Is it true that Emperor Nero burned down Rome?

(ORDO NEWS) — To this day, the Roman emperor Nero appears before us as a ruthless and cruel ruler who ordered the Eternal City to be set on fire to make way for the construction of the “Golden House” (lat. Domus Aurea) – a luxurious imperial villa. But is it true?

The Roman consul and historian Cassius Dio wrote that Nero secretly sent his men who, pretending to be drunk, set fire to Rome . In such an extraordinary way, the emperor wanted to destroy the villas of aristocrats on the slopes of the Palatine Hill and use these lands to build his beautiful palace.

Moreover, Nero, watching the raging fire (July 18, 64 AD – July 23, 64 AD) from his palace, played the lyre (an ancient stringed plucked instrument) and performed the “Destruction of Ilion” – an ancient Greek poem about the capture of Troy with the help of a wooden horse.

Many historical documents (including the works of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus and Cassius Dio) that have survived to this day mention that Nero enjoyed universal contempt, and when he died, the entire population of Rome celebrated the death of the emperor.

However, a more authoritative author is the historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus , who states unequivocally that the hatred of Nero came mainly from the upper strata of society – the nobility and senators.

According to Tacitus, when Nero died, the lower strata of society mourned the departure of the emperor, who “took care of their safety and satiety.” Moreover, the later emperors Otho and Vitellius, in order to enlist the support of the Roman citizens, swore to be worthy of the memory of the great Nero.

Thus, as you can see, Nero’s bad reputation was woven by Roman historians who belonged to the higher social classes, who during the empire lost their Republican influence.

Is it true that Emperor Nero burned down Rome 2

As Tacitus said, all the negative actions of Nero were rumors spread among the masses, who lost power and wealth, disillusioned with the despotic rule of the emperor. As a result, innocent Christians suffered, whom Nero accused of arson, launching a campaign to persecute them …

Historical lie about Nero

Tacitus also claims that Nero was not in Rome at the time of the Great Fire – the emperor was in Anzio, about 60 kilometers south of Rome. So, even if Nero really played the lyre and sang, he simply did not suspect about the tragedy unfolding in the capital.

Moreover, Tacitus emphasizes that the young emperor was shocked by what had happened and immediately launched a program to help the victims; for people who lost their homes, a temporary camp was erected on the Field of Mars, where they were provided with everything necessary.

Nero ordered that new houses be built for the Romans as soon as possible, and so that they would not starve, he ordered that food be imported from nearby cities and set minimum prices for it.

Modern scholars believe that Nero was not the arsonist of Rome.

The Eternal City, which at that time remained largely wooden, was prone to fires – evidence of this is the numerous fires in the history of Rome.

Moreover, the “Golden House” was erected on the other side of the Palatine Hill, far from the place of the fire. In addition, a large part of another imperial palace, the Domus Transitoria, was damaged in the fire.


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