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Octavia

Did Nero start the Fire?

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Hi all. I thought maybe I would try to get your minds working with different oppinions as I had with Caligula's madness. There was a fire in 64 A. D. and some people say that Nero had something to do with it. We can never truly be sure if he did or not, but what do you all think. I personally don't know, but I saw something about it on television and one belief was that the city wasn't fire resistent and therefore it caught on fire.

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Taken from the encyclopedia of Roman Emperors........

 

The fire began in the southeastern angle of the Circus Maximus, spreading through the shops which clustered there, and raged for the better part of a week. There was brief success in controlling the blaze, but then it burst forth once more, so that many people claimed that the fires were deliberately set. After about a fortnight, the fire burned itself out, having consumed ten of the fourteen Augustan regions into which the city had been divided.

 

Nero was in Antium through much of the disaster, but his efforts at relief were substantial. Yet many believed that he had been responsible, so that he could perform his own work comparing the current fate of Rome to the downfall of Troy. All his efforts to assist the stricken city could not remove the suspicion that "the emperor had fiddled while Rome burned." He lost favor even among the plebs who had been enthusiastic supporters, particularly when his plans for the rebuilding of the city revealed that a very large part of the center was to become his new home.

 

As his popularity waned, Nero and Tigellinus realized that individuals were needed who could be charged with the disaster. It so happened that there was such a group ready at hand, Christians, who had made themselves unpopular because of their refusal to worship the emperor, their way of life, and their secret meetings. Further, at this time two of their most significant "teachers" were in Rome, Peter and Paul. They were ideal scapegoats, individuals whom most Romans loathed, and who had continually sung of the forthcoming end of the world.

 

 

I personally don't believe that Nero started the fire, in a city such as Rome the danger of Fire was always present and was fairly common, but obviously not to this extent. If a fire starts at the right time with favorable winds then it can easily spread and in my opinion this was one of those instances, an accidental fire that raged out of control.

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Salve, guys!

 

I personally don't believe that Nero started the fire, in a city such as Rome the danger of Fire was always present and was fairly common,

 

Strabo agrees with you (Book V, ch. 3 sec. 7):

 

"...the city, although it has grown to such an extent, holds out in the way it does, not only in respect to food, but also in respect to timber and stones for the building of houses, which goes on unceasingly in consequence of the collapses and fires and repeated sales (these last, too, going on unceasingly); and indeed the sales are intentional collapses, as it were, since the purchasers keep on tearing down the houses and build new ones, one after another, to suit their wishes.

 

...Now Augustus Caesar concerned himself about such impairments of the city, organising for protection against fires a militia composed of freedmen, whose duty it was to render assistance, and also to provide against collapses, reducing the heights of the new buildings and forbidding that any structure on the public streets should rise as high as seventy feet; but still his constructive measures would have failed by now were it not that the mines and the timber and the easy means of transportation by water still hold out."

 

This Augustean law was one of the few that restricted any construction practice in ancient Rome; the curious relationship between the buildings height and the risk of fire is explained by the use of wooden partitions (also illegal, as you can see) to subdivide the rooms in the upper storeys where the poorest lived in order to increase the number of families that could be crammed there.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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...Now Augustus Caesar concerned himself about such impairments of the city, organising for protection against fires a militia composed of freedmen, whose duty it was to render assistance, and also to provide against collapses, reducing the heights of the new buildings and forbidding that any structure on the public streets should rise as high as seventy feet; but still his constructive measures would have failed by now were it not that the mines and the timber and the easy means of transportation by water still hold out."

 

This Augustean law was one of the few that restricted any construction practice in ancient Rome; the curious relationship between the buildings height and the risk of fire is explained by the use of wooden partitions (also illegal, as you can see) to subdivide the rooms in the upper storeys where the poorest lived in order to increase the number of families that could be crammed there.

 

I've always been under the impression that the law considering buildings heights was more or less only to prevent them to collapse to frequently. Lots of rich people tried to make money out of building high, cheap building, I reckon that this was the way Crassus got rich (richer). I don't think the fires was the main concern when introducing this law.

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I've always been under the impression that the law considering buildings heights was more or less only to prevent them to collapse to frequently. Lots of rich people tried to make money out of building high, cheap building, I reckon that this was the way Crassus got rich (richer). I don't think the fires was the main concern when introducing this law.

Salve, K! It is interesting that you mention ML Crassus the triumvir, as you are indeed right about him.

