Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty 0691172315, 9780691172316

Drawing on new archaeological evidence, an authoritative history of Rome's Great Fire-and how it inflicted lasting

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Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty
 0691172315, 9780691172316

Table of contents :
Series Editor's Foreword
I Introduction
The Fire
II Fires in Ancient Rome
III the Great Fire
IV Responsibility
The Aftermath
V the Christians and the Great Fire
VI the New Rome
VII the Significance of the Great Fire
Epilogue: The Great Fire as an Enduring Cultural Phenomenon
Principal Sources: Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio

Citation preview



Turning Points in Ancient History pre­sents accessible books, by leading scholars, on crucial events and key moments in the ancient world. The series aims at fresh interpretations of both famous subjects and little-­known ones that deserve more attention. The books provide a narrative synthesis that integrates literary and archaeological evidence. Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty, Anthony A. Barrett 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric H. Cline




p r i n c e ­t o n u n i v e r s i t y p r e s s p r i n c e­t o n a n d o x f o r d

Copyright © 2020 by Prince­ton University Press Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work should be sent to permissions@press​.­princeton​.­edu Published by Prince­ton University Press 41 William Street, Prince­ton, New Jersey 08540 6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TR press​.­princeton​.­edu All Rights Reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Barrett, Anthony, 1941- author. Title: Rome is burning : Nero and the fire that ended a dynasty / Anthony A. Barrett. Description: Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2020. | Series: Turning points in ancient history | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020017929 (print) | LCCN 2020017930 (ebook) | ISBN 9780691172316 (hardback) | ISBN 9780691208503 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Great Fire, Rome, Italy, 64. | Rome—History—Nero, 54–68. | Nero, Emperor of Rome, 37–68. Classification: LCC DG285.3 .B37 2020 (print) | LCC DG285.3 (ebook) | DDC 937/.6307—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at British Library Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data is available Editorial: Rob Tempio and Matt Rohal Production Editorial: Sara Lerner Text Design: Lorraine Doneker Jacket Design: Karl Spurzem Production: Erin Suydam Publicity: Maria Whelan and Amy Stewart Copyeditor: Karen Verde Jacket Credit: Alphonse Mucha, Nero Watching the Burning of Rome, 1887. Oil, 73.3 x 113 cm. Aclosund Historic / Alamy Stock Photo This book has been composed in Sabon LT Std with Perpetua Std Printed on acid-­free paper. ∞ Printed in the United States of Amer­ic­ a 10 ​9 ​8 ​7 ​6 ​5 ​4 ​3 ​2 ​1


List of Illustrations    vii Series Editor’s Foreword    ix Acknowl­edgments    xi Timeline    xiii

Prologue    1 I Introduction   7 the fire

II Fires in Ancient Rome   27 III The ­Great Fire   57 IV Responsibility   114 the aftermath

V The Christians and the ­Great Fire   143 VI The New Rome   175 VII The Significance of the ­Great Fire   223 Epilogue The ­Great Fire as an Enduring Cultural Phenomenon   253 Principal Sources: Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio   259 Notes    269 Glossary    305 Bibliography    311 Index    335


Map xiv 1.1. Traditional hills of Rome  18 2.1. The Augustan Regiones 45 3.1. Proposed chronology of the Fire  59 3.2. The Circus Maximus  61 3.3. Domus Tiberiana  67 3.4. Bagni di Livia  69 3.5. Houses on north edge of Palatine destroyed in the Fire  76 3.6. Compitum Acilii  77 3.7. Area around the Meta Sudans  78 3.8. Augustan Meta frieze fragment with traces of burning  79 3.9. The Augustan Meta destroyed in the Fire  80 3.10. Collapsed debris, area of the Meta Sudans  81 3.11. Dedication, inscription of musicians  82 3.12. Burned steps leading to the Small ­Temple  83 3.13. Grate distorted by heat  84 3.14. Road surface shattered by heat and falling masonry  85 3.15. Workshops and ­houses  86 3.16. Workshops and ­houses in perspective  87 3.17. Compacted burned material  88 3.18. Workshop B. Burned floor  89 3.19. Workshop C. Burned wall and floor  89 3.20. Burned metal  90 3.21. Burned pot  90 3.22. Burned floor beneath Colosseum  91 3.23. Ludus Magnus  92 3.24. Grating distorted by fire  93 3.25. Lanciani’s section  95 3.26. Piranesi drawing  97

3.27. Pos­si­ble extent of the Fire  102 3.28. Ara Incendii on Quirinal  109 6.1. Pos­si­ble traces of the Golden House and Domus Transitoria  183 6.2. Reconstruction of the Golden House, looking west  184 6.3. Neronian Dupondius  185 6.4. Circular structure, Golden House, Palatine  194 6.5. Substructure of rotating chamber below Vigna Barberini  195 6.6. Base and inner steps, central pillar  195 6.7. Reconstruction of portico. Southern edge of vestibule  199 6.8. Lake and vestibule  203 6.9. Area between vestibule and lake  205 6.10. Southern corner of vestibule and lake  206 6.11. Van Deman’s Sacra Via and vestibule  207 6.12. Van Deman’s reconstruction of Nero’s portico  208 6.13. Detail of portico  209 6.14. Reconstruction of Oppian Wing  211 6.15. Oppian Wing and Baths of Titus  212 6.16. Octagon Room  215 6.17. Octagon Room, construction of vaults  216 6.18. Octagon Room plan  217 6.19. Oppian Wing painting  219 6.20. Odysseus mosaic, Oppian Wing  220 7.1. Neronian Silver Denarius AD 64–65  247

viii  •  List of Illustrations


This is an exciting, if troubling, time to be a historian. As I write, a global pandemic and the ensuing dislocations demonstrate all too well that small events can change the world in a big way. So it was with the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. In this, the second volume in the series Turning Points in Ancient History, Anthony Barrett offers an eloquent, scholarly, and innovative account of one of the most infamous events of antiquity. Our focus in the series is to look at a crucial event or key moment in the ancient world whose consequences rippled outwards. Each book combines archaeology and literary texts and ranges in focus from the elite to ordinary people. In Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty, Barrett does all that. Although Nero may not have fiddled while Rome burned, there are plenty of other reasons to think the emperor misbehaved during the conflagration, the worst in Rome’s history. Indeed, some claimed he even unleashed the fire, in order to have an excuse to rebuild Rome on a grander scale, as indeed happened afterwards. That is unlikely, but neither the calamity nor its consequences is in doubt, as Barrett shows. The Great Fire ended Nero’s golden years and turned the Roman elite against him for good. Nero supposedly tried to deflect the blame onto Rome’s Christians, whom he persecuted. Many scholars doubt the veracity of that tale but even if it is true, it didn’t save Nero. Four years after the Great Fire, his many enemies forced him out of office and he committed suicide. The result was the end of the dynasty founded by Augustus (Nero’s great-great-grandfather). It was the beginning of a new way of choosing the emperor, one that opened up the purple to a

wider group—from Spain to North Africa to Syria—but also opened the door to instability and, too frequently, to civil war. On the plus side, Nero’s rebuilding program after the fire initiated a lasting revolution in architecture, including Rome’s first dome and the use of concrete in vaults. Rebuilding did not come cheaply, however, and spawned inflation. Rome witnessed the first serious devaluation of its currency by the reduction of the amount of silver in its coins. The first, but not the last: by the third century AD there was little silver left in Rome’s “silver” currency. Regime change, inflation, political instability, and possible religious persecution all came in the wake of a ruinous fire, along with the more positive results of the opening-up of the elite and the re-imagining of Roman architecture. All of these results had consequences stretching into the distant future. True, some of them might have occurred anyway without the fire. As Barrett argues, however, a single spectacular disaster sometimes crystallizes the opposition to a regime and helps bring it down. Barrett compares the Great Fire of Rome to Chernobyl. With his exceptional knowledge of Roman topography and of the archaeological and literary evidence, Barrett meticulously reconstructs the terrible events of the blaze and afterward. He guides the reader on a journey that, now more than ever, is well worth taking. Barry Strauss

x  •  Series Editor’s Foreword


The idea for this book was first suggested to me by Rob Tempio of Prince­ton University Press, and since then he has guided me through the ­whole pro­cess patiently, amicably, and ably. At the more practical stage of putting the book into production, I further benefited from the cheerful and efficient guidance of Matt Rohal and Sara Lerner, and my copyeditor Karen Verde was impressively vigilant in exposing blemishes in my manuscript. I confess that at the time of taking on the task I did not have a full appreciation of the complexities it would involve, but, what­ever the difficulties, they have been much lightened by the generous assistance of a number of colleagues and institutions. I have had the good fortune to work in libraries with excellent collections and dedicated staff, the Library of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, the Sackler and Bodleian libraries in Oxford, the Universitätsbibliothek and the Institute libraries of Alte Geschichte, of Klassische Philologie, and of Anglistik in Heidelberg. With equally good fortune I have benefited much from guidance on specific topics from Rhiannon Ash, Andrew Burnett, Philip Burton, Ian Carradice, Peter Paul Schnierer, Brent Shaw, Anne Toner, Peter Wiseman, Tony Woodman, and the two anonymous readers who reported on the manuscript for the Press. ­Virginia Closs and Lucas Rubin kindly made available to me some of their then unpublished material. Joseph Walsh’s engaging ­Great Fire of Rome was not yet available when my manuscript was more or less completed, and he generously sent me his digital files just in time for me to take them into account. The manuscript was read in part or in its entirety by Jacky Barrett McMillan, Valérie Louis, and Károly Sandor, and for three years my colleagues have given a sympathetic ear to my incendiary ramblings, occasionally, I hope, in­ter­est­ ing, but more often, I fear, unpardonably dull. I am much indebted to all of them. It goes without saying that I take complete responsibility

for any errors that may have crept into my text via vari­ous subsequent drafts. The translations of the main sources for the G ­ reat Fire are based, with minor adjustments, on t­hose made by John Yardley and myself for Tacitus, The Annals (Oxford World’s Classics) and for The Emperor Nero: A Guide to the Ancient Sources (Prince­ton University Press): I am grateful to John, who contributed the lion’s share of t­ hose translations, for endorsing their use ­here. The final product would literally have been impossible without the illustrations that accompany the text. I have been impressed by the willingness of colleagues to allow me the use of their material and by the efforts they in many cases made to supply me with high-­resolution images—Heinz-Jürgen Beste, Emanuele Brienza, Raffaele Carlani, Claire Holleran, Lynne Lancaster, Eugenio La Rocca, Henri Lavagne, Eric Moormann, Giacomo Pardini, Frank Sear, Joseph Skinner, Françoise Villedieu, Bryan Ward-­Perkins, and Adam Ziółkowski. Also, Kornelia Roth came to my assistance once again in providing a number of drawings. In noting such acknowl­ edgments it is customary not to single out any individual, but I do wish to make an exception and to rec­ord my par­tic­ul­ar gratitude to Clementina Panella, who was helpful beyond the demands of duty in making available extensive photographic material from the archive of her impor­tant excavations in the center of Rome.

xii • Acknowl­ edgments



753 (Traditional) Founding of Rome by Romulus 509 (Traditional) Expulsion of the kings 390 (Traditional) Gallic sack of Rome 275 Rec­ord of specific fires begins 213 First major fire recorded since the Gallic sack 111 First recorded fire on the Palatine 83 Burning of ­Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline 44 Death of Julius Caesar 31 Circus Maximus seriously damaged by fire 31 ­ Battle of Actium 27 Conventional date of the start of the imperial system, with Augustus as first emperor


6 14 22 36 37 41 54 64 ­ 68 69 80

Creation of the Vigiles Death of Augustus and succession of Tiberius Theater of Pompey burns down Circus Maximus damaged by fire Death of Tiberius and succession of Caligula Death of Caligula and succession of Claudius Death of Claudius and succession of Nero Great Fire of Rome Death of Nero Succession of Vespasian Major Roman fire ­under Titus



Nero Baths


The Saepta Julia The Diribitorium

Portico of Philippus Ampitheater of Taurus?

Portico of Octavia Theater of Marcellus Pons Fabricus

Temples of Janus, Juno Sospita and Spes

Pons Sublicius

Tabularium SUBURRA Curia Templum Julia Pacis ESQUILINE HILL Temple of Comitium Regia House of Domitius Forum Basilica of Jupiter Optimus Romanum Temple of the Penates San Pietro Maximus Temple of Vesta in Vincoli Temples of Oppian Wing Vestibule Sant’ Mater Matuta Arch of Omobono and Fortuna Titus Domus Vigna Tiberiana Temple of Meta Colosseum Barberini Magna Mater Sudans


Temple of Forum Apollo Palatinus Boarium Ara Maxima

Temple of Ceres Temple of Flora Temple of Luna Ara Incendii



T er




Theater and Crypta of Balbus


Temple of the Nymphs Theater of Pompey



Stagnum of Agrippa



Portico of Vipsania Temples of Isis and of Serapis

The Pantheon




Domus Augustana

Cir cu

Temple of Fortuna Respiciens

Start of the Fire?





Temple of Claudius





During the eve­ning of July 19, AD 64, a small fire broke out near Rome’s ­great racing stadium, the Circus Maximus. It was to change the course of history. The imposing structure of the Circus was lined by a crowded mishmash of small shops and modest eating places, and during daylight hours the atmosphere was cheerful and noisy. Fruit-­ sellers, astrologers, perfumers, prostitutes, basket-­weavers, fortune-­ tellers—­all are attested ­there. When night fell the area grew much quieter, and in a way more dangerous—­not ­because of criminal ele­ ments, but simply ­because ­there ­were fewer p ­ eople around to keep an eye on the un­regu­la­ted piles of merchandise stored ­there, much of it quite flammable and something of a firetrap. On this occasion the fire started in the stock of some unidentified merchant. Initially it can have caused ­little, if any, concern. But t­here happened to be a strong and erratic wind that night, and the flames spread first to the other stalls and then, far more ominously, to the fabric of the Circus itself, whose upper stories ­were still largely made of wood. It got worse. So unpredictable ­were the power­ful gusts of wind that the flames ­were able to travel from the Circus to the foot of the exclusive Palatine Hill standing to its northeast, where they rapidly climbed the slope and then ranged over the crest, cutting savagely through the imposing residences of the imperial f­ amily and the g­ rand homes of Rome’s upper crust. As devastating as this was, it was in essence merely a prelude. The fire passed over the hill and down through the lower levels beyond, and now began ruthlessly to consume the crowded tenements of the heavi­ly populated poorer districts. Remarkably, it was to rage in all for nine

agonizing days. To judge from the ancient accounts, the horror was unimaginable. ­People w ­ ere trapped inside the burning multi-­story buildings; ­those who managed to make their way outdoors ran the risk of being trampled to death as they tried to flee, and, ­because the winds kept changing direction, as soon as they escaped the flames, as they thought, they found themselves rushing into brand new firestorms that seemed to spring suddenly from nowhere. To cap the almost universal sense of despair, ­there w ­ ere rumors that the emperor, Nero, had been seen dressed in theatricals and looking down over the spreading devastation from the safety of a high tower on the Esquiline Hill, oblivious to the suffering below and focused on drawing poetic inspiration from the awesome inferno while he recited his ­great epic poem on the sack of Troy. The fire that had started as a random spark in a run-­of-­the-­mill pile of merchandise proved to be the most devastating in Rome’s history, and sections of the ancient city ­were reduced to a smoking wasteland. The ­people who had lived through it would likely have been haunted by the experience for the rest of their days. But did the fire have a significance beyond its effect on the personal lives of a relatively ­limited number of individual Romans? A very strong case can be made that indeed it did, and that in real­ity it initiated events that would produce profound changes in the course of Roman history. Historians have long debated the concept of “turning points,” and a universally agreed definition of such events, as of most artificial scholarly constructs, remains frustratingly elusive. That said, it is at least broadly recognized that a historical turning point must be an occurrence that was not only perceived as dramatic at the time it occurred, but that also, when examined in retrospect, demonstrably had an enduring impact on subsequent history. This last point is crucial. Although the Chinese statesman Zhou Enlai’s famous and much quoted response when asked how significant the French revolution was—­that it was too early to tell—is almost certainly apocryphal (he was prob­ably referring instead to the 1968 student riots), the point of the rather dubious anecdote remains valid. An event like, say, the ­Great Crash of 1929, which must have seemed truly catastrophic at the time but whose global impact had largely dissipated l­ittle more than ten years l­ater, is not usefully defined as a turning point. And even where an impact is long-­term, 2 • Prologue

the relationship between cause and effect is often ambiguous and controversial. As one example among numerous, the fall of Byzantium in 1453 is generally recognized as a major historical turning point, but clearly by the mid-­fifteenth c­ entury the Byzantine Empire was so weakened by internal conflict and the Ottomans w ­ ere by contrast so nearly invincible that the conquest was all but inevitable, ­whether it happened in 1453 or ten years e­ arlier or ten years l­ater. But 1453 can still legitimately be considered the turning point, simply b ­ ecause it was in fact then that events began their new course. The same reasoning can be applied to other major turning points of history, w ­ hether the ­Battle of Gettysburg, or Caesar crossing the Rubicon, or the signing of the Magna Carta, or Luther nailing his Ninety-­Five ­Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. And the same reasoning can also be applied to the Fire of AD 64. The impact of the ­Great Fire proved to be fatally destructive, not only for the hapless Romans caught up by the flames, but ultimately also for Nero himself. ­Until then he had enjoyed a golden reputation, so much in charge of ­things both at home and abroad, and apparently so successful at them, that p ­ eople ­were prepared to overlook his occasional transgressions. But the rumors about his conduct during the fire, the in­effec­tive­ness of the fire ser­vices operating ­under his authority to bring it to a speedy end, as well as a seemingly callous scheme to build a massive palace complex on land now cleared of its fine old properties, led to a massive collapse of faith, and caused an irreparable breach between the emperor and Rome’s power­ful elite. Nero reputedly tried to shift the blame onto the Christians, already an unpop­ u­lar group, and subjected them to savage punishments. If this did in fact happen, it failed to help. His extended honeymoon period was well and truly over: from AD 64 on, his reign was marred by suspicion and conspiracies, leading eventually to overt rebellion, and to the death, in decidedly squalid circumstances, of the emperor himself. And b ­ ecause Nero’s personal demise also represented the demise of the ruling dynasty to which he had belonged, the Julio-­Claudians, the fire marked the first stage in a pro­cess that would transform how the rulers of Rome ­were chosen. Henceforth they would no longer come from the line of the first emperor Augustus, that golden thread of consensus and stability. In AD 68, within four years of the fire, the leadership of the Prologue • 3

Roman Empire was opened up to competitive bidding, and this phenomenon persisted intermittently as a seriously destabilizing ­factor for as long as that empire existed. Of course it is undoubtedly the case that had Nero not alienated his power­ful colleagues b ­ ecause of the fire, he inevitably would have found some other means of alienating them, and that ­because of his self-­evident shortcomings he was almost guaranteed to come eventually to an unhappy end; and it is equally true that if the Julio-­Claudian dynasty had not ended with Nero it would have ended at some point in any case, as all ruling dynasties have inevitably done throughout history, be they Hapsburg, Hanoverian, or Hohenzollern. Nero’s premature death and the end of the Julio-­ Claudian line may both have been inevitable, but they happened when they did as a consequence of the aftermath of the ­Great Fire. Their ultimate historical inevitability does not make that event any less of a turning point. ­There ­were other major developments that can be legitimately associated with the ­Great Fire. The building program initiated afterward by Nero, as exemplified by his Golden House, manifested a number of revolutionary innovations in the field of architecture. It boasted the first dome constructed in Rome, and the imaginative use of concrete in the construction of vaults was extraordinarily innovative. And ­there was also a serious negative economic consequence of the disaster. Rome’s silver coin, the denarius, the cornerstone of its commercial activity, was seriously devalued for the very first time in AD 64, almost certainly as a result of the financial crisis that followed the fire. This led to a series of l­ater devaluations, progressively more serious, u ­ ntil the third ­century AD, by which time the “silver” coinage in fact contained virtually no silver at all. Clearly, this form of monetary inflation would have a major impact on the Roman economy. Arguably, even without the fire some other ruler would at some point have succumbed to the almost irresistible temptation to increase the money supply by debasing its metallic content. But the fact remains that the debasement happened specifically in AD 64, and any consequences that ensued could trace their origin to that year. One other feature of the events of AD 64 gives the Roman fire a special place within the cohort of G ­ reat Fires. E ­ very “­great” urban fire is unique. Just as no two cities are identical, so the fires that with de4 • Prologue

pendable and depressing regularity devastate them can never be identical. That said, ­there is inevitably a certain sameness about ­great, and even lesser, fires. Property is destroyed, lives are lost, economies dis­ located. This has been the case no ­matter where—­Chicago, London, even Oulu, Finland (it boasts eight official ­Great Fires between 1652 and 1916!). But the fire that devastated much of Rome in July, AD 64, seems to differ from ­every other “­great” fire of history in being so intimately associated with a single individual. And that individual, the emperor Nero, is, deservedly or not, widely viewed as the epitome of the erratic tyrant. The events of the ­Great Fire of Rome and the reputedly egregious conduct of Nero, before, during, and ­after it, are inextricably interwoven in a way that simply does not happen with any other ­Great Fire. And b ­ ecause the fire is so closely associated with Nero, it means that in order to understand its origins, pro­gress, and consequences, we not only need to locate it within the context of the fires that preceded and followed (as we might in a study of the Fire of London, say, or of Chicago), but we must also understand it as one of the major po­liti­cal events of its age. Accordingly, in the first chapter the focus is not so much on the fire itself as on the historical background of Nero as emperor, on what sources are available for him as well as for the calamity that had such an impact on his reign, and on the nature of the city that was so devastated. The information provided in this chapter is aimed squarely at the non-­specialist and can safely be skipped by anyone with the most cursory knowledge of Rome’s early imperial history. The next chapter (2) places the ­great conflagration of AD 64 within the known rec­ord of fires in Rome and considers the mea­sures that Romans ­adopted to deal with them. ­There follows a reconstruction of the events of the fire (3), then a chapter on the strength of the case against Nero as the prime suspect for starting it (4). ­There follow two chapters on the immediate aftermath—­one on the targeting of the Christians as con­ve­nient scapegoats (5) and the other on the architectural transformation of the devastated city (6). The last full chapter assesses the significance of the fire for the subsequent course of Roman history (7). A final brief epilogue considers Nero and the G ­ reat Fire as a cultural phenomenon that has persisted from its own time down to our own. Fi­nally, ­there are translations of the accounts of the fire by the three most impor­tant ancient Prologue • 5

literary sources, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, followed by a glossary of terms likely to be unfamiliar to the non-­specialist. Any thorough study of the G ­ reat Fire of Rome w ­ ill pose a par­tic­u­ lar prob­lem, in that it must not only involve a careful study of the ancient literary sources and of the scholarly work that has contributed to a better understanding of t­ hose sources, but also, no less impor­tant, it must acknowledge the results of the major archaeological endeavors that have recently produced new evidence for the fire and that have tended to be neglected by scholars outside the Italian academic community. ­There are also of course the general challenges faced by a book of this type, one intended to appeal to specialists as well as to a general readership. On the same page one may find basic and elementary information alongside quite dense and, some might think, recherché argumentation. The map that is provided at the front of the book contains most of the impor­tant buildings mentioned in the text. The location of some of them is highly contested, and the map is intended only as a general guide. It makes no claim to topographical precision. Particularly frustrating for a study of this kind are the dif­fer­ent national practices for recording mea­sure­ment. In the archaeological discussions, I have generally adhered to the standard convention of using the metric system. But in citing e­ arlier archaeologists making broad calculations without any claim to precision, or ancient sources citing mea­sure­ments in Roman feet or miles, it would have seemed bizarre to convert their figures. Hence in places I have retained the original imperial or Roman units. I see no satisfactory alternative to such inconsistency.

6 • Prologue

I Introduction

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND When Nero succeeded as emperor in October, AD 54, he inherited a form of government put in place some eighty years previously by his illustrious ancestor, Augustus. Still known then as Octavian, Augustus had crushed the combined forces of his rival Antony and Antony’s ally and mistress, Cleopatra of Egypt, in September, 31 BC, at the ­great ­battle of Actium in northern Greece. His conduct afterward marked the end of a republican system of government that had been in force since the expulsion of the last Roman king, traditionally dated to the end of the sixth c­ entury BC. Some four years a­ fter Actium, he nominally surrendered to the senate the territories that he had ended up controlling. In gratitude for his generous gesture, the senate bestowed on him the title of Augustus and assigned to him authority over an enormous “province” in the unsettled frontier areas. Its governors (“provincial legates,” legati Augusti), and the commanders of the legions stationed t­here (“legionary legates,” legati legionis—­such technical terms are explained in the glossary at the end of the book), ­were his direct appointees, so that in effect he became commander-­in-­chief of the Roman armies. The remaining “public” provinces ­were governed by proconsuls selected by lot from the senate. Despite the veneer of republicanism and the pretence that Augustus was merely the “leading citizen” (princeps), his determination to be succeeded from within his own bloodline betrayed the essential fraud of what was for all intents and purposes a monarchy. To complicate

­ atters, he and his last wife, the much admired Livia, produced no m living offspring. The rulers of Rome’s first imperial dynasty ­were subsequently descended from the Julian line of Augustus, beginning with Julia, his d ­ aughter by his previous wife, and from the Claudian line of Livia (the name Livia had been acquired through adoption), and they are familiarly known as the Julio-­Claudians. Augustus eventually designated as his successor the Claudian Tiberius, Livia’s son by a previous marriage and the husband of Julia. Tiberius was an outstanding military commander, it seems, but destined to be an uncharismatic and undiplomatic emperor when he succeeded Augustus in AD 14. Like Augustus, he had no obvious successor in waiting in his ­later years. Tiberius died in 37, to be replaced by his grand­son (by adoption), Gaius Caligula, a rare example of an emperor whose villainous reputation challenges even Nero’s. In AD 41, Caligula was assassinated by officers of his guard and succeeded by his u ­ ncle Claudius, a man deemed by many, including Claudius’s own ­mother, to be mentally incompetent, but who in fact proved a highly capable emperor. It was during Claudius’s reign that the young Nero first came to public attention. Nero was born in Antium (Anzio), on December 15, AD 37. His ­father, Gnaeus, a man of seemingly l­imited character and few attainments, died during Nero’s infancy. His ­mother, Agrippina the Younger, a great-­granddaughter of Augustus, seems to have been the dominant force in the ­family and was ruthlessly ambitious on her son’s behalf. She married Claudius in 49, and within a year had persuaded him to adopt her son. In AD 53, Claudius also sanctioned Nero’s marriage to his ­daughter, Octavia. Claudius died in AD 54, supposedly helped on his way by a poisoned mushroom added to the dinner menu by Agrippina. Nero was whisked off to the camp of the Praetorian guard, and enthusiastically greeted t­ here as emperor. A compliant senate contributed by heaping imperial powers on the sixteen-­year-­old. The ­later image of Nero as the bloated tyrant is so firmly stamped onto the popu­lar imagination that it is perhaps hard now to appreciate that the succession of this handsome and charming youth was greeted by Romans with exuberant enthusiasm as the dawn of a new Golden Age. The fervor of the time was palpable, reflected in the ecstatic response of the bucolic poet Calpurnius Siculus, “a golden age is 8 • chapter I

reborn in an age of serene peace.”1 The optimism may seem strangely naive, but the reaction does seem to have been genuine, and widespread. And, most significant for our pre­sent purposes, still, in AD 64, on the eve of the fire that devastated Rome, that enthusiasm seems hardly to have abated. The excited public response to Nero’s succession was, of course, carefully orchestrated by the powers ­behind the throne. His very first speech before the senate was written for him by his old tutor, the phi­ los­o­pher Seneca, and was a model of tact and deference. Nero announced to the delighted, if deluded, senators that he would model himself on Augustus, and, perhaps most impor­tant, ensure that the senators would retain their ancient privileges, which of course was bound to be well received. It all created the happy illusion, in the view of Tacitus, that in some ways the old ­free republic was still alive and well. All in all, an excellent start. This early phase of the reign was not completely f­ree of dark shadows, such as the suspicious death of Claudius’s natu­ral son, Britannicus. But it is not u ­ ntil the fifth year, AD 59, that we have the first overt and indisputable proof that Nero could, if need be, behave with breathtaking ruthlessness. For reasons now difficult to determine—­perhaps a mixture of po­liti­cal and psychological— he de­cided to eliminate his own ­mother, Agrippina. His reputed means ­were fascinating, and tradition has passed down to us an account of an elaborate, and thoroughly implausible, plan to sabotage a boat on which Agrippina was a passenger, so that it would break apart in mid-­ ocean. She succeeded in swimming to shore. Nero then sent assassins to her coastal villa to finish the job. Even the barely disguised murder of a ­mother seems not to have made any serious dent in Nero’s broad appeal. The surrounding towns even went so far as to celebrate the murder, carry­ing out sacrifices and sending del­e­ga­tions to offer their congratulations. On his return to Rome ­after the event, the general populace responded with near delirious expressions of enthusiasm. To no small degree Nero’s power­ful standing was due to his fine sense of knowing what would make the public happy. ­After murdering Agrippina, he proceeded with breathtaking sang froid to establish games in her honor, with entertainment that included a distinguished but unnamed knight who rode an elephant along a tightrope. One of the shows was particularly ominous, although Introduction • 9

no one in the audience could possibly have ­imagined its prophetic significance. “The Fire” by the highly regarded comic playwright, Lucius Afranius, was apparently staged with such vivid realism that the furniture had to be rescued by the actors from a genuinely burning ­house. They ­were allowed to keep it.2 Perhaps even more than Caligula before him, Nero was fundamentally a “­people’s emperor.” One facet of his be­hav­ior that c­ auses deep offense to the l­ater literary authorities was his eagerness to perform as a singer on the stage, or as an actor in the theater, or as a char­i­ot­eer in races. But t­ hese activities apparently did no damage to his standing with the masses at the time. In fact, the masses may well have approved of them. Pliny the Younger, in a panegyric on the emperor Trajan, in AD 100, observed that by Trajan’s day the p ­ eople had turned away from professional actors as something vulgar, while in an ­earlier age they had actually enjoyed the per­for­mances of the actor-­emperor Nero.3 Among the upper classes t­ here was perhaps a certain ambivalence about such conduct. Although in the years preceding the fire they may have felt to a greater or lesser degree uncomfortable with the notion of their emperor performing on stage, they w ­ ere perfectly willing to countenance it while their own material and po­liti­cal lives ­were happily prospering. Cynicism was not a scarce commodity in imperial Rome. In the early 60s any lingering tensions from the fallout from Agrippina’s murder seem still to have been l­imited to court or ­family circles. In AD 62, Nero divorced the popu­lar Octavia, so he could marry his second wife, Poppaea Sabina. According to Tacitus, the treatment of Octavia did lead to popu­lar disturbances, but significantly Tacitus goes out of his way to emphasize that the protests ­were not directed against Nero. Instead, they targeted Poppaea. In fact, the crowds competed to heap praise on the emperor. We are much accustomed to hearing of Nero the crazed tyrant, the murderer of his f­ amily, the persecutor of the Christians, all in all a generally loathsome individual, and we can be lulled into forgetting that before the fire Nero was still very much Rome’s Golden Boy. By the first half of AD 64, his personal position must have seemed unassailable. The fire seems to have been the catalyst for the ­great divide that opened up between Nero and members of Rome’s elite, one that would 10 • chapter I

ultimately claim Nero himself as a victim. When the governor of Gaul, Gaius Julius Vindex, rebelled in March 68, Nero should have been able to weather the crisis, and five years ­earlier he almost certainly would have weathered it (the mutinous Vindex was in fact defeated and died two months ­later). But he dithered, and the lack of support among the senatorial elite encouraged the revolt of the highly regarded military commander Servius Sulpicius Galba, at that time serving in Spain. Nero seemed overwhelmed by events and incapable of responding effectively, alternating between panic and inertia. The unrest spread to Africa, and in Rome the Praetorian guard abandoned him, thus sealing his fate. He was declared a public ­enemy (hostis) by the senate and escaped to a private villa, where he took his own life, in June 68. Nero’s melodramatic death was the prelude to more than a year of po­liti­cal turmoil, as rival commanders competed to fill the vacancy he had created: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius all took turns serving as emperor, but the tenure of each was spectacularly brief. The situation fi­ nally settled down when Vespasian, already in de facto control while his pre­de­ces­sor, Vitellius, was still alive, was formally acknowledged as princeps by the senate in December 69. The dynasty that he founded, the Flavians (Vespasian, 69–79, his sons Titus, 79–81, and Domitian, 81–96), seems to have made the denigration of Nero one of the central props of its propaganda, which doubtless helped shape the earliest impressions of the ­Great Fire and of Nero’s responsibility for it.

