The Great Fire of Rome

Taken from Writer’s Almanac – 18 July

The great fire of Rome began in the late evening hours of this day in 64 A.D. The fire raged for six days, during which time Emperor Nero either acted heroically to contain the fire and provide for his people, or played his lyre and watched the city burn – depending on whose version you believe. There are no surviving primary accounts of the fire, so we have to base everything we know on hearsay.

Most modern scholars tend to believe the account of Tacitus, a historian writing in the year 116. In Tacitus’ version, the fire began in a dry goods store near the Circus Maximus. Since it was very windy and dry that night, the fire spread quickly through the closely built wooden apartment buildings. Tacitus also reported that looters encouraged the fire, but whether they were acting under orders from Nero or just taking advantage of the situation, he couldn’t say with certainty. Far from setting the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome from his palace in Antium to rescue treasures from his mansion in the city. He opened his private gardens so evacuees would have a place to escape the flames, ordered the construction of temporary shelters, and brought in food from neighboring regions.

But people still wanted someone to blame, and Nero was, at the end of the day, still a politician. He pointed the finger at a relatively obscure but troublesome religious sect known as Christians and publicly tortured them to death in Rome’s only surviving amphitheater. He also took the opportunity to rebuild the city in an architectural style that he preferred.


About Bruce Louis Dodson

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat now living in Borlänge, Sweden with his wife, cat and dog. He is an artist and world traveler who writes fiction and poetry and practices photography in his less than copious free time. His work has appeared in: Barely South Review - Boundaries Issue, Blue Collar Review, Pulsar Poetry (UK), Foliate Oak, Breadline Press West Coast Anthology . The E-buffet, Qarrtsiluni, Struggle Magazine, Pearl Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literature Review: India, 3rd Wednesday, Sleeping Cat Books - Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Authors Abroad - Foreign & and Far Away Anthology, The Path, Page & Spine, The Crucible, Sleeping Cat Books -Trips of a Lifetime, Vine Leaves, Pirene's Fountain,Tic Toc Anthology - Kind of a Hurricane Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac and mgv2.
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