On This Day: July 18th

On July 18th in 64AD the Great Fire of Rome started and caused devastation. The fire lasted for about six days and destroyed half of the city. Differing accounts either blame Emperor Nero for initiating the fire or credit him with organising measures to contain it and provide relief for refugees. In response to the accusations that he was responsible for the fire, Nero blamed the devastation on the Christian community in the city, initiating the empire’s first persecution against the Christians. 

There are a number of stories on how and why the fire started:

  • Motivated by a desire to destroy the city, Nero secretly sent out men pretending to be drunk to set fire to the city. Nero watched from his palace on the Palatine Hill singing and playing the lyre.
  • Motivated by an insane whim, Nero quite openly sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero watched from the Tower of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill singing and playing the lyre.
  • Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and played his lyre from a private stage.
  • The fire was an accident. Nero was in Antium.
  • The fire was said to have been caused by the already unpopular Christians. This story was spread in order to blame someone else, because rumor had it that Nero started it.
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