THE LITERARY SOURCES What­ever period of history we choose to study, we inevitably find ourselves at the mercy of the sources available. Ancient history poses its own special challenges. Even when sources are relatively plentiful, and we are far better informed about the Julio-­Claudians than about, say, the early M ­ iddle Ages, the quality of the material can leave much to be desired. A very brief introduction to this issue as it relates to Nero and the ­Great Fire is therefore appropriate. This short section is far from comprehensive and makes no effort to treat all the ancient authorities who appear in the course of this book. Many of ­these are incidental, and some brief background information w ­ ill be provided on Introduction • 11

the spot where it seems relevant. The focus h ­ ere is on the three major literary sources for the Neronian fire, whose accounts appear near the end of the book. None of the three main authorities for the fire, Tacitus (AD 55?– 120s?), Suetonius (AD 70?–130s?), and Cassius Dio (AD 165?–235?) was, at the time he wrote, a con­temporary of Nero. They all depended on ­earlier writings. ­These are now almost entirely lost and even the identities of their authors are very difficult to determine. ­There is, however, one extant source cited generally by both Suetonius and Tacitus: the prodigious Pliny the Elder (AD 23 / 24–79), a polymath whose scholarly enthusiasm led to his death during the eruption of Vesuvius. Pliny’s ­great encyclopaedic work, the Naturalis Historia, was published in AD 77 in thirty-­seven books and survives as an opulent mine of fascinating information on almost e­ very aspect of the ancient world, including the reign of Nero. References to the emperor are scattered throughout the work. The tone of the material is unabashedly negative, with emphasis on Nero’s extravagance and willful eccentricity. Pliny does make one specific and potentially significant comment on the fire and Nero’s potential culpability, but his information is seriously flawed by a manuscript prob­lem (see chapter 3). He also wrote a more conventional history, the Historiae, in thirty-­one books.4 Unfortunately it is now lost, but Tacitus made use of it, citing it for information on the major conspiracy that followed the fire.5 Publius (?) Cornelius Tacitus is broadly acknowledged as the se­nior historian of the Julio-­Claudian period. He pursued a successful ­career ­under the Flavian dynasty that followed it, which he capped with a series of impor­tant historical works. By AD 100 he had written his Histories, covering the succession and reigns of the Flavians: only the first four books and fragments of the fifth have survived. He then turned to an ­earlier era for his final and most celebrated achievement, the Annals, dealing with the years from the accession of Tiberius in AD 14 to the death of Nero in 68. We do not know when he began it, but he was still engaged in the work in AD 116.6 The Annals seems to have consisted of eigh­teen books, but some are missing, the most notable gaps being the entire reign of Caligula and the early part of Claudius’s, and the last two years of Nero’s. 12 • chapter I

Tacitus seems to have flourished u ­ nder the imperial system, even ­ nder the despised Domitian, as he acknowledges in his preface to the u Histories. Yet ­there can be no doubting the virulent hostility to that system that emerges in the Annals. He could, of course, recognize the benefits of individual enlightened rulers like Trajan, but the system itself was inherently injurious. We must therefore be skeptical about Tacitus’s famous assertion at the beginning of the Annals that he could write “without rancor or bias” (sine ira et studio), an echo of the claim made ­earlier in the Histories “without affection and without bias” (neque amore . . . ​et sine studio).7 Tacitus certainly is not in the habit of presenting facts dishonestly. But ­behind the pre­sen­ta­tion of ­simple facts lurk his own prejudices. His attribution of motives, and his attention to rumors and “alleged” general beliefs, leave their impression on the reader. That said, his bias does not lead him to take the rumors at face value, and on ­those rare occasions when he cites his sources, he can be critical of them. Tacitus’s account of the fire is an excellent example of his ­great narrative skills. Serious historian that he is, he expresses appropriate skepticism about Nero’s culpability, the only one of the three main authorities to do so, and rec­ords that the sources are divided on the issue. But his hostility to the emperor is such that by the end of his narrative the reader is left with a vaguely defined but strangely compelling impression that somehow Nero’s be­hav­ior was so abominable that he must be held accountable for what had happened. That is a remarkable feat of writing (see chapter 4). Although his account of the fire is far more detailed than t­hose of Suetonius and Dio, Tacitus provides relatively ­little specific information about the individual buildings lost or seriously damaged. He does rec­ord the destruction of the Circus Maximus and of Nero’s Palatine residence, the outbreak on the Aemiliana estate of Tigellinus, as well as the loss of five named religious buildings of considerable antiquity: the ­Temple of Luna, the Altar of Hercules, the ­Temple of Jupiter Stator, the Regia, and the ­Temple of Vesta.8 But he surely had considerably more potential information at his disposal, since he was acquainted with the testimony of t­hose el­derly inhabitants of the city who had lived t­ here at the time of the fire.9 Frustratingly, he seems to have chosen to make relatively ­little, if any, use of it. Introduction • 13

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was born around AD 70, possibly in Africa. Equestrian by rank, he was appointed to a number of administrative positions u ­ nder the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. He wrote prolifically on a range of topics, the Lives of the Twelve Caesars being his most celebrated work. Suetonius is a biographer, not a historian. As a broad princi­ple he usually arranges his material by topic rather than in chronological sequence and seems to take it for granted that the reader ­will have a general familiarity with the subject. He is rarely interested in serious po­liti­cal issues ­unless they cast light on the personality of his subject, on whom he directs his complete focus. Generally, he is not motivated by the kind of deep hostility that seems to have engaged Tacitus. His main failing is not ira et studium, and indeed, in the case of Nero (and of other emperors), he does include items that he says do not garner criticism—­nulla reprehensione.10 Far more serious is his willingness to accept on faith the untested tales passed down by tradition. He was in fact quite capable of serious research, often making use of public rec­ ords and archival material, and he can be very skeptical of the literary sources. But this admirable skepticism does not deter him from recounting the frivolous gossip transmitted by ­those same sources, and he cannot resist juicy anecdotes, cheerfully leaving it to the reader to exercise a judgment that modern historians would feel is their own responsibility. Also, he tends to take specific and isolated incidents and to pre­sent them as though they reflect the general and consistent be­ hav­ior of his subjects. Nowhere in the Nero does Suetonius explic­itly cite his sources. We cannot know if he made use of Tacitus or if the Neronian chapters of the Annals ­were even available when Suetonius wrote his Nero, and the relationship between the two writers is a highly contentious issue. Also, Suetonius’s narrative of the fire is highly tendentious. His central purpose is to exploit the event to highlight Nero’s cruelty and his indifference to the sufferings of the Romans. He makes no attempt at a sophisticated or investigative account of the disaster or its c­ auses. We must therefore exercise extreme caution in using Suetonius’s Nero to draw any conclusions about who was to blame for what happened. Our third major literary source for the fire is Cassius Dio Cocceianus, a senator from Nicaea in Asia Minor. His History of Rome (Romaïke 14 • chapter I

Historia), written in Greek over a period of more than twenty years, seems to have begun with the early kings and to have ended in the reign of Severus Alexander (AD 222–235). Dio has generally not been considered a deeply analytical historian.11 Throughout his work, he very rarely cites e­ arlier authorities (Augustus and Hadrian are the only two individuals specifically mentioned as sources of information), although his passing references to writers like Livy suggest that he presumably consulted them. It is therefore not surprising then that he fails to provide the name of any of his sources in t­hose sections of his account of the fire that have survived. But it is to be noted that for Nero’s reign (as for other parts of his history), Dio’s original text is missing, and we have to rely on epitomes made in the Byzantine period. Since ­these epitomes take the form of se­lections rather than of summaries, ­there is a risk that impor­tant topics that he originally covered might be omitted in their entirety. The main general value of Dio is that, although in many ways his narrative style is highly biographical, in some re­spects almost a hybrid of Suetonius and Tacitus, he does, like Tacitus, treat his material annalistically, arranging it in broad sequence ­under the years when it occurred.12 He thus relates the events of the last two years of Nero’s reign, part of the key period that followed the fire. This is particularly useful, since t­ hose years are missing from Tacitus’s Annals, which break off in the ­middle of AD 66. But possibly ­because he is in a certain sense a biographer as well as an annalist, Dio is just as prone to gossip and distortion as is Suetonius, and, like Suetonius, he makes no real effort to discriminate between the plausible and the absurd. Also, he views the world very much from a senatorial perspective. It is therefore not surprising that in his account of the fire, as of other episodes of the reign, he is extremely hostile to Nero. Dio’s account of the fire contains ele­ments found also in both Suetonius and Tacitus, such as Nero’s poetic per­for­mance against the background of the burning city. This information clearly has a common origin, but ­there are differences in details, and it seems likely that each of the three writers in­de­pen­dently used common sources, as well as sources neglected by the other two. The literary authorities are not of course our only source of information for the past. ­There is also the evidence provided by archaeology. We Introduction • 15

must note a caveat at the outset. ­There seems to be a rather dangerous article of faith that what is preserved in the archaeological rec­ord is ipso facto more reliable than information derived from lit­er­a­ture, on the grounds that archaeology is uncontaminated by authorial bias. We must avoid falling prey to this widely held misconception—­the situation is by no means so clear-­cut. While the physical material itself may be untainted, it is almost never as explicit as its literary counterpart, and our understanding of that material is very dependent on how it is interpreted and presented to us by the archaeologist. And since archaeology very often involves the ordered destruction of the site being examined, and the archive of the site w ­ ill as often as not be held in storage, for practical purposes the information to which we have access w ­ ill ultimately come filtered through the investigator’s interpretations. In the case of the ­Great Fire we are fortunate that the main body of archaeological evidence for the event has been brought to light by a highly professional team led by Clementina Panella for the Sapienza University of Rome, and it has been published to high scholarly standards. But ­these standards are not necessarily maintained by other excavators, and elsewhere we must be on guard against conclusions that can be highly speculative and at times fueled by an almost poetic imagination. The archaeologist’s idiosyncrasies and preconceptions can occasionally shape what is supposedly objective evidence. Beyond t­ hese general reservations, the ­Great Fire of AD 64 creates two very specific archaeological prob­lems. A devastating fire can often leave a stark reminder of its presence. This is nicely illustrated by the Romano-­British town of Verulamium (St.  Albans), which was destroyed during the Boudiccan rebellion, just a few years before the ­Great Fire. The early debris levels at Verulamium contain a dramatic burned layer which can confidently be ascribed to the consequences of the rebellion.13 Unfortunately one w ­ ill look in vain for such overwhelming and explicit archaeological evidence for the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64. Rome has enjoyed a long and complicated history, during which it is known to have suffered a number of devastating fires, including one only sixteen years a­ fter the G ­ reat Fire. Assigning fire debris to any specific event can in some cases be a hazardous undertaking. Also, ­there is a second prob­lem for the modern researcher, created 16 • chapter I

by a particularly enlightened scheme of Nero. Among the mea­sures that he undertook a­ fter the fire was the clearance of the destroyed material and the subsequent return of the sites, clear of debris, to the ­owners. Ships carried grain up the Tiber to provide relief for the destitute. Once unloaded, t­hese same ships w ­ ere then required to fill up with fire debris, which could be carried downstream and serve a useful purpose of filling the marshes near Ostia.14 Not all of the debris would have been removed, of course, especially where it could be used as fill for Nero’s Golden House, built on the land devastated by the fire. But much of the archaeological evidence was carried away literally by the shipload. Nero’s admirable recycling program could in a sense be viewed negatively, as an early instance of archaeological vandalism.

ANCIENT ROME The ­Great Fire occurred within a par­tic­u­lar historical and po­liti­cal context. But it was in itself a physical phenomenon, happening in, and to an extent ­shaped by, a specific physical environment. Hence it remains for us to consider one final “text,” as modernists would define it, the city of Rome itself. This brief section is not of course intended for experts in the topography of ancient Rome.15 The location of what would develop into the city of Rome was determined in the first instance by the Tiber, the largest river of central Italy. Flowing southwest from its Apennine headwaters to the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Tiber is power­ful and turbulent, and very subject to flooding. Downstream of Rome it begins to be navigable by deep draft ships. This last ­factor, plus the fortuitous presence of an island that stemmed the power of the current and made a crossing feasible, created the ideal conditions for the development of a major city. The Tiber played a key role during the course of the G ­ reat Fire, even though it is never mentioned by any ancient source in that context. The fire was apparently confined to the east bank of the river, which formed a natu­ ral barrier that prevented the flames from spreading west, just as in the seventeenth c­ entury the Thames would prevent the G ­ reat Fire of London from taking serious hold to the south of the city. Introduction • 17




*Approximate Origin of Fire















1.1. Traditional hills of Rome. A. Louis.

The ancient crossing of the Tiber, the Pons Sublicius (famously defended by Horatius), led the traveler from the west into the most ancient settled part of Rome, in fact a place older than Rome itself, the Forum Boarium, situated along the river between the Capitoline and the Aventine Hills. Its topography made it a natu­ral place to meet and trade, although it may never have been a ­cattle market, as sometimes popularly supposed (bos = ox, cow, bull). Its ancient and crowded nature meant that it was constantly vulnerable to serious fires (see chapter 2). As a marketplace, the Forum Boarium was to be superseded by what would become the heart of the city, the Forum Romanum, which lay to the east of the Capitoline, framed by that hill as well as the Velia and the Palatine. That l­ater forum presumably began as a s­ imple market location, perhaps on the lower slopes of the Capitoline, and grew when the area it l­ater occupied was drained by the g­ reat sewer (Cloaca Maxima), traditionally begun during the regal period.16

18 • chapter I

The dominant feature of the east bank of the Tiber was the city’s famous hills, ancient ridges formed by erosion above the floodplain of the river below.17 Natu­ral and h ­ uman activities have greatly softened their contours; hence, they would have been far more abrupt in antiquity than they are ­today. To the north of the Forum Boarium, the Capitoline Hill ­rose up steeply. Its sheer profile made it a natu­ral stronghold, and it was supposedly the only part of the city to survive intact the Gallic sack of 390 BC (see chapter 2). The hill became a major cult center, home to what was arguably Rome’s most significant religious monument, the ­Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. North of the Capitoline Hill, between the Quirinal and Pincian hills and the river, stretched the expanse of the Campus Martius, roughly 250 h (620 acres). Initially subject to frequent flooding, the Campus lay outside the formal city limits u ­ ntil the imperial period, by which time it had been considerably built over. Augustus chose this district as the site of some of his most significant buildings, including the Pantheon and Mausoleum. Most of the area seems to have escaped the fire in AD 64, and it became a place of refuge for ­those who had lost their homes.18 To the south of the Forum Boarium lay the Aventine, the southernmost of Rome’s traditional seven hills. By the time of Nero this precipitous hill had become a fash­ion­able residential area. Fires are recorded on the Aventine from time to time, but ­there is no explicit evidence that it was directly affected by the ­Great Fire. To the north, the more gentle slopes of the Aventine overlooked a shallow valley, originally intersected by a stream. This area was to be occupied by the Circus Maximus, and it was ­here that the ­Great Fire of AD 64 broke out, as did a number of ­earlier, and ­later, fires. To the north of the Circus Maximus r­ ose the Palatine, its upper plateau l­ater dominated by a huge Flavian palace. The Palatine, especially its southwest quarter, figures prominently in Rome’s earliest history, and was the original site of the ancient walled city. In the republican period it became a desirable residential area for A-­list Romans: Cicero owned a ­house on the hill, and Augustus was born and made his home t­ here, ultimately bequeathing the estate to ­later emperors, and inadvertently also bequeathing the word “palace,” or its cognates, to several

Introduction • 19

languages. According to the literary sources the Palatine lay at the center of the conflagration in AD 64, and many of its buildings ­were destroyed. To the east of the Palatine lay the Caelian Hill, at the southeastern limit of the traditional seven hills. The Caelian is a long, narrow, sausage-­shaped extension, some two kilo­meters in length and barely half a kilo­meter in width. Supposedly covered originally in oak forest, it was heavi­ly populated during the republican period and devastated by a major fire in AD 27; in the subsequent redevelopment it became a desirable residential area for the well-­to-­do.19 No source mentions any damage ­there in AD 64, but ­there is some archaeological evidence that it might indeed have been affected (see chapter 3). North of the Palatine t­ here projected a spur known in antiquity as the Velia. Originally, it seems, the Velia was high and steep, and would have dominated the Forum Romanum at the forum’s southeastern end (the Capitoline dominated its northwest).20 But the hill was gradually reduced by concentrated building activity, including construction of the vestibule of Nero’s Golden House ­after the AD 64 fire, and the Hadrianic ­Temple of Venus and Rome that replaced it, and ultimately it dis­appeared ­under the ­great Fascist thoroughfare, the Via dei Fori Imperiali, opened by Mussolini in 1932. The Velia formed part of a ­saddle, which on the north linked the Palatine to one of Rome’s most extensive hills, the Esquiline. ­There is some uncertainty about the nomenclature of this prominence, but it seems to have consisted of, or have included, two distinct heights, the Cispian and the Oppian. The Esquiline was the location of a number of ­grand estates, such as the Lamian Gardens and the Gardens of Maecenas, which had become imperial possessions by Nero’s time. It seems to have escaped the early phase of the fire, which was brought to a stop at its foot, but it may have been severely affected in a subsequent outbreak.21 The southern spur, the Oppian, was the scene of extensive construction ­under Nero and contains the best preserved section of his Golden House, built (or rebuilt) immediately ­after the fire. Between the Esquiline/Oppian to the north and the Palatine and Caelian to the south ran a valley, clearly devastated in AD 64. It was redeveloped by Nero, then redeveloped in turn by Vespasian, in part

20 • chapter I

to make way for his ­great amphitheater, to be known ­later as the Colosseum, and the adjoining gladiatorial school. While the broad physical features of ancient Rome do not pre­sent ­great prob­lems, its detailed topography is an academic nightmare. Such issues as the location of buildings, or the orientation of major streets, mentioned often in very casual or ambiguous terms in the literary sources, are invariably the subject of major academic debates and controversies. Any attempt to study the course and extent of the fire, or the initiatives taken to rebuild Rome afterward, can at times be bedev­iled by the lack of consensus about the city’s topography.

THE POPULATION OF ANCIENT ROME In the midst of the sometimes abstract academic controversies that the ­Great Fire and its aftermath have engendered, it should always be borne in mind that this was first and foremost a ­human tragedy. It should give us serious pause that we are unable to put a name to a single individual who died during this catastrophic event. Nor, at the other extreme, do we have a coherent idea of the total number of the victims. We can get a general sense of the scale of the disaster from Tacitus’s claim that it was the worst Roman fire ever, and Dio’s broad observation that it was the greatest calamity to befall Rome down to his own time, the third ­century AD, with the single exception of the Gallic invasion.22 But it is impossible even to begin putting an a­ ctual figure to the number of fatalities. Most signifcantly, we do not know the population of Nero’s Rome, an issue no less controversial than the serious topographical prob­lems just mentioned. The pioneering work in this sphere was the g­ reat demographic study by the maverick German scholar Karl Julius Beloch, published more than 130 years ago, the first attempt to mea­sure ancient populations with something approximating a scientific method, and still almost invariably the starting point of any discussion.23 The debate about the city of Rome’s population has generally been conducted in the context of the size of the population of Italy as a w ­ hole. For this we have some data in the form of census figures assembled

Introduction • 21

during the periodic enumerations of the Roman citizen body and occasionally preserved in the literary sources. The latest figures available for a pre-­Augustan census are for the year 70 / 69 BC and indicate a citizen body of 900,000.24 Following this, Augustus, in the rec­ord that he left of his achievements, the Res Gestae, provides figures for three censuses undertaken ­under his stewardship.25 ­Under 28 BC he rec­ords that 4,063,000 Roman citizens w ­ ere entered on the roll. Twenty years ­later, in the census of 8 BC, the total was 4,233,000. In the third and final census that he lists, belonging to the last year of his life, AD 14, 4,937,000 Roman citizens ­were recorded. The shift between 28 BC and 8 BC is generally in line with what might be reasonably expected. But the difference between 8 BC and AD 14 is striking. What is truly astonishing, however, is the gap between the figures of what was de facto the latest republican census for which we have data, in 70 / 69 BC, and ­those of Augustus’s first enumeration in 28 BC. The population seems to have jumped more than fourfold. How should this leap be interpreted? ­There have been vari­ous explanations. Low registration in the republican period is one suggestion. ­There is also the extension of citizenship to the Gallic region north of the Po (the Transpadanes) to be taken into account. One theory is that the republican figures included only ­those citizens who ­were of an age to be recruited into the Roman legions. The other possibility is that, unlike his republican pre­de­ces­sors, Augustus included ­women and c­ hildren in his totals. ­There is no broad agreement on ­these issues. In any case, ­these figures are for citizens who held Roman citizenship, the majority of whom prob­ably never set foot in Rome.26 For the inhabitants of the city itself, we have somewhat similar categories of figures, and they pre­sent similar difficulties. Augustus provides information on his “donatives,” distributions of largesse to Roman residents. He boasts that his largesses down to 12 BC w ­ ere received by no fewer than 250,000 p ­ eople. He further rec­ords that by the time of his donative of 5 BC, this had grown to 320,000. In 2 BC he gave donatives to ­those who ­were receiving the corn dole, and the recipients on this occasion totaled just over 200,000, a number confirmed by Dio.27 One is struck by the variations in the three figures. But, even

22 • chapter I

more seriously, once again we do not know who is included—­prob­ ably, but not certainly, male heads of h ­ ouse­holds only, but, if so, how many wives, c­ hildren, and, significantly, slaves are to be added to produce the total number of inhabitants? And did Augustus’s figures include ­people who lived outside the strict city limits, the pomerium, but could easily make their way into Rome—­Beloch argued that ­people who lived as far as twenty or thirty miles from Rome w ­ ere able to participate in the dole, thus including residents of Ostia.28 We have to add to this already complicated situation the pos­si­ble shift in population during the fifty-­year period between Augustus and the Neronian Fire. Clearly the data on census figures and donatives are less useful than might have been hoped. Other methodologies have been implemented. Calculations have been made on the basis of the grain supply, but dif­ fer­ent scholars have drawn dif­fer­ent conclusions from the figures.29 Another approach has been to try to extrapolate the population from the physical size of the ancient city, just u ­ nder 14 sq km, but with no greater consensus.30 In very broad terms one might speculate, without ­doing serious vio­lence to recent general scholarly thinking, that the total population of Neronian Rome might have been somewhere between about 500,000 and 1 million, but emphasis must be put on the word “speculate.”31 And to compound all of this uncertainty, we have no way of knowing what portion of the population lost their lives in the fire. The ancient literary authorities tell of the horrific experiences during its course. But, despite the harrowing accounts of agonizing deaths, t­ hose same authorities are not at all forthcoming on the total numbers of casualties, even in very broad terms, which might suggest that the number was, relatively speaking, not quite as high as the authorities seem implicitly to suggest.32 But that, too, is ­little more than speculation. In sum, we must reluctantly accept that we have no properly informed idea of the number of casualties of the ­Great Fire of AD 64. Modern Rome, a city of more than four million inhabitants, is on the surface indifferent to this g­ reat tragedy. Its familiar landscape betrays none of the scars of the inferno that caused such appalling devastation so long ago. But it is a sobering thought that below that

Introduction • 23

surface, in fact in places many meters beneath the crowded and noisy modern streets, now throbbing with life and activity, vestiges of that ancient catastrophe have survived through the passing centuries, peacefully blanketed by thick layers of accumulated debris. ­These buried deposits of ash, broken pottery, metalwork, and, inevitably, charred fragments of h ­ uman bone, have for nearly two thousand years observed a profound silence beneath the bustling streets, frozen in an eternal vigil beneath the famed eternal city.

24 • chapter I


II Fires in Ancient Rome

Fires are a grimly routine feature of urban life, and t­ here can be very few days of the year without a major fire occurring somewhere in the world. It is hardly surprising, then, to discover that in the first ­century BC, the orator and statesman Cicero classified fires (along with storms, shipwrecks, and collapsing buildings) among the g­ reat perils of Roman life. And not much ­later the poet Horace tells us what wealthy Romans feared most: theft and fires.1 But, however horrific they may seem at the time, the g­ reat majority of fires are soon forgotten. Only a tiny number have become a permanent part of our collective memory, and ­these tend to have two broad qualifications. The fire needs to be on a dramatically large scale, impressive enough to distinguish it from the common incendiary herd. Also, it helps to have an eloquent witness. The ­Great Fire of London in 1666 was an appallingly destructive event, but it would not continue to capture the popu­lar imagination had Samuel Pepys not recorded it in his diary, leaving such unforgettable images as trying feverishly to bury his prized Parmesan cheese in the garden of his home below Tower Hill while the flames from the west inched ever closer. And would the G ­ reat Fire of Chicago be such an iconic event without the riveting account that John Chapin published in Harper’s Weekly? The G ­ reat Neronian Fire of AD 64, as far as we can gauge, seems to have been no less catastrophic in terms of loss of life and property, and it too is well served by its chroniclers, described vividly and extensively by three ancient writers, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. This makes it unique.2 For other Roman fires we tend to

have only scattered snatches of information. Most have simply left no trace in the rec­ord. Even without alarmist comments like ­those of Cicero and Horace, we could be in no doubt that p ­ eople lived in constant dread of fire in the cities of antiquity. This anxiety is voiced as early as the second millennium BC in the celebrated code of Hammurabi of Babylon, where being burned alive is prescribed as the penalty for looting during a fire.3 The severity of the punishment must presumably reflect the severity of the prob­lem. Some centuries ­after Hammurabi, the regulations of the Hittite capital Hattusa laid down even more draconian punishments for ­those who demonstrated mere negligence. Should a ­temple be burned down even accidentally by an other­wise blameless attendant, this negligence is considered a criminal act, and “he who commits this crime ­will perish together with his descendants.” 4 Roman laws cannot claim an equal antiquity, of course. The earliest Roman equivalent to t­ hose Near Eastern texts is the body of statutes known as the Law of Twelve ­Tables, drawn up around the ­middle of the fifth ­century BC.5 ­These laws mandated a space of two and a half feet between neighboring buildings, presumably at least in part to control the spread of fire, and this must surely also have been the intent of the rule that a funeral pyre should not be erected without permission less than sixty feet from a neighbor’s h ­ ouse.6 More explic­ itly, anyone who burns a building or a heap of grain near a building must make good the damage if the fire was accidental, and w ­ ill be put 7 to death by fire if it was deliberate. Early Romans clearly took t­ hese ­matters no less seriously than had the Babylonians before them. But concrete evidence for specific fires is simply not forthcoming during the early historical period, and the first Roman fire mentioned in a literary text did not occur u ­ ntil the fourth ­century. ­There w ­ ill surely have been numerous instances before that, but no one wrote about them, or, if they did, their accounts have not survived. Accordingly, we are obliged to turn to archaeology. The limitations of archaeological evidence have already been noted (chapter 1), and in light of reservations already expressed t­ here, we need to exercise appropriate caution when confronted by the very earliest Roman fire deemed by some to have left a trace in the archaeological rec­ord. 28 • chapter II

According to the most familiar version of the legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus. He was the first of seven kings to rule the city, down to the very last, the wicked Tarquinius Superbus, whose downfall in 509 initiated the reputedly smooth transition to the republic. Archaeologists, however, have speculated that the end of the monarchy may have involved far more vio­lence inside the a­ ctual city than is suggested by the literary accounts. The physical evidence consists of a layer of burned material, which some argue was deposited when three buildings burned down in a major conflagration in the late sixth ­century BC: (a) the Regia, the royal palace supposedly built by the revered King Numa between Rome’s central road, the Sacra Via, and the ­Temple of Vesta; it was reconstituted subsequently as a sacred building, where the college of priests held their meetings; (b) the Comitium, the ancient area for popu­lar assemblies, located in the northwest of the forum; and (c) Rome’s oldest known ­temple, prob­ably of Mater Matuta.8 According to tradition, the ­Temple of Mater Matuta and the ­Temple of Fortuna w ­ ere built together by King Servius Tullius on a single large podium in the current precinct of the church of Sant’ Omobono (in the Forum Boarium [see chapter 1]).9 All three structures, the Regia, Comitium, and ­Temple, are thought by some to have burned down at the end of the regal period, and they seem to have been rebuilt not long afterward.10 This theory of a serious fire in 509 is intriguing, and not implausible, but we must bear in mind that it is based on the highly speculative dating of the burned layer in question to the late sixth ­century. At least a modest degree of caution is warranted. The first fire to find a place in the literary, as opposed to the archaeological, rec­ord was a momentous event in its own right, but also particularly significant in the context of the pre­sent topic, since it still reverberated among Romans more than four centuries ­later, at the time of the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64, and p ­ eople then drew symbolic parallels between the two disasters (see chapter 3). The sack of Rome by the Gauls, dated traditionally to 390 BC, was remembered by Romans as one of the most devastating episodes in the city’s history. The resulting fires possibly even surpass the Neronian catastrophe for their impact on the national psyche. And the two events share a frustrating feature, in that they both highlight the crucial difference Fires in Ancient Rome  •  29

between information and knowledge. While they are among the best documented events in Rome’s history, in both cases the relative abundance of information still leaves us in relative ignorance about what happened. It seems that early in the fourth ­century a considerable section of a Gallic ­people, the Senones, who had settled the so-­called Ager Gallicus (“Gallic region”) in the Po Valley, crossed over the Apennine mountains into Etruria. Advancing down the Tiber Valley t­oward Rome, they clashed with a Roman army at the juncture of the Allia and Tiber Rivers, and thoroughly routed it, according to tradition, on July 18, 390 BC.11 The defeat was henceforth marked in Roman calendars as their greatest national disaster. Units of the Roman army fled in panic north to nearby Veii, a town captured by the Romans u ­ nder their commander Camillus only six years e­arlier. Rome itself now lay undefended. The Gauls entered the city unopposed on the following day, July 19, which happened to be the very day the G ­ reat Fire broke out in AD 64, a coincidence that did not go unnoticed. Once t­here, the Gauls, according to the ­great historian of the Augustan age, Livy, proceeded to sack the city, destroying the h ­ ouses and setting them on fire. The looting and burning went on for several days, at the end of which the city lay in ruins. The Capitoline Hill appears to have escaped destruction, but the Romans garrisoned t­ here eventually surrendered and ­were obliged to make a payment of gold to the Gauls.12 Camillus, previously exiled for misuse of plunder from the campaign against Veii, and now a private citizen, quickly took charge of Rome’s liberation. He broke off negotiations with the Gauls and went on to defeat them in ­battle.13 Rome was reclaimed, but many now advocated abandoning the ruined city and moving en masse to Veii. The senators, headed by Camillus, made the case for staying, and for rebuilding, and their view prevailed. Witty reference was made to this ancient debate a­ fter the ­Great Fire in AD 64. In the subsequent reconstruction, Nero supposedly used so much land for his grandiose Golden House that a lampoon began to circulate urging the citizens to move to Veii—­provided that town had not been swallowed up by the ­house too!14 Livy, the most detailed chronicler of the Gallic destruction, claims that the fires that erupted during the violent sack more or less destroyed Rome. Interestingly, he concedes that they did not spread as extensively 30 • chapter II

as might have been expected on the first day, but widespread devastation followed. The small unit of Rome soldiers still in the city ­were obliged to look down from their defensive position on the Capitoline on “every­thing brought down in flames and ruins.”15 Apart from ­these holdouts, Livy says, the Gauls saw that nothing ­else remained within the smoking ruins of the captured city.16 Rome “lay in ashes.” Houses had been burned down on a massive scale, the grain supply had been destroyed, and priestly rec­ords and other impor­tant documents had been consumed by the flames.17 But Livy’s w ­ hole account needs to be treated with extreme caution. It is now broadly believed that the destruction, including the fires, may have been far less extensive than portrayed. The Gauls would have been interested primarily in loot, they would have had ­little incentive to burn down buildings, and scholars now suspect that the scale of the destruction may well have been ­limited and its physical impact actually quite minimal. This m ­ atters ­little. The mystique that surrounded the ­whole episode was, in a way, to prove far more power­ful than mere historical truth.18 Livy attributes the lack of primary evidence for the early period of Roman history to the destruction of the ancient archives in the Gallic sack. ­Whether or not this is a valid claim, it does serve to draw attention to the serious gaps in the fire rec­ord of ancient Rome. Even for a high-­profile event like the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64 t­ here is a serious dearth of specific details, no doubt due in part to the precarious state of public rec­ords. The type of loss mentioned by Livy crops up again and again. In the late 80s / early 70s BC the Tabularium (Rec­ord Office) was destroyed by arson, along with all its files. In 58 BC, the demagogue Publius Clodius allegedly set fire to the ­Temple of the Nymphs (in the Campus Martius), which ­housed census rec­ords and other public archives, some of which Clodius reputedly wanted to dis­appear. Such losses continued ­after the ­Great Fire. According to Dio, state archives w ­ ere destroyed in a fire ­under Commodus in AD 192.19 Detailed accounts of the ­Great Fire’s destruction must have been made ­after AD 64 to deal with the vari­ous compensation programs put in place afterward. If so, l­ittle if any use seems to have been made of t­ hese rec­ords by the literary sources, possibly through indifference, but also possibly ­because they ­were destroyed in another fire that devastated Rome again, merely sixteen years ­later, in AD 80. Fires in Ancient Rome  •  31

­There is no documented fire in Rome for more than a ­century ­after the Gallic sack, but it can be safely assumed that the wide gap in our knowledge reflects the fragile and almost arbitrary nature of the historical evidence rather than any immunity of the city to fires. In the third c­ entury BC, allusions to fires resume in the lit­er­a­ture and it starts to become pos­si­ble to place the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64 within some sort of larger historical context of urban conflagrations, and to gain some sense of how exposed Romans w ­ ere to such events and of how well they coped with them. But it is far from clear sailing. The list of fires during the republican period constitutes a patchy rec­ord at best, and inclusion is rather arbitrary. Certain buildings resonated with Rome’s sense of its identity. ­Temples, for instance, appear with ­great frequency in the rec­ords of fires. They w ­ ere of course often sited in elevated locations and thus prone to lightning strikes. But also, ­temples ­were impor­tant public buildings, and any harm to them was considered a ­matter of public interest. The ­Temple of Vesta in par­tic­ul­ar was thought to lie meta­phor­ically at the heart of the city, and it is understandable that fires ­there should be meticulously recorded. Balancing the significance attached to certain types of buildings, other features of the city ­were clearly considered distinctly uninteresting. For instance, a fire some time ­after AD 14, during Tiberius’s reign, in the structures built around the Naumachia (an artificial basin built by Augustus for re-­ enacting naval b ­ attles) shares a unique and surprising distinction with the burning down of a h ­ ouse that belonged to the f­ ather of the author Symmachus some three and a half centuries l­ ater, in AD 375. The connection is that ­these two are the only fires for which ­there is a rec­ord during the ­whole of ancient Rome’s history as occurring on the west bank of the Tiber, in the then very unfashionable Trastevere district. Certain sections of this quarter ­were poor and overcrowded, and fires ­there surely must have been frequent.20 But such downmarket neighborhoods ­were generally beyond the historical ken. And, of course, often writers have their own private axes to grind, so that fairly trivial fires can figure far more prominently than they deserve. It is hardly surprising, for instance, that Cicero saw fit to rec­ord the burning of his ­brother’s ­house, a massively significant event for the f­ amily and accordingly given a place in the history of ancient conflagrations, but in truth a non-­event for society as a w ­ hole. 32 • chapter II

