Great Fire of Rome: Wikis

  
  

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The Great Fire of Rome.

The Great Fire of Rome (Latin: Magnum Incendium Romae) was a large fire that struck ancient Rome in AD 64. According to the historian Tacitus, the fire started on the night of 18 July, among the shops clustered around the Circus Maximus.[1] As many Romans lived in wood houses without masonry, the fire spread quickly through these areas.[1] The fire was almost contained after five days before regaining strength.[2] The historian Suetonius claims the fire burned for six days and seven nights in total.[3] The fire destroyed three of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven, while leaving only four undamaged.[2] Also destroyed were Nero's palace, the Temple of Jupiter Stator and the hearth in the Temple of Vesta.[4]

Contents

The fire and Rome's reconstruction

Plaster bust of Nero, Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

According to Tacitus, it spread quickly and burned for five and a half days.[2] Four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and another seven suffered serious damage.[2] The only other contemporaneous historian to mention the fire was Pliny the Elder, who wrote about it in passing.[5] Other historians who lived through the period (including Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and Epictetus) make no mention of it.[6] The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks (insulae) have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause".[7] This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 insulae or tenement blocks.

It was said by Cassius Dio that Nero sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume as the city burned.[8] However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire.[9] Tacitus said that Nero's playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only a rumor.[9] Popular legend remembers Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the instrument was invented a thousand years later.[10]

According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds.[9] After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.[9] In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads.[11] Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire.[12] The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres).[13][14][15] To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.[16]

Rumors of arson and the persecution of Christians

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

It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire — whether accident or arson. According to Tacitus, some in the population held Nero responsible.[17] To diffuse blame, Nero targeted the Christians.[17] Christians confessed to the crime, but it is unknown whether these were false confessions induced by torture.[17] Also, the passage is unclear as to what the Christians confessed to — being arsonists or Christians. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist with an insane desire to destroy the city as his motive.[18] However, major accidental fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned again under Vitellius in 69[19] and under Titus in 80.[20]

According to Tacitus, Nero ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified or burned to serve as lights.[17]

He describes the event as follows:

As a consequence, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians[21]] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.[17]

Historical accounts

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.[1] At least five separate stories circulated regarding Nero and 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.[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and played his lyre from a private stage.[24]
  • The fire was an accident. Nero was in Antium.[25]
  • The fire was caused by Christians.[26]

It is, however, to be noted that one of the near-contemporary sources, Suetonius (who was born shortly after the fire and may have seen the reconstruction during his childhood), specifically excludes any persecution,[27] quite apart from anything on the scale suggested by Tacitus, and went so far as to say that Nero never tried to trace the perpetrators and gave instructions that the members of the only list presented to the Senate were to be let off lightly.

Modern scholarship

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.[28]

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Tacitus, Annals XV.38
  2. ^ a b c d Tacitus, Annals XV.40
  3. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 38
  4. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.41
  5. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories, XVII, Pliny mentions trees that lasted "down to the Emperor Nero's conflagration"
  6. ^ Smallwood, E. Mary (1976). The Jews under Roman rule. Leiden: Brill Archive. p. 217. ISBN 90-04-04491-4. 
  7. ^ The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca (forged), M.R. James, the translator, says the document is from the 4th century and "is of the poorest kind".
  8. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
  9. ^ a b c d Tacitus, Annals XV.39
  10. ^ . Suetonius claims Nero played the lyre while Rome burned (see Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero 38). For a detailed explanation of this transition, see M.F. Gyles "Nero Fiddled while Rome Burned", The Classical Journal 42 #4 (1947), p. 211-217
  11. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.43
  12. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.42
  13. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning, First, Boulder, CO. Westview Press. pp. 227–8. ISBN 0-06-430158-3. 
  14. ^ Ball, Larry F. (2003). The Domus Aurea and the Roman architectural revolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521822513. 
  15. ^ Warden reduces its size to under 100 acres. Warden, P.G., "The Domus Aurea Reconsidered," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40 (1981) 271-278
  16. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.45
  17. ^ a b c d e Tacitus, Annals XV.44
  18. ^ Suetonius, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
  19. ^ during Vespasian's siege
  20. ^ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus, 8
  21. ^ In the earliest extant manuscript, the second Medicean, the e in "Chrestianos", Chrestians, has been changed into an i; cf. Gerd Theißen, Annette Merz, Der historische Jesus: ein Lehrbuch, 2001, p. 89. The reading Christianos, Christians, is, therefore, doubtful.
  22. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16-17
  23. ^ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars Life of Nero, 38
  24. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38-44
  25. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38-39
  26. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.44
  27. ^ Nero 30
  28. ^ Griffin, Miriam T. (2000). Nero: The End of a Dynasty. Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 0-415-21464-5. 

