The Great Fire of Rome was a devastating fire in AD 64. The fire was so fierce that it took six days to control it. Vast properties were destroyed and many lives were lost. There are different accounts of what caused the fire though it is strongly believed that it was Emperor Nero who initiated it. However, Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the fire.
What Caused The Fire?
The possible causes of the fire are from three sources namely Tacitus, Cassius Dio, and Suetonius.
One account explains that Nero paid arsonists to destroy the slums by igniting the fire. All this time Nero watched from his palace as the fire consumed everything while just playing a musical instrument called Lyre. This theory explains that he did nothing to fight the fire.
The second account places the blame on the unpopular religion of the time called Christianity. During that era, there were emerging strong believers of Christ who wanted to convert everyone to Christianity. The theory states that the city was burnt to harm those opposed to Christianity. Most people saw this as a theory to detour the minds of people from the actual cause of the fire which the popular belief was that it was caused by Emperor Nero.
The third account states that the fire was accidental. The accident occurred in the slums located south of the Palatine Hills. This theory supported by the fact that the fire occurred during the full moon so any arsonist would have feared to be noticed under the light from the moon. This account further claims that Emperor Nero was on a tour upcountry in a place called Antium and was shocked by the news that the city was on fire.
A section of the modern scholars also postulate that the fire was set to create room for the building of Nero’s “Domus Aurea,” a magnificent palace. However, this account is doubted because the new palace was actually 0.6 miles (one kilometer) from where the fire actually started. Most likely Nero would not have wanted to destroy his already existing palace called the “Domus Transitoria” because he had invested highly in its architectural design and expensive marble decorations.
Outbreak And Progress Of The Fire
Tacitus explains that the fire started in the Circus region near the Caelian and Palatine Highlands of Rome. The fire erupted from a store where flammable items were stored and spread rapidly at night due to strong wind. The fire could not be contained due to the fact the structures were built of flammable material and close to each other. The congested buildings made it difficult to evacuate people leading to loss of many lives. The fire is believed to have been accelerated by arsonist activities where young men threw burning torches across the area. The situation was worsened by more fire outbreaks in Aemilian District destroying the temple among other properties. Heavy looting of the property was also experienced during the six days the fire-ravaged Rome.
Impact Of The Fire
Residential houses of both the rich and the poor were destroyed. The livelihood of thousands of people was reduced to ashes leading to dire humanitarian need. Tacitus explains that Emperor Nero gave food and other essential commodities to the devastated population. When the fire was finally put off only four of the fourteen districts were untouched. Three of the districts were completely ruined with seven districts undergoing major destruction.
According to Suetonius and Tacitus, many Christians were arrested and persecuted by Emperor Nero. This was to prove to the people that the fire was actually ignited by the Christians.