Most seriously, ­there is the frustrating nature of ancient source material and the question of how much faith we can place in it. The first “post-­Gallic” notice of a fire illustrates vividly the challenges posed by the literary evidence, challenges that ­will recur with a vengeance when we come to study the Neronian Fire of AD 64. The ­Temple of Salus (Safety and Well-­Being), standing in a dominating position on the Quirinal Hill, was struck by lightning in 275 BC and supposedly destroyed in the subsequent fire. Likely dedicated in 302 BC by Gaius Junius Brutus, Roman commander against the Samnites, the ­temple was rebuilt ­after the 275 fire, to be struck at least twice again by lightning, in 206 and 166 BC (the extent of the damage on t­ hose two l­ater occasions is unclear), then destroyed by fire once again during the reign of the emperor Claudius.21 ­There is a prob­lem in this rec­ord. The artist Gaius Fabius Pictor (Painter) was famed for the spectacular paintings on the inner walls (parietes) of this very ­temple, executed ­after its first dedication. He was in fact so proud of them that, unusual for the time, he added his signature.22 And the Romans in turn w ­ ere so proud of him and his work in the ­temple that they granted him the honorific of “Pictor.” The early fifth ­century Christian writer Orosius is explicit that the ­Temple of Salus was totally destroyed (dissoluta) in 275. But despite the t­emple’s supposed total destruction on that occasion, the paintings, quite miraculously, remained intact, since Pliny claims that they survived down to his day (ad nostram memoriam), and could be seen in the t­ emple that burned down more than three centuries l­ater, in the Claudian period.23 Something is wrong h ­ ere. Clearly, the history of this t­emple illustrates how cautious we must be in h ­ andling the ancient reports about fires. The destruction that befell the ­Temple of Salus in 275, if it was destroyed, seems to have been l­imited to that building and at most affected only one or two of its neighbors. Far more terrifying w ­ ere fires that ravaged w ­ hole districts. They are of two basic types. For all the comparisons that would be drawn ­later between the Gallic invasion in the fourth ­century and the ­Great Fire of AD 64, ­these two events w ­ ere quite dif­fer­ent phenomena. As horrendous and devastating as it was, the fire that swept through Rome in AD 64 was essentially a conventional fire with the standard attributes of an urban fire, albeit on a very large scale. The Gallic sack was quite dif­fer­ent—it was the deliberate Fires in Ancient Rome  •  33

assault on the city by an ­enemy force, with death and destruction as the inevitable consequences, and the fires, however serious, ­were essentially sideshows of a much larger event. If we put aside the shadowy archaeological evidence for a serious fire at the end of the regal period, the first conventional major fire in Rome’s history, in the same class, albeit at a lower rank, as the ­Great Fire of AD 64, does not appear in the rec­ord ­until the late third c­ entury BC. By that time, conditions in the city ­were right for a major conflagration. As Rome became the dominant power of the Mediterranean region and as its population grew, ­there would have been an irresistible pressure to build ever more densely, and that could only mean ever higher. This eventually led to construction of the notorious firetraps, the large tenement blocks or insulae (literally “islands”) that w ­ ere such a familiar component of ancient Rome. We have some details about how they ­were constructed from an account belonging to a much ­later period, the celebrated and highly influential book on architecture, De Architectura, written by Vitruvius ­toward the end of the final ­century BC. He observes that walls abutting public roads ­were ­limited to a thickness of one and a half feet. But brick walls one and a half feet thick cannot bear upper floors. The result was that, in order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, multi-­floored dwellings ­were constructed around central piers of bricks or unsquared stones, which supported the timbers of the floors of several additional stories.24 Hence Juvenal’s comment a ­century or so ­later that Romans lived in a city that for the most part was supported on a slender prop (tenui tibicine fultam).25 We do not know when the insulae started to become a distinctive feature of Rome, but Livy provides indirect evidence that they had begun to appear by no ­later than the end of the third ­century BC. Among the prodigies recorded in the winter of 218 / 217 BC, an ox climbed to the third story of just such a building in the area of the Forum Boarium and in the ensuing confusion and tumult leapt to its death.26 Hence urban density, a common catalyst for fire, had clearly become a feature of Rome by at least then. And ­there is also literary evidence that highly combustible material was being used in t­ hese seriously crowded buildings. Pliny the Elder, for instance, tells us that down to the early third c­ entury (his dating point of reference is the conflict with King Pyrrhus of Epirus, 280–275 BC), wooden shingles 34 • chapter II

(as opposed to ceramic tiles) ­were used exclusively for the roofs of buildings, and the change from wood to ceramic, which Pliny implicitly rec­ords as being implemented at about that time, was most likely inspired by a desire to reduce the risk of fire.27 Livy places the first post-­Gallic major fire in 213 BC. He reports that it spread unchecked for two nights and the intervening day, reducing every­thing to the ground (solo aequata omnia). The fire raged in the area between the Aventine and the Tiber near the line of fortifications attributed to King Servius Tullius, and hence known as the Servian Walls.28 One striking feature of this fire was that t­hese ancient walls ­were no barrier to a major conflagration. Livy makes the point that they ­were not sufficient to contain the fire, which spread beyond them and caused much damage both to religious and to secular buildings. This is a sobering observation that needs to be kept in mind when we read the accounts of the fire of AD 64: Tacitus similarly comments that when the AD 64 fire began in the Circus Maximus, ­there w ­ ere no 29 obstacles to prevent it from spreading. Both events demonstrate that, once a fire had taken a serious hold, ­there was relatively ­little that could be done to control it—­and while it may be perfectly understandable that ­people would assume that a fire on a massive scale simply had to be the result of some fiendish plot, it could in fact be nothing more than a manifestation of nature’s blind savagery, to be blamed on power­ ful winds rather than on power­ful malice. The 213 BC fire ravaged much of the ancient Forum Boarium and destroyed the major t­ emples of Mater Matuta (see above), Fortuna and Spes.30 In her excavations of the site of Mater Matuta in 1961–1962, Liliana Mercando dated the dismantling of vari­ous architectural ele­ments in the complex and the laying of a new pavement to the reconstruction that followed the 213 fire.31 The statue of Servius Tullius in the ­Temple of Fortuna was reputedly saved by no less than Vulcan himself.32 Fires can be started accidentally or deliberately. Among the latter, some are the almost inevitable companions of military conflict. Then ­there are the fires that are started deliberately in a time of general peace and order, sometimes without rational motive—­arson is a crime that tends to attract individuals with psychological prob­lems. Tacitus is alone in acknowledging that ­there ­were some historical authorities who thought the ­Great Fire belonged to the accidental category.33 All Fires in Ancient Rome  •  35

other sources who comment on this fire unhesitatingly blame Nero, their only uncertainty being w ­ hether the arson was a deliberate and well thought-­out action, or the deranged be­hav­ior of a madman. The first known case in Rome of a presumed conventional act of arson (not the side-­product of warfare) can be dated precisely, to March 18, 210 BC.34 Livy notes that this 210 fire broke out on the night before the Quinquatrus, the festival of Minerva, celebrated on March 19–23.35 It caused the destruction of vari­ous parts of the Forum Romanum. ­These included shops and private h ­ ouses around the Forum, the fish market, and the home of the chief priest (atrium regium), which ­were completely destroyed. The t­ emple of Vesta was saved by the efforts of thirteen slaves, rewarded afterward by being purchased by the state, then given their freedom. The aftermath of this fire is strikingly echoed in the kind of speculation that followed the G ­ reat Fire in AD 64. The fact that the 210 fire broke out initially in several dif­fer­ent locations was taken as proof of arson. The perpetrators ­were tracked down on the evidence of one of their slaves, and apparently turned out to be Capuan nobles with a grudge over the treatment of their f­ athers during the brutal capture of Capua by Rome in the previous year. ­Whether this was a genuine case of mass arson, or the scapegoating of an unpop­ u­lar group by an angry populace, we cannot tell, but we should bear in mind that the initial testimony from the Capuan’s slave might well have been obtained by torture. As the ­Great Fire ­will reveal, this certainly w ­ ill not be the last time that charges of arson by an unpop­u­lar minority ­will be bandied about in questionable circumstances. Another instance of suspected arson occurred in 83 BC, in a major disaster on the Capitoline Hill. Previously, in 88 BC, the warlord Cornelius Sulla had marched on the city and seized the Capitol, his troops throwing firebrands or perhaps using some sort of artillery device to deliver the flaming material.36 ­There is no indication of how much serious damage might have been inflicted on this ­earlier occasion on the hill’s most famous monument, the g­ reat ancient ­Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. But a mere five years ­later, in 83 BC, the ­temple suffered a total calamity, when it was burned down to its foundations, along with its cult statue and one of the sacred Sibylline books.37 As in the case of the AD 64 fire, and indeed of many major fires, the cause is unknown, but ­there was speculation that arson was to blame. A cau36 • chapter II

tionary note is struck by the sources. Just as Tacitus ­will rec­ord a division of opinion about culpability for the G ­ reat Fire, so Appian, a Greek historian of the second ­century AD, notes that in 83 BC suspicions ­were directed t­oward Carbo, plebeian tribune in 90, as an agent of Sulla, but also ­toward the consuls. Like Tacitus, Appian concedes that he is not certain of the true cause of the fire.38 The burning of the Capitol in 83 was a symbolically power­ful event, one that shares many parallels with the G ­ reat Fire in the way that suspicion was spread with no certainly identifiable culprit emerging. Its rebuilding was completed in 69 BC, on a lavish scale that reflected its former glory. The final ­century of the Roman republic was a period of po­liti­cal disintegration, as rival warlords vied for power and used the troops ­under their command to further their personal ambitions. Their vio­ lence was focused mainly on their opponents, but it inevitably spilled over onto the fabric of the city. Arson, as a deliberate tool or as a by-­ product of aggressive po­liti­cal activity, became a familiar aspect of daily life, and fire was now a symptom not only of un­regu­la­ted urban expansion but also of po­liti­cal breakdown and social unrest. Also, it is clear that the mere charge of arson became a common and power­ ful tool to stir up ill feelings against one’s opponents. This is evident in the invective of Cicero, who provoked popu­lar fury against enemies like Catiline, Clodius, or Antony by labeling them as incendiaries.39 This purportedly also happened in the final years of Nero’s reign. Not only w ­ ere ­there rumors that Nero burned down Rome in AD 64, but also it was claimed that in the final months of his reign in AD 68 he conceived another, quite separate, scheme to burn down the city (chapter 4). Suspicion of arson was not the only f­actor that aroused power­ful indignation. ­There was also a popu­lar impression that some individuals, while not arsonists, benefited from the urban fires. This was also one of the prevailing themes ­after the fire of AD 64, when Tacitus claimed that Nero exploited the city’s disaster to create his Golden House, and Suetonius insisted that Nero’s gesture of removing debris and corpses at his own expense was a trick to enable him to get his hands on the loot.40 ­There was a pre­ce­dent for such suspicions of profiteering. During the proscriptions that followed Sulla’s second seizure of Rome, in late 81 BC, one man did prodigiously well. Marcus Licinius Fires in Ancient Rome  •  37

Crassus used his ­family inheritance to build a massive financial empire by buying up confiscated property. Moreover, using a flying squad of five hundred slaves, he would rush to a fire and snap up the burned-­ down dwellings, as well as adjacent lots, which the ­owners ­were often willing to sell at bargain rates. ­There is no explicit statement from any source that Crassus provided any kind of proper fire ser­vice, but presumably his team at the very least would have been active in extinguishing the fires in properties he had acquired. Plutarch claims Crassus thus bought up the largest, or a “very large,” part of Rome. He then replaced the destroyed buildings with high-­rent properties, employing slaves with specialist skills as builders and architects.41 Nero would be similarly accused, in the same hyperbolic terms, of exploiting Rome’s destruction for his own personal ends, to build his Golden House, and the Flavians no doubt sought to tap into the same kind of resentment that p ­ eople had felt ­toward Crassus during the late republic. The activities of an individual like Crassus highlight the absence of a fully developed centralized system of fire protection in Rome. Not that the prob­lem had been ignored. As early as the late fourth c­ entury BC we see the first attempt to establish an embryonic fire ser­vice in the city, or­ga­nized as part of the duties of what seem to have been essentially police magistrates. Livy rec­ords that a board of three officials that came to be known as the tresviri capitales was instituted some time before the end of that ­century. Tresviri means “three men,” and they derived the ele­ment capitales from their supervision of the jail, used primarily for holding accused persons awaiting trial but also as the venue for occasional executions.42 Although the precise nature of the duties of the tresviri is unclear, we can tell from the rec­ord of their activities that from the earliest days t­here was a close link between firefighting and general police duties. This makes a lot of sense. Arson and looting are universally familiar components of urban fires. ­There was also a perceived link between social unrest and criminal arson, which became something of an obsession for the Romans. Even before the Gallic invasion we hear of a plot by slaves, in 419 / 418 BC, to set fire to vari­ous points in the city. They allegedly planned to exploit the ensuing chaos to seize key positions like the Capitol. In fact, the scheme was betrayed, the plotters arrested and punished, and the 38 • chapter II

in­for­mants rewarded with their freedom and huge amounts of bronze—­Livy wryly observes that lumps of bronze passed for wealth in t­ hose days.43 In their night patrols the tresviri ­were expected to watch out for fires. But significantly they w ­ ere also expected to keep the population in line, assisted by a gang of what the comic playwright Plautus, writing around the end of the third ­century, calls “eight strong men.” 44 Police duties figure considerably in the rec­ord. During the second Punic War in the late third c­ entury we hear of a Publius Munatius who was foolish enough to take a chaplet of flowers from the statue of the satyr Marsyas, presumably the large effigy that stood in the forum, and place it on his own head. Hardly a high crime, one would have thought, but he was condemned by the tresviri to be put in chains.45 We find them at work again in 198 BC, when a slave rebellion broke out. The rebels succeeded in capturing Setia, south of Rome, but the uprising was put down when five hundred of them, poised to attack Praeneste (Palestrina) to the east of the city, w ­ ere captured and executed. ­There was tension in Rome—­watchmen patrolled the streets, the minor magistrates w ­ ere ordered to make inspections, and the tresviri ­were ordered to increase their vigilance, which seems to suggest police rather than purely firefighting duties.46 They are also recorded as playing a key role in the suppression of the notorious disturbances associated with the Bacchanalian rites in 186 BC; they ­were explic­itly told to guard against fires, once again demonstrating the close association that the Romans drew between fires and public disorder.47 It is striking that even by the time of the ­Great Fire of AD 64, when the organ­ization of fire prevention had made considerable advances, and the force put together for that purpose was far more sophisticated than in the earliest days of the tresviri, this double responsibility, of policemen and firemen, still remained in place. That said, the most explic­itly defined task of the tresviri was the organ­ ization of a night fire brigade, assisted by slaves provided by the state.48 Fire prevention was clearly considered a serious responsibility: we know that the tresviri neglected their duty on one occasion, arriving too late for a fire that had broken out on the Sacra Via. It was deemed such a grave transgression that it led to their condemnation by the tribunes before the public assembly.49 Fires in Ancient Rome  •  39

The institution of the tresviri capitales survived into the imperial period and was still in existence even as late as the third ­century AD, although by this time their fire prevention roles seem to have been taken over by other institutions. It is ironic that on at least one occasion they found themselves in a sense on the other side of the arson issue, when they ­were called upon to destroy certain forbidden books. Poems written in praise of recent prominent but in­de­pen­dently minded Romans ­were burned in the Forum by the tresviri in the late first ­century AD, on the ­orders of the emperor Domitian.50 It appears that ­little if any pro­gress had been made throughout the republican period to institute a more effective way of dealing with fires. It may be that such a reform required the power­ful centralizing push that the principate would ­later provide. Certainly, it is not ­until Augustus’s day that we see far-­reaching changes in the way that Romans dealt with the prob­lem. Also, we find a growing academic interest at that time in the phenomenon of fire. Strabo, the distinguished Greek geographer and con­temporary of Augustus, notes its economic impact, remarking on the rich market for wood and stone in Rome, accelerated by the alarming situation that ­houses w ­ ere constantly burning down.51 The most impor­tant insights are provided by Vitruvius, who casts some in­ter­est­ing light on Roman thinking about fire prevention, some of which foreshadows the preventative mea­sures instituted by Nero ­after AD 64. Throughout the Roman world it was common practice to construct walls from wattle and daub, in which a lattice of wooden branches (wattle) is smeared with a composite of clay and straw and vari­ous other ele­ments (daub). It is a cheap and quick building medium, but Vitruvius disparages it as a serious fire ­hazard and argues that p ­ eople would have been better served by investing in the more expensive bricks.52 Wattle and daub construction was not the only villain. Vitruvius also notes the disadvantages of certain kinds of soft stone. They tend to be friable, unable to withstand frost and rain, and liable to damage by salt if used in buildings located near the sea. Perhaps most seriously, they cannot withstand heat and w ­ ill break up in a fire. Tiburtine stone (from the region of Tivoli) does have certain positive, though l­imited, qualities. It is able to stand up to harsh weather, and can bear ­great weights, but it has no re­sis­tance to heat, b ­ ecause, as Vitruvius explains, 40 • chapter II

it contains very l­ittle moisture, but conversely a lot of air through which the fire can penetrate and thereby transmit its heat to the stone. Vitruvius recommends a stone found on the edge of the Etruscan Tarquinian region, from quarries he calls the Anician (perhaps b ­ ecause they w ­ ere worked by a branch of the Anicia ­family). It is found mainly in the neighborhood of the Lacus Volsciniensis (Lago di Bolsena) and in the area of Statonia (in southern Tuscany). This stone looks like peperino (light volcanic rock with dark inclusions, reminiscent of pepper) and has a number of excellent qualities. Not least, it is deemed to contain lots of moisture and relatively ­little air, which allows it to withstand both ­water and heat, and it is thus an excellent material both when it rains and when ­there is a fire.53 Nero took the use of fire-­ retardant stone very seriously, and prescribed its use in buildings in the reconstruction of Rome ­after the ­Great Fire (see chapter 6).54 Where wood had to be used, it was impor­tant to make sure that it was the right wood for the job. Vitruvius observes that a key vulnerable spot in Roman h ­ ouses was u ­ nder the eaves, where wooden plates ­were added for insulation. He suggests that Romans would be well advised to switch to a fire-­resistant species of larch. Julius Caesar had come across this tree in his Gallic campaigns when he unsuccessfully tried to ignite a tower built of it in the e­ nemy settlement of Larignum (other­wise unknown). Caesar consequently named the wood “larch” (larigna, the adjectival form of larix). Vitruvius claims that the larch’s special property resided in its being full of w ­ ater and earth, and having no pores, which prevented fire from penetrating it. It was grown on the banks of the Po and on the Adriatic coast, and carried down to Ravenna and used in that area, but apparently in Vitruvius’s time it was still not regularly imported into Rome.55 Pliny does rec­ord one enormous beam made from larch, the largest ever seen in Rome, 120 feet in length and consistently 2 feet in dia­meter. It was cut down in Raetia (in southeast Germany) and originally brought to the city by Tiberius to repair the structures around the Naumachia of Augustus, which had burned down. But it was not at first put to any practical purpose and was instead exhibited as an object of curiosity. It was fi­ nally used by Nero in his amphitheater in the Campus Martius.56 To reduce the risk of deadly fires in the blocks of tenements (insulae), Augustus imposed a height restriction of 70 feet (about 20 m), Fires in Ancient Rome  •  41

according to Strabo.57 This limit needed to be reinstituted by Nero ­after the G ­ reat Fire, and again by Trajan many years l­ater. It is almost as if height levels w ­ ere imposed for the express purpose of being ignored. This neglect resulted in the dangerous situation, described by Juvenal, where the third floor of an apartment block would already be full of smoke before the person on the top floor even realized that ­there was a fire.58 With the ending of the republic, Rome continued to be at the mercy of serious fires. The year 23 BC was a particularly gloomy one. Clearly some sort of plague had infected the city, proving fatal for many: Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew and possibly intended successor, died, and Augustus himself fell seriously ill. The year was also marked by floods and storms, and by fires.59 No detailed information on the last has survived, but it is pos­si­ble that t­ hese first severe fires of his reign prompted Augustus to give serious thought to the inadequacies of the systems in place for fire prevention and control. And ­there may also have been po­liti­cal issues at play, arising from the dangerous activities of a Marcus Egnatius Rufus. Egnatius is known to us from Dio and Velleius Paterculus, the latter a historian active in the reign of Tiberius.60 It seems that Egnatius served as aedile, an officer involved in vari­ous aspects of public administration, in 22 BC. During his term in office he courted popularity by using his slaves to put out ­house fires. This garnered him a substantial popu­lar backing and he was able to proceed directly to the next level in the hierarchy, the praetorship, without needing to observe the conventional time interval between offices, to be elected in 20 BC. Velleius reports that Egnatius then set his sights on the highest office, the consulship, and hoped to repeat his previous strategy, by pursuing it immediately ­after his praetorship, that is, in the elections of 19 BC. The sitting consul refused to allow his candidacy. In their accounts of his response to this setback, Dio rec­ords that Egnatius behaved “arrogantly,” while Velleius is more specific and more damning, ­going so far as to claim that he actually plotted to murder Augustus and to that end gathered around him a group of men “like himself.” The conspiracy was discovered and he was put to death. The conduct of Egnatius, like Crassus before him, highlighted the general inability of Rome to deal efficiently with the prob­lems of fire at a state level, and demonstrated how po­liti­cally ambitious individuals could 42 • chapter II

exploit the rather chaotic arrangements in place to promote their own interests and ambitions. Thus this episode, in conjunction with the fire of 23 BC, might to some degree explain why it is specifically in 22 BC that we see the very first systematic attempt by Augustus to institute some sort of or­ga­nized fire prevention force, one that presumably absorbed many of the old responsibilities of the tresviri capitales. Augustus’s mea­sures came in the context of a redefinition of certain magisterial duties. Up to this time the five g­ reat Roman games (ludi) had been the responsibility of the aediles, and to cover their expenses t­ hese officials ­were allotted a sum of money from public funds. But ­there had not previously been any restriction on any additional funds that they might choose to spend, and they competed to put on ever more lavish games in the hope of courting popularity and promoting their po­liti­cal c­ areers. This system was now brought to an end. Responsibility for the games was assigned to the more se­nior officials, the praetors, along with the stipulation that none of them was to spend more than his colleagues. Perhaps as compensation for depriving the aediles of the games, Dio tells us that Augustus assigned to them the duty of fighting fires, providing them with a body of six hundred state slaves.61 He was clearly seeking to depoliticize the ser­vice, and specified that h ­ andling fires was henceforth to be part of the routine duties of the aedile, not something that might be exploited to win po­liti­cal popularity. Interestingly, however, in line with his view of the princeps as simply primus inter pares, he did not at this stage see the fire ser­ vice as the responsibility of the emperor per se. It remained for the moment u ­ nder the jurisdiction of a traditional Roman magistrate, one who had at least nominally obtained office by election. Some time just before 7 BC ­there was a major fire in the Forum Romanum. We find out about it only incidentally. In that year, Dio reports funeral games in honor of Agrippa, celebrated in the Saepta Julia, the ­great enclosure on the Campus Martius begun by Julius Caesar but completed by Agrippa himself. The location was reportedly chosen in part ­because the Forum was unavailable (it had from early days been a venue for public shows, such as gladiatorial combats).62 We are told that t­ here had been a major fire t­ here, possibly in the same year, and that many buildings had burned down, putting the venue out of commission.63 Dio digresses, to put the blame for the disaster on Fires in Ancient Rome  •  43

debtors, who anticipated having their debts remitted if their property was lost during the blaze. Why they would have hoped for this is not made clear, and the incident suggests the possibility of some ­legal rule of which we are not aware.64 But Dio’s claim is far from convincing, and in some ways reminiscent of the ­later reckless rumours about Nero and the fire of AD 64. In any case, if this was indeed the debtors’ motive, they seem not to have succeeded. Although we are lacking details, this fire was clearly serious enough to prompt Augustus to make major changes to the system of fire protection put in place fifteen years ­earlier. The new mea­sures came as part of his reor­ga­ni­za­tion of local city government. Rome was made up of a number of wards (vici); precisely how many at that time is not certain (in the time of Pliny the Elder, who died in AD 79, t­ here ­were 265). ­These w ­ ere now placed u ­ nder the supervision of local ward chiefs, vicomagistri, recruited from both free-­born Romans and freedmen (former slaves who had been granted their freedom), and enjoying considerable status, as shown by their privilege of wearing official dress and being accompanied by two lictors (essentially bodyguards who attended magistrates, a power­ful mark of prestige). They ­were given the responsibility for controlling fires and w ­ ere assigned the unit of six hundred slaves previously allotted to the aediles. This was an extremely impor­tant innovation, since it took responsibility for fire prevention away from the traditionally elected magistrates and placed it with ­people of more h ­ umble origins, appointed directly by the emperor himself. This movement ­toward imperial supervision is extremely significant and marks a key stage in the evolution of a highly or­ga­nized and centrally controlled fire brigade, of the type that would be put into place just over a de­cade ­later. How the vicomagistri or­ga­nized their fire duties, and how they coordinated their activities during a major conflagration, is unknown. But in the same section of his text Dio goes on to mention that Augustus disbanded the old republican four-­district division of the city and replaced it with the now familiar arrangement of fourteen districts (regiones). It is very pos­si­ble that ­those vicomagistri whose wards fell within each of ­these larger districts collaborated during serious outbreaks. We simply do not know. But in the next reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the fire ser­vice, in AD 6 (described below), that ser­vice certainly was ad44 • chapter II

Aurelian Walls i R. T




VI Quirinal

lls Wa an blic






Esquiline V

Capitolium VIII Janiculum



X Palatine









Aventine XII


Alta Semita Via Lata Forum Romanum Circus Flaminius Palatium Circus Maximus Piscina Publica Aventinus Transtiberim 1000m

2.1. The Augustan Regiones. J. Skinner.

ministered on the basis of the fourteen regiones. This division of the city would in fact long survive Augustus and was still in place in late antiquity.65 It ­will be appropriate h ­ ere to make a very brief but necessary digression. ­Under AD 5, Dio pauses his narrative to make a survey of the military forces of Rome. He includes among them the Praetorian guard, and also a unit that he calls in Greek the “city guards” (poleos phrouroi), the cohortes urbanae in Latin (referred to conventionally as the Urban Cohorts). This par­tic­u­lar unit was not created specifically to fight fires but needs to be considered briefly to put in context the firefighting system that Augustus would establish in the following Fires in Ancient Rome  •  45

year. The Urban Cohorts w ­ ere made up of three cohorts based in Rome (expanded to four u ­ nder Vespasian), possibly of five hundred men each, mandated, as Suetonius words it, with keeping the city secure (in urbis . . . ​custodiam).66 They w ­ ere clearly seen as an extension of the nine cohorts of the Praetorians (Cohorts I–­IX), as indicated by the fact that the three initial Urban Cohorts ­were numbered X–­XII and ­were ­housed in the Praetorian barracks. But perhaps to prevent too much power falling to the Praetorian prefects, the new cohorts ­were placed ­under the command of the prefect of the city. The effect of this divided command is manifested ­after the assassination of Caligula, when Claudius emerged as the Praetorians’ candidate, while the Urban Cohorts remained loyal to the senate.67 Eventually their cohorts w ­ ere established in other impor­tant centers too, such as Puteoli, Ostia, and Lugdunum. The Urban Cohorts w ­ ere presumably in operation already by AD 5, to judge from their inclusion in the muster roll provided by Dio, but ­there is no way of knowing when they might have been instituted. Their role in Rome was essentially one of keeping order, but initially they prob­ably had some responsibility for controlling fires—­ almost certainly in the spheres of looting and arson—­although we have no direct evidence of this.68 And if this was part of their initial mandate, the arrangement must not have proved satisfactory, and the inadequacies may have become apparent during the disastrous fires that occurred in the following year. To return to the Augustan narrative, in AD 6, Rome was devastated by a major conflagration. Dio says that “many parts” of the city (polla tes poleos) ­were destroyed; Ulpian, a Roman jurist active in the third ­century AD, rec­ords that several fires occurred in a single day.69 ­Those tantalizing snippets of information are all we know about the fire’s extent and impact, and we can not identify a single building that was affected. But clearly the situation was very serious, and the paranoid atmosphere in Rome in the aftermath is reminiscent of what we see ­after the AD 64 fire. Dio tells us that the AD 6 disaster occurred at a time of much public dissatisfaction, when ­people ­were already distressed by famine and by high taxes. Coming on the heels of all this, the fires led to talk of rebellion, which some associated with intrigues within the imperial ­family. A board was set up to investigate and, as, supposedly, in AD 64, an appropriate scapegoat was found, in this case 46 • chapter II

one Publius Rufus, who was charged with incendiarism. Members of the public w ­ ere invited to come forward to give evidence.70 The providential arrival of grain ships from Egypt to alleviate the consequent food shortages helped to calm the popu­lar mood, and Tiberius (now Augustus’s ­adopted son) along with the much-­admired Germanicus held games to commemorate the highly successful Roman commander Drusus (Tiberius’s b ­ rother and Germanicus’s f­ather), and to take ­people’s minds off recent prob­lems. The ugly popu­lar mood seems to have convinced Augustus that the innovations of 7 BC for dealing with urban fires ­were not adequate. Something more radical was clearly needed. Most urgently of all, the fire ser­vice needed to be brought within the much tighter grip of the emperor. In that same year, AD 6, we witness the most significant development in the history of firefighting in ancient Rome, when Augustus created a specialized cadre of men known as the Vigiles (watchmen).71 The primary duty of this unit was to fight fires; if necessary, they might also have been called upon to act as a sort of riot police, but we know of no clear instance when this may have occurred.72 They w ­ ere recruited at the outset from the ranks of freedmen, who could qualify for Roman citizenship following six (initially, ­later three) years of ser­ vice.73 Seven cohorts w ­ ere established and command was assigned to a newly created equestrian prefect of the Vigiles (praefectus vigilum), appointed directly by the emperor, who would thus exercise a firm control over the w ­ hole operation.74 The force was in a sense a paramilitary one, and Suetonius uses military language to describe it, expressly saying that a freedman who served among the Vigiles did so as a miles (soldier).75 “Cohort” is a technical term for a unit of soldiers within the Roman army, already in use for the nine units of the Praetorian guard and the three Urban Cohorts. ­There has been much debate about ­whether the cohorts of Vigiles would at the outset have been quingenary, that is, five hundred men strong, or miliary, one thousand (we know that they ­were miliary at the beginning of the third c­ entury): ­these w ­ ere the two cohort sizes normally found in the non-­citizen auxiliary units of the Roman army (in the regular legions the cohorts ­were a standard five hundred). ­There is no way to determine the size of the Vigiles cohorts in AD 6, and it is in fact pos­si­ble that they did not adhere to the auxilia pattern of ­either five hundred or one thousand.76 Fires in Ancient Rome  •  47

Augustus’s mea­sure was reputedly intended to be temporary, but it apparently proved effective and evolved into a permanent institution. Dio observes that the Vigiles ­were still in place in his own day, in the third ­century, and he adds that by then they ­were not made up exclusively of freedmen. This is confirmed by an inscription dated to the reign of Dio’s con­temporary, Septimius Severus (AD 193–211), that lists more freeborn than freedmen within the organ­ization.77 This might suggest a growing prestige associated with the institution. In 7 BC Augustus had already divided Rome into fourteen districts, and he used that arrangement to provide an orga­nizational structure for the Vigiles. The third-­century jurist Paulus rec­ords that the seven cohorts ­were or­ga­nized across the city in such a way that each cohort was responsible for two districts—­the system would presumably have been flexible enough to allow for speedy cross-­secondment during major conflagrations.78 Moreover, it is the case that fires may be started accidentally or deliberately, and the line between arson and other crimes is not always clear. Consequently, the Vigiles at some point acquired jurisdiction over cases of looting, fraud, burglary, and runaway slaves, as attested much ­later.79 Although they do not play the central role in po­liti­cal events assumed by the Praetorians, we do find the Vigiles being used from an early period in at least a peripheral role, notably in AD 31, late in Tiberius’s reign, when, ­under their prefect Macro, they w ­ ere involved in the complex maneuvers that brought down the infamous Sejanus, prefect of the Praetorians.80 Furthermore, in AD 69, the Vigiles became caught up in the power strug­gles that followed the death of Nero, when they found themselves allied with the Urban Cohorts against the Praetorians.81 Fires ­were fought with axes, bucket chains, pikes, ladders, and mats soaked in vinegar.82 Fire pumps (sipones) ­were introduced at some stage, and “pumpers” (siponarii) are mentioned in inscriptions of the Severan period.83 It is not certain that pumps ­were already available during the time of Nero, but by the early second ­century the absence of sipones among routine firefighting equipment in Bithynia-­Pontus (in Asia Minor) was noted in the correspondence between the governor of the province, Pliny the Younger, and the emperor Trajan, implying that by then at least they could be expected as a ­matter of course.84 Also, in ­later inscriptions ballistae are mentioned—­essentially artillery 48 • chapter II

siege equipment, presumably used to destroy buildings in the line of an encroaching fire. Seneca, writing to guide Nero early in his reign, soberly observes that if a fire breaks out in an individual ­house, the ­family and the neighbors can deal with it by simply pouring w ­ ater on it, but a major fire that has consumed many ­houses can itself be eradicated only through the intentional destruction of part of the city, clearly referring to deliberate clearance, a procedure employed during the fire of AD 64.85 We have no evidence of barracks for the Vigiles during the Augustan period, nor indeed the Neronian, and it is pos­si­ble that in their early days they ­were temporarily billeted in vari­ous locations throughout the city. For ­later periods they are referred to in a number of surviving inscriptions, and remains of living quarters have been found in Rome.86 We know that Hadrian established a unit of Vigiles in Ostia and their presence ­there is testified by the remains of a large barrack building repaired near the end of his reign. The Ostia block consists of a large open courtyard inside a portico with at least one upper floor. Most of the rooms ­were living quarters for the men. It is pos­si­ble that the same layout was used in Rome, as suggested by a fragment of the Severan marble plan of the early third ­century (see chapter 1). The building ­there consists of three parallel rectangular courts flanked by rooms. The ­whole structure is 155 × 175 m.87 It is difficult to assess just how effective the Vigiles might have been as firefighters. When they did their work well, they would have prevented minor fires from taking a serious hold, and the vast majority of the incidents requiring their ser­vices would not have made it into the rec­ord. They are specifically identified only once in the accounts of the ­great fire, by Dio, but that should not be surprising—­their presence during a fire would simply be taken for granted.88 And they are almost certainly the unnamed sinister figures reported by the literary sources as helping the fires along, but presumably in real­ity creating firebreaks. Certainly, a ­century or so a­ fter their creation fires continue to be a preoccupation of Romans. Juvenal lists fire, among collapsing buildings and recitations by poets, as one of the horrors of life in Rome, echoing a sentiment expressed frequently by Martial.89 We do have some indirect evidence from lit­er­at­ ure of the Neronian period that the Vigiles did their work effectively. Seneca describes Fires in Ancient Rome  •  49

preparations for guests, including a nice warm fire, but he says that it should be a modest one, not like the big fires of rich p ­ eople that cause the Vigiles such alarm. We find an entertaining illustration of what might happen if you attracted their attention in the celebrated Satyricon of Petronius. This wild romp of uninhibited self-­indulgence, with grotesquely absurd characters, is the oldest surviving Roman novel, and seems almost certainly to have been written in the Neronian period. ­After Trimalchio’s feast, set in an imaginary south-­Italian location but parodying Rome itself, a slave breaks wind so loudly that the Vigiles patrolling in the neighborhood are convinced ­there is a fire and smash into the h ­ ouse, wielding axes and buckets.90 Augustus’s reform could not be expected to resolve singlehandedly the prob­lem of urban fires, but it is the case that during the eight years between AD 6, when the Vigiles w ­ ere created, and his death in AD 14, no fire is recorded in Rome. Two further aspects of how fires ­were fought in the imperial period are noteworthy. The first outbreak of fire reported a­ fter Augustus’s death is a relatively insignificant one, which has earned its place in the rec­ord purely and simply to preserve a joke. Drusus, the dissolute son of Augustus’s successor, Tiberius, was a heavy-­duty toper, who, following Roman custom, would have diluted his wine by adding hot ­water. We are told that on one occasion (date unknown) he joined the Praetorians in ­going to the aid of someone whose property was burning, and when ­there was a call for ­water he told them to make sure it was hot (Roman humor, even at its best, was, like its warm wine, an acquired taste). The location of the fire, if the ­whole story is not simply apocryphal, is unknown, but more likely than not it would have been near the imperial residence on the Palatine, to explain the presence of both Drusus and the Praetorians. The anecdote, while essentially frivolous, is highly in­ter­est­ing in two re­spects. It is noteworthy that Drusus joined the Praetorians, not the Vigiles, and his presence with them elicits no comment. This is not surprising. The Praetorians’ duty was formally to guard the emperor (and his f­ amily) but they are attested in a wide range of other roles, carry­ing out criminal interrogations, collecting taxes, keeping order in Rome, and their involvement in firefighting, especially in fighting fires where the emperor or his relatives ­were involved, is perhaps to be expected.91 The Praetorian tri50 • chapter II

bune Subrius Flavus was in the presence of Nero when the emperor busied himself trying to control the fire on the Palatine Hill in AD 64 (see chapter 4).92 The other in­ter­est­ing detail is that the emperor’s son was personally involved in the incident, illustrating a tradition that arose within the imperial f­ amily of members taking a direct and personal hands-on responsibility for fighting fires, one that Nero inherited and apparently demonstrated in AD 64. And this involved not only the men. On one occasion Tiberius reprimanded his ­mother Livia for meddling in ­matters he felt ­were better left to men. ­These included her involvement in efforts to fight a fire that had threatened the ­Temple of Vesta. Suetonius mentions that Livia had in fact been in the regular habit of rendering such assistance while Augustus was alive, providing an indirect hint that Augustus himself might have become involved in ­these activities (­there is no direct evidence in his case). ­Later, Nero’s ­mother, Agrippina the Younger, would similarly accompany her husband Claudius in his firefighting endeavors.93 Even a generally irresponsible princeps like Caligula involved himself personally in the thick of ­things, working alongside the firefighters during a serious incident in AD 38 in the Aemiliana district.94 This very same district saw a second, very serious, conflagration not long a­ fter, during the reign of Caligula’s successor Claudius.95 Once again, the emperor became personally involved and Suetonius describes Claudius spending two days vigorously organ­izing the firefighting and paying cash to individuals who volunteered to take part. This may well be the occasion recorded by Dio (in epitome), when Claudius was reported to be accompanied by his wife Agrippina (Nero’s ­mother) during a major fire.96 Even Commodus, arguably the most feckless of all Roman emperors, would return to Rome from its outskirts in AD 191 to aid personally the soldiers and civilians in their fruitless attempts to put out the huge fire that devastated much of Rome.97 And in AD 64 Nero threw himself energetically into firefighting efforts in the early phase of the ­Great Fire. Nero also provided assistance by removing fire debris at his own expense. Vespasian ­adopted a form of that last policy of Nero, but in a much more “hands-on” way, and in the restoration of the Capitol ­after a major fire he joined ­others in personally carry­ing away the rubble.98 Fires in Ancient Rome  •  51

