On This Day: The Great Fire of Rome

On July, 64AD, something completely unbelievable took place. The Eternal City, the Capital of the World, the ancient city of Rome burned down. True, we know that Rome fell. But to the people living at the time, this occurrence was unthinkable. It was to them as New York City burning down would be to us. Known in Latin as incendium magnum Romae, what exactly took place on that fateful day, and who exactly was at fault?

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It should be stated that this wasn’t the first fire ever reported to be sparked in Rome. Fires of a large scale were actually quite common, taking place as often as once every 2-10 years. But none had wreaked havoc as much as the Great Fire of Rome. The fire occurred under the watchful eye of emperor Nero, whose rule has, in time, become associated with mercurial tyranny, cold-blooded vengefulness, and bloodthirsty opportunism. In fact, it was rumored that emperor Nero sang and danced as the fire ate up Rome. Many people of his time speculated that Nero himself had ordered the fire to clear space for a new palace, but such conjectures are mere speculation.

According to Tacitus, one of the most trustworthy ancient historians available to us modern history-lovers, Nero was actually away when the fire first began in the merchant shops around the Circus Maximus. Tacitus says that Nero was away from the city when the fire first sparked and that he returned to the city in order to halt it. The fire burned for six days until it was brought under control, only for it to be reignited for another three days. When all was said and done, the fire had scorched two-thirds of Rome. In the fire’s aftermath, Nero rebuilt much of the destroyed area in Ancient Greek fashion, including his personal residence.

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