 

Here comes the "Life of Crassus" by Plutarch:

 

"...before he went upon his Parthian expedition, he found his possessions to amount to seven thousand one hundred talents; most of which, if we may scandal him with a truth, he got by fire and rapine, making his advantages of the public calamities.

...Moreover, observing how extremely subject the city was to fire and falling down of houses, by reason of their height and their standing so near together, he bought slaves that were builders and architects, and when he had collected these to the number of more than five hundred, he made it his practice to buy houses that were on fire, and those in the neighbourhood, which, in the immediate danger and uncertainty the proprietors were willing to part with for little or nothing, so that the greatest part of Rome, at one time or other, came into his hands."

 

Anyway, for more information about the relationship they found between building height and fire risk, you can read all the chapter of Strabo quoted in my last post, and even better, youi can read a very good analysis in Z. Yavetz's Latomus.

 

Good luck!

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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I wish that the law of building better houses and things during the reign of Augustus would have taken place. There wouldn't have been so many innoscentpeople lost, due to Nero's blaming the Christians and people that died in the fire. Plus, things would probably have went smoother. But whoes to say?

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Salve, guys!

 

Here comes the impressive account by Tacitus in Annals (Book XV, Ch. 38):

 

A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire. It had its beginning in that part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where, amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay. The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and so completely at its mercy the city, with those narrow winding passages and irregular streets, which characterised old Rome. Added to this were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age, the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them, and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that, even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them. And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames, because again others openly hurled brands, and kept shouting that there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more freely, or obeying orders".

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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Nero has carried the can for this fire ever since it happened. As an anti-christian icon, symbolic of madness, indecency, and persecution, there have been willing coverts to the idea that he deliberately set fire to Rome. The story is that he wanted to rebuild it and needed some method of slum clearance, enjoying the spectacle by singing about the fall of Troy as Rome burned.

 

Now when the fire originally started Nero was thrity five miles away, in Antium with friends. On being being told of the disaster, he rushed back to organise relief efforts. I seriously do believe that Nero was sincere in his efforts. Although he was getting a little carried away with his own importance, he was nonetheless very keen to be seen as a great ruler, a man upon whom the citizens of Rome to call upon to lead them in times of need. When he eached Rome, he sought out a tall building to view the flames. Totally in awe of the firestorm in progress, another story says that he was so moved he began to sing. I don't think he was enjoying the spectacle in any way. Far from it. That was his city going up in smoke.

 

Also, it should be remembered that Nero could just as easily ordered slum clearance if he'd really wanted to. That wouldn't have made him very popular it must be said, and popularity was actually very important to Nero. As a typical celebrity mentality, he enjoyed and needed that adoration. The problem is that Nero decided to reorganise and rebuild Rome following the disaster. With thousands still camped in shanties outside the walls, there was Caesar marking out wide boulevards - and even worse - appropriating a large area for private parkland and a new palace. His original home, the Domus Transitoria, was damaged by the fire. His new home, the Domus Aurea, was so grand that he announced that at last he could like a human being. The mind boggles. Anyway, some of this rebuilding had beneficial results, as Nero introduced anti-fire building legislation. He didn't want a repeat of this inciident.

 

It might be worth mentioning the superstitious nature of roman society. Whilst one great fire might be seen as a terrible event, another would surely be seen as the will of the gods?

 

That the fire started accidentially is almost certainly true. We know that some individuals helped spread the flames, as if that was actually necessary. This was early summer, a warm wind was fanning the fire, and the city itself a recognised tinderbox. Unscrupulous landlors may have wished to cash in on a disaster. Rivals might have taken advantage to ensure that a persons property went up too. It might be worth mentioning that many senatorial homes on the palatine burned to the ground - these were homes where politics were made as much as the senate, a fact Nero was well aware of and a point in favour of his complicity. Also in the frame are the christians themselves. Nero blamed them for the fire as scapegoats afterward, burning them on the crucifix as lamps. In fact, so cruel was Nero's punishment tht many romans felt sympathy toward this secretive cult who rumour had it drank blood, practised cannabalism, and sacrificed babies. In fact, many christians were obviously innocent of any part in the fire, although there is some possibility that a few disaffected refugees from Judaea committed an act of terrorism. The biblical Book of Revelations, so beloved of prophecy seekers, evolved from political propaganda - it was a call to arms, a prophetic vision of Romes downfall.