Fires seem to be one of t­hose disasters where we somehow expect our leaders to become involved at a very personal level. During the Fire of London, for instance, King Charles II, and even more so his ­brother, James Duke of York (the l­ater James II), ­were con­spic­uo ­ us in giving help on the ground. It is recorded that the two ­brothers spent hours standing ankle deep together in the Thames as they pumped ­water to fight the flames.99 But it seems that nowhere e­ lse is this concept of imperial responsibility taken so seriously as in ancient Rome. Fires clearly brought out the best in Roman emperors, inspiring them not only to get involved during the incident itself but also to behave with extraordinary generosity afterward. ­There was something of a republican pre­ce­dent for this last practice. Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC had been followed by a period of much public disorder, and three years ­later, in 41 BC, t­here ­were reports of violent clashes between gangs of urban poor and discharged veterans demanding grants that they had been promised ­earlier. The soldiers had superior weaponry and training, but the locals had knowledge of the city, and using a form of urban terror they hurled firebrands down from the roofs. This might seem like just another routine story of urban vio­lence leading to arson. But the situation was in fact very serious and the consequences significant. Houses ­were burned down on a huge scale, and to relieve the social consequences the rents of city dwellers ­were remitted up to a certain level (­because the prob­lem became widespread, relief was also provided for cities elsewhere in Italy).100 This was a remarkable mea­ sure, the earliest known intervention of a Roman central authority to provide relief in the wake of fire, something that would become a familiar feature of the imperial period, when the emperors found it politic to make their generosity known. In AD 27, the Caelian was ravaged by a destructive fire. Tacitus claims that the entire hill was devastated and that every­thing was obliterated, with one notable exception: a statue of Tiberius kept in the home of a senator, a certain Junius, was unharmed, and p ­ eople drew parallels between it and the statue of Claudia Quinta in the ­Temple of the Magna Mater (­Great M ­ other). This had similarly been spared during a much ­earlier fire. Claudia had famously welcomed the black meteorite stone representing the goddess Cybele when it was moved to Rome from Pessinus in Phrygia late in the third ­century. She is said 52 • chapter II

to have single-­handedly towed the ship carry­ing the stone up the Tiber. Given her heroic efforts it perhaps seems only fair that her statue should have been placed in the vestibule of ­Temple of the Magna Mater, dedicated by Marcus Junius Brutus on the Palatine Hill in 191 BC, and equally fair that the same statue should have been miraculously saved when that t­ emple burned down in 111 BC, providing a nice pre­ce­dent for Tiberius’s statue many years ­later. Tiberius gave compensation to ­those whose property had been destroyed in AD 27, thus fending off the complaints that he was somehow to blame, not for incendiarism but for being inauspiciously absent from Rome (he was, of course, in Capri). Then, in AD 36, part of the Circus Maximus was burned down. The Fasti Ostienses rec­ord that Tiberius continued the tradition of imperial generosity in the face of such tragedies by compensating the ­owners to the full value of their properties, paying out 100 million sestertii in reparation, confirming the strong link between this type of state assistance and the emperor personally, especially noteworthy in light of Tiberius’s special reputation for frugality.101 Among the admirable qualities of Tiberius’s successor Caligula, Suetonius includes his generosity in the aftermath of fires. In fact, one of the very few positive acts recorded for Caligula’s reign is the incident (in the Aemiliana) when Dio speaks of him not only assisting in fighting a fire, but also in paying compensation for the losses suffered.102 Nero w ­ ill maintain this tradition of imperial generosity in the aftermath of AD 64. He introduced relief mea­sures then (chapter 3), although the literary sources are predictably unimpressed by his gesture. Posterity has always made a close association between Nero and the disastrous fire of AD 64, but his general rec­ord in fighting and preventing fires seems no worse than that of his pre­de­ces­sors. ­There is only one other serious fire recorded in Rome in his nearly fourteen-­ year reign. Tacitus reports that in AD 62 Nero’s Gymnasium was burned to the ground.103 He had built this alongside his ­great baths complex in the Campus Martius, close to the Pantheon, dedicating them together, in AD 60, in connection with the first cele­bration of one of his g­ reat festivals, the Neronia. Tacitus reports, rather ominously, that a bronze statue of Nero was melted into a shapeless mass by the fire, that clearly in contrast to the miraculous escapes of the statues of Tiberius in AD 27 and of Claudia Quinta in 111 BC and of Fires in Ancient Rome  •  53

Servius Tullius even ­earlier, when the ­Temple of Fortuna burned down in 213. No further fires are recorded in what remained of Nero’s reign, and we can be reasonably confident that ­there w ­ ere no major conflagra104 tions in the four years before his death. But to assess properly the evidence for the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64, it is essential that we continue the story ­after Nero to consider a ­later fire that makes the interpretation of that evidence a par­tic­u­lar challenge. In AD 80, only sixteen years ­after the ­Great Fire, Rome was devastated by another major conflagration, supposedly a portent of the departure of the emperor Titus (79–81) from the city.105 This ­later fire, which may well have been almost as serious as its pre­de­ces­sor, raged for three days and nights, destroying large parts of the Campus Martius and the Capitol. Suetonius merely places it among the dreadful disasters of Titus’s short reign (along with the eruption of Vesuvius and an outbreak of plague), but Dio is helpfully specific, and lists the buildings destroyed: the ­Temples of Isis and of Serapis, the Saepta Julia, the Basilica of Neptune, the baths of Agrippa, the Pantheon, the Diribitorium, the Theater of Balbus, the stage building of the Theater of Pompey, the Portico of Octavia with its libraries, and the ­Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol (which had already burned down during the clashes between the followers of Vitellius and Vespasian in AD 69 and had been replaced by Vespasian).106 The destruction described by Dio seems to be in areas not known to have been affected by the fire of 64. But the standards of reporting on ancient Roman fires should warn us against assuming that Dio’s account is exhaustive or comprehensive. The poet Statius, celebrating an equestrian statue of the emperor Domitian, in a poem written prob­ably in AD 91 or shortly thereafter, speaks of the mounted statue surveying the skyline and asks: “Or do the new dwellings on the Palatine rise more beautifully in contempt of the flames?” (contemptis . . . ​flammis).107 Given that Domitian’s palace was completed in 92, some twenty-­six years ­after the Neronian fire, the possibility that Statius’s reference is to the more recent fire of AD 80 must be considered seriously, despite Dio’s silence, and should caution us generally against placing blind faith in the literary sources. Like Nero in AD 64, Titus was absent from the city when the fire broke out (he was in Campania dealing with the aftermath of the erup54 • chapter II

tion of Vesuvius), and like Nero he seems to have been brought back to the city by the disaster, since Suetonius says that on observing the destruction in person Titus considered that his world had ended (periisse testatus: the manuscript text is very uncertain). He began the reconstruction with despatch, donating objets d’art from his own residence for the decoration of the public buildings and t­emples. But he did not live long enough to see it to the end, and Domitian finished the task. The Domitianic reconstruction of the ­Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline was on a magnificent scale. To appreciate the potential significance of the AD 80 fire for the proper understanding of its AD 64 pre­de­ces­sor, we need to be aware of a feature of archaeological evidence. A key component of archaeological research is stratigraphy. Dif­fer­ent phases of h ­ uman presence in any given site ­will manifest themselves in corresponding occupation layers. In an ideal situation the vertical sections exposed in an excavation ­will resemble an elaborate sponge cake, where the differently colored ingredients, representing sequential stages of h ­ uman activity, are preserved in neat series of horizontal layers. But archaeological sites are rarely so neat or so s­ imple. The stratigraphy can be cut through by the foundations of l­ater buildings, and it can be difficult to correlate the individual strata interrupted in this way and surviving in patches scattered over the entire site. Perhaps most frustratingly, material in the adjacent horizontal layers may be similar, and when chronologically close may contain easily confusable dating evidence, usually in the form of broken shards of pottery, often very difficult to date precisely. This last general issue is particularly frustrating for the archaeologist. We must be aware that in places, the supposed archaeological evidence for the Neronian fire of AD 64 might relate instead to the large-­scale Flavian fire of AD 80. This very selective survey of the prob­lems posed by fires in Rome, from the beginning of the republic in 509 BC down to the ­Great Fire of AD 64, and a l­ittle beyond, is marked by a number of constant features. No m ­ atter what the era, we are very much at the mercy of the sources at hand. This often is not so much a prob­lem of the availability of information, but rather of the quality of that information. A number of themes that we find in the accounts of the fire of AD 64 recur throughout this w ­ hole period. We notice that certain districts of Fires in Ancient Rome  •  55

Rome seem to have been particularly prone to fires. Crucially, ­these include the Circus Maximus, where the fire of AD 64 began, a f­ actor to be borne in mind when assessing ­whether that latter event was caused by ­human agency. We also see a recurring tendency to look for someone to blame, sometimes leading to the scapegoating of identifiable and unpop­u­lar groups, be they Capuans or Christians. Allied to this is the special brand of hostility felt ­toward anyone suspected of starting a fire, and perhaps an even more b ­ itter resentment felt t­ oward ­those who somehow seem to benefit from a fire. And the ­later fires also reveal one of the positive aspects of the principate—­the notion of the princeps as protector of the ­people, who would see the prevention of fires, and his own personal involvement in fighting them once they had started, and the welfare of ­those who had suffered during them, as part of his special responsibilities. Nero would take this even further, in looking to good urban planning as a key to reducing the risk of fires in the ­future. But for all ­these recurrent patterns, the horrific scale of the ­Great Fire of AD 64, and its profound consequences, set it firmly apart from all the other Roman fires, as does its association with one of Rome’s most familiar and most idiosyncratic rulers, and its long-­term consequences for that ruler. Its place in history is secure.

56 • chapter II

III The ­Great Fire

The ­Great Fire that ravaged Rome in AD 64 is one of the most richly documented episodes of antiquity. The three main literary sources for the Julio-­Claudian period, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio, all devote considerable space to it.1 To t­hese we can add incidental information from other writers, such as Pliny the Elder, and a large body of archaeological and epigraphic data. Yet, paradoxically, this apparent abundance of information has left us with no clear picture of what actually took place. The real­ity is that, although our three chief authorities appear superficially to be brimming with evidence, all three are strikingly vague or simply uninformative on the details of how the fire spread or what damage it caused. The Histories of Pliny the Elder, where we might have hoped for a precise account of what happened, by a con­temporary, perhaps even an eyewitness, are missing.2 Thus we are in the main dependent on literary descriptions written when the last traces of the fire’s destruction had already dis­appeared, and whose narratives are tendentious in the extreme. Tacitus provides by far the most useful of the surviving accounts, but even he names altogether only eight buildings affected by the fire. And although he does give specific figures for the overall number of regions of the city e­ ither destroyed, damaged, or left unaffected, to our frustration, he neglects to inform us which was which. On one detail we are very well informed. We do know when the fire started, as the year is beyond dispute. Tacitus and Dio, who generally or­ga­nize their material annalistically (by year)—at least for events in Rome—­place the disaster securely in AD 64. The precise day of the

outbreak is known also from Tacitus, xiiii Kal. Sextilis, that is, fourteen days before the Kalends (first day) of Sextilis (August), or, in our dating scheme, July 19, a date preserved b ­ ecause of the coincidence that July 19 was the very day and month when, by tradition, the Gallic Senones captured Rome in the early fourth c­ entury BC.3 Thus the year, the month, and the day when the AD 64 fire broke out are well established. What, then, of the fire’s duration? This is a l­ittle trickier. Suetonius states that it lasted six days and seven nights (per sex dies septemque noctes).4 Suetonius can be soundly reliable when relaying specific information derived from an archival source; he did, a­ fter all, have access in the course of his ­career to the imperial archives. His figures, with one night in excess of the number of days, would mean that the fire started during the hours of darkness and ended during the hours of darkness, and it certainly would make sense for the fire to have taken an initial hold ­after nightfall, when t­ here ­were fewer ­people on the spot to suppress it. Pliny the Elder, a con­temporary of the fire, refers to it in the plural: “the fires of the emperor Nero” (Neronis principis incendia).5 This may be deliberate, and an explanation may be found in Tacitus’s assigning two phases to the event. Tacitus asserts that the fire came to a halt on the sixth day (sexto die), then broke out again in the Aemilian estate of Tigellinus (Nero’s notoriously degenerate Praetorian prefect). This last piece of information can be reconciled with Suetonius’s seven nights if we take Tacitus’s dies (day) in its broadest sense, so that the initial phase of the fire did not end during the hours of daylight, but a­ fter nightfall on the sixth day. The most likely scenario seems to be that the first phase of the fire started a­ fter nightfall on July 19, continued through July 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and died out ­after dusk on July 25.6 Tacitus’s claim that the fire broke out again some time ­after the sixth day receives some confirmation from a series of identical inscriptions of Domitian’s reign, copied down a­ fter discovery some centuries ago but now lost (discussed at the end of this chapter), which rec­ord that the fire lasted for nine days (urbs per novem dies arsit).7 This suggests that the fire began on July 19, seemed to end a­ fter nightfall on July 25, as noted above, but at some point during the next day, July 26, erupted once again, to continue burning on July 26, 27, and was fi­nally extin58 • chapter III

July AD 64 July 19 Nights


20 1

21 2


22 3


23 4


24 5


25 6










FIRST PHASE Tacitus and Suetonius: 7 nights and 6 days

SECOND PHASE Domitianic Inscription: 9 days

3.1. Proposed chronology of the Fire. V. Louis.

guished some time during the day on July 28. A short lull in the course of the fire is indeed strongly implied by Tacitus (“before the panic had abated, or the plebs’ hopes had revived”). Moreover, the Domitianic inscriptions all but rule out any long intermission since they speak simply of nine days, without mentioning any interval whatsoever, compellingly suggesting a false end and a fresh eruption with at most only a few hours intervening between them. Suetonius might simply have ignored the second phase b ­ ecause, as Tacitus reveals, it apparently did not involve a ­great loss of life.8 The testimony of our third main literary source, Dio, offers no help on this question, but he reports nothing that would contradict the information gleaned from Tacitus, Suetonius and the Domitianic inscriptions.9 Dio merely asserts that the fire was not ­limited to a single day, but burned for several days and nights. Like Suetonius, he is ­silent about any second phase. Our tentative conclusion, then, is that the fire most likely broke out some time ­after sunset on July 19, AD 64, seemed to die down in the eve­ning of July 25, but flared up again during the course of the following day, and was fi­nally contained on July 28. It is just pos­si­ble that Tacitus’s version of events is reflected in a work almost certainly of the Neronian period, the Satyricon of Petronius (mentioned in chapter 2). This man is very possibly Nero’s close friend, his “Arbiter of Elegance” Gaius Petronius, who perished in the purge that followed the conspiracy in the year a­ fter the fire (see chapter 7).10 The most familiar episode of the Satyricon, in part ­because of the lucky circumstance that it is preserved more or less in its entirety in the manuscripts, is the Dinner with Trimalchio, an account of an The ­Great Fire  •  59

exotic banquet given by a comical nouveau-­riche freedman in an unnamed southern Italian town. At one point during the banquet, just as Trimalchio’s wife Fortunata is telling her husband to behave himself, a clerk interrupts them to recite a list of recent events on his master’s property, and does so as if reading from an official city gazette. Among the incidents, he notes a fire on the estate at Pompeii, in the ­house of Trimalchio’s bailiff, Nasta.11 Now we know from Tacitus that Petronius incurred the enmity of Tigellinus, who was jealous of him and denounced him to the emperor.12 This in itself might not seem like a power­ful case for positing some form of parallel between Trimalchio’s fire and the second phase of the ­Great Fire on Tigellinus’s Aemilian estate, with Nasta the bailiff representing Tigellinus.13 But, remarkably, Trimalchio’s local fire is recorded as breaking out on July 26, likely the very date when, according to Tacitus, the second phase of the G ­ reat Fire flared up ­there. ­There is another striking coincidence, in the terminology used to re­ c­ord the dates. In the Roman calendar system, a date in the latter part of July would be expressed as being so many days before the 1st (the Kalends) of August. The name of our month “August” derives from the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and appears in this form from 8 BC on. Yet when Tacitus provides the date for the beginning of the ­great fire, July 19, he says that it occurred fourteen days before the first day, not of Augustus, but of Sextilis (“the sixth [month]”).14 This is the old name for August and seems at first sight a curious archaism, the only time this archaic form is ever used by Tacitus (who also avoids using the archaic Quintilis, which had similarly been replaced by July, to honor Julius Caesar).15 In could be argued that Tacitus’s use of the older form of the name is highly appropriate, given his report that ­there ­were ­people who drew a mystical analogy between the dates of the G ­ reat Fire and of the sack of Rome by the Gauls, traditionally in 390 BC, when, of course, the reformed month name of Augustus would not have existed. But when Trimalchio’s clerk reads out the list of events on Trimalchio’s property he uses the very same archaism, seven days before the Kalends of Sextilis (VII Kalendas Sextiles).16 This may suggest that both Tacitus and Petronius w ­ ere using some common official source, hence providing a slightly bizarre additional clue that the second phase of the fire in Rome broke out on July 26. 60 • chapter III





3.2. The Circus Maximus. A. Louis.

Just as we have good information on the date of the fire, we are also well-­informed about precisely where it broke out. Tacitus tells us in clear and explicit terms that the ­Great Fire began on the side of the Circus Maximus that was adjacent to the Palatine and Caelian Hills (that is, on the Circus’s roughly northern side).17 The ­great stadium of the Circus Maximus was founded around 600 BC by the first Etruscan king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus, in the Vallis Murcia, the depression between the Palatine and the Aventine, bisected by a stream ­running between the hills.18 ­Later, King Tarquinius Superbus undertook the erection of public stands, using forced slave ­labor.19 The first starting gates ­were installed much ­later, in 329.20 The earliest structure would have been built of wood, and the gates seem to have been brightly painted; the stream, now concealed by a covered channel, would presumably have formed the central barrier (spina) between the two tracks.21 A major rebuilding of the Circus took place in 174 BC, but it was prob­ably Julius Caesar who established its essentially permanent dimensions, just ­after the ­middle of the first ­century BC: 621 m in length, and 118 m in width, with seating for 151,000 spectators.22 Also in The ­Great Fire  •  61

Caesar’s time massive canals w ­ ere dug along the outer edges of the tracks, to protect the spectators from the animals that sometimes appeared in the shows. It is unlikely that the canals could have been very effective at preventing the spread of fire, and in any case Nero had them filled in to provide seating for the equestrians.23 Augustus’s lieutenant Agrippa continued Caesar’s work, adding seven large sculpted containers, “dolphins,” one for each of the large wooden “eggs” (ova) used to indicate how many laps had been completed by the contestants; the work was finished by Augustus himself.24 ­There remains only sparse archaeological evidence for the early Circus, but fortunately we do have a fairly detailed description of how it looked in 7 BC, from the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a con­temporary of Augustus; Dionysius is of course describing the Circus as it was some seventy years before the fire of AD 64, but the picture he pre­sents would in its broad aspects reflect the situation in Nero’s day.25 From Dionysius we learn, significantly for our topic, that although the building was on a monumental scale, with three levels of seats on the two long sides and in the semicircle of the turning area (all three sections ­were joined together to form a single architectural unit), the two upper levels ­were still made of wood, even at this date, thereby clearly constituting a serious fire ­hazard. Dionysius also tells us that along the outside of the structure ­there ran a portico one story high. This h ­ oused shops on the ground floor, with living spaces above them. Each of the shops had an entrance that provided access to the stadium seating, allowing large numbers of spectators to arrive and leave through many dif­fer­ent points in the building. The commercial area along the perimeter of the Circus would have presented a lively and quite chaotic scene, with merchants of ­every shape and size setting up businesses t­here. We know from his tombstone that a Gaius Julius Epaphra sold fruit at a stall in the vicinity.26 We hear of Licinius, the keeper of an eating h ­ ouse, who got into a fracas with drunken slaves on his premises.27 Cicero cites a passage of the ancient poet Ennius, showing that from at least the early second ­century BC, astrologers and fortune-­tellers frequented the area. This was still true when the poet Horace wrote his Satires in the Augustan period, and indeed continued into the late first c­ entury AD, as recorded by the poet Juvenal, who speaks of the ­woman in a gold necklace seek62 • chapter III

ing advice near the “dolphins” (the lap markers installed by Agrippa) about ­whether she should dump the shop­keeper and marry the cloak-­ seller.28 In fact, all needs w ­ ere accounted for. Juvenal testifies to the area being a magnet for prostitutes. In the curious collection of bawdy poems known as the Priapea, prob­ably dating mainly to the time of Augustus, one member of the profession, a certain Quintia, was known as the “star at the Circus Maximus.” The environs of the Circus maintained that reputation many years l­ater, when in the early third c­ entury the exotically flamboyant emperor Elagabalus reputedly summoned prostitutes from their known haunts to receive a lecture from him on techniques; one of t­ hose haunts, along with the theater and the public baths, is identified as the Circus Maximus.29 The perimeter of the Circus seems to have fostered a bazaar-­like atmosphere, and this colorful, noisy, and disorderly place, with its jumble of small workshops attached to crowded merchant stalls, ­ must surely have been prone to endless small accidental fires, which could often turn into major conflagrations, as demonstrated by the historical rec­ord. Dio rec­ords a major fire ­there, just before he treats the dramatic defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the ­battle of Actium in September, 31 BC. It was supposedly started by disgruntled freedmen and was preceded by a sickening omen of one dog killing and eating another one in the Circus during the ­horse races. Part of the stadium was destroyed on this occasion.30 Then again, in AD 36, a section of the Circus was burned down. The Fasti Ostienses (see glossary) rec­ord that this fire started inter vitores (among the basket makers / coopers), who would have worked in one of the shops or other small enterprises that haphazardly abutted the building. In 36, the fire spread beyond the Circus itself, as it would in 64, but unlike the ­later conflagration, it turned south rather than north and ravaged the lower slopes of the Aventine.31 One coincidentally in­ter­est­ing footnote to the disaster of AD 36 is that Tiberius appointed a commission of five men to adjudicate claims for compensation: one member was appointed by the consuls, the other four ­were the husbands of Tiberius’s grand­ daughters, including Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, Nero’s f­ ather.32 Gnaeus died when Nero was still an infant, thus precluding his sharing any thoughts with his son on how to deal with the aftermath of fires.33 On a final note, in the years a­ fter the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64, the The ­Great Fire  •  63

Circus Maximus burned down at least one more time, during the reign of Trajan (AD 98–117).34 The ­earlier fire in AD 36, as noted, broke out in one of the many small enterprises cluttering the outer facade, on that occasion a basket-­ maker’s shop. We cannot be equally precise in AD 64, but the circumstances seem to have been similar, since Tacitus comments that the fire started among the flammable material found in the small establishments ­there. It has been speculated that its source may have been one of the down-­market eating places (popinae) along the side of the Circus, given that Nero banned the sale of cooked food in popinae, except for pulses and vegetables, perhaps in the hope of reducing the risk of fire—­meat would need to be cooked at higher temperatures and its preparation would therefore be more dangerous.35 In 64 AD, the fire grew out of control, perhaps in part ­because it started late at night and therefore was not immediately detected. Another f­ actor, confirmed by Tacitus, is that it was fanned by a strong wind. Italy is particularly prone to Siroccos, the hot winds originating in the dry desert air of Africa and flowing north into the Mediterranean area, where during the summer they can reach near-­hurricane strength, with speeds of up to 100 km per hour. In the ­Great Fire of London in 1665, a strong east wind played a major role in the spread and duration of the conflagration. Tacitus comments that in July, AD 64, the fire gained strength immediately, likely ­because of the combustible merchandise, and was then whipped up by the wind (vento citus); ­there is no serious reason to doubt him on this point.36 The top two floors of the Circus, constructed of wood, would have been especially prone to fire. ­There was no barrier to block the flames: as Tacitus observes, ­there w ­ ere no solid enclosures, no walls, no obstacles of any kind to stand in the way of the fire. Soon the upper floors of the ­whole northern side of the Circus w ­ ere in flames. Had the wind dropped at this stage ­there is a chance that the fire would have been a “conventional disaster”—­serious enough but basically along the lines of the two e­ arlier fires known to have affected the Circus in the past ­century (in 31 BC and AD 36). But it was not to be, as the power­ful wind changed every­thing. A prevailing Sirocco would cause the fire to spread first from the Circus to the Palatine, and we can speak only of the prevailing wind. The chaotic scenes that subsequently played out 64 • chapter III

in Rome’s narrow streets point to a fire that was changing directions very quickly, making its projected course impossible to predict. According to Tacitus, the flames spread rapidly, first (primum) covering what he vaguely calls the “flat areas” (plana). We can infer that he is prob­ ably referring to the space between the Circus and the Palatine, but it is not pos­si­ble to know for sure, as he may also be alluding to the area between the Palatine and Caelian, east of the Circus, or to the Forum Boarium, to its west. Then (deinde), he says, with equal vagueness, it climbed to “the heights” (edita), almost certainly with reference to the Palatine (and perhaps also the Caelian), and then descended once again to the lower sections (inferiora), perhaps h ­ ere with reference to the Colosseum valley on the other side of the Palatine, away from the Circus, that is, on its northeast.37 Also, at some point the fire prob­ably moved up the depression between the Caelian and Palatine, thus perhaps converging on the Colosseum valley from both directions. The precise course of the fire, even in its very early stages, is largely am ­ atter of speculation, but it seems reasonably safe to conclude from Tacitus’s account that the flames spread at a very early stage from the Circus to the heights (edita) of the Palatine. This reconstruction is to a degree supported by other literary sources. Dio is vague about where the fire first started—­blaming arson, he says that several fires ­were set in dif­fer­ent parts of the city (see chapter 3).38 But he is very specific about its spreading to the Palatine, and asserts that “the entire hill” (to oros sympan) was devastated by the fire.39 This aligns with Tacitus’s comment that Nero initially was reluctant to leave Antium (see below), and did so only when his own property was threatened. He adds that Nero returned in vain, b ­ ecause the Palatine and Nero’s ­house (or “Nero’s ­house on the Palatine”), along with every­thing in its vicinity, ­were destroyed.40 Dio’s sympan (entire) may be to some extent exaggerated. Certainly, pockets of the Palatine seem to have escaped serious devastation. On the southwest of the hill, if the ­Temples of Victory and of Magna Mater w ­ ere damaged by the fire, the damage does not seem to have been serious enough for any source to mention it. The ­Temple of Apollo was certainly standing in AD 67 (see below), although its famous portico may have been destroyed, since it is mentioned frequently before AD 64 but never afterward.41 Also we learn that in early AD 65, the consul Vestinus Atticus still owned a h ­ ouse The ­Great Fire  •  65

on the Palatine, with a view over the forum, and held dinner parties ­there. He committed suicide in that very ­house when about to be arrested in the aftermath of the failed Pisonian conspiracy of that year.42 While Dio’s claim that the “entire” Palatine was destroyed may have been somewhat overstated, ­there is no reason to question his basic report that the fire spread ­there. In fact, Pliny the Elder inadvertently provides confirmation of this. He tells the story of the famous Palatine nettle tree (lotos), the Celtis Australis, the Eu­ro­pean nettle tree, which produces a sweet, edible fruit and, apart from its name, is unrelated to the common nettle. Pliny says that when he, Pliny, was a young man, Caecina Largus (at one time the colleague of the emperor Claudius in the consulship) liked to show off the fine examples of this tree around his h ­ ouse on the Palatine. The h ­ ouse had once belonged to Lucius Licinius Crassus, consul in 95 BC, and when Caecina purchased it t­ here w ­ ere rivals for the property, which was much coveted ­because of its nettle trees (one of the contenders for possession happened to be Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, the great-­great-­great grand­father of Nero). The trees ­were noted for their longevity, and Pliny observes that they lasted ­until Nero’s fire and, he says, could have lasted up ­until the time of his own writing (in the 70s AD) had they not been destroyed in the blaze. This is a quite explicit statement from Pliny that the AD 64 fire did in fact cause damage on the Palatine.43 We might add h ­ ere as a footnote Suetonius’s report that the h ­ ouse on the Palatine where Caligula was assassinated was haunted by his ghost ­until it burned down. Caligula’s penchant for mischief, even from beyond the grave, should never be discounted, but all the same this claim is somewhat baffling—he was reportedly slain in an under­ground passage on the hill. Suetonius’s anecdote may refer to the unidentified part of the imperial residence where Caligula’s body was taken and supposedly tended by his friend, the Jewish ruler Herod Agrippa.44 ­There is also some archaeological evidence that might suggest a fire on the Palatine. Françoise Villedieu’s recent excavation in the Vigna Barberini, the area on the northeast sector of the summit of the Palatine, brought to light a h ­ ouse of the Julio-­Claudian period that collapsed some time before the reconstruction that followed the ­Great Fire, and whose destruction might have been the result of the G ­ reat Fire. But certainly ­there could be other pos­si­ble ­causes for its collapse: 66 • chapter III






3.3. Domus Tiberiana. C. Panella (detail).

it could have been buried in a landslide, perhaps triggered by an earthquake.45 Archaeology is of relatively l­ittle assistance in elucidating what happened on the Palatine during the fire. Nero afterward instituted an aggressive and systematic clearing operation, during which much of the evidence would have been systematically removed.46 That same prob­lem arises generally in other affected parts of Rome, but the Palatine was the site of particularly intensive ­later building activity, especially The ­Great Fire  •  67

­ nder the Flavians, and fire debris that escaped the initial clearance u pro­cess would have been removed for the most part during the course of subsequent construction. The modern hill is now dominated by the huge palace built ­there by Domitian some time ­after AD 80, the Domus August(i)ana.47 The Palatine had long been a highly prestigious residential area, where in the late republic the ­great and the good of Rome vied to own property. In prob­ably the late 40s BC, Augustus (then Octavian) bought the Palatine residence of the orator Hortensius, and ­after 36, when his own property was struck by lightning, he dedicated the damaged part for a new ­Temple of Apollo.48 He was compensated for his generosity and was able to develop other residences. Augustus’s “palace” seems to have been made up of a composite assemblage of buildings; Suetonius insists that it was modest, in keeping with Suetonius’s view of him as an unassuming princeps.49 The extent of Augustus’s Palatine complex is much debated, and the same uncertainty bedev­ils attempts to understand the Palatine building programs of his successors. The architectural history of the hill from now to the ­great building program of Domitian is complex and controversial. Two recent major publications, and a recent archaeological investigation (1990–2011), unfortunately have not led to anything approaching a consensus.50 Since the issues are so controversial, it ­will be necessary for the pre­sent purposes to focus on ­those few points where t­ here does seem to be some agreement. Particularly controversial is the monumental structure on the western side, the platform of the massive residential complex (some 15,000 sq km), known from the Flavian period as the Domus Tiberiana, buried ­under the Farnese gardens in the fifteenth century (see fig. 3.3). The recent excavations have revealed what is clearly a building phase beneath, and hence ­earlier than, the platform, and consisting of a substantial ornamental pool surrounded by a portico, dated by a lead pipe with the name of the emperor Claudius (Ti. Claudi Caes. Aug.). This phase had been preceded in prob­ably the Tiberian period by a cryptoporticus (concealed gallery) some 5 m high—­the excavator Maria Antonietta Tomei speculates that it was h ­ ere that Caligula was assassinated.51 But the issue of who constructed the l­ater unitary palace characterized by the monumental platform above the second Claudian phase remains 68 • chapter III

3.4. Bagni di Livia. B. Ward-­Perkins, S. Gibson.

highly contentious. It has been attributed variously to Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Each identification has been defended with passionate conviction, and to cap it all t­here is even a theory that the platform was not intended for a palace at all but was the podium of the ­great ­Temple of Augustus, begun by Tiberius, completed by Caligula in AD 37, and destroyed by fire some time l­ater.52 Hence ­there can be no such ­thing as a ­simple description of the Domus Tiberiana, or indeed of any of the other Julio-­Claudian buildings on the Palatine. The ­Great Fire  •  69

