The Great Fire of Rome
Brief overview of the events surrounding the Great Fire of Rome
In a hot July summer of 64 A.D., a fire broke out near the Capena Gate (the
marketplace near the Circus Maximus) and spread quickly across the entire
Circus, and finally it was completely out of control, the fire destroyed nearly
half of Rome.
The Roman historian Tacitus records the event:
"First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the
hills-but returned to ravage the lower ground again. It outstripped every
counter-measure. . . Terrified, shrieking women, helpless old and young, people
intent on their own safety, people unselfishly supporting invalids or waiting
for them, fugitives and lingerers alike--all heightened the confusion."
As the fire blaze out of control some citizens tried every measure to put out
the flames. It is told that the citizens were stopped. Also some of the mob lit
torches and threw them into the flames to feed the fire. Tacitus make an
interesting note about these arsonists who had claimed "they acted under
orders. Perhaps they had ... or they may just have wanted to plunder
Nero heard the news from his Palace at Antium and rushed to Rome just in time to
see the Palatine Palace in flames. His newly built mansion, the Domus
Transitoria, was nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes. Nero immediately
organized a team of firefighters and provided shelter for the panic stricken
people who had been left homeless. The fire burned for nine days, leaving 10 out
of its 14 regions in ruins, with the loss of many lives.
Nero decided that he would place the blame on scapegoats, because there was a
dangerous rumor that Nero himself had ordered the fire in order to vandalize the
capital city, and to free up space for his new building plans. It is recorded
that later he indeed take advantage of the situation and begin planning and
building his Golden House. His scapegoats were none other than the Christians,
who were already being accused in one way or another within Roman pagan society.
This was officially the time that the active persecution of the Christian Church
began. At some point soon after it became a crime to bear the name
"Christian" and the suppression of the church became state policy. This
persecution would last, off and on, for almost three centuries.
"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.
The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)
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
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
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
The main people involved in the life of Nero were:
- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
- Nero's dominating mother
- Claudius - The emperor before Nero
- 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
- 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
Bible History Online
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