Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pop History Moment: Rome Burned, But Did Nero Fiddle?

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[Emperor Nero: megalomaniacal arsonist or Rome's saviour?]

On this day in 64 CE, the most famous fire in the history of Rome, throughout which Emperor Nero was said to have 'fiddled'*, began in the vicinity of the market stalls around Circus Maximus; the conflagration completely destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged another seven.

The truth, however, makes Nero seem considerably less callous. Most sources claim he was in Antium the night the fire broke out, and as soon as he heard the city was burning he rushed back. He threw open his palaces to shelter the homeless, paid for relief efforts with his own money, and soon thereafter set about an ambitious plan to rid the city of it's wooden houses, replacing them with those made of brick or stone.

Whether Nero had the fire set to give himself the opportunity to rebuild the city to his vision, or whether he merely responded to the accidental fire and later had his reputation besmirched by his successors will likely never be known, as this is surely one of the coldest cases of all time.

*This despite the fact that nothing like a fiddle would be invented for many centuries.
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