­ here does, however, seem to be a general agreement that if Nero did T not actually initiate the huge unitary palace on the site, he almost certainly would have at least expanded it. That said, secure identification of what he might have done t­here eludes us. Clemens Krause, who has excavated part of the site, is confident enough to assert that the unitary concept of the building was Nero’s, and suggests that its external dimensions w ­ ere 133 × 148 m.53 We have to assume that most of any Neronian construction undertaken before AD 64 would have been destroyed by the fire. It is pos­si­ble that we have a pre-­fire Neronian structure on the Palatine located beneath the triclinium (dining room) of the vast palace (Domus August(i)ana) ­later built on the southern part of the hill by Domitian (see fig. 6.1). This is a nymphaeum (fountain ­house), traditionally known as the Bagni di Livia (Baths of Livia). Despite the name, and its antiquarian associations with Augustus’s wife, the complex was constructed well a­ fter her lifetime (she died in AD 29), since it is almost certainly Neronian and can with reasonable confidence be dated before AD 64 (see fig. 3.4). From the rear, at its north, w ­ ater was fed down through a series of three small cascades. Opposite, on the south, was a small enclosure with its ceiling supported by ten porphyry columns. The building was served by a hypocaust (under­ground heating) system, which would have counteracted the damp effect of the fountain. The ­whole structure conveys a sense of luxury, with its bronze column capitals and splendid colored marble slabs. ­These last ­were stripped and reused in antiquity—­and ­those that ­were left ­were stolen when the building was rediscovered in the eigh­teenth c­ entury. The ceilings ­were decorated with paintings in the so-­called Fourth Pompeian style, which well suits a Neronian date, and the extravagance reflects his taste.54 The Bagni serve to illustrate the importance of good rec­ ords in archaeological excavations and the advantages of having access to the archaeologist’s archive. A rec­ord of the fire’s presence on the top of the Palatine can be traced in the notebook of the celebrated archeologist Giacomo Boni, who began excavating the Palatine in 1907. Boni entered into his notes that he found evidence of burning on the decorative ele­ments of the architecture and in the metal objects, and found imprints of metal fused into the steps of the fountain.55 ­There was of course a major fire in Rome in AD 80, but t­here is no 70 • chapter III

secure rec­ord of that ­later conflagration spreading to the Palatine, and in any case the Bagni w ­ ere cut into by a l­ater structure that precedes the Domitianic phase. Hence the Bagni must be two building phases ­earlier than Domitian. The general scholarly consensus is that the ensemble was built by Nero and is to be identified as part of what is known as Nero’s pre–­AD 64 Domus Transitoria (see below).56 The very early stages of the fire, as it spread from the Circus Maximus, are laid out in some detail by Tacitus. Its course over the next number of days is more or less impossible to trace in detail.57 Tacitus tells us that any attempt to block the flames proved fruitless b ­ ecause of the rapidity of their advance and b ­ ecause of the nature of the city, with its narrow, twisting streets and the irregular blocks of buildings, the suggestion being that this slowed down the response of the fire ser­ vices. Tacitus and the other sources are frustratingly vague on the topography of the fire. But they leave us in no doubt about the utter horror of what p ­ eople suffered. ­There ­were scenes of unimaginable chaos, the chaos aggravated by episodes of mass panic. Tacitus, who can be prone to occasional bouts of misogyny, asserts that the wailing of the ­women added to the general sense of alarm. Dio has a less blinkered view of ­things, saying that the shrieking and wailing came from both men and ­women, young and old, and the uproar added to the general panic caused by lack of visibility, which made it impossible for ­people to ascertain just what was happening. Perhaps even more disturbing than ­those yelling in panic w ­ ere o ­ thers so overwhelmed by the calamity that they w ­ ere simply struck dumb. Para­lyzed by fear, they stood where they w ­ ere in the streets, motionless and speechless. ­There was clearly no sense of how to respond to the disaster: some rushed to get away, some hung back, often dragging invalids b ­ ehind them. Dio notes that the exodus from the burning area was slowed down by ­people carry­ing their personal possessions. To add to their woes, ­there was a wave of looting, which caused further chaos, as the looters tripped over the bundles of goods lying strewn on the ground. The streets became utterly congested and in places it was almost impossible to move, with much jostling as ­those trying desperately to escape ­were knocked down by o ­ thers pressing into them from b ­ ehind, who in turn fell over the bodies scattered everywhere. Many ­were suffocated as a result or crushed to death. The ­Great Fire  •  71

Perhaps most terrifying of all, the literary descriptions leave no doubt that the wind was sending the fire chaotically in all directions. Dio comments that as individuals helped neighbors fight the flames, they would discover that their own properties ­were on fire, which suggests erratic and unexpected changes in wind direction. This can be aggravated by the “chimney effect,” where high and tightly constructed buildings with constricted intervening space can cause a major surge of hot air above the flames, creating a vacuum at ground level. The air that is sucked into the vacuum supplies oxygen to the flames, thus feeding the fire, and the resulting turbulence can make the local winds veer erratically. If the fire had followed a s­imple and fairly uniform course, fighting it would have been a correspondingly much simpler task. If, as seems to be the case, the wind changed unpredictably, then the route of the fire would have been equally erratic and controlling it next to impossible. Hence p ­ eople found that escaping to another district did not help, ­because by the time they reached an area thought to be fire-­free, it too was enveloped in flames. When they gazed around them it seemed as though in e­ very direction t­here w ­ ere many islands or ­whole cities on fire. Dio compares it to being in a military encampment, with flickering fires dotting the landscape. ­There was a never-­ ending string of rumors about the dif­fer­ent parts of Rome that had now burned down. The roads w ­ ere crowded with a teeming mass of panicking ­people, preventing a speedy escape u ­ ntil they could gradually make their way out of the heavi­ly built-up area and scatter out over open fields. Some just gave in to despair. Having lost both their property and their livelihoods, they lost their w ­ ill to live and chose to stay and die where they w ­ ere, while o ­ thers, devastated by the deaths of ­family members, opted to put an end to their ordeals by leaping into the flames.58 Nero was in Antium when the fire first started.59 ­There is nothing ­either remotely exculpatory or remotely suspicious about this. Antium (Anzio) was an ancient Roman colony on the west coast of Italy, some thirty miles south of Rome. It had for a long time been enjoyed by upper-­class Romans as a fash­ion­able resort and was a special favorite of the imperial f­ amily. Augustus liked to spend time t­ here, and it was the birthplace of two of the Julio-­Claudian emperors, Caligula and Nero himself, as well as of Nero’s d ­ aughter, Claudia Augusta. In AD 72 • chapter III

64, Nero presumably would have spent his time in the imperial villa, traces of which, including its terraces, have survived.60 Tacitus says that he remained ­there u ­ ntil his own property was in the line of the fire and the flames w ­ ere threatening “that building of his by which he had connected the Palatine residence with the gardens of Maecenas.” 61 At that point he returned to the city. Tacitus is being slightly mischievous ­here. Of course t­here would be a delay between the recognition that the fire was serious and the transmission of that information to Nero, which in turn would lead to Nero’s return to the city, but Tacitus pre­ sents the events in such a way as to foster the impression that Nero was indifferent to the sufferings of the citizens and stirred to action only when his own private interests ­were threatened. In fact, as has been shown, it is very likely that the destruction of Palatine came at a very early stage in the fire. Upon his arrival in Rome, Nero maintained one of the more worthy traditions of his imperial pre­de­ces­sors by personally stepping into the role of firefighter. A praetorian tribune, Subrius Flavus, would ­later describe how the emperor, without any thought of being protected by the guard, rushed from location to location during the night, as his residence burned down.62 Nevertheless, he was unable to do anything to prevent “the Palatine and his ­house and every­thing in the neighborhood” (Palatium et domus et cuncta circum) from being destroyed.63 To what ­house (domus) is he referring? It is not clear ­whether Tacitus meant Palatium et domus as a kind of doublet, Nero’s h ­ ouse on the Palatine, or ­whether he is thinking of two separate entities, Nero’s residence and the Palatine. Tacitus says that the domus ran all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline (the location of the Gardens of Maecenas). Suetonius in a dif­fer­ent context clearly refers to the extended residence mentioned by Tacitus, and he gives it a name, the only literary source to do so—­the Domus Transitoria (the “passage” h ­ ouse), so called ­because it “passed over” the valley between the Palatine to the Esquiline.64 Suetonius speaks of its being replaced by Nero’s famous Domus Aurea (Golden House), constructed on the land devastated by the fire (chapter 6). Much ink has been spilled in the attempt to identify buildings belonging to the Domus Transitoria.65 The Bagni di Livia on the Palatine are, as noted above, generally thought to have been part of it. At The ­Great Fire  •  73

the other side of the valley was the Esquiline, a district of splendid gardens, with fine country-­style villas, especially the extensive area of the Gardens of Maecenas and the Lamian Gardens, both of which ­were by now owned by the emperor. Moreover, the ­grand residence built ­after the fire on the Oppian edge of the Esquiline almost certainly had a pre-­fire phase (see below) and can therefore also be seen as part of the Domus Transitoria. Judging from the name, Nero presumably must also have acquired properties in the areas between ­these two hills, and the complex as a w ­ hole would almost certainly not have been conceived as a single unitary palace, but rather would have been a fairly unstructured collection of buildings, gradually taking shape as the emperor acquired more and more real estate. Thus, when Suetonius speaks of the “Domus” Transitoria, he clearly uses the word domus very loosely. At most it can have been an assemblage of properties located in the same general area and falling ­under single owner­ship.66 If Tacitus’s account of Nero’s motives for returning to the city is accurate, the emperor’s concern may have been focused on a very specific residence, one that would have been particularly significant to him. He may have feared for the ­house that his ­father, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, had built and lived in, and which Nero would have inherited. This was located on the spur that projected north from the Velia, next to the Sacra Via, the road that ran from the Forum Romanum to the area ­later occupied by the Colosseum, in the neighborhood of the ­Temple of the Penates. Early in Nero’s reign the Arval ­Brothers offered sacrifices to his f­ ather’s memory in front of this very building.67 Seneca the Elder, the f­ather of the famous phi­los­o­pher, rec­ords that Domitius built the ­house in the year he was consul (AD 32), and that it included a baths wing. This apparently was a crucial amenity: Domitius ­later began to hang out with rhetoricians, and when upbraided by his ­mother for his idleness, retorted (in Greek): “First a bath. Then lit­er­a­ture.”  68 At the very heart of the complex of the Golden House, in the vestibulum, Hadrian l­ater built his monumental t­ emple of Venus and Rome. Its podium still exists, and beneath it a ­house was discovered, thought for a time to be part of the Domus Transitoria but now recognized as a much ­earlier opulent residence of the late republican / early imperial period. It has been identified as the ­house of Nero’s ­father, but that identification is largely speculative.69 74 • chapter III

­There is also archaeological evidence that the fire passed to the north of the Palatine. In her published contribution to the celebrated excavations carried out on the north slope of the Palatine by Carandini from the 1980s, Maria Gualandi identified fire damage to ­houses on the lower slope of the north edge of the hill, with specific reference to ­houses labeled 7, 8, 9, which occupied the corner made by the Sacra Via and the Clivus Palatinus (not an ancient name), the paved road that led up to the top of the Palatine from the Sacra Via in the vicinity of the l­ater Arch of Titus. The h ­ ouses suffered in a fire; they w ­ ere not completely destroyed but ­were abandoned afterward by their ­owners. Evidence of the fire is not found on the walls, which are too poorly preserved, but is revealed in the stratigraphy, which contains ash and carbon in e­ very part of the site, as well as burned and blackened debris. ­There ­were fragments of mortar and stone basins and ceramic tableware in the form of fine bowls of the Julio-­Claudian period. ­There ­were also glass vessels, spoons, oil lamps and, of course, pots. In two of the excavation areas, and inside kitchens or outbuildings on the lower floors of ­house 9, ­were found the remains of planks of charred wood. Wooden shelves that collapsed during the fire had fallen to the ground, where they ­were crushed and compacted together. The fire ­here was followed by massive de­mo­li­tion work to clear the site, to level it, and to prepare it for the new buildings of Nero’s Golden House. The excavators could not provide an exact figure for the interval between fire and de­mo­li­tion, but they suspected that it was short. The homogeneity of the finds in both the burned and the de­mo­li­tion layers, and a striking absence of African tableware, which was first imported only in the Flavian period, suggested that both fire and de­mo­ li­tion had taken place during the Neronian period. As Gualandi observes, it is unlikely that Nero would have left this part of the city in ruins when he became engaged in his ambitious building proj­ect ­after the fire. Unfortunately, more detailed evidence is not likely to be forthcoming. Any debris not moved by Nero in his clearance program is likely to have been obliterated by the intense archaeological excavations that took place ­here in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.70 Also on the Velia stood the Compitum Acilii, a shrine to the ­house­hold deities, the Lares, located on the Velia’s northern spur at the crossroads of the Sacra Via and the road leading north to the The ­Great Fire  •  75

3.5. Houses on north edge of Palatine destroyed in the Fire. A. Ziółkowski.

Carinae district. When the Velia was cut through to build the Via dei Fori Imperiali in 1932, the remains of the shrine ­were discovered. They consisted of a platform accessed by a flight of four steps, as well as fragments of columns and entablature. An inscription datable to 5 BC, clearly identifying the shrine, was also discovered. The excavator, Antonio Maria Colini, recorded traces of burning on the structure, which he associated with the fire of AD 64.71 In the area to the north of the Arch of Constantine and to the west of the Colosseum, the most striking and convincing evidence for the damage inflicted on the fabric of the city by the AD 64 fire has been brought to light in a series of major excavations that began in 1981, and which from 1986 ­were supervised by the distinguished archaeologist Clementina Panella.72 North of Constantine’s ­later arch stood an impor­tant ancient monument, the Meta Sudans (Sweating Turning Post, so called from its resemblance to turning posts in the Circus), a fountain built by Domitian west of the Colosseum.73 The Domitianic structure consisted of a column 18 m high, surrounded by a circular basin. It survived ­until the 1930s, when it was demolished as part of the Fascist redevelopment of the area. In the course of recent excavations, it was discovered that Domitian’s Meta had succeeded a similar

76 • chapter III

3.6. Compitum Acilii. K. Roth.

Augustan monument in almost the same general location, destroyed in the ­Great Fire of AD 64. Augustus’s structure, built between 12 and 7 BC, stood 5 m below the level of its Flavian successor, and took the form of a conical column, some 16 m high and 3.5 m in dia­meter, standing in a basically rectangular basin, whose long sides bulged out apsidally to accommodate the column’s circular base. Such an Augustan pre­de­ces­sor might have been anticipated, since the Meta occupied a

The ­Great Fire  •  77

3.7. Area around the Meta Sudans. E. Brienza.

3.8. Augustan Meta frieze fragment with traces of burning. C. Panella, G. Pardini.

symbolic spot at the convergence of five of the Augustan regions (I, II, III, IV, X). The Augustan column had been restored ­after being damaged in the Claudian period. Damaged beyond redemption in the AD 64 fire, it was stripped of its marble and buried ­under a mass of debris. It had carried a Doric frieze, surmounted by a cornice, fragments of which have survived. Significantly, the frieze shows clear signs of burning, pointing to the effects of the fire (figs. 3.7, 3.8, 3.9).74 At the north end of the excavated area ran a north-­south street, dated to the republican period. During the half-­century before AD 64, the sectors on both sides of the street ­were developed, with a pos­si­ble baths complex to the west and shops to the east. The excavators concluded that ­these structures ­were destroyed by the fire of AD 64, and that soon afterward the site was buried ­under 3–4 m of fill to raise the ground for the Golden House (fig. 3.10). Construction of the Golden House saw a new north-­south street, flanked by ranges of rooms that served as infrastructures for terraces projecting from the vestibule to the west (see chapter 6). At the foot of the northeast point of the Palatine, a southeast-­ northwest wall from the mid-­or late republican era cuts obliquely across the corner right a­ ngle. South of the wall was a platform of travertine (limestone) slabs, with four travertine steps at its west side The ­Great Fire  •  79

3.9. The Augustan Meta destroyed in the Fire. C. Panella.

3.10. Collapsed debris, area of the Meta Sudans. C. Panella.

leading up to a second pavement, about a meter higher. In Panella’s opinion, this corner of the Palatine may be associated with the venerable sanctuary known as the Curiae Veteres (ancient assembly area), which tradition placed in the neighborhood of the l­ater Meta Sudans. The site became too small for assemblies but continued to be used for certain ceremonial and ritual purposes.75 Panella suggests that a small ­temple discovered ­there (see below), destroyed in the ­Great Fire, may belong to a Claudian reconstruction of this ancient compound. ­There is an alternative possibility, which she entertains but does not adopt, that the structure could be a shrine to Augustus, erected on the site of the ­house where he was born, said to be in the area of the Curiae Veteres. The ­Great Fire  •  81

3.11. Dedication, inscription of musicians. C. Panella.

This would raise the possibility that the nearby Flavian Meta Sudans might similarly have had its origin in a monument intended to honor Augustus.76 ­There are traces of the fire throughout the site. On the lower pavement and on a platform along the face of the wall a pair of dedications was found, made by the collegium of the players of bronze musical instruments who performed during official events. The inscriptions ­were heavi­ly damaged by fire. One of them was for a statue of Tiberius, dated between 7 and 4 BC. The second dedication appeared on a long base that had originally supported three statues (Augustus, Claudius, and a third unknown), rebuilt in AD 55 / 56 to accommodate statues of Nero and his m ­ other (her inscription was at one stage covered in stucco, presumably ­after her murder). The base and statues ­were destroyed by the fire of AD 64, and the dedication slabs ­were placed against the front of the podium, but ­were then forgotten, it seems, and buried ­under the fill for the construction of the Golden House. Also found on the travertine pavement w ­ ere architectural fragments in Luni marble and remains of a brick-­faced concrete wall that had collapsed. ­These came from the face of what would have been a small ­temple with a façade of four Corinthian columns. The t­emple must have stood at the top of the travertine steps, to the west of the excavated area, and then collapsed east into it during the fire.77 Parts of its dedicatory inscription survived. The original t­ emple cannot be identified but it seems to have been rebuilt by Claudius some time a­ fter 51, 82 • chapter III

3.12. Burned steps leading to the Small ­Temple. C. Panella.

to become yet another building destroyed in the AD 64 fire. The steps leading up to the ­temple are heavi­ly marked by burning. In the report on the Meta Sudans excavations, the evidence for the destruction in this area during the ­Great Fire is examined by Sabina Zeggio. The floor of the Julio-­Claudian period is covered by a dark level (5–7 cm) of burned material (wood and metal), which represents the debris left in place by the fire; this rests u ­ nder a thin gray-­brown layer, which is interpreted as the ash deposited immediately a­ fter the fire. Above this was a substantial layer of uneven thickness (90–130 cm) consisting of bright red material made up of scorched earth and pieces of debris, including pieces of Luni marble, as well as two pieces of cornice, one of them from the left side of a tympanum (gable) and two sections of an architrave bearing inscriptions linked to Claudius, from the collapse or de­mo­li­tion of the fire-­damaged ­temple.78 Perhaps the most vivid testimony to the power of the ­Great Fire is a surviving grate, which fell to the ground during the collapse of a ­house in the vicinity of the Augustan Meta. It is distorted by the heat of the flames. Some of the other debris from the h ­ ouse fell into the tank of the fountain and onto the basalt road, whose level had been raised in the Claudian period. The basalt was shattered by the heat of the fire and by the masonry collapsing onto it (figs. 3.13, 3.14). The Meta Sudans excavations extended west of the fountain, on the east-­west road that runs along the south of what is now the podium The ­Great Fire  •  83

3.13. Grate distorted by heat. C. Panella.

of Hadrian’s ­great ­Temple of Venus and Rome (on the site of the vestibule of Nero’s Golden House).79 Excavation was carried out on the south side of this east-­west road and revealed two complexes, made up of ­houses and workshops flanking the road, on the site of what is traditionally, though erroneously, known as the Terme di Elagabolo (Baths of Elagabalus). The western complex was located close to where the Arch of Titus would ­later stand, with walls of opus signinum (concrete fortified by crushed tile), belonging to the early part of the first ­century AD. It would be destroyed by the AD 64 fire, as happened also to the more eastern complex (closer to the Meta Sudans area). In this eastern complex the remains of fine tiled and mosaic floors of a republican ­house ­were unearthed, clearly belonging to a prominent upper-­class ­family (it is speculated that this might even be the h ­ ouse where the ­future emperor Augustus was born in 63 BC).80 This building was replaced by a new h ­ ouse in the m ­ iddle of the first c­ entury, with a frontage of three shops or workshops facing the east-­west road. It may seem curious by ­today’s tastes that homes in what was clearly a prestigious residential area would be fronted by commercial or industrial enterprises, but in the Roman world, private urban residences 84 • chapter III

3.14. Road surface shattered by heat and falling masonry. C. Panella.

placed their focus on their interiors rather than their exteriors. In the final building phase of this complex, perhaps between AD 10 and 20, the line of workshops was extended to the west (figs. 3.15, 3.16). Further development of this area was curtailed by the ­Great Fire. The most eastern of the three workshops (Room B) has a herringbone tile floor with clear traces of burning. The workshop next to it (Room C) betrays evidence of burning both on the floor and on the walls. Throughout the workshops a mass of burned material was discovered, containing datable evidence, usually in the form of pottery, pointing to the AD 64 fire as the cause of the destruction. In one of the stores, a shelf collapsed during the fire and spilled its contents onto the floor, scattering lamps, plates, and bowls. In the heaps of burned material ­were found nails and other iron items, such as the metal nozzle of what ­were prob­ably bellows, and pieces of bronze material, h ­ andles, weights, fragments of a disc, all of this apparently gathered together to be recast. ­These items do not seem to have belonged necessarily to the rooms where they ­were actually found, and perhaps they ­were dumped ­there from other rooms during the cleanup ­after the fire. Strewn about ­were fragments of amphorae, bits of fresco and architectural ele­ments, like hinges. ­There are signs that the fire curtailed imminent plans to refurbish the rooms. Tiles and sheets of marble ­were piled up against the The ­Great Fire  •  85

Taberna D

Taberna C Vasca

Corridoio A Ambiente H


Strada valle-Foro Taberna B

Chiostrina E

Ambiente G

Ambiente F



5 Metri

Strutture in fase Strutture riutilizzate

3.15. Workshops and ­houses. C. Panella.

walls and a g­ reat mass of mosaic tesserae recovered from a previous mosaic was waiting to be reused. ­These seem to suggest an ambitious redecoration proj­ect and add a sadly ­human touch to the mute archaeological material (figs. 3.17, 3.18, 3.19, 3.20, 3.21). South of the Meta Sudans a separate and unrelated excavation has been carried out on the lower slope of the northeast corner of the Palatine Hill (the Palatine East Excavations), in a collaborative enterprise between Italian archaeologists and the American Acad­emy in Rome. ­Here a thin burned layer on the travertine threshold of what seems to be a small booth might be assigned to the fire of 64, but the conclusions are very tentative.81 The workshops described above stood to the west of the Meta Sudans. To the east of the Meta the flames spread over the area that would ­later be occupied by the amphitheater built by Vespasian, the famed Colosseum. Recent archaeological sondages carried out beneath the floor of the Colosseum’s under­ground chambers have brought to light ­earlier structures, some of which show signs of burning, attrib86 • chapter III





23.60 25.05 24.50 24.03 23.45



ingresso domus


5m 5m 21.94

ro Fo

lle va a vi

M. Cante 3. 2011

3.16. Workshops and ­houses in perspective. C. Panella.

uted to the Neronian fire. Sondage 1, for instance, beneath the southwest Colosseum floor, exposed a late republican floor of opus signinum bearing evidence of fire (fig. 3.22).82 Further east of the Colosseum stood another impor­tant Flavian building, the Ludus Magnus (fig. 3.23). This was an extensive training ground for gladiators created by Domitian, the largest of the four gladiatorial training schools he had built. Part of it was discovered in 1937 between the Via Labicana, which runs east-­west along the northern edge of the Ludus, and the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, which cuts a diagonal across its ­middle. Assuming that the part south of San Giovanni, now lost, more or less balanced that to the north, the school consisted of an arena surrounded by a rectangle of rooms with porticoes. Excavations ­were conducted in 1960–1961 ­under the direction of Colini, who found considerable evidence of the AD 64 fire. Colini noted that the Ludus had an unbroken wall along the Via Labicana with a herringbone pavement in front The ­Great Fire  •  87

3.17. Compacted burned material. C. Panella.

3.18. Workshop B. Burned floor. C. Panella.

3.19. Workshop C. Burned wall and floor. C. Panella.

3.20. Burned metal. C. Panella.

3.21. Burned pot. C. Panella.

of it. As the excavation progressed it uncovered a mass of walls of brick and blocks of stone, which could still be recognized but which had been broken up by the heat of the flames. ­There was a grating still in place around a win­dow space, distorted by being crushed between two collapsing walls (fig. 3.24).83 ­There ­were other abundant relics of the fire, including remnants of carbonized wood, and fragments of coarse pottery, ironmongery, and a marble weight. 90 • chapter III


3.22. Burned floor beneath Colosseum. K. Roth.

East of the Ludus Magnus stands the splendid medieval Church of San Clemente. A connection between the remains beneath it and the ­Great Fire was made as early as 1914, when a drain was laid ­under the church and the work was observed by F ­ ather L. Nolan, who had a keen amateur interest in archaeology and who left a written rec­ord, dated March 5, 1914: “found also a huge tufa wall capped with travertine; and also found remains of a ­great fire, prob­ably to be located on the Via Labicana.”84 His observation seems to be borne out by subsequent investigations.85 On the west side of the church, the apse is built over a ­temple to Mithras (Mithraeum), discovered in 1867 and excavated shortly afterward, in 1889. The Mithraeum belongs to the Severan period (at the end of the second and the beginning of the third ­century) and is built over an e­ arlier ­house. Frederico Guidobaldi has identified the ­house as prob­ably belonging to the reign of Claudius or to the initial part of Nero’s reign. He found traces of fire on the walls, together with remains of charred material in the earth fill (more than 2 m), which suggests that the abandonment of this level was the result of its violent destruction during the fire of AD 64.86 ­There is a general consensus that since the fire lasted for as many as nine days, in all it would have been almost unthinkable for it not The ­Great Fire  •  91



20 m

3.23. Ludus Magnus. A. Louis.

to have traveled north of the Velia, along the western edge of the Esquiline Hill, between that prominence and the southern ridge of the Viminal. This is the Suburra district, placed by the regionary cata­logues in Regio IV, which scholars generally identify as one of the regiones mentioned by Tacitus as damaged by the fire, and some argue that it was one of the three that w ­ ere completely destroyed (see below). The fire may have taken its first serious hold among the rich and power­ful of the Palatine. But north of the Velia it would have encountered a quite dif­fer­ent world. The Suburra was a crowded district, noted for its noise and dirt, with numerous small stores and workshops, populated by poor working-­class Romans living in cramped conditions, most in large tower blocks (insulae). In the early second c­ entury the poet Juvenal describes the district as “seething” (fervens) and contrasts it with the wealthy Esquiline. Martial describes it as noisy (clamosa) and its streets dirty and never dry.87 It ­housed numerous workshops, and also, it seems, just as many brothels—­for Martial, the Suburran prostitute was a byword for the ­whole profession.88 Judging from Martial’s general comments, however serious the destruction in this neighborhood might have been in AD 64 (and we must remember that

92 • chapter III

3.24. Grating distorted by fire. K. Roth.

we have no literary or archaeological evidence for the fire’s presence ­there), the Suburra seems to have regained its old character by the end of the ­century. South of the Suburra, as one progresses from that district t­oward the Forum Romanum, a major market (Macellum) had stood from the republican period. This dis­appears from the rec­ord ­after AD 64, leading

The ­Great Fire  •  93

to speculation that it was destroyed in the fire. Its site was occupied ­after AD 71 by Vespasian’s new forum, the Templum Pacis (­Temple of Peace), whose square contours perhaps reflect the market square it had replaced.89 Recent investigations have revealed traces of a wall in opus reticulatum (diamond-­shaped brick tiles over a core of cement), leveled before the Vespasianic reconstruction and perhaps belonging to the e­ arlier market and damaged during the fire of AD 64. Much of the sculpture that Nero had plundered to decorate his Golden House was subsequently moved to the Templum Pacis by Vespasian.90 The assumption that the fire caused damage to Suburra, north of the Velia, is essentially speculative. South of the Suburra, recent excavations have produced considerable evidence, already discussed, for the fire in the Colosseum valley. When we move farther south, to the depression between the Palatine and the Caelian, we find an additional specific indication of the effect of the fire. The distinguished Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani provides a nineteenth-­century eyewitness account of the discovery of striking archaeological data. When a main sewer was built to drain the Esquiline and the area around the Colosseum, he was able, in May 1877, to monitor the section between the Arch of Constantine and the Circus Maximus. The sewer excavation revealed the remains of a street neatly paved with flagstones and lined by ­houses, shops, and shrines, thirty-­five (Roman) feet below the modern level. Lanciani located the street as descending from the northeast corner of the Palatine t­ oward the pre­sent Piazza di San Gregorio. ­Here the burned debris had not been subsequently removed but had been spread out to raise the level of the valley by some 10 or 15 feet. If he is right, this evidence seems to provide some confirmation of the description of Tacitus, who reported that the fire spread both to the hills (edita) and to the flat area (plana) between them.91 The archaeologist Giuseppe Lugli provides further confirmation when he reports, in connection with the sewer line, that remains of what he interprets as the Domus Transitoria w ­ ere discovered at a depth of about 7 m, consisting of huge parallel walls with porticos of travertine pillars. He notes that ­these remains showed obvious traces of fire.92 Lanciani’s observations received further confirmation when fragments w ­ ere located in ancient shops destroyed by fire on the modern Via di San Gregorio between the Palatine on the west and the Caelian 94 • chapter III

3.25. Lanciani’s section. R. Lanciani.

on the east. ­These included part of a terracotta pediment of the late second ­century BC. The pediment has been identified as an ele­ment of the ­Temple of Fortuna Respiciens (Fortune Looking Back), mentioned in the regionary cata­logues in a location that best suits the east slopes of the Palatine. If the identification is correct, the ­temple can be added to the list provided by Tacitus of t­ hose destroyed (see below), and the only ­temple identified, albeit tentatively, as having burned down on the Palatine.93 What of the Caelian itself? We can perhaps deduce from Lanciani’s observations that the lower reaches of the hill suffered from the fire. But to what extent might the upper parts also have been affected? ­There is no hint in the lit­er­at­ ure that the fire reached the hill’s crest or that it spread to its northern side. We must again have recourse to the archaeological rec­ord. In 1984, excavations w ­ ere initiated on the north of the Caelian, in an area known in antiquity as Caput Africae. The work took place in two locations, the first to the west of the Piazza Celimontana and the l­ater one to the east of the grounds of the old Ospedale Militare, both investigations ­under the supervision of Carlo Pavolini.94 In the ­earlier excavations Pavolini discovered fragmentary modest structures with ground floor shops. He concluded that t­hese must predate the ­Great Fire, basing his argument on the discovery of a small number of pottery and lamp fragments generally datable to the ­middle or latter half of the first c­ entury AD, sealed stratigraphically by the buildings that collapsed in the fire. A Julio-­Claudian coin, an “as” (no further identification), was also discovered among the debris. The destruction left a layer of burned ash that represented the wooden The ­Great Fire  •  95

floor and roof and sections of plaster that had fallen from the walls.95 Pavolini interpreted the buildings as the earliest phase of that sector of the Caelian, representing the development on the hill that followed the devastating fire of AD 27 ­under Tiberius, and he concluded that they in turn w ­ ere destroyed by the even more devastating fire in AD 64. Pavolini also found traces of reconstruction of a terrace wall, which he associated with building work subsequent to the ­Great Fire. This evidence is of course tenuous, as archaeological evidence often is.96 The conclusions reached in this area are echoed in the excavations on the other Caelian site, that of the Ospedale Militare. ­Here Pavolini reports the destruction of buildings in the northeastern sector of the Ospedale, attributed to the fire of AD 64. He also claims that the fire brought about a change in the building patterns of this part of the Caelian, with increased population density, so that, instead of formal ­houses, apartments (insulae) ­were constructed, with shops on the ground floor.97 In an ideal situation, our knowledge of the events of antiquity should be the offspring of the happy ­union of archaeology and literary sources. But in the case of the fire of AD 64, the literary sources prove a poor parent, and we fail to get any clear sense of the course of the fire from them. None of them offers a coherent picture of the direction of the fire, or of how far it spread. ­There is certainly considerable dramatic narrative about its horrendous effect on the city, but when it comes to hard detail, the literary rec­ord is strikingly uninformative. Tacitus does provide a fairly detailed and convincing report on the fire’s origin. But he is not a very helpful guide to the details of its pro­gress (Suetonius or Dio are even less so). Suetonius testifies in very general terms to the huge numbers of apartment blocks that went up in flames, along with a general statement about the loss of monumental buildings that had survived from antiquity, including the residences of the g­ reat military commanders of ­earlier days, and ­temples that had been consecrated by the old kings of Rome or in the days of the wars with Carthage.98 This lack of precise information fortifies the impression that Suetonius is less interested in the fire as a phenomenon in itself than as a manifestation of Nero’s indifference and irresponsibility (see chapter 1). Dio makes the broad claim that, ­because of the incalculable loss of

96 • chapter III

3.26. Piranesi drawing.

life, the fire of AD 64 was Rome’s greatest disaster, with one exception only—­the destruction of the city by the Gauls. He is certainly more informative than Suetonius, revealing that about two-­thirds of the city was burned and usefully providing the detail that the entire Palatine hill was destroyed. Dio also inadvertently adds a piece of information that is potentially useful for giving us an idea of the extent of the fire: he lists the Amphitheater of Taurus among the casualties.99 He is the only source to rec­ord that this familiar building burned down, and the information is rather baffling. It seems to have stood in the Campus Martius, and this is the only evidence that the fire seems to have spread into this district. The structure owed its existence to one of Octavian’s most outstanding generals. Statilius Taurus was a self-­made man, a novus homo (see the glossary), who played a major role in the campaign against Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the ­Great. In 34 BC, Taurus received a Triumph for his military successes in Africa, and afterward built his amphitheater, Rome’s first permanent venue for gladiatorial games. It was also the first stone amphitheater in Rome, although

