began to collect vast sums both from individuals and nations, sometimes using downright compulsion, with the conflagration as his excuse, and sometimes obtaining funds by "voluntary" offers. As for the mass of the Romans they had the fund for their food supply withdrawn.

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Nero Caesar Emperor

"I began to hate you, when, after murdering mother and wife, you turned out to be a jockey, a mountebank, and an incendiary." (Tacitus ann. 15:67).

Nero - A Devotional Message

Primary Sources for the Study of the Emperor Nero are: Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, Christian and Jewish Tradition, and Archaeology.

NERO00000001.gif Nero

The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)

Map of the Roman Mediterranean

Background

The Roman Empire beyond Italy was divided into about 40 provinces (territories), with each province having its own governor who kept order and collected taxes for Rome. He was either appointed by the emperor or named by the Senate.

During the first century A.D. the Roman Empire was near its peak with a population of 50-60 million. This was more than 1/5 of the world's population at that time. Jesus lived and died during the period known in Roman history as the Pax Romana or the "Peace of Rome".

It was an amazing time in history when the risen Jesus empowered His church to go into all the world to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the apostles journeyed throughout the Mediterranean world which was part of the Roman Empire. They traveled through Roman cities on Roman roads and everywhere that they traveled they came into contact with Rome.

Julius Caesar had a dream for Rome but he was assassinated before he could see it fulfilled. The big problem was who would become the next emperor after his assassination. Very few had expected the young Octavian (Augustus) to become the chief heir and new emperor after Julius Caesar, but it was Augustus who turned out to be the most important emperor in all of Roman history.

Augustus was very aware of what had happened with Julius Caesar, and desired to avoid the same problems with the Roman Senate. He wanted his stepson Tiberius to be emperor after his death and to make sure that this would happen he began to share his power with Tiberius. When Augustus died in 14 A.D. Tiberius was easily accepted as emperor. In fact this became the new way that emperors would be chosen. Each emperor would choose a successor from among his family or he would adopt someone who he thought would be fit to rule after him.

During the 200 years after the death of Augustus, four dynasties (family lines) ruled the Roman Empire. Some of the emperors in each dynasty were somewhat moral emperors and others were horribly cruel. Each of the four dynasties ended with a violent overthrow of an unfit emperor.

Augustus’ family line ended in disgrace in 68 A.D. with the Emperor Nero, who came to power when he was a young boy at the age of 17. Nero Claudius Caesar was born in December of 37 A.D. at Antium and reigned as the fifth emperor (Princeps) of Rome, from 54-68 A.D. under the political system created by Augustus after Civil War had finally put an end to the Roman Republic.

Throughout the early years of his rule Nero was directed by his tutors (including the famous writer Seneca) and there was peace throughout the Empire. The Emperor Nero loved performing in the Theatre, races and games. He was not respected by the senators or the army. He was criticized by the people of Rome for being more interested in entertaining himself than in governing the empire. However, when his main advisors had either retired, or were dead, Nero revealed his true character. It did not take long for the people to realize that Nero was a tyrant. In 59 A.D. Nero executed his mother, his wife, Claudius’s son Britannicus, and several of his advisors and anyone that opposed him was executed.

In 64 A.D. a devastating fire swept through Rome destroying everything in its path. Everyone thought that Nero had started the fire so that he could rebuild a more beautiful city, including his Golden House. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero sang and played the lyre while Rome burned. When Nero felt that the rumor had turned everyone against him he found some scapegoats to bare the blame for the fire, the Christians. He punished them severely and had many of them burned alive or torn apart by wild beasts. It is believed that the apostles Paul and Peter were martyred during this persecution.

There were many who sought Nero’s death and in 68 A.D. his own army rebelled against him and various military commanders attempted to seize the throne. The Emperor Nero was forced to flee from Rome and soon afterward he committed suicide. He was the last emperor who was of the dynasty of Augustus (Julio-Claudian dynasty).


The main people involved in the life of Nero were:

- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus

- Agrippina - Nero's dominating mother

- Claudius - The emperor before Nero

- Octavia - Claudius' daughter and Nero's first wife

- Britannicus - Claudius' son and rightful heir to the throne

- Seneca and Burrus - Nero's trusted tutors

- Poppaea - Nero's second wife

- Galba - General in Spain and the next emperor of Rome


Important events that happened during the life of Nero:

- The Great Fire of Rome – 64 A.D.

- The First Imperial 'Persecution' of Christians – 64 A.D.

- The first Jewish Revolt Against Rome – 66 A.D.


The main historical sources about the life of Nero were:


- Tacitus Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 A.D. approx.)

- Suetonius Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 A.D. approx.)

- Cassius Dio Dion Cassius Cocceianus (155-235 A.D. approx.)

- Jewish and Christian Tradition

- Archaeology: inscriptions, coins, written text.

Bibliography on the Emperor Nero

Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Scarre, 240 Pages, Pub. 2012
 

 

Nero, Emperor of Rome

Bible History Online


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