External links



The Great Fire of Rome (Latin: Magnum Incendium Romae) was an urban fire that occurred in AD 64. According to Tacitus, it spread quickly and burned for five and a half days.[1] Only four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and the other seven suffered serious damage.[1] The only other contemporaneous historian to mention the fire was Pliny the Elder, who wrote about it in passing.[2] Other historians who lived through the period (including Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch and Epictetus) make no mention of it.[3] The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks (insulae) have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause".[4] This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 insulae or tenement blocks.

It was said by Cassius Dio that Nero, the emperor at the time, sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume as the city burned.[5] However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire.[6] Tacitus said that Nero's playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only a rumor.[6] Popular legend remembers Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the instrument was invented a thousand years later.[7]

According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds.[6] After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.[6] In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads.[8] Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire.[9] The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres).[10][11][12] To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.[13]

Contents

Rumors of arson and the persecution of Christians

. According to Tacitus, Nero targeted Christians as those responsible for the fire.]] It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire — whether accident or arson. According to Tacitus, some in the population held Nero responsible.[14] To diffuse blame, Nero targeted the Christians.[14] There were Christians who confessed to the crime, but it became known that Christians were forced to confess by means of torture,[14] and the passage is unclear as to what the Christians confessed to — being arsonists or Christians. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist with an insane desire to destroy the city as his motive,[15] or to rebuild Rome in a new style more to his liking. However, major accidental fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned again under Vitellius in 69[16] and under Titus in 80.[17]

According to Tacitus, Nero ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified or burned to serve as lights.[14]

He describes the event as follows:
As a consequence, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians[18]] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.[14]

Historical accounts

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.[19] 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.[20]
  • 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.[21]
  • Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and played his lyre from a private stage.[22]
  • The fire was an accident. Nero was in Antium.[23]
  • The fire was caused by Christians.[24]

It is, however, to be noted that one of the near-contemporary sources, Suetonius (who was born shortly after the fire and may have seen the reconstruction during his childhood), specifically excludes any persecution,[25] quite apart from anything on the scale suggested by Tacitus, and went so far as to say that Nero never tried to trace the perpetrators and gave instructions that the members of the only list presented to the Senate were to be let off lightly.

Modern scholarship

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.[26] This argument, of course, is a vulnerable one as we do not know the weather conditions of the night in question; a cloudy night would have been equally suitable as a moonless one.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals XV.40
  2. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories, XVII, Pliny mentions trees that lasted "down to the Emperor Nero's conflagration"
  3. ^ Smallwood, E. Mary (1976). The Jews under Roman rule. Leiden: Brill Archive. p. 217. ISBN 90-04-04491-4. 
  4. ^ The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca (forged), M.R. James, the translator, says the document is from the 4th century and "is of the poorest kind".
  5. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
  6. ^ a b c d Tacitus, Annals XV.39
  7. ^ . Suetonius claims Nero played the lyre while Rome burned (see Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero 38). For a detailed explanation of this transition, see M.F. Gyles "Nero Fiddled while Rome Burned", The Classical Journal 42 #4 (1947), p. 211-217
  8. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.43
  9. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.42
  10. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning, First, Boulder, CO. Westview Press. pp. 227–8. ISBN 0-06-430158-3. 
  11. ^ Ball, Larry F. (2003). The Domus Aurea and the Roman architectural revolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521822513. 
  12. ^ Warden reduces its size to under 100 acres. Warden, P.G., "The Domus Aurea Reconsidered," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40 (1981) 271-278
  13. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.45
  14. ^ a b c d e Tacitus, Annals XV.44
  15. ^ Suetonius, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16
  16. ^ during Vespasian's siege
  17. ^ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus, 8
  18. ^ In the earliest extant manuscript, the second Medicean, the e in "Chrestianos", Chrestians, has been changed into an i; cf. Gerd Theißen, Annette Merz, Der historische Jesus: ein Lehrbuch, 2001, p. 89. The reading Christianos, Christians, is, therefore, doubtful.
  19. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38
  20. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16-17
  21. ^ Suetonius, Lives of Twelve Caesars Life of Nero, 38
  22. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38-44
  23. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.38-39
  24. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.44
  25. ^ Nero 30
  26. ^ Griffin, Miriam T. (2000). Nero: The End of a Dynasty. Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 0-415-21464-5. 

External links








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