The ­Great Fire  •  97

the interior fittings would presumably have been of wood. He built it at his own expense and dedicated it in 29 BC. It has been identified by some with the ruined walls drawn by Piranesi between the Palazzo Cenci and the Tiber (see fig. 3.26).100 The location of Taurus’s amphitheater has been much debated.101 It is generally thought to have stood in the southeastern corner of the Campus Martius, just west of where the bridge, the Pons Fabricius, connects the Campus to the Tiber Island, a ­little beyond the point where the Tiber bends to the west. In this location Strabo says that ­there is “another campus,” and he locates ­there three theaters (presumably of Pompey, Balbus, and Marcellus) and an amphitheater, which almost certainly must be the amphitheater of Taurus.102 The general (though not universal) consensus is that the amphitheater would have stood to the west of the Theater of Marcellus, and to the south of two porticoes: the Portico of Philippus and the Portico of Octavia (the Theater of Balbus stood to the north of t­hese two).103 ­There is no mention of any fire damage to the neighboring porticoes listed above, nor to the Theater of Marcellus, all of them famous adjacent buildings that surely would not have escaped notice if they had suffered in the fire. Moreover, the Campus Martius generally escaped the flames, and was selected as a place of refuge (see next paragraph). The amphitheater is in fact the only structure in the Campus that is identified as affected by the fire, perhaps ­because of the large amount of wood in its structure, and as such it is an anomaly.104 With the pos­si­ble exception of the sector that ­housed the amphitheater, the Campus Martius became the main center for emergency accommodation. According to Tacitus, presumably drawing on the source that was relatively favorable to Nero, the emperor arranged for temporary shelters to be erected ­there. ­These proved inadequate and he was obliged to open up other locations, which included his own gardens, and also what Tacitus calls the monumenta Agrippae (monuments of Agrippa). The designation seems to have been an official one of sorts.105 Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was Augustus’s loyal comrade in arms and personal friend, and great-­grandfather of Nero (Agrippa was the ­father of Nero’s grand­mother Agrippina the Elder, by Augustus’s ­daughter Julia). He played an active role in Augustus’s program of beautifying Rome. Amassing considerable wealth through his many 98 • chapter III

military victories, he was able to acquire considerable landholdings. Although he started his building activities in 33 BC, when he was aedile, his main construction bout belongs to the period between 27 and 25 BC, when he began to build or restore a number of impor­tant public monuments on the Campus. ­These would have included (see the map that appears at the front of the book): his most famous, the Pantheon, ­later destroyed by fire and rebuilt by Hadrian; the Thermae (Baths) of Agrippa, also largely destroyed by a fire; the Portico of Vipsania (begun by his ­sister, then completed by Augustus), extending along the east side of the Via Lata; the Saepta Julia, conceived as a g­ reat voting enclosure but used by Augustus for gladiatorial shows and l­ater serving as a marketplace; and the Diribitorium (completed by Augustus in 7 BC), where the votes cast in the Saepta Julia ­were counted. The Porticus Neptunae (stoa poseidonos) mentioned by Dio and built to celebrate the victories over Sextus Pompeius and Mark Antony, is usually identified as the Agrippan Basilica of Neptune, said to have been restored by Hadrian.106 ­These buildings, or at least some of them, w ­ ere made available by Nero. Ironically, a­ fter their harrowing experiences, and no doubt exhausted and dejected, the dispossessed would have lived during this wretched period in surroundings of unparalleled splendor. But, of course, t­ hose arrangements could only be temporary. ­After blazing fiercely for six days, the fire was at last brought to a temporary halt at the foot of the Esquiline Hill. Tacitus makes an unmistakable reference to the deliberate creation of firebreaks, commenting that so many buildings had been destroyed over such a vast area that ­there was no fuel available for the fire other than open ground and bare sky. But any relief that the nightmare had apparently now ended was followed by crushing disappointment, b ­ ecause the fire broke out again. Tacitus informs us that the flames died down only briefly, and t­here was a subsequent outbreak, this time on the “Aemilian estate” (praediis Aemilianis) of Tigellinus. Unfortunately, we are not told where this estate was.107 Tacitus might have used the expression to refer to a suburban villa that once belonged to the old noble Aemilian f­ amily in the Campus Martius, overlooking the Tiber River.108 This estate would be well removed from the city center, which Tacitus seems to confirm, commenting that this second phase occurred in the less congested parts of the city—­the Campus Martius would meet this requirement. The ­Great Fire  •  99

On the other hand, the fact that he goes out of his way to mention that the fire initially ­stopped at the foot of the Esquiline might imply that this second phase spread over that hill too. As Robert Palmer has pointed out, t­ here need to have been at least two estates in Rome called the Aemiliana to accommodate all the ancient topographical evidence.109 ­There could have been a third. The Esquiline contained a number of large garden properties, which matches Tacitus’s reference to a more open area. We cannot completely rule out an Aemilian estate ­there. ­There is also intriguing evidence provided by what constitutes the best surviving section of Nero’s Golden House, the large residential wing that stood on the Oppian ridge of the Esquiline. This magnificent complex w ­ ill be considered in more detail in the context of the changes made to the architectural fabric of Rome ­after the fire (chapter 6), but it might be noted for the moment that it was partially destroyed by fire in AD 104 and buried by the emperor Trajan when he established his baths on the site. A careful study in the 1970s by Laura Fabbrini of what remains of the upper level of the Neronian building revealed evidence of two separate Neronian phases (a conclusion shared by o ­ thers on the basis of other parts of the complex). She found quite extensive areas of burned and carbonized deposits on the floors and on the walls. In some cases, floors had been laid on top of ­earlier levels that showed evidence of burning (demonstrating that the burned layers can not belong to the AD 104 fire). This led Fabbrini to conclude that the Oppian complex had preceded the AD 64 fire as part of the Domus Transitoria, and had been seriously damaged in that fire and subsequently rebuilt as part of the Golden House.110 This conclusion would be totally in accord with Suetonius’s comment that the Domus Transitoria connected the Esquiline to the Palatine.111 This then provides us with archaeological evidence that the fire did spread up to the Esquiline. The church of San Pietro in Vincoli might well contain the northernmost evidence for the fire, since the republican h ­ ouse ­under its floor was replaced by a Neronian residence, quite likely as part of the Domus Aurea (see chapter 6). Tacitus also claims that as a counterbalance to the reduction in h ­ uman casualties during the second phase of the fire, the destruction of ­temples and fine public buildings seems to have been on an even greater scale. Frustratingly, he provides 100 • chapter III

no specific examples h ­ ere, but the first Oppian palace might have been one of the casualties that he had in mind.112 By the time the conflagration was brought to a final end, according to Tacitus, four of the fourteen Augustan districts of Rome had escaped altogether, three had been leveled to the ground, and in the other seven all that remained ­were a few charred vestiges of the buildings.113 The regions in question have been differently identified by dif­fer­ent investigators, as can be illustrated by a sample of seven scholars over the past c­ entury: Werner, Furneaux, Beaujeu, Palmer, Griffin, Panella, and Ash.114 Their conclusions do not constitute proof, of course, but they do offer an insight into how ­those who have studied this topic closely have interpreted the evidence. As is apparent in the following ­table, ­there is a consensus that X and XI ­were destroyed. Four of the seven scholars surveyed believe that III was also destroyed, and all agree that it was at least damaged. IV and VIII are also candidates for the destroyed category, although with less support, and it is agreed by all that they both suffered damage. Thus, an amalgam of scholarly consensus would be reasonably represented as III, X, and XI destroyed, and II, IV, VII, VIII, IX, XII, XIII as damaged (of course the borderline between destroyed and damaged can not be a sharp one). This amalgam is intended to convey the broad scholarly consensus, of course, not confirmed historical fact, but with the literary and archaeological evidence at our disposal it is prob­ably the closest we are likely to come to that elusive historical fact. Calculating the a­ ctual extent of the fire is an even more hazardous enterprise. What Tacitus meant by three districts being completely leveled to the ground and, conversely, four left undamaged is reasonably clear. But the apparent effect of the fire on the remaining seven is far from obvious. His suggestion that only a few damaged traces of buildings remained ­there cannot be taken too seriously. When large stone buildings are ravaged by fire they ­will hardly ever be reduced to a mere few traces, but w ­ ill almost inavariably leave b ­ ehind fairly substantial shells. In itself, this is not problematic—­Tacitus’s words ­here can reasonably be seen as an acceptable hyperbole intended for dramatic effect. Far more problematic is the confusion over ­whether he meant that in certain areas of ­those seven districts some buildings ­were so burned out that only a few damaged traces remained, or ­whether he is claiming The ­Great Fire  •  101

Aurelian Walls r ibe R. T


l ls Wa


ican ub l Re p


Quirinal Viminal


Esquiline V


XIV R. Tib er

II Aventine





3.27. Pos­si­ble extent of the Fire. A. Barrett a­ fter J. Skinner. ­Table. Scholarly Identification of Tacitus’s Affected Regiones Destroyed































Agreed by all 7




Note: Bold figures indicate consensus.

that ­every building in ­those seven districts was burned out. The latter is perhaps the natu­ral way to understand the Latin of his text (septem reliquis pauca tectorum vestigia supererant, lacera et semusta), but since the borders between the districts ­were in most cases essentially lines on a map and not natu­ral barriers (demarcators like the Tiber ­were the exception), it would be utterly implausible for ­every single building in the seven districts to have been very seriously ravaged while ­every single building in the neighboring four districts went completely unscathed. It w ­ ill in fact be suggested l­ater in this chapter that some of the buildings in even the three supposedly obliterated districts remained standing and at least partially functional. ­Because of this serious uncertainty, any attempt to map out precisely the ­actual extent of the fire (and it has often been attempted) ­will be something of a fruitless exercise. The scheme depicted in figure 3.27 should be seen as a very rough and very conservative illustration of what is likely to have been the minimum extent of the fire. The ­actual extent may well have been much larger. We simply cannot tell. On the areas affected, Suetonius provides virtually no help, beyond telling us that a huge number of apartment blocks was destroyed. Also, Dio’s assessment of the effects of the fire, while more useful, is still characteristically vague. He calculates that two-­thirds of the city was burned down, this calculation prob­ably over and above the destruction on the Palatine and the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, which he does not seem to include in the two-­thirds total, but one cannot be certain.115 ­There is one literary source that does provide specific figures, but unfortunately it is not an authority in which we can place g­ reat faith. ­There exists a collection of letters purporting to represent correspondence between two contemporaries, each eminent in his context, but each almost certainly quite unaware of the other’s existence—­the phi­ los­op ­ her Seneca and the apostle Saint Paul. The collection was likely put together in late antiquity, possibly the late fourth ­century, or perhaps even during the M ­ iddle Ages.116 Their author was certainly well informed. He knew of Seneca’s connection with his correspondent Lucilius and of the Jewish sympathies of Nero’s wife, Poppaea. Although the letters are unquestionably forgeries, they may have drawn on a source lost to us, and hence could potentially contain useful items of information not transmitted by any other text. In Letter 12, we are The ­Great Fire  •  103

informed that the fire lasted for six days (the author clearly had read Suetonius, or Suetonius’s source), causing the destruction of 132 g­ rand homes and [a number] of apartment blocks. That very last piece of information is very frustrating, since t­here is a disagreement in the manuscripts, which transmit the figure ­either of four apartment blocks ­going up in flames, which is absurdly low, especially given that Suetonius speaks of an “im­mense” number (immensum numerum), or of 4,000, which seems high, but in fact is prob­ably not unreasonable. The regionary cata­logues give figures of 45,300 (Curiosum) or 44,301 (Notitia) for insulae in the city, and the larger figure in the Letters would be less than one-­tenth of this total (which is, of course, ­later than the reign of Nero).117 Moreover, “4,000” is the reading of most of the manuscripts.118 Of course, since we have no idea where the writer of the letters obtained his information, t­ here is no way of telling how much faith, if any, to place in ­either figure. Tacitus declines to provide an itemized list of the buildings destroyed. But he does opt to mention five specific religious buildings destroyed during the course of the fire, all of them of considerable antiquity and associated with the early days of Rome.119 The first that he mentions is the ­Temple of Luna, which he says was consecrated by King Servius Tullius.120 This t­ emple must have stood on the Aventine, since it was close to the ­Temple of Ceres, known to have stood on that hill, lying to the south of the Circus Maximus, and this location seems to be confirmed by accounts of the death of Gaius Gracchus, the activist tribune of the plebeians, who was killed in 121 BC on the Aventine as he and his followers seized the ­Temple of Luna.121 Tacitus’s reference to the loss of this ­temple is of much interest, since he is the only source, ­either literary or archaeological, to rec­ord fire damage on the Aventine, although it is to be noted that one of the altars erected by Domitian, associated with the AD 64 fire (see below), was found at the base of the north slope of that hill. Adding to the mystery, the ­Temple of Ceres, also on the Aventine, and very close to Luna, seems to have survived the fire.122 Tacitus next mentions the altar that Evander dedicated to Hercules. This is the celebrated Herculis Invicti Ara Maxima (“the greatest altar of unconquered Hercules”), the most venerable cult center of Hercules in Rome, located in the Forum Boarium. A deeply embed104 • chapter III

ded tradition, to which Tacitus alludes, held that it was founded by the Arcadian Evander, in the general period of the Trojan war.123 No certain remains of the altar have been found, but the learned grammarian and commentator on Vergil, Servius, writing in the fourth/fifth ­century, locates it precisely b ­ ehind the “doors” ianuas (in other words, the carceres or starting gates) of the Circus Maximus.124 The Circus stood to the east of the Forum Boarium. The altar might thus likely have been an early victim of the fire as the flames spread along the length of Circus, and its loss provides specific evidence that the fire spread to the Forum Boarium. The forum had been ravaged by fire several times before and would be expected to have suffered in AD 64, but ­there is no concrete evidence of any damage on that occasion other than this one reference in Tacitus. A platform made up of large blocks of tufa, located ­under the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, has been associated with the altar by Coarelli.125 Tacitus continues, with the ­Temple of Jupiter Stator. This ­temple, to be distinguished from the l­ater one to the same god in the Campus Martius, was supposedly vowed by Romulus at a critical moment during the conflict with Rome’s ­enemy, the Sabines, when Jupiter “stayed” a Roman rout. This is of course a legend, but Marcus Atilius Regulus made a similar vow in 294 BC, ­under not totally dissimilar circumstances (involving the Samnites this time), and the ­temple was now built, on land supposedly designated for that purpose by Romulus. Its location is one of the most hotly debated topics of Roman topography.126 ­There are numerous ancient literary allusions to the building, most of which associate it with the Palatine, but they cannot all be reconciled.127 The location ­will no doubt remain controversial, despite Carandini’s very public declaration in 2013 that he had discovered not only its location but its ­actual remains, on the lower slope of the Palatine.128 A new piece of evidence emerged recently, with the discovery of a fragment of a calendar that locates the t­ emple in Regio X (Palatium), where we might expect it.129 Surprisingly, however, the regionary cata­ logues place it in Regio IV (Templum Pacis). This suggests that at dif­ fer­ent periods the ­temple may have had two dif­fer­ent locations, which would explain the apparent inconsistencies of the ancient sources. In the most recent investigation of the prob­lem, Wiseman has suggested that the original t­emple, located on the south side of the Sacra The ­Great Fire  •  105

Via, was destroyed by the fire in AD 64, and that its entire site was cut back (hence leaving no archaeological trace) and the space thus created at a lower level subsequently occupied by the expanded ­Temple of Vesta. The new ­Temple of Jupiter Stator then would have been rebuilt in its second location to the north of the Sacra Via.130 If so, such a major reordering of the urban landscape would have been typical of the program of Nero’s architects, Severus and Celer, never ones to allow nature to stand in their way (see chapter 6). Next Tacitus rec­ords the loss of the palace of Numa, the Regia, which had burned down on two recorded previous occasions, in 148 and 36 BC (see chapter 2). It stood close to the ­Temple of Vesta, which, according to Tacitus, also burned down in AD 64. The ­temple had apparently been destroyed during the Gallic destruction, burned again in 241 BC, just saved from a fire in 210, threatened again in 48, and burned down in 14 BC. It clearly was restored ­after the fire by Nero and was in operation by the time of his death, since Lucius Piso Licinianus, heir of Nero’s successor Galba, took refuge t­ here, and was put to death on January 15, AD 69, the very day that Galba himself died.131 ­These two buildings lay to the south of the Sacra Via at the southeast end of the Forum Romanum at the foot of the Palatine. It comes as no surprise that this area was devastated by the fire, but, once again, Tacitus’s information is crucial, providing the only detailed proof that this did in fact happen. We have no serious reason to doubt Tacitus’s testimony about the five individual buildings mentioned above. But when he speaks of three of the regiones being leveled to the ground and seven left with only ruins and “charred vestiges,” he may be overstating the case.132 We know that very soon afterward, rites ­were carried out to Juno on the Capitol, with no reference to any fire damage.133 Tacitus describes a meeting of the Senate held in the Forum Romanum in AD 65 to conduct the trial of the Stoic phi­los­o­pher and statesman, Thrasea Paetus (see chapter 7). Some scholars believe that this took place in the ­Temple of Venus Genetrix, which might be taken to suggest that the regular senate h ­ ouse, the Curia Julia, had been damaged.134 But it is far from certain that the ­temple was in fact used for this session of the Senate, and in any case Senate meetings ­were regularly held in such venues—no significance should be read into the location. ­There ­were other activi106 • chapter III

ties taking place in the Forum around this time, and ­there is no indication that any serious damage had been suffered. In mid-­April of the year following the fire, AD 65, during the Festival of Ceres, games ­were celebrated in the Circus Maximus, which had lain at the very heart of the conflagration, and this was one of the locations selected by the conspirators in that year for Nero’s assassination.135 The Circus was clearly in good working order, and in AD 67, when Nero made his triumphant return from Greece and proceeded through the city, its gate had to be demolished to accommodate the pro­cession.136 The conspirator Piso was supposed to await his opportunity in early AD 65 in the ­Temple of Ceres on the north slope of the Aventine, facing the Circus Maximus—­the ­temple was clearly still standing.137 Arguably, during Nero’s absence in Greece the Palatine might have been targeted as a priority area for post-­fire reconstruction, but it seems to be in good order remarkably soon ­after the destruction. It was to the Palatine ­Temple of Apollo that Nero headed a­ fter proceeding through the demolished arch, in 67; if, as suggested ­earlier, the Apollo portico was destroyed, the ­temple itself was clearly intact.138 Also, immediately ­after the fire the Sibylline books w ­ ere consulted.139 ­These had been transferred to the ­Temple of Apollo by Augustus and t­ here is no indication in the immediate aftermath of the fire that they had been damaged. Moreover, Galba carried out sacrifices at the ­Temple of Apollo in January 69.140 On the very same day, Otho went from the Domus Tiberiana on the Palatine to meet the rebellious Praetorians who had opted to support him, suggesting that the Domus was fit for habitation.141 Rome had certainly suffered, but the dramatic ancient assessments of the extent of the damage have to be viewed with some caution. It was almost inevitable that Romans would see a close and significant connection between the Fire and the Gallic destruction some centuries ­earlier. Dio describes the association in only the most general terms, claiming that the AD 64 fire made ­people think of how the city had previously been devastated by the Gauls.142 Tacitus reports that some drew attention to the curious coincidence that the AD 64 fire had occurred on July 19, the anniversary of the day of the sack by the Senones.143 For o ­ thers, he claims, ­there was an even more mystical connection. Someone calculated that an exactly equal number of years, months, and days elapsed between the two disasters. The Gauls had The ­Great Fire  •  107

(by tradition) burned Rome on July 19, 390 BC (almost certainly not the correct date). The 454 years between 390 BC and AD 64 is the equivalent of 418 years plus 418 months plus 418 days.144 The very fact that the totals are repeated three times, three being a mystical number, endows the prophecy with even greater magical significance.145 Similarly, ­after the G ­ reat Fire of London, p ­ eople noted that the figure 666, the sign of the Beast in Revelations, was enshrined in the date of the fire, 1666.146 For ­those who subscribe to the idea of some overarching cosmic plan, it is always ­going to be tempting to assume that such a plan is the result of some ­great moral imperative, paradoxically that accidents do not happen accidentally. To see Nero as the agent of cosmic destruction was a logical next step. The most striking physical reminder of the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64 ironically does not belong to the Neronian period, but rather to the reign of Domitian (AD 81–96). It takes the form of a series of altars erected by that ­later emperor to commemorate the aftermath of the fire of AD 64 and to draw a nice contrast between himself and Nero.147 The so-­ called Arae Incendii (Altars of the Fire, the name is relatively recent) ­were monumental altars built to honor Vulcan, the god of fire, in fulfillment of a vow that was made, but not fulfilled, as the accompanying inscription explains to us, at the time when the city burned for nine days “during Neronian times” (Neronianis temporibus). One of the altars has survived. We have no way of knowing how many w ­ ere originally erected, but we can be fairly certain that ­there ­were at least three, on the basis of the three dedicatory inscriptions that have turned up in three dif­fer­ent places: (a) near the Vatican, (b) on the Aventine, and (c) on the Quirinal (where the one surviving altar is located). None of ­these inscriptions has survived, they are known now only from copies made at the time of discovery. The first inscription to be recorded was copied by Giacomo Mazocchi in 1521. He noted that the inscribed stone had been brought from elsewhere as building material for St. Peter’s Basilica; clearly the fact that the inscription was found in the Vatican area offers no clue to its original location.148 The second example was discovered in 1618, apparently at the foot of the Aventine where the slope ­faces the southwest side of the Circus Maximus.149 The copy that was made then seems to be based not on the stone itself but on the transcription that 108 • chapter III

3.28. Ara Incendii on Quirinal. C. Hülsen.

Mazocchi had made of the Vatican example. It is pos­si­ble that the Aventine inscription was in very poor shape but enough of it survived to show that it would have been identical to the one found in 1521 and copied then. The accompanying account of the find, with its description of the steps and cippi (stone markers) in the altar’s precinct (surviving for a while but since lost), matches very closely the sole surviving example of the third altar, located on the Quirinal. The Quirinal example almost certainly could not have been known in 1618, and it is hard therefore not to assume that a precinct like the one surviving on the Quirinal also existed at one time on the Aventine, and that yet another had stood in the unknown location where the Vatican inscription originated. The third example of the inscription is the most complete. Its inscription stone was discovered in 1642 during the construction of the Church of Sant’Andrea on the Quirinal, and was copied soon afterward; the text of the copy was deposited in the Vatican, but the original stone is now lost, so that once again the text survives only in a transcription. ­After the initial discovery in 1642, the Quirinal site was ignored ­until 1888, when excavations in the area unearthed the substantial remains of the altar and its precinct. The travertine core of the altar has survived, and it is on a monumental scale, 3.25 m wide, 6.25 m long, 1.26 m high. The top is missing. The extant base molding still bears its marble cladding in places, and the altar itself would almost certainly have been veneered in marble—­the holes for metal clamps in the travertine are still evident. It stands on a platform that rises on the south The ­Great Fire  •  109

and west sides in two steps from a travertine pavement, which in turn was sunk about a meter below street level, three steps down. The front of the pavement was marked off by a series of 1.4-­meters-­high cippi, mentioned above, with pyramid-­shaped tops, standing at intervals between 2.5 and 3 meters and delineating the precinct. The most complete copy of the inscription is the one found in association with this precinct on the Quirinal and now held by the Vatican.150 ­There are small discrepancies between it and the other two versions, inevitably so, since we are dealing with copies made from original inscriptions in dif­fer­ent states of preservation and with varying degrees of legibility. ­These differences are not significant for the pre­sent purposes. The end of the inscription is very fragmentary: This area, inside this demarcated zone of stone markers, closed off by metal spikes, along with the altar which stands below, was dedicated by Imperator Caesar Domitian Augustus (5), as the consequence of a vow that was undertaken, but which was neglected for a long time and was not fulfilled, for the purpose of warding off fires, when the city burned over nine days (10) during the Neronian period. It is dedicated with this stipulation, that it is forbidden to anyone to construct a building, to remain established, or to carry out business, to locate a tree (15), or to plant anything, within the confines of this area, and that the praetor allotted responsibility for this spot, or another magistrate, ­shall perform a sacrifice on the Volcanalia,151 on the tenth day preceding the Kalends of September (20), e­ very year, in the form of a red calf and a red pig, along with prayers . . . ​written below . . . ​Kalends of September . . . ​to be given . . . ​which (25) Imperator Caesar Domitian Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, laid down.

The text of the inscription contains a wealth of information. It gives us an idea of the day of the dedication, not a precise one, ­because of the fragmentary condition of the last part of the text, but clearly some time in August (before the Kalends of September). The inscription denotes instructions for rites to be performed to Vulcan, the God of Fire, on his annual festival on August 23, and it is very pos­si­ble that the altar was dedicated on that same day. The dedication was made by the emperor Domitian, who holds the title “Germanicus,” which he did not assume u ­ ntil AD 83, prob­ably ­after the m ­ iddle of the year (hence virtually ruling out a dedication in AD 83). Since ­there are no 110 • chapter III

other dating indicators, this means that the altar could have been dedicated in August in any year from 84 to 96, when Domitian was assassinated, on September 18. As ­will be argued below, an ­earlier rather than a ­later date may be preferable.152 The inscription places ­great emphasis on the sacred character of the precinct, emphatically spelling out the activities that are not allowed, such as the planting of trees or the carry­ing out of business or commercial activities. It also indicates that the precinct is guarded by a spiked railing. Sacred spaces ­were of course just that, sacred, but it is not usual to have the conditions of their sanctity laid out so starkly or reference made to a railing as a way of emphasizing that their sanctity was to be preserved at all costs. This may offer a clue to the history of the precinct. Clearly the altar is being dedicated in fulfilment of a vow undertaken ­earlier by Nero. The occasion of the vow was quando urbs . . . ​arsit (“when the city . . . ​ burned”), expressed in the perfect/preterite tense. If Nero had made the vow while the fire was actually burning, we would naturally have expected the imperfect tense, ardebat (“was burning”), and it is accordingly more likely than not that Nero’s vow came ­after the fire. That said, the perfect tense does not categorically exclude a con­ temporary event—­epigraphic Latin is not Ciceronian Latin. Clearly, also, the vow was not fulfilled by Nero. But could it have been partially filled? It is pos­si­ble that the precinct (and o ­ thers in the series) was begun by Nero but not completed by him. We do know that a­ fter the fire he dutifully went through a series of religious rituals. The unfinished structure may then have suffered some twenty years of neglect, during which its sanctity was routinely ignored, and b ­ ecause of this past negligence the inviolate nature of the site needed to be emphasized by Domitian when he made his own dedication. Perhaps most frustratingly, the inscription does not tell us how many altars w ­ ere dedicated, nor does it tell us why it was determined that a series of them was needed, instead of a single, individual, one. It has long been speculated that one altar could have been dedicated in each of the fourteen regions of Rome, which is plausible but totally speculative. It has also been suggested that the altars may have been intended to show the extent of the fire by marking its outer limits.153 If so, the locations of the two known altars are surprising. The Quirinal is thought to have escaped the fire. The north side of the The ­Great Fire  •  111

Aventine was close to the heart of the blaze, but the altar was found near the bottom of the slope, and it seems remarkable that the flames could not have traveled any farther up the hill.154 Also, if such was the purpose of the altars, the inscription for some reason chose not to mention the fact—­unless the information appeared ­after the surviving text breaks off. The altar is, of course, part of the story of Domitian as well as of Nero. It allowed Domitian to draw a stark contrast between himself and a ruler that the Flavian emperors ­were happy to denigrate. The use of the phrase Neronianis temporibus (during the Neronian period) is telling. It identifies the fire, but by using an adjectival form of Nero’s name it avoids using his official nomenclature, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, along with its full panoply of titles, which would have served to elevate the status of an emperor declared an ­enemy (hostis) by the senate immediately before his death, whose names would have been removed from inscriptions and who may well have been suspected at this time of being the instigator of the fire. At the very least Nero had shirked his responsibility; Domitian by contrast had outdone himself, performing not only the duties incumbent upon himself, but even t­hose duties neglected by Nero. Domitian may also have had a very specific motive. He may have felt that he was in an awkward position. It might well be true that the Neronian fire of AD 64 was the most devastating one that Rome had suffered since the time of the Gallic invasion, as Dio asserts.155 But all the same, the fire of AD 80, a mere sixteen years l­ater, was a major disaster, and if not quite on the scale of its pre­de­ces­sor, it was a truly devastating event. Domitian could, of course, disclaim narrow personal responsibility, since the fire occurred u ­ nder Titus, who did feel a massive personal sense of guilt over what happened.156 But Titus was Domitian’s b ­ rother and a fellow member of the Flavian dynasty. If ­there was popu­lar resentment over the fire of AD 80—­and inevitably, even if they deserve neither credit nor blame, governing administrations tend to get their share of one or the other when t­hings go well or badly u ­ nder their watch—­some of the mud would have stuck to Domitian also. ­There is something that at first sight seems decidedly odd about Domitian carry­ing out rites provoked by the fire of AD 64 and ignoring the fire of AD 80. But it might not actually be so odd. If Nero did vow to es112 • chapter III

tablish a series of monumental altars honoring Vulcan throughout the city, and then failed to follow up on his promise, then the implication might be that the blame for the fire of AD 80 could additionally be placed at Nero’s door, and also that Domitian as a responsible princeps was taking mea­sures to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of that happening again. Of course, the inscription does not come out and say that Nero should take at least some of the blame for the AD 80 fire—an overt and explicit allusion to that l­ater calamity would not have been good public relations, hence the message is promoted indirectly rather than directly. This may also explain why in the inscription Nero is not blamed for the events of AD 64. The emphasis is not on his pos­si­ble direct responsibility for the fire, but rather on the neglect of his duties as princeps, and hence his indirect responsibility for the ­later fire. If this scenario is the correct one, then a date for the altar’s dedication in AD 84 (­after Domitian received the title of Germanicus), or not much ­later, when the feelings over the AD 80 fire ­were likely to be very strong still, would be preferable, although far from proved. If it serves no other purpose, the altar does illustrate why the fire of AD 64 is Rome’s “­Great Fire.” The city suffered a terrible disaster in AD 80, but the monument shows that even a conflagration on that scale stood in the shadow of what had already acquired the status of the Alpha and Omega of Rome’s fires, the archetypal point of reference, an event that had already captured the popu­lar imagination and was on its way to becoming an iconic symbol of the Rome of antiquity.