 

Is Nero guilty? Truth is, even if he was completely innocent of any part in it he left himself open to criticism by his grandiose ideas and lifestyle. On the one hand, he wishes to help his citizens in their hour of need. On the other, he builds the biggest, most expensive palace ever amongst the ruins. His senatorial rivals lose their homes and power bases, and the christians get burned for their trouble. I don't personally think Nero had any part in the fire. Perhaps some of his associates did without Nero's knowledge. There were too many people in Rome who stood to gain from misfortune that it comes as no suprise that the roman firemen, instituted by augustus himself, were prevented from fighting the fire by threats of violence.

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Salve, guys!

 

From what we have read in this thread, we can also make a case against ML Crassus and any of the other greedy landowners of the Late Republic for arson, as it always would be an easy profit.

 

As the Principate was established, the Emperor (any Emperor) became the main and only suspect. I think Caldrail has made a brilliant argument of why any conflagration in Rome would have been more problems that advantages for Nero (or any other Emperor, BTW). However, I simply can

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The Big Palace of Nero was modest in comparison with those of his successors. Most of Roman Emperor made his best in order to surpass his predecessors regarding the dimensions of his buildings and monuments at Rome (and Constantinople).

 

Doesn't sound very modest to me.....

 

There was nothing however in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendour will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of‑pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at least a beginning to be housed like a human being.

Suetonius, life of Nero, 31

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

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The Big Palace of Nero was modest in comparison with those of his successors. Most of Roman Emperor made his best in order to surpass his predecessors regarding the dimensions of his buildings and monuments at Rome (and Constantinople).

 

Doesn't sound very modest to me.....

 

 

Salve, GPM!

 

All in life is relative...

 

Suetonius worked for Hadrian, whose Palace was far bigger than Nero's:

 

Hadrian's villa was a complex of over 30 buildings, covering an area of at least 1 square kilometre (c. 250 acres) of which much is still unexcavated. The villa was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape. The complex included palaces, several thermae, theatre, temples, libraries, state rooms and quarters for courtiers, praetorians and slaves.

 

The Villa shows echoes of many different architectural orders, mostly Greek and Egyptian. Hadrian, a very well travelled emperor borrowed these designs, such as the caryatids by the Canopus, along with the statues beside them depicting the Egyptian dwarf and fertility god, Bes. A Greek so called "Maritime Theatre" exhibits classical ionic style, whereas the domes of the main buildings as well as the corinthian arches of the Canopus and Serapeum show clear Roman architecture. Hadrian's biography states that areas in the villa were named after places Hadrian saw during his travels. Only a few places mentioned in the biography can be accurately correlated with the present-day ruins.

 

But of course, even this would sound "modest" if you compare it with Diocletian's Palace.

 

Cheers and good luck.

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No, it started on the evening of July 19th.

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No, it started on the evening of July 19th.

Salve, guys!

 

Indeed, here comes Tacitus, Annals (Book 15, Ch.41)

 

"Some persons observed that the beginning of this conflagration was on the 19th of July, the day on which the Senones captured and fired Rome. "

 

and the original Latin version:

 

"fuere qui adnotarent XIIII Kal. Sextiles principium incendii huius ortum, quo et Seneones captam urbem inflammaverint"

 

Some modern sources state the 18 of July; I don't know if it's a further chronological adjustment or simply a mistake.

 

Cheers and good luck!

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Speaking about Crassus, not only did he put out fires with his own private fire brigade (slaves he owned acted as 'fire-fighters'), he probably started them as well, with the intention of buying prized properties at 1/10th of their market value. He even conducted negotiations on the sale of these buildings as they were burning !!

 

 

...Now Augustus Caesar concerned himself about such impairments of the city, organising for protection against fires a militia composed of freedmen, whose duty it was to render assistance, and also to provide against collapses, reducing the heights of the new buildings and forbidding that any structure on the public streets should rise as high as seventy feet; but still his constructive measures would have failed by now were it not that the mines and the timber and the easy means of transportation by water still hold out."

 

This Augustean law was one of the few that restricted any construction practice in ancient Rome; the curious relationship between the buildings height and the risk of fire is explained by the use of wooden partitions (also illegal, as you can see) to subdivide the rooms in the upper storeys where the poorest lived in order to increase the number of families that could be crammed there.

 

I've always been under the impression that the law considering buildings heights was more or less only to prevent them to collapse to frequently. Lots of rich people tried to make money out of building high, cheap building, I reckon that this was the way Crassus got rich (richer). I don't think the fires was the main concern when introducing this law.

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