The ­Great Fire  •  113

IV Responsibility

If we are to believe the accounts preserved in the literary sources, the ­Great Fire of AD 64 had metamorphosed into the Neronian Fire almost before the flames had fi­nally died down. Even at the height of the blaze, we are told, when ­people ­were fleeing in panic from their homes, rumors ­were already rife about the emperor using the burning city as some sort of theatrical backdrop.1 Before the year ended, according to Tacitus’s Annals, the rumors had grown nastier, with suggestions that not only had Nero behaved outrageously during the fire but had personally ordered that Rome be burned down.2 The motive for this supposed incendiary be­hav­ior varies, depending on the whim of the narrator: it was ­either to replace the city with something much more attractive, or to acquire vacant land for his Golden House, or to seek inspiration for his poetic creativity, or simply to satisfy his lust for cruelty. But what­ever his motive, his guilt is unequivocal: Nero was an arsonist.3 In addressing the detailed arguments surrounding the issue of Nero’s guilt, we might begin with a broad observation about major fires. ­There is in fact not a single recorded instance in history where an individual is known to have set out to burn down a large city, and succeeded. Critics might cite Catherine O’Leary, whose cow supposedly kicked over a lamp in 1871 and destroyed much of Chicago, or the baker, Thomas Farriner, whose premises caught fire in 1666 with such devastating consequences for London. What­ever the truth about ­these events, and, certainly in the case of Mrs. O’Leary, t­here is prob­ably very ­little of it—­the villain was not Mr. Farriner, or Mrs. O’Leary, or even her cow.4 They certainly did not set out deliberately to cause such

havoc, they ­were merely incidental players in a larger tragedy. The archvillain of both of ­these disasters was not a malicious arsonist, it was mainly the wind, aided by aggravating circumstances—­dry conditions, congested buildings, extensive wood construction. Major conflagrations, the “­great fires,” are essentially a ­matter of chance. Of course, someone can intentionally set fire to an individual building, even a group of them, and that fire might u ­ nder certain conditions spread throughout a city. But the secret destruction of an entire city by fire simply cannot be planned with even the tiniest serious prospect of success. ­There is thus something wonderfully absurd about the way that Tacitus’s statement that Nero could have been responsible for burning down much of Rome is followed by the observation that the fire broke out in the stock of a shop adjoining the Circus Maximus.5 The deliberate and premeditated arson of a w ­ hole city would require participation on such a massive scale that ­there could be no thought of keeping the scheme secret. In the case, say, of the destruction by fire of some four-­fifths of Moscow in 1812 at the hands of Rus­sian partisans during Napoleon’s occupation of the city, the fires w ­ ere the consequence of sustained and widespread h ­ uman intervention in a public statement of defiance, with no pretense made afterward that they ­were accidental. Thus, at the very outset t­ hese general considerations seriously weaken the case against Nero. ­There are several other arguments against the case for Neronian responsibility. ­There was a full moon on the night of July 17, AD 64.6 That full moon ­rose over the city, in modern terms, on July 16, two minutes ­after 7 pm, local time, and set on the following morning, July 17, at four minutes a­ fter 4 am. The precise point of maximum fullness was eight minutes ­after 2 am on July 17. We can with some confidence place the initial outbreak of the fire only two days l­ ater, on July 19. The ancients w ­ ere much more conscious of the effect of moonlight than we are in our modern, light-­polluted cities. Rome could have been deliberately set on fire, and t­ here might have been some very modest operational advantages for the arsonist when the moon was almost full, but t­hese would have been massively offset by its being pretty much the worst pos­si­ble time to act discreetly. It would be distinctly perverse for conspirators to plan arson for that point in the lunar calendar. Responsibility • 115

Moreover, the notion that Nero wanted to destroy the city in order to build his extravagant palace, the Golden House, one of the familiar motives ascribed to him, makes l­ittle, if any, sense. He could have expropriated the land he needed for the proj­ect on the basis of an eminent state need. If he wanted to avoid the pos­si­ble stigma of such an abuse of power, he could have paid for it, like Augustus, who in the Res Gestae states that he built his forum (and the ­Temple of Mars Ultor) on land that he purchased with booty from his campaigns.7 It might be argued that Nero could save money by burning down the city and then acquiring the damaged or destroyed properties in what would literally be a fire sale. But in fact the cost of coping with the disaster proved to be enormous, so serious that it almost certainly led to the debasing of Rome’s silver coinage (see chapter 7), and the expense surely must have far outstripped the potential cost of acquiring the land needed through a normal pro­cess of buying up the desired real estate. Also, the Circus Maximus would have been about the worst pos­si­ble place, from Nero’s own private point of view, to start the fire. It runs below the southwestern slopes of the Palatine Hill, where the main landowner was none other than the emperor himself. Tacitus tells us specifically that Nero’s property on the Palatine did burn down, and it follows that the opportunity to build the Golden House became pos­ si­ble only through the destruction of its pre­de­ces­sor, Nero’s Domus Transitoria.8 In fact, of all the ­owners who suffered materially as a result of the fire, Nero almost certainly would have stood at the very top of the list. The only other individual specifically identified as losing his property during the fire, leaving aside Caecina Largus’s fine nettle trees (see below and chapter 3), was Nero’s close crony, the Prefect Tigellinus, whose Aemilian estate was destroyed.9 At some point before the fire Nero had de­cided to escape the discomfort of high summer in Rome for his coastal villa in Antium, and he was still ­there when the fire broke out.10 His absence seems to preclude any notion that he arranged the fire to find inspiration for a ­great poetic epic to rival the ancient descriptions of the Sack of Troy. If this had been his intention he would surely e­ ither have remained in the city at the outset, or have returned as soon as word of the fire reached him—no one could have ­imagined on that first night that it would actually burn for nine days. But, as it is reported to us, he did 116 • chapter IV

neither. He reputedly stayed in Antium u ­ ntil he heard that his palace complex, the Domus Transitoria, was threatened by the flames. If this is an accurate account of his movements, it is surely the account of someone reacting to circumstances, not dictating them. It thus seems very unlikely that Nero could have been responsible for the fire that devastated Rome in AD 64. But the issue remains a fascinating one, since the ­whole confection of culpability that enveloped him has become a topic in its own right, worthy of study not so much ­because it might shed light on how Rome came to be burned down, but ­because of what it reveals about the power of myth during a time of disaster, and about how myth can eventually assume a kind of real­ity in the collective mind. That Nero might have been blamed for the fire at the time it happened is not surprising; it could in fact be anticipated. ­People ­were driven to the extremes of desperation and inevitably they would find it impossible to accept that the disaster was l­ittle more than a piece of bad luck, a random combination of purely contingent circumstances. In such times, p ­ eople need desperately to be assured that what­ever happens must happen for some reason, that we are not at the mercy of nature’s whim. In AD 64, someone had to be responsible, ­there had to be a villain, and the man in charge would be the obvious target. Similarly, a­ fter the fire of London in 1666, one of the suspects, among a motley assortment of ­imagined French, Dutch, and Papist scoundrels, was none other than the king himself, Charles II, supposedly intent on revenge against London for the ­earlier execution ­there of his ­father, Charles I. The more in­ter­est­ing issue ­after the AD 64 fire is not why ­people might have clutched at the straw of Neronian guilt when emotions w ­ ere at their peak, but how this seemingly implausible notion of Nero the arsonist, helped along by Flavian propaganda, became so firmly entrenched, and why that belief has in a sense persisted down to t­ oday, becoming, outside the rarefied circles of sober Classical researchers, an idée fixe that all but excludes almost e­ very other possibility. One explanation is that to most ­people Nero seems exactly the kind of person who would burn down his city. Much, though not all, of what is attributed to the Neros or Caligulas of this world w ­ ill inevitably be part of the stock profile of the ste­reo­typical tyrant, to be regarded Responsibility • 117

with grave suspicion. Caligula supposedly lamented the fact that his reign had not been made famous by some disaster, and b ­ ecause of this wished vari­ous forms of destruction, including fire, on his p ­ eople. The eccentric emperor Commodus was also reputedly suspected of ordering the major fire that burned down much of Rome in AD 192.11 Clearly, tyrants are expected to be repressed arsonists. Hence, any smear of arson would have had a very good chance of sticking to Nero ­because deliberately setting fire to Rome would be perfectly in character for a depraved tyrant like him. ­Whether or not he deserved this reputation is beside the point. But that he suffered from just such a ste­reo­type is confirmed by the stories that circulated about him just before the end of his life. When the revolt of Julius Vindex broke out in Gaul in early AD 68, initiating the final chain of events that would lead to Nero’s downfall, Suetonius says that he “is believed” (creditur) to have conceived a number of horrendous deeds of wickedness (immania), which, Suetonius says, ­were in conformity with his nature (non abhorrentia a natura sua), a statement almost guaranteed to preface a list of ste­reo­typical acts of cruelty. And so it does. ­These proj­ects included executing his legionary commanders and provincial governors, poisoning the entire senate, letting wild beasts loose on the ­people, and, importantly for our purposes, burning down the city (urbem incendere). Reputedly it was only the impracticality of seeing through the mea­sures that ultimately deterred him. Thus, Nero as arsonist is seen as playing out a role ideally suited to his character, an image attached to him in a context quite separate from the ­Great Fire: no connection with the fire of AD 64 is made by Suetonius h ­ ere. From this potpourri of final evil schemes that Nero had conjured up, according to Suetonius, it is worth noting that Dio, writing a c­ entury ­later, saw fit to select only two: that Nero was determined to murder the senate and to burn down Rome.12 When did ­people start to accuse Nero of arson? If we are to believe the much ­later account preserved in Tacitus’s Annals, rumors about his guilt began to circulate very soon a­ fter the event, and the emperor had to look for scapegoats to avert the blame from himself, all of which is dated to somewhere in the latter part of AD 64. But that evidence is very complicated, and it would be imprudent to place too much reliance on it (see chapter 5). We do come across a very specific accusa118 • chapter IV

tion during the first part of the following year, following the exposure of the so-­called Pisonian Conspiracy in early AD 65 (see chapter 7). One of the adherents, the Praetorian tribune Subrius Flavus, when charged with involvement, tried to worm his way out of trou­ble, but then, realizing that his case was hopeless, de­cided to make his exit on a note of defiance. He boldly declared that he had been loyal to Nero as long as the emperor deserved it, but that Nero had betrayed this loyalty. Tacitus has Subrius list the aberrant acts that had caused this change of heart. ­There was Nero’s murder of his m ­ other, Agrippina, and of his wife, Octavia, his chariot racing, presumably with reference not so much to the activity itself but to participation in public races, his acting (an ironical complaint, given that Piso, the leader of the putsch, also performed on the stage), and fi­nally, emphatically at the end of the list, the fact that Nero was an arsonist (incendiarius extitisti).13 Subrius is an in­for­mant who deserves to be heard, as he was clearly a man of some standing.14 His abiding loyalty to Agrippina suggests that he might have been one of ­those men who moved from a legionary posting to the Praetorian guard in the 50s, when as Claudius’s wife she used her influence to build up support in Rome for the young Nero.15 To become a tribune in the guard normally required long ser­ vice in the legions, progressing to the se­nior rank of centurion. An accusation from an officer with Subrius Flavus’s credentials, someone who was constantly in the emperor’s presence, carries much more weight than the vague rumors reported in Suetonius and Dio. Subrius asserted that he had originally thought of assassinating Nero during the fire, when the emperor was rushing about from place to place without any guard, and presumably he must have been with Nero at the time of the fire for his claim to have been even remotely plausible.16 All that said, we should not stand too much in awe of Subrius’s seemingly impressive qualifications. Had t­ here been a formal inquiry ­after the fire along the lines of a modern investigation, with immunity granted to the witnesses and the opportunity for cross-­examination, then the testimony of someone with his first-­hand knowledge would carry considerable weight. But we must keep in mind, first, that we are dealing h ­ ere with the declaration of a man about to die, at the hands of the ruler he served and whom he eventually betrayed. He Responsibility • 119

might have de­cided to go out in a blaze of high-­minded glory, and in such circumstances could have been happy to strike out at Nero with what­ever weapon was handy. Moreover, it must be remembered also that we are dealing ­here with hearsay, not with a transcript of a proceeding. Subrius may well have denounced Nero in the face of death, and t­hose words may well have been conveyed by someone in attendance to a third party. But ­there is always the risk that, along with the acknowledged claims that Nero had indulged in chariot racing and acting, and that he was responsible for the deaths of his m ­ other and first wife, the rumored but unsubstantiated charge that he was an incendiary might simply have been tacked on l­ater, when it was fash­ion­able to depict Nero in such terms.17 In a list of Nero’s crimes composed by the pro-­Roman Jewish writer Josephus soon ­after AD 75, just a de­ cade or so a­ fter the fire, Josephus includes the murder of Nero’s b ­ rother (Britannicus), his wife and his ­mother, and other close relatives, as well as his per­for­mances on the public stage, but interestingly does not mention responsibility for the fire.18 Hence Subrius’s purported charge might have been added afterward, perhaps u ­ nder the Flavians, to the stock crimes traditionally associated with the emperor. ­There is also the risk that Subrius’s entire speech might be a rhetorical confection, in­ven­ted perhaps during the Flavian period, to depict him as the noble victim of a ruthless autocrat. It is worth noting that his blatant hy­poc­risy is passed over in discreet silence by Tacitus. Subrius had served Nero loyally, he insisted, ­until Nero betrayed his trust. But the earliest act of betrayal that he mentions was the murder of Agrippina, in March 59, and Subrius seems to have been perfectly happy to put his ­career first and to go on serving for more than five years afterward, in the se­nior rank of tribune for at least part of that time. And, fi­nally, we cannot discount the role of ­simple malice. Even an individual with Subrius’ sterling credentials might feel impelled to recycle rumors if he has an axe to grind.19 All that we can confidently say about the words attributed to him are that they preserve a tradition that in AD 65 a Praetorian officer had charged Nero with some role in starting the fire. But as evidence for what actually happened in AD 64, they invite serious caution. Even in the very unlikely event that Subrius did have valid inside information, ­there is no way of knowing ­whether it would have per120 • chapter IV

colated among the masses. Dio claims that p ­ eople cursed Nero with ­every curse ­under the sun. But this charge illustrates how carefully we need to h ­ andle Dio’s evidence. He admits that they did not actually name Nero, they merely cursed “­those who had set fire to the city.” Dio thus extrapolates that they must have meant Nero, a huge assumption and a claim that clearly fails to meet modern standards of evidence. He may be right that Romans disparaged ­those responsible, but if they declined to attack Nero by name, they most likely failed to do so for the s­ imple reason that they did not believe he was one of the guilty. Their curses reflect a desire to blame somebody. ­People apparently had no clear idea who was the arsonist, they w ­ ere merely convinced that somebody was. But not necessarily Nero.20 It is pos­si­ble that a second individual associated with the Pisonian conspiracy publicly accused Nero of setting the fire but did so more opaquely than Subrius. Some of the names attached to the plot, ­either of active participants or of innocent bystanders caught up in the aftermath, w ­ ere very prominent. Seneca, most likely in the second category, is arguably the best known. But a close second must surely be Seneca’s nephew, the celebrated poet Annaeus Lucanus, Lucan.21 Born in AD 39 in Corduba (Cordova), Spain, the son of Seneca’s younger ­brother Annaeus Mela, Lucan came to Rome as an infant. He was something of a literary prodigy: Tacitus puts him in the same superstar class as Rome’s two poetic luminaries, Horace and Vergil.22 His poetic talents brought him into the intimate circle that formed around Nero, and the connection proved useful, since at some point he is said to have held a quaestorship, even though he was still only twenty-­six years old at the time of his death in AD 65. Tacitus claims that tensions arose between the poet and Nero as a result of professional envy. The emperor reputedly saw Lucan as a rival and tried to suppress public exposure of his work, and their relationship became acrimonious.23 Lucan was implicated in the conspiracy and did not clothe himself in glory. Strenuously denying any involvement, he reputedly accused his own ­mother in an attempt to save his own skin. His efforts proved to be in vain: he was forced to commit suicide.24 According to Suetonius’s brief biography, Lucan attacked Nero and the emperor’s most power­ful friends in a “scurrilous poem” (famoso Responsibility • 121

carmine). The work is not named, but it might be identified with one of his now lost works, the De Incendio Urbis (On the Burning of the City), mentioned by Vacca, another of Lucan’s biographers.25 Another poet, Statius, active at the end of the first ­century AD, may have alluded to this work when he wrote an appreciation of Lucan, composed in the 90s AD ­toward the end of Domitian’s reign. He imagines the Muse Calliope prophesying the poems that Lucan w ­ ill compose and predicting that “you ­will speak of the horrendous flames of the guilty tyrant (domini nocentis) ranging over the heights of Remus.”26 If Statius is actually paraphrasing Lucan’s own words, this would strongly suggest that Lucan held Nero responsible for the fire. Of course it is pos­si­ble that Lucan described the fire in far more neutral terms and that Statius gilded the lily by including the opinions of his own day. If we exclude the pos­si­ble allusion to Nero’s guilt in Lucan, it may be that the first recorded claim that Nero was responsible for the fire is made in a historical tragedy, the Octavia. This play was transmitted in the manuscripts among the works of Seneca, but its content leaves no doubt that it must postdate Seneca, and even postdate Nero. It has been placed by scholars as early as within a year of Nero’s death, between June, AD 68 and early 69, during the brief reign of Galba, but it is more usually assigned to some ­later point ­under the Flavians.27 It deals with the events of AD 62, when Nero divorced his first wife, Octavia. ­These events antedate the fire, of course, but an allusion to the disaster is contrived by a prophetic utterance in which Nero invokes a fiery destruction on the city (line 831): “soon let the city’s dwellings collapse in my flames” (flammis . . . ​meis). The ­simple addition of the adjective “my” (meis) to the flames (flammis) leaves no doubt about the emperor’s supposed role. Given the uncertainty over the play’s date, however, and the possibility that it could be Flavian, or even l­ater, the Octavia cannot be cited for attitudes prevalent during or soon ­after Nero’s reign. When we turn to more securely datable authorities, we might start with a piece of negative evidence. As noted above, in about AD 75 Josephus provides a list of Nero’s crimes, but makes no mention of any responsibility for the fire.28 On the other hand, Nero does seem at first glance to be blamed by an older con­temporary of the emperor, the Elder Pliny. In his account of the particularly fine lotos trees found on 122 • chapter IV

the Palatine, published in AD 77 in The Natu­ral History (see chapter 3), Pliny says that the trees lasted u ­ ntil Nero’s fires (ad Neronis principis incendia), in the years when he burned down the city. Pliny adds that the trees would have remained green and youthful had the princeps not speeded up the death of trees as well (ni princeps ille adcelerasset etiam arborum mortem).29 The “as well” (etiam) presumably implies that Nero killed trees as well as p ­ eople as a result of the fire. This does seem pretty damning. But all is not as it appears. The words “in the years when he burned down the city” (quibus cremavit urbem annis postea) do not appear in one of Pliny’s manuscripts (MS D) and as far back as 1868 w ­ ere dismissed from the other manuscripts as a ­later gloss (a comment added by a scribe).30 Also, in the final part of the sentence t­ here is a very awkward repetition of the word princeps. ­There is also the equally awkward unspecific etiam (“also”), which seems to suggest that Nero killed ­people also, but ­those unspecified ­people have not been previously mentioned. Hence it is very pos­si­ble that the phrase blaming Nero is a ­later addition to Pliny’s manuscript, supplied by a scribe trying to be helpful and informative, or perhaps just mischievous.31 Pliny does refer to the “fires of the emperor Nero” (Neronis principis incendia) in the uncontested part of the manuscript, which might be intended to convey the notion of Neronian guilt. But the phrase could be simply a chronological marker. Clearly it would be dangerous to use Pliny as evidence of a general belief in his time that Nero had set fire to Rome. Frustratingly, all the points of evidence that can be arrayed in f­ avor of a belief in Nero’s guilt turn out on close inspection to be ambiguous at best. In fact the first explicit and documented claim that Nero was responsible for the fire is made no ­earlier than the final years of Domitian’s reign (he died in AD 96), in the line of the Silvae of Statius, quoted above, about the flames of the guilty tyrant ranging over Rome’s heights.32 As noted, the line may well paraphrase part of a lost poem of Lucan and point to claims in circulation before early AD 65. Of this we cannot be sure, but at the very least it does show that ­there was a common belief by the end of the first c­ entury that Nero had been responsible for the fire. And clearly that belief was being cheerfully broadcast by ­those seeking to curry f­avor with the current regime. It must be stressed, of course, that we are talking h ­ ere of a belief in Nero’s Responsibility • 123

guilt, rather than a­ ctual guilt. Also, we are talking about an informal belief. For all their denigration of Nero, the Flavian emperors never officially blamed him for the fire. The altars erected by Domitian to propitiate Vulcan in the aftermath of the fire of AD 80 (see chapter 3) are critical of Nero for neglecting his similar obligations ­after the fire of AD 64, but they fall short of holding him criminally culpable for the fire itself. In addition, the claims of Nero’s responsibility are not universal. Martial, who is roughly contemporaneous with Statius, can be a severe critic of Nero and attacks him for exploiting the devastation of the city to build his Golden House (see chapter 6).33 But Martial makes no allusion whatsoever to any rumor that the emperor had been an ­actual incendiary. It seems, then, that by the close of the first c­ entury AD, at the very latest, it was being asserted by writers like Statius that Nero was responsible for the fire. Certainly, a generation l­ater, to judge from Suetonius’s Nero, the idea had taken a firm hold, to the extent that Suetonius does not consider any alternative to Neronian guilt. Around the same time, Tacitus, perhaps reluctantly, does note some difference of opinion. A ­century ­later Dio says nothing of dissenting voices when he simply portrays Nero as an arsonist. In the accounts transmitted by Suetonius, Tacitus, and Dio, certain themes are common to at least two, if not all three, but they differ in their precise details. Suetonius claims that when the familiar line of an unnamed Greek tragedian, in the spirit of Louis XV’s après moi le deluge, was quoted by someone in casual conversation, “Let the earth catch fire ­after I die,” Nero retorted in Latin “No” (immo), then, in Greek: “While I’m alive.”34 This is not inherently implausible; Nero’s alleged response is of someone ­eager to foster an image of a quin­tes­ sen­tial enfant terrible. But phrases designed to make us seem clever and witty, and perhaps slightly outrageous, often come back to haunt us when ­later taken out of context and used as weapons against us. This is surely what is happening ­here: Suetonius pre­sents the witticism as formal evidence of Nero’s long-­ term intention to burn down Rome. Dio also quotes the very same line, which he calls a well-­known quotation (without identifying the playwright), but interestingly he has it quoted not by Nero, but by Tiberius, in his l­ater years, with Tiberius thinking gleefully of the chaos to be 124 • chapter IV

inflicted on the world u ­ nder his likely successor, Caligula.35 ­Unless Dio simply made a m ­ istake ­here, and misattributed the quip, it seems that a bon mot voiced originally by Tiberius has been recycled to darken Nero’s character. To compound the confusion, Dio has Nero indiscreetly making public his plans to destroy Rome, in declaring that Priam had been fortunate in witnessing the simultaneous end both of his rule and of his country (the phrase is discussed ­later in this chapter).36 But Dio also attributes exactly the same sentiment to Tiberius, in that same ­earlier context, of Tiberius anticipating the disastrous accession of Caligula.37 The two expressions seem to have become clichéd doublets, to be attributed to almost anyone the narrator might choose. Interestingly, Suetonius attributes to Tiberius a variant of the Priam anecdote, much more plausible in its context. Tiberius was wary of his grand­son by adoption, Caligula, but also despised his (Tiberius’s) natu­ ral grand­son, Tiberius Gemellus, whom he believed illegitimate—­ Gemellus’s ­mother, Livilla, had had an affair with the praetorian commander, Sejanus. Hence Tiberius supposedly declared that Priam was lucky to have outlived all his kin.38 We find a similar inconsistency in the treatment of what has become prob­ably the most celebrated incident of the fire. Dio tells us that, at the peak of the blaze, Nero climbed to “the highest point of the Palatine,” perhaps a reference to the hill as a w ­ hole, or maybe to the imperial palace specifically, presumably its roof, to get the very best view of the conflagration.39 He then took up the “paraphernalia of a cithara player” and went on to sing about the destruction of Troy (or a piece entitled “The Destruction of Troy,” Dio’s words can mean both). Suetonius provides a dif­fer­ent version of what is surely the same event.40 In his account, Nero climbs the Tower of Maecenas. This building is other­wise unknown, but must presumably be located not on the Palatine but in the Gardens of Maecenas, on the Esquiline, on the opposite side of the valley, which on Maecenas’s death had become imperial property.41 ­There is clearly a discrepancy between Suetonius and Dio ­here, and Suetonius’s version is the more plausible. The Palatine was undoubtedly at the very center of the conflagration almost from the outset, and would surely have been avoided by Nero, except perhaps in the role of firefighter. Once on the tower, Suetonius tells us, Nero was excited by the sight of the flames, which he thought w ­ ere t­hings Responsibility • 125

of beauty, and, dressed in a theatrical costume, sang the “Capture of Troy.” Tacitus provides a sober antidote to the danger of being swept up by a colorful anecdote. He offers us yet another, more restrained, version, that ­there was a rumor that while the city was burning down, Nero appeared on his private stage. In this private context, Tactus tells us, he sang about the destruction of Troy, drawing a comparison between what Troy had suffered in the past and what Rome was suffering in the pre­sent.42 Nero had ­limited himself to private stage per­for­ mances up to early 64, and it was in that year, not much before the fire, that he first appeared on stage in public, in Naples.43 Afterward his public stage appearances became much more common: he performed his own Troica in the orchestra of a theater in early AD 65, according to Dio, and Tacitus has him reciting an unspecified poem on the stage in the same year, at the Neronia.44 ­These ­later post-­fire public per­for­mances, which clearly included material on the Trojan War, might have provided grist for the rumor mill and may have prompted hostile speculation that the public recitations on the fall of Troy had been performed ­earlier in private, which would be expected, and that t­hese private per­for­mances had found their immediate inspiration in the destruction of Rome.45 Only Tacitus concedes that he is reporting nothing more than rumor, hence unverified and unsubstantiated gossip. But it was gossip that seemed to confirm Suetonius’s and Dio’s ste­reo­typed perception of Nero. Hence they opted simply to set aside Tacitus’s admirable caution and to pre­sent the rumor as factual narrative. We are of course heavi­ly dependent on our three main sources in assessing the guilt or other­wise of Nero, and it ­will be useful at this juncture to consider carefully how fair and detached their accounts are (the relevant texts appear near the end of the book). It ­will be most appropriate to begin with Tacitus, since his account is universally acknowledged to be the most informative and the most reliable of the three. When Tacitus introduces his narrative of the ­Great Fire of AD 64, he is explicit and unequivocal regarding one par­tic­u­lar detail—­that it was more devastating than any that had befallen the city before or ­after. But on the issue of responsibility he is far more ambivalent. It is reassuring that at the very outset he acknowledges two dif­fer­ent versions 126 • chapter IV

of the fire. One is that the disaster was an evil plot (dolus), conceived by the emperor, the other that it happened accidentally (forte). He determines that it is not pos­si­ble (incertum) to choose between the two.46 Despite his general contempt for Nero, Tacitus is scrupulously fair on this specific point of responsibility for the fire and resists any temptation to use the disaster as a stick to beat one of his bêtes noires.47 He had demonstrated a similar open-­mindedness about the destruction of one of the g­ reat landmarks of the late-­republican city, the famous Theater of Pompey, Rome’s first stone theater, which burned down during Tiberius’s reign in AD 22.48 That fire does not seem to have been set deliberately, and Tacitus stresses that it happened accidentally (fortuito, almost the same word as that used to describe the fire of AD 64). He also uses the same term for the accidental destruction of two hundred ships in port, along with another one hundred that had made their way up the Tiber, in AD 62.49 He had shown the same impartiality on the question of which faction burned down the Capitoline ­Temple in AD 69 (chapter 2), the supporters of Vespasian or ­those of Vitellius, where he describes the question as “open” (hic ambigitur).50 But in fact Tacitus’s account of the AD 64 fire is far more complex than it first appears. Despite his claim of professional integrity, his narrative is not nearly as bias-­free as we might be led to expect. While he does pre­sent the case nominally as still open, he skillfully packages the material in such a way that the reader is left with the impression that Nero’s conduct was outrageous and reprehensible, and the charge of arson made against him all but irrefutable. His account is in its own way a brilliant piece of partisan writing, leaving us with the sense that Nero could have burned down Rome, and, in fact, prob­ably did. Tacitus never openly accuses the emperor of incendiarism, but he does not need to. By selecting his facts carefully, by the cunning use of innuendo, he creates an impression of Nero the arsonist.51 In antiquity, fires ­were not simply unpredictable ­hazards of urban life, they ­were invested with a powerfully numinous significance. They could be omens of even greater disasters to come or manifestations of divine dis­plea­sure. Tacitus precedes his narrative of the AD 64 fire with an account of Nero’s excesses in Rome, encapsulated within the description of a banquet or­ga­nized by the Praetorian prefect and Neronian Responsibility • 127

favorite, Tigellinus, whose very name arouses suspicion and contempt. Tigellinus constructed a raft on the reservoir that supplied the ­water for the Lake of Agrippa, built in the Campus Martius in 25 BC. The raft was rowed by male prostitutes manning small tugs decorated with gold and ivory. The surrounding landscape was stocked with exotic animals imported from all quarters of the earth, and even the banks of the reservoir received their share of extraordinary marine creatures. The lakeside was dotted with brothels, ser­viced by high-­ class ­women frolicking naked on the banks, and in the eve­ning the ­whole place was brightly lit and echoed to the sounds of carousing. ­There Nero indulged in ­every imaginable vice. The happy goings-on ­were crowned by a wedding ceremony, with all the formal trappings of the traditional Roman ser­vice, augurs, wedding torches, a dowry, even a bridal veil worn by Nero himself. ­There he married the freedman Pythagoras, one of the members, as Tacitus puts it, of the gang of perverts.52 This lurid account is followed by a strikingly s­imple phrase—­ sequitur clades (“a disaster followed”). Responsible historian that he is, Tacitus does not explic­itly claim any formal connection between ­these two incidents, the “orgy” and the fire, but by listing them this way and by introducing his account of the fire with the word sequitur, where the historic pre­sent (“follows”) vividly emphasizes the immediacy of the sequence, he creates a connection in the reader’s mind, and attributes a moral responsibility for the fire to Nero, without needing to suggest that he applied the initial firebrand.53 Although Tacitus does not say so openly, the fire seems a form of divine retribution for the steady de­cadence of Rome ­under Nero’s stewardship.54 Tacitus initially pre­sents what seems a detached explanation of the fire’s origin. The fire broke out in the small booths and shops that lined the Circus Maximus, places that contained much combustible material and had proved to be a serious firetrap in the past and would again in the ­future. It was whipped up by the wind and spread through the densely built area with its narrow and twisting streets, which led to chaotic scenes as p ­ eople tried to escape.55 But at the end of his initial section he explic­itly reports what seems to be criminal be­hav­ior: “And nobody dared fight the fire: t­here ­were repeated threats from numerous ­people opposing efforts to extinguish it, and ­others openly hurled 128 • chapter IV

in firebrands and barked out that they ‘had their instructions.’ This was to give them more freedom to loot, or e­ lse they w ­ ere in fact u ­ nder 56 ­orders.” It sounds shocking and was intended to, but the idea that ­people should have been observed burning down buildings should not occasion any shock or surprise. When a conflagration is on such a scale that the flames cannot be extinguished, almost the only recourse available is to create a gap in their pro­gress. Ideally that gap would be created by the orderly de­mo­li­tion of buildings and the removal of the combustible debris. In an emergency, such a time-­consuming procedure is not a practicable option, and the only feasible course of action is to destroy the buildings in a series of controlled fires. Tacitus is almost certainly describing just such activity. Similarly, the “servants” seen burning down buildings, according to Suetonius, or the agents sent out to vari­ous parts of the city to “set fires,” in Dio’s account (see below, for both), are indeed almost certainly the emperor’s appointees, in that they are Vigiles, engaged in the perfectly normal pro­cess of creating firebreaks. That such firefighting mea­sures ­were implemented in AD 64 is l­ ater confirmed by Tacitus himself. He notes that when the fire was brought to an end (albeit a temporary one) below the Esquiline, on the sixth day, this was pos­si­ble only ­because buildings had been demolished over a vast area; the only weapon available against a fierce conflagration was a clear tract of ground and an open horizon.57 Tacitus is indirectly supported by Suetonius, who claims that stone granaries ­were demolished by military machines and set alight ­because they ­were on land that Nero desired for his Golden House.58 Firefighters in such circumstance would of course be working “­under ­orders” and would naturally make their authority known to any members of the public who tried to intervene. ­These unnamed individuals ­were clearly acting openly, with no concern whatsoever for secrecy. The total absence of any effort to conceal what they ­were ­doing speaks volumes about their lack of criminality. Tacitus does not offer this obvious rational explanation; instead, he confusingly suggests that the intruders w ­ ere just looters or perhaps r­eally ­were acting ­under o ­ rders. But ­after mentioning that second alternative, he artfully leaves the topic hanging in the air. The reader w ­ ill naturally ask “whose o ­ rders?” and Tacitus’s silence is designed to encourage us to supply the answer for ourselves—­“Nero’s,” Responsibility • 129

without offering any explanation of the circumstances ­under which such ­orders could have been reasonably and properly issued. ­After muddying the ­waters with his cryptic account of shadowy agents obeying instructions to burn down buildings, Tacitus mentions that Nero was in Antium when the fire started and did not return to Rome immediately, but waited ­until the fire threatened his own palace complex.59 The implication is patent—­Nero did not return to perform his duty as princeps, to fight the fire and take care of the citizenry, but with callous indifference stayed in comfort in Antium. His motive in eventually returning was purely personal and selfish, that is, to try to protect his own property. Tacitus omits the most obvious explanation for the delay, that Nero went back to Rome only when it became clear that the fire was serious.60 Tacitus now goes on to describe the relief mea­sures that Nero put into place. The emperor h ­ oused p ­ eople temporarily on the Campus Martius, erecting shelters for them and even placing some of them in his own homes. He brought in supplies from Ostia and from other communities and reduced the price of grain. All of this is surely commendable, but it does not garner a hint of praise from the historian, who says that the mea­sures w ­ ere popularia (“aimed at the ­people,” rather than “popu­lar,” for which the more usual term would be grata).61 ­These gestures proved unsuccessful, not necessarily b ­ ecause they failed to improve the lives of the Romans (Tacitus makes no comment on this possibility, e­ ither way), but b ­ ecause they failed to win popu­lar approval for Nero, the implication being that he had acted as he did for public relations reasons and not from any humanitarian impulse. And the reason it did not work was ­because of a rumor that had spread at the height of the fire, claiming Nero “had appeared on his private stage and sung about the destruction of Troy.” Now, Tacitus does concede that this story was a rumor (pervaserat rumor), but it is one that he thinks fit to repeat, with all the negative impact that ­will inevitably cause. ­People react differently to major disasters. Some two centuries before the G ­ reat Fire, in 146 BC, Publius Scipio Aemilianus is said to have wept at the sight of a devastated Carthage and to have drawn parallels with the destruction of Troy, even quoting lines from Homer’s Iliad.62 Robert Oppenheimer famously recited lines from the 130 • chapter IV

Bhagavad Gita on witnessing the first atomic test in 1945. John R. Chapin, who created the power­ful sketches of the ­Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 for Harper’s Weekly, candidly expresses the dilemma of the artist in the presence of g­ reat destruction, and the strug­gle between common humanity in the face of an utter horror and fascination with the awesomeness of disaster: “No language which I can command w ­ ill serve to convey any idea of the grandeur, the awful sublimity, of the scene.” Chapin elicits our understanding, even empathy.63 Nero has received much less generous h ­ andling. The Trojan War clearly fascinated him. He clearly looked upon his poem on the theme as one of his most significant compositions.64 It would not have been remarkable for him to draw a parallel between Troy’s annihilation and the conflagration that destroyed much of Rome. O ­ thers, a­ fter all, felt comfortable drawing parallels between the G ­ reat Fire and the Gallic sack. But the image of him reciting his poetry reinforces a caricature that has since become iconic, of an emperor fiddling while his city burns, indulging in his personal pastime when he should have been carry­ing out his duty as caring princeps. Tacitus next rec­ords that on the sixth day the fire came to a halt at the foot of the Esquiline, but then flared up again, with fewer h ­ uman casualties but enormous material destruction. That information is in  itself unremarkable. But he goes on to say that “that par­tic­u­lar conflagration caused a greater scandal ­because it had broken out on Tigellinus’s Aemilian estates; and it looked as if Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new city, one that was to be named a­ fter him.” 65 The claim is quite bizarre and the logic seems almost non-­existent. But we can see a pattern beginning to emerge. Tacitus’s formal position is that the cause of the fire is an open question. But where allegations harmful to Nero have been made, he ­will happily repeat them without any assessment of their worth. It is certainly true to say that Nero exploited the destruction caused by the fire to engage in a massive building program. But that is worlds away from demonstrating that he started the fire to create such an opportunity. And adding that Nero wanted to found a new city that would carry his own name simply adds a prejudicial note. Also, it might be objected that if Nero’s scheme was to acquire fire-­damaged property on the Esquiline, where a spectacular residential wing of the Domus Aurea would be built, he would Responsibility • 131

hardly have gone to such efforts to bring the fire to a stop at the foot of the hill. The implication seems to be that by starting the second fire on Tigellinus’s estate it was pos­si­ble to carry out the plan secretly (although the ­earlier reported bands of unidentified incendiaries seemingly gave ­little or no thought to secrecy). But, of course, deliberately starting the fire ­there would also have entailed the destruction of Tigellinus’s own property, surely a heavy price to pay. Tacitus continues with a fairly neutral account of the fine buildings destroyed by the fire.66 In itself this section is unexceptional, but it is in fact used as a preface to the next one, which begins with a claim that Nero exploited the destruction of his country (usus est patriae ruinis) to build his Golden House. Tacitus does not overtly claim that he subscribes to this view, but neither does he refute it, and merely by repeating the claim he reinforces the suspicion of arson in the reader’s mind. The rest of the chapter sets a prejudicial tone when it emphasizes the extravagance and luxury of the planned palace (implicitly drawing a contrast between it and the ­great losses suffered by the ordinary ­people).67 Tacitus next describes the mea­sures introduced by the emperor to deal with the immediate aftermath of the fire and to reduce the risk of similar disasters in the f­uture. We might expect him to pre­sent Nero in a good light h ­ ere, and to some extent he does. He acknowledges that the reforms ­were welcomed for their practical benefits and their aesthetic appeal. But even this praiseworthy action cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. P ­ eople found grounds for complaint, since the wider thoroughfares meant that buildings ­were not so close together and consequently provided less shade from the hot sun. The complaint is relatively trivial, but Tacitus does not bother to point this out, so that the section ends on this negative note, leaving a final impression that Nero’s post-­fire mea­sures ­were not broadly welcomed.68 ­There follows one of the most famous passages of Latin lit­er­a­ture, the most controversial episode in all of Tacitus’s works: Nero’s treatment of the Christians in the wake of the fire.69 The topic is dealt with in detail in the next chapter and only the highlights need be mentioned ­here. Nero, we are told, carried out certain rites to propitiate the gods. But neither t­hese, nor his acts of generosity, could quell the rumors that he had given the order for the fire. To put an end to the gossip, he 132 • chapter IV

looked for another group to blame and set his sights on the Christians, a handy target ­because they w ­ ere so unpop­u­lar (­until they ­were so cruelly punished, that is). The narrative that follows is highly contentious and the train of thought not always clear, perhaps deliberately so, but in essence they ­were convicted and sentenced to horrific punishments. It is observed that the Christians ­were “guilty” (­either in the view of Romans at the time or of the author of the passage), presumably guilty of the abominable practices associated with Chris­tian­ity, rather than of arson, although this is not made explicit. In any case ­people began to feel sorry for them ­because they ­were being punished not so much for the public good, but rather to satisfy Nero’s cruel urges. The theme of the passage then seems to be that the Christians got what they deserved, but that Nero still merits censure for being so ruthless as to give them what they deserved. Dealing with the aftermath of the fire would require enormous resources, and in such situations it is the responsibility of the government, in this specific case represented by the emperor himself, to raise the funds necessary to do the job. Nero seems to have been energetic in performing this task, to the extent that Tacitus claims that Italy was “devastated” by the mea­sures put in place (pervastata Italia), as ­were the provinces and allied states, as well as cities that ­were supposed to be immune from tribute. Tacitus provides no evidence that the funds ­were diverted to private or frivolous purposes. Rather, he shifts his focus to talk about the ­temples that ­were plundered of their trea­sures. We are not told how the wealth thus collected was spent, but Tacitus creates an image in the mind of the reader of Nero the looter, despoiling sacred sites for his own personal enrichment.70 Throughout his narrative Tacitus never overtly abandons his posture of lofty detachment. But he intentionally obfuscates, deliberately lays red herrings, intentionally focuses on negatives, so that the cumulative impression is of a wicked and culpable emperor, widely suspected of arson. Tacitus does, however, concede that ­there was some disagreement about ­whether Nero was an arsonist. Suetonius’s approach is quite dif­fer­ent. He would presumably have had access to essentially the same body of source material as had Tacitus, but he makes no effort to give Nero any benefit of the doubt in his account of the fire.71 Neronian guilt is assumed from the very first sentence, Responsibility • 133

where Suetonius states simply and dogmatically that “he burned down the city” and did so “openly.” He makes the bold assertion that Nero spared neither his p ­ eople nor his city and prefaces his description of the fire with the emperor’s supposed callous quip about hoping for the world’s destruction during his lifetime. This is followed by the s­ imple assertion that he clearly lived up to his aspiration.72 The hostile opening words set the tone for the ­whole of the fire episode, which is less an account of a historical event than a tract designed to expound Nero’s evil character. Having stated categorically that Nero fulfilled his ambition to destroy Rome, Suetonius explains what had motivated him, and his explanation is tortuous and patently unconvincing. He mentions Nero’s distaste for the “unsightliness of the old buildings and the narrow, winding streets.” Now this could provide a plausible, if not totally persuasive, reason for wanting to destroy a city, especially in the case of a visionary like Nero, desirous of creating a new Rome. In purely pragmatic terms any major reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the city would be much easier if the existing buildings have been cleared away beforehand. But the desire to obliterate the squalor of old Rome was not the real motive, if we are to believe Suetonius. H ­ ere the biographer plays a double game. He faced something of a conundrum: arson is a crime, but burning down an ugly old city to replace it with something better might not be seen as a totally heinous deed. Romans w ­ ere very familiar with the motif of the Phoenix, the mythical bird that e­ very ten centuries would immolate itself by fire to allow a new Phoenix to arise from the flames. Like the Phoenix, the Roman nation had in a sense been born out of fire. As expounded in the second book of Virgil’s g­ reat national epic, The Aeneid, their origins could be traced to the escape of the archetypal hero Aeneas from the burning city of Troy and his journey to Italy to found a new nation. This motif is often used positively. Thus, ­after the fire of AD 80, Martial explic­itly sees Rome as a Phoenix, casting off its old image and assuming the glorious countenance of its ruler, clearly referring to Domitian’s rebuilding initiatives. Also ­under Domitian, Statius can speak of the new Palatine arising out of the flames.73 A novel variant of this theme is attributed to Timagenes, an Alexandrian Greek, captured in 55 BC and taken in slavery to Italy. He gained his freedom ­there and became a celebrated teacher and the 134 • chapter IV

author of a Universal History. He seems to have developed a par­tic­u­ lar aversion to Augustus and his wife, Livia, and a deep dislike of Rome. According to Seneca, Timagenes was generally quite happy to see the city beset by frequent fires but was troubled by the certainty that any new buildings would be far more beautiful than ­those they replaced.74 ­There are in fact numerous cases of buildings that ­were destroyed by fires and replaced by far superior successors, as ­after the ­Great Fire of London, when the old St. Paul’s Cathedral burned down, and the famous structure that took its place is now considered one of the gems of the city.75 Some of the splendid Roman edifices that replaced pre­ de­ces­sors destroyed by fire have already been mentioned (chapter 2). In 14 BC, the Basilica of Paullus in the Forum Romanum burned down and was replaced by the Basilica Aemilia. This structure was strengthened and its decoration enhanced in AD 22, and Pliny admired the latest manifestation as one of the most outstanding buildings in Rome.76 Trajan’s spectacular baths on the Oppian, arguably the most impor­ tant of the Roman Imperial baths, ­were built on the ruins of the Neronian palace partially lost in a fire in AD 104.77 The famous Pantheon of Agrippa, erected originally in the mid-20s BC, burned down in AD 80 and was rebuilt. It then burned down again and was rebuilt on a magnificent scale by Hadrian. That emperor viewed it with such affection that it was one of the three locations in Rome that he chose for holding court, and it was still considered by Ammianus to be one of the ­great spectacles of the city in the fourth ­century.78 The rebuilders of ­these monuments w ­ ere implicitly admired for improving the work of their forerunners. Even in the context of the fire of AD 64, Tacitus speaks admiringly of the new, orderly Rome that arose afterward in contrast to the chaotic mess that resulted from the Gallic sack, and notes that old-­timers who remembered the pre-­AD 64 Rome with fond nostalgia conceded that what replaced it was beautiful.79 Suetonius solves this dilemma by craftily twisting the idea and claiming that Nero only pretended that this was his reason for burning down the city: “as though offended (nam quasi offensus) by the ugliness of the old buildings.”80 That Nero was an arsonist is bad enough, but according to Suetonius he was something worse—he was a hypocritical arsonist. An aesthetic motive for burning down his city might Responsibility • 135

just have some claim to respectability, but even that proved to be merely a front. Nero’s true motives, which are not explained, presumably ­were even more sinister. Of course, the very suggestion that he only pretended to want to replace Rome with something more beautiful is totally conjectural, u ­ nless Suetonius could read Nero’s mind. Nero may have made some jocular comments in bad taste about wanting to raze the city—on the lines of John Betjeman’s popu­lar World War II squib about the dreary (as he saw it) En­glish town of Slough: Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! / It ­isn’t fit for ­humans now. If so, it would be yet another illustration of the dangers of trying to be humorous in public life. Suetonius claims that t­ here was no attempt at secrecy—­Nero burned down the city “openly” (palam)—­and he alludes to what must surely be the incident reported by Tacitus (and by Dio too), of intruders who helped the fire along. But he adds further details. He says that a number of consulares (former consuls) caught cubicularii (essentially chamber-­ servants) of Nero on their properties with kindling and firebrands. By calling his sources consulares, Suetonius is using coded language for citizens of unimpeachable character, whose word can be accepted at face value.81 He does make one potentially significant point. He says that ­these servants w ­ ere behaving so openly that the former consuls did not attempt to discipline them. No explanation for this apparently curious situation is offered, thus it is hard to resist the conclusion that they ­were acting openly b ­ ecause ­there was nothing remotely criminal or improper about their activities. They w ­ ere simply Vigiles, d ­ oing the job they ­were trained to do, and they ­were not restrained by the property o ­ wners b ­ ecause their action was official and totally appropriate to the task of fighting fires. Suetonius demonstrates the same mind-­set when he goes on to say that granaries standing on land earmarked for the Golden House, and therefore coveted by Nero, ­were first destroyed by ballistae, ­because they had stone walls, and then set alight. The ballistae, essentially de­ mo­li­tion machines on the lines of the siege machines used by the army, ­were familiar equipment of the Vigiles, and the actions reported in such negative terms by Suetonius ­were, yet again, exactly what we would expect in the creation of a firebreak. Suetonius goes on to contrast the effect of the devastation on the emperor and on his subjects. The poor 136 • chapter IV

­ ere driven to seek shelter in tombs. Members of old families with a w long military lineage lost homes. Venerable ­temples ­were destroyed. But Nero escaped unscathed, and looking down from the tower in the gardens of Maecenas he reveled in the beauty of the flames and sang his work on the Trojan war.82 Fi­nally, Suetonius focuses on Nero’s greed. The perfectly sensible rule that p ­ eople w ­ ere not to try to remove bodies and debris, a task that Nero undertook at his own expense, is characterized as a scheme to get plunder. Suetonius also makes the assertion found in Tacitus’s Annals that to deal with the fire’s aftermath, Nero impoverished individuals and w ­ hole provinces by forced 83 contributions. Suetonius provides us with neither a clear nor coherent narrative of the fire, nor a proper analy­sis of Nero’s conduct. He offers very ­little of the kind of material that we look for in a historical, rather than biographical, writer. He does provide the useful precise information that the fire (or at least its first phase) lasted seven nights and six days, but beyond that he is helpful neither on its location nor its pro­gress, saying nothing about where it started or which buildings ­were burned down, or the possibility that it burned in two phases. He does serve a certain useful purpose in showing how Nero’s guilt was simply taken for granted by a large section of educated Romans. Beyond that, what he says ­here has virtually no historical worth as a rec­ord of the ­actual events.84 Dio wrote his account of the fire a ­century or so ­later than Tacitus and Suetonius, but seems to draw on similar sources. ­Whether he consulted his two pre­de­ces­sors or drew directly from common material is unclear, but he certainly makes no reference to the unknown authorities who exculpate Nero. Like Suetonius, Dio believes categorically in Nero’s responsibility for the fire, and his account suffers from unrelenting, if unsurprising, anti-­Neronian bias. Moreover, by a historical accident his original text is missing and what survives does so only in epitomes (se­lections), made much ­later. Hence, at certain points even the precise order of Dio’s account of the fire is not certain. Like Tacitus, Dio prefaces his narrative with a description of Nero’s outrageous banquet. The emperor held a number of spectacles, climaxing in a ­grand public extravaganza, which descended into a chaotic orgy that included much drunkenness and promiscuous sex. Slaves and Responsibility • 137

gladiators debauched upper-­class Roman ­women as their husbands or ­fathers watched, and ­things got so wildly out of hand that a number of ­people ­were caught up in the melee and crushed to death.85 Dio then observes that meta de tauta (“­after ­these ­things”)—­a vague and almost meaningless expression he often used to or­ga­nize his material in a sequence of events where no sequence ­really exists—­Nero determined something that he had long yearned for, namely to destroy his ­whole city and empire during his own lifetime. While Tacitus seems to suggest that the emperor’s outrageous be­hav­ior was somehow followed by a kind of divine punishment, in the form of the fire, Dio, who believes implicitly in Nero’s guilt, is able to make a more direct link between the personal excesses and the fire, in that they ­were both the achievements of a man of depraved moral character. At this point Dio exploits the subtlety of the Greek language to set the tone for what he says took place. He states that Nero had doubtlessly (pou) nursed an ambition to destroy Rome. Then, for ­those who might challenge Dio’s claim and question his ability to read Nero’s innermost private thoughts, he adds that at any rate (goun) Nero would claim that Priam was lucky, since Priam’s reign and his country ended at one and the same time (the manuscript is corrupt h ­ ere and the precise sentiment is uncertain). In other words, if the first slur about his destructive ambition does not make an impression, ­there is another one at hand. It is clearly a case of any stick to beat a dog.86 So for Dio, the fire is an act of madness generated purely by a desire to destroy. He provides no evidence whatsoever that Nero had long nursed this incendiary ambition, and one won­ders what evidence t­ here could possibly be. It is hard not to conclude that Dio concocted the suggestion simply b ­ ecause he could find no good reason for Nero’s setting the fire in the first place. Dio goes on to claim that Nero sent agents to dif­fer­ent quarters to start the conflagration, pretending to be drunk or engaging in other sorts of vandalism and setting one, two, or more fires in vari­ous places.87 Dio says that he did this “in secret” (lathra), but this notion seems to be totally belied by the agents’ conduct, since they behaved blatantly and outrageously, not like secret agents at all—­any secrecy could apply only to their being ­there on the instructions of the emperor. The expression lathra is tendentious, and in effect means that 138 • chapter IV

t­ here ­really is no evidence to link the looting and drunken vandalism to Nero—­and consequently, the lack of evidence must mean that the arrangement was a secret one. ­Because the fires ­were set in dif­fer­ent places, this creates confusion about where they actually originated. Dio ­here completely ignores Tacitus and the sources used by Tacitus, which located the fire’s beginning precisely in the area of the Circus Maximus. And ­there are good reasons for his saying that its topographical origin was unknown—if it was known to have broken out in one single location, the case for deliberate arson would be pretty well demolished, for the reasons laid out at the very beginning of this chapter. ­There follows a powerfully descriptive passage relating the chaos and widespread panic that infected the city.88 Romans ­were let down by the ruling authorities. Men dispatched to provide assistance burned ­houses down instead. Dio makes this assertion without elaborating further, and the background is presumably, once again, the need to create firebreaks. One plausible charge is that “soldiers, including the Vigiles, had their focus on looting.” “Soldiers” ­here refers in the first instance presumably to the Praetorian guard. Given the scale of the fire and of the pattern of their ser­vice in the past, it is very likely that the guard was called upon to help, as they had already helped on a modest scale when Drusus, the son of Tiberius, gave assistance during a fire. And the possibility that t­ here was looting has to be taken seriously. Perhaps, in some of the apparent cases of looting, valuables w ­ ere being rescued from the flames by their rightful ­owners. But during any major fire, ­people ­will loot.89 While all t­ hese horrors ­were playing out, Nero went to the “highest point of his palace” and performed his composition on the fall of Troy.90 The fire was the worst that Rome had experienced, Dio claims, other than the Gallic sack. Some two-­thirds of the city was destroyed, and an unknown number of Romans died. As noted e­ arlier, according to Dio, ­people began to utter ­every imaginable curse against Nero, lashing out at t­hose responsible for the fire, although not actually mentioning the emperor by name. Dio now rather clumsily goes on to speak of two oracles that w ­ ere dredged up against the emperor. One told of the destruction of Rome by civil strife, the other seems to prophesy the end of the Julio-­Claudian dynasty ­under Nero: “Last of the sons of Aeneas, a mother-­slayer ­shall govern.” The two oracles do not Responsibility • 139

actually have any connection to the fire and could belong to any period of Nero’s reign. It is hard not to suspect that they w ­ ere undated (Dio admits some uncertainty about the timing of the second) and simply tacked on ­here by default as if somehow to reinforce the notion that the graffiti blaming unnamed individuals for the fire w ­ ere in real­ity targeted against Nero.91 Dio concludes with the theme found in Tacitus and Suetonius, that the contributions exacted from individuals and ­whole communities caused massive hardship.92 All three con­ve­niently ignore the need to raise funds ­after a crisis of this magnitude. It is clear that the general case for Neronian responsibility for the fire, already a very weak one, is further undermined by the patent bias of all three main literary sources, especially Suetonius and Dio. They doggedly cast the information at their disposal in a negative light, striving to create an irresistible impression that while ­there may not be compelling evidence of Nero’s guilt, no reasonable person could possibly entertain the notion that he did not do it. And indeed, the theme championed by the literary sources that Nero was responsible for the fire did take a firm hold. It is not ­until the late nineteenth c­ entury that scholars w ­ ill begin to question that assumption. By the end of the twentieth c­ entury it can be said that in academic writings at least, if not in the broad popu­lar perception, Nero has been largely, and surely rightly, exonerated of the charges of arson. He still has a lot to answer for, of course, but almost certainly not for burning down Rome.

140 • chapter IV


V The Christians and the ­Great Fire

Despite his reputation as a self-­centered playboy, Nero appears to have taken his responsibilities as princeps very seriously in the immediate aftermath of the ­Great Fire, first and foremost, by introducing sensible regulations to minimize the risk of similar disasters in the f­uture. He faced a second obligation: he had to ensure that if ­there was any danger that the disaster had occurred as a result of divine dis­plea­sure, ­every effort would need to be made to conciliate the higher powers in order to prevent any further dis­plea­sure. ­There was a power­ful pre­ce­ dent for this: ­after the destruction of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC, Camillus’s very first act once the city was liberated was to propose a series of expiatory mea­sures to secure the f­ avor of the gods.1 ­There is epigraphic evidence of Nero’s initial if unsustained energy in this sphere, in the series of altars erected u ­ nder Domitian some two de­cades ­after the AD 64 fire (see chapter 3). Their accompanying inscriptions show that they w ­ ere belatedly put in place in fulfillment of vows originally made by Nero ­after the fire, but l­ater, it seems, ­either forgotten or neglected, and still unfulfilled upon his death. The Neronian vows may well have taken the form of a promise to erect a series of altars on the same lines as Domitian’s, and since ­those l­ater Domitianic altars commemorate the sacrifice of a red cow and a red pig, on the Volcanalia, the festival of Vulcan (celebrated each year on August 23), we can with some confidence assume that Nero undertook to carry out similar rites to Vulcan, appropriately, given Vulcan’s role as the god associated with destructive fire.

The religious mea­sures initiated by Nero immediately a­ fter the fire are described in some detail by Tacitus. ­After noting the new building regulations, Tacitus defines them as actions taken in accordance with “­human reasoning.” He says that he ­will now report on efforts to appease the gods.2 He links the two topics by the adverb mox (“next,” rather than the common dictionary definition of “soon”), but the chronology should not be pushed too hard. The building codes would have taken a considerable time to formulate and implement, while the religious mea­sures presumably would have been introduced soon ­after the fire. Tacitus’s casual mox may convey merely the order in which he has chosen to deal with the topics, rather than the order in which they actually occurred. The situation in AD 64 was considered serious enough for the celebrated Sibylline books to be consulted. According to tradition, ­these ancient collections of Greek verse oracles had been sold to King Tarquinius Priscus by the Sibyl of Cumae and preserved in a vault ­under the ­Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, to be consulted for guidance on expiatory rites.3 In 83 BC, the original books ­were lost in the fire that destroyed that t­emple (see chapter 2). They w ­ ere ­later reconstituted from secondary sources, and the new official collection survived for nearly five hundred years, u ­ ntil the early fifth c­ entury AD, when they ­were destroyed by the power­ful Roman general Stilicho. From 12 BC on, the texts w ­ ere held in the library h ­ oused in the ­Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, and despite the strong evidence of massive destruction on the Palatine in the fire of AD 64, they seem to have survived intact. Unsurprisingly, the first god mentioned by Tacitus was Vulcan, to whom, Tacitus says, prayers ­were offered; ­these presumably ­were accompanied by vows, judging from the reference to unfulfilled Neronian vows on the Domitianic altars. Tacitus also includes Ceres and Proserpina in the list of propitiated gods, although the presence of ­these two is not easily understood. The Sibylline books did recommend expiatory rites to Ceres on other occasions, and she might have had a special association with the soil on which the new buildings would be located.4 But it is also pos­si­ble that ­these two goddesses are included simply ­because the ­Temple of Ceres and Proserpina on the Aventine stood near the Circus Maximus, and was thus near the very heart of 144 • chapter V

the fire.5 Fi­nally, propitiatory rites w ­ ere carried out by the married ­women in honor of Juno, both on the Capitol and by the beach at Ostia, where ­water was drawn and sprinkled on her ­temple and statue.6 The married ­women also celebrated ritual feasts (sellisternia), where the goddesses w ­ ere propitiated by formal banquets set out in front of their images. In customary fashion they w ­ ere seated (in the equivalent rituals before male gods, the lectisternia, the figures reclined). Despite Nero’s best efforts, Tacitus tells us that nothing that the emperor did, ­whether in the civil or the religious sphere, could lay to rest the per­sis­tent nasty rumor that had taken hold, that he had personally ordered the fire.7 Nero was astute enough to realize that once a negative idea has been implanted in the popu­lar mind, it is almost impossible to dislodge it. He needed a dramatic solution, and dramatic gestures ­were his forte. The account in the Annals of what came next— it is our one and only source of information—is arguably the most disputed text in the w ­ hole of Classical lit­er­at­ ure. Complicating the debate is the question of ­whether this section of the Annals is an au­then­ tic piece of Tacitus, an impor­tant issue addressed ­later in this chapter. The Annals claim that to divert the rumors of incendiarism from his own person, Nero fabricated scapegoats (subdidit reos). His chosen target was a group already deeply unpop­ul­ar and as a consequence ideally suited to his purpose, namely the Christians. He inflicted horrific punishments on them, burning them alive and setting wild beasts upon them.8 It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this episode in the history of the Christian church. Individual Christians had been subject to isolated punishments before AD 64, but ­these Neronian mea­sures represent the first violent action against Christians as a group recorded outside the scriptures, the first broad action taken against them by Romans rather than by their fellow Jews (Chris­tian­ ity was, in its early days, a Jewish sect), and the very first large-­scale execution of adherents of the faith. In early Chris­tian­ity, to die as a martyr was to die a noble death. The experiences of the Christians soon ­after the fire of AD 64 are considered the first large-­scale martyrdom, a critical milestone in the two-­thousand-­year history of the church.9 It is, as Brent Shaw puts it, a “foundational event” in the annals of Chris­tian­ity. In a way it can be viewed as symbolically setting the scene for the repeated martyrdoms that Christians ­will endure at the hands The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  145

of Roman authorities in subsequent centuries.10 It is also a major f­ actor in the per­sis­tence of Nero’s image as the epitome of villainy during the nearly two thousand years since then. But what exactly did happen? The Christian narrative occupies part of one single chapter of the Annals (15.44.2–5). In what we might for con­ve­nience arbitrarily label the “first” section of the account (15.44.2), it is explained that Nero needed scapegoats, and found the ideal candidates in certain ­people who ­were already hated ­because of their shocking conduct (per flagitia invisos), a group known popularly at the time as Christians (or as “Chrestians,” ­there is a difficulty in the manuscript reading, as discussed l­ater). The individual who had given the sect its name, Christus, had been put to death by Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius. The destructive superstition (exitiabilis superstitio) had been temporarily suppressed, but had flared up again, not only in Judea, the birthplace of this evil (eius mali), but also in Rome, where all such sordid trends (atrocia aut pudenda) converge and gain adherents (15.44.3). The logic of the next section of the narrative (15.44.4) is far from clear: “and, subsequently, on the disclosures they made, a huge number ­were convicted [or “­were linked with them”]—­more b ­ ecause of their hatred of mankind than ­because they ­were arsonists” (igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis coniuncti sunt). The passage seems to say that many ­people ­were “linked” (coniuncti) with ­those who confessed. This is the word preserved in the single manuscript in which this part of the Annals has survived, but many scholars are unhappy with the text as preserved, and, assuming that coniuncti (“linked”) is a copyist’s error, they emend coniuncti sunt to convicti sunt (from “­were linked” to “­were convicted”). The original reading as transmitted, coniuncti, does not, admittedly, seem to make a g­ reat deal of sense (in what way could a large number of ­people be “linked” to the first group, the one that confessed?), but we cannot know if this obscurity is ­because of a manuscript error or simply ­because of the opacity of the narrative.11 The emendation convicti may well be correct, but clearly we should always be hesitant about basing any interpretation of a key controversial passage on a word that does not actually appear in the manuscript(s). In any case, the condemna146 • chapter V

tion, we are assured, had less to do with arson than with the Christians’ supposed contempt for humanity. The Christians ­were subjected to horrific indignities. They ­were covered with the skins of wild animals and torn to pieces by dogs, or ­were strapped to crosses, and, when the sun had gone down, turned into h ­ uman torches (the manuscript text h ­ ere is highly disputed).12 In the final part of this “Christian” section of the Annals (15.44.5), we learn that Nero provided his private gardens as the venue for the entertainment, and that he also put on ­horse races, mingling with the ordinary ­people and posing as a char­i­ot­eer. The consequence of the episode was that “guilty though ­these p ­ eople ­were and deserving exemplary punishment” (sontes et novissima exempla meritos), Romans began to feel pity for them, from a sense that they ­were being exterminated “not for the public good” (pro utilitate publica), but in order to satisfy one man’s cruelty. The events described are truly horrific, but, all the same, this episode might seem to the casual reader a relatively straightforward piece of ancient narrative: ­after the fire, the Christians w ­ ere accused, w ­ ere found guilty, ­were punished. This w ­ hole section constitutes in all only some 154 words in the original Latin text (“some” is added ­here as a caution ­because we can not be totally sure of the exact wording of the original manuscript). We can go a l­ittle further. Scholarly interest has focused almost exclusively on the first two sections (15.44.2–3), and together ­these produce a total of some ninety-­three words. But this relatively brief passage, fewer than one hundred words in length, has prompted several books and perhaps as many as a hundred scholarly articles dedicated totally, or at least substantially, to the topic. Moreover, this vast and flourishing scholarship industry has so far exhibited no signs of recession. As mea­sured by the number of words produced in research publications relative to the number of words in the text being analyzed, this handful of sentences is beyond doubt the most researched, scrutinized, and debated of any in Classical antiquity. What follows in this chapter can convey only a brief summary of ­these prodigious scholarly endeavors.13 At the outset, it is is impor­tant to note that Tacitus is very casual with his chronology. He provides no indication of how much time had supposedly elapsed between the fire and the arrest of the Christians. The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  147

He dates the start of the fire securely to July 19, AD 64. Since for his narrative of events in Italy (although not always for external military campaigns), he generally adheres to an annalistic scheme (his material is or­ga­nized by year), and since he places the punishments in the same year as the fire, some time ­after mid-­July, we can assume one of two ­things—­either that he had found in the rec­ord that the punishments had occurred before the end of the year, AD 64, or that the source he was using was vague about when they happened and on his own initiative he determined that the second half of AD 64 best suited the material. We are told that ­after the death of Christ the sect was initially suppressed. This in itself is an intriguing statement, since the New Testament makes no reference to any action by Roman authorities against Christians as a group immediately following the crucifixion.14 In fact in the earliest years of the Christian church, Romans would not have made a distinction between Jews and Christians, since in their eyes Christianized Jews, who would have been relatively few and far between, would have been seen essentially as a heretical sect of Judaism, which indeed they ­were.15 Any action taken against Christians at this time was not by Romans, but by Jewish authorities keeping order during local disturbances, on a small scale. Preaching by Christian missionaries on occasion led to riots, requiring intervention by Jewish officials, described in sometime lurid terms in the Christian tradition: “And they stirred up the p ­ eople, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him [sc. St. Stephen] to the council . . . ​And they stoned Stephen.”16 We do not have reliable evidence for the reaction in Rome to the earliest manifestations of Chris­tian­ity. The Christian writer Tertullian, nearly two hundred years ­after the event, preserves a scarcely believable report that Tiberius, presumably not long before his death in AD 37 (the crucifixion is generally dated to the early 30s), proposed to the Roman senate that the worship of Christ be accepted, and the request was refused.17 During the reign of the next emperor, Caligula (AD 37–41), relations between Jews and Romans deteriorated dramatically. But ­there is no evidence whatsoever (pace the g­ reat cinematic spectacle of the 1960s, The Robe) that Caligula had even heard of Chris­tian­ity, ­either as a Jewish sect or as one identifiable in its own right. 148 • chapter V

With the accession of Claudius (AD 41–54) the plot thickens. During Claudius’s reign we have the first plausible reference to a group active in Rome who might well be identified as Christians. Suetonius reports that Claudius expelled t­hose Jews who w ­ ere (or possibly “­because they ­were”) per­sis­tently creating disturbances, at the instigation of Chrestus (Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit).18 Much scholarly effort has gone into the attempt to identify this mysterious “Chrestus,” and since at least the fifteenth ­century it has been speculated that he must be none other than Christ, not in person, of course, but continuing to enthuse and provoke his followers through his teachings.19 The form of the name may seem unusual, but in fact both Tertullian and Lactantius rec­ord that Chrestus was a common mispronunciation of Christus, and the Annals may re­ c­ord the same information, depending on which reading of the manuscript we adopt (on which, see more below).20 Chrestus is, however, a common name among freedmen, and several scholars have endorsed a Chrestus with no connection to Chris­tian­ity, possibly a Jewish activist of sorts, whose identity w ­ ill prob­ably never be known.21 Pollini rightly observes, however, that it seems an incredible coincidence that Suetonius could be referring to an other­wise unknown and unidentified character causing trou­ble among the Jews with a name identical to the popu­lar name for Christ at the very time when Chris­tian­ity was causing popu­lar unrest among Jewish communities.22 Claudius may have been confronted by the prob­lem of Christianized Jews proselytizing within the Jewish quarters of Rome and meeting the kind of aggressive re­sis­tance manifested in some of the eastern provinces of the empire. It therefore seems more than likely that Suetonius made a passing reference to the Christians during the reign of Claudius. He certainly does refer to them in his Life of Nero, in an undated context quite separate from his account of the ­Great Fire.23 Among the praiseworthy activities of the emperor, Suetonius lists what to all appearances seem fairly routine mea­sures instituted for the maintenance of public order, including certain undefined initiatives taken against the Christians. Suetonius states simply that the Christians, a class of ­people devoted to a strange and vicious superstition, “underwent punishments” (afflicti suppliciis).24 The other mea­sures recorded u ­ nder the same The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  149

heading include the curtailment of public banquets, except ­those connected to the distribution of food from patrons to their clients (sportulae), along with the banning of actors (pantomimi), together with their most zealous admirers,25 and restrictions on the be­hav­ior of char­ i­ot­eers (they in the past had tended to take over the streets and amuse themselves by stealing from passers-by), as well as limits on the va­ri­ e­ties of food available for purchase in taverns, which ­were viewed as places of disorder (previously all sort of treats had been for sale, but now the choice was to be restricted to vegetables and legumes). All the mea­sures listed ­here by Suetonius seem to regulate anti-­social conduct and it is a reasonable assumption that the actions against the Christians fall into the same category, suggesting that t­here had been instances of unruly be­hav­ior by members of the sect, perhaps involving conflict with the city’s Jews.26 Given its context, Suetonius’s entry surely cannot refer to the horrendous punishments inflicted on the Christians ­after the fire described in the Annals. A general prob­lem in interpreting both Suetonius and Tacitus on the topic of the early Christians is that neither says anything about their situation in Rome except that they w ­ ere apparently numerous, given that, according to Tacitus, a “huge number” (multitudo ingens) ­were rounded up for punishment. ­There seems to be no reason to doubt that t­ here would have been Christians living in the city during Nero’s reign. According to the Acts of the Apostles, when St. Paul approached Rome, prob­ably in about AD 60, he was supposedly heartened to be met by a group of fellow believers, who accompanied him on the remainder of his journey.27 But the size of the Christian population in AD 64 is unknown, beyond the fact that ­unless both Suetonius and Tacitus w ­ ere speaking anachronistically, they ­were large enough to be an identifiable group.28 The “huge number” of the Annals may, of course, be an exaggeration, and in any case the figure is essentially relative, meant to draw a contrast between the initial group who confessed and the ­later group who w ­ ere rounded up. If no more than two or three p ­ eople w ­ ere involved initially, and we have absolutely no way of knowing, then a subsequent arrest of, say, thirty p ­ eople, could, relatively speaking, constitute a “huge” number. What­ever their numbers, it is likely that the first Christians to ­settle in Rome would have sought the com­pany of fellow believers and they 150 • chapter V

would have tended to reside in the same area. They might well have concentrated in what is now the modern Trastevere district, on the west side of the Tiber, which in Nero’s time would have been occupied mainly by lower-­class manual workers. At any rate t­ here is some evidence, albeit meager, that poor Jews settled in this district.29 It escaped the fire in AD 64 b ­ ecause it was protected by the barrier of the Tiber, which arguably might have helped fuel the suspicion that the Christians ­were to blame for the conflagration. It should come as no surprise that we would hear of ­people being rounded up a­ fter the fire of AD 64. Following any ­great disaster ­there is an irresistible sense that someone must be held responsible, and that someone must be punished. We have seen (chapter 2) how, a ­century ­earlier, in 31 BC, when several impor­tant Roman buildings w ­ ere destroyed by fire, freedmen ­were suspected of setting the blaze, on the rather unconvincing grounds that they resented a new property tax. Even though they ­were only thought to have started the fires, riots erupted, which had to be quelled by armed force.30 Similarly, a fire in the Forum Romanum in 7 BC led to allegations that it had been intentionally started by debtors who w ­ ere hoping to have their debts forgiven. Again, it is apparent that t­ here was no concrete evidence that the debtors w ­ ere responsible: hysteria seems to have led to wild accusations.31 ­After the fire of AD 64, Rome was, understandably, at a high level of tension. P ­ eople w ­ ere angrily denouncing whoever was responsible, even though they could not identify the wrongdoers.32 If Nero felt that he was on the firing line, he would have been perfectly happy to provide the missing names—­the Christians. Christians would have seemed the perfect scapegoats. Hugh Last observed that “if the announcement was to win credence it was necessary that the alleged culprits should be men of whom public opinion would readily believe evil,” and the Christians certainly seem to fit the bill. Tacitus describes them as a “pernicious superstition,” “a curse,” “hated for their shameful offenses,” and typical of the “abominable and shameful” ­things that made their way to Rome.33 Yet we must be cautious ­here. Shaw has argued persuasively that such language, as well as Suetonius’s description of the Christians as a “class of ­people devoted to a strange and vicious superstition,” echoed also in the writings of their con­temporary, Pliny the Younger, almost certainly reflects The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  151

the language of the authors’ own time, rather than the Rome of the 60s.34 No doubt the early Christians in Rome would have faced a degree of distrust and suspicion, although we simply have no way of knowing, but it seems highly unlikely that the deep and pervasive antipathy that Romans l­ater felt ­toward them b ­ ecause of their supposed vile activities had evolved as early the 60s. Christians would have been ideal suspects for a far more mundane reason—­they w ­ ere known troublemakers and enemies of public order, who, wherever they found themselves, invariably clashed with established Judaism and caused headaches for the governing authorities. Once the blame had been laid at the door of the Christians, they would need to be rounded up and tried. The account of their arrest and arraignment in the Annals is baffling and much debated. It begins by stating that “therefore, first ­those who confessed ­were apprehended” (igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur). This is a surprising assertion, since confession would naturally be expected to follow, not precede, arrest.35 Also, to what are ­these ­people confessing? Given that upon conviction t­ hose arrested w ­ ere subjected to the most horrific punishments, and that on the basis of the testimony of t­hose who confessed, ­others became implicated “more ­because of their hatred of mankind (odio humani generis) than b ­ ecause they ­were arsonists,” it does follow that the group initially arrested must have confessed to arson. But if this is the case, the narrative is cryptic and contradictory. When Tacitus introduces his account of the fire, he indicates that ­there ­were two pos­si­ble ­causes. ­Either (a) it was an accident, or (b) Nero was responsible. We might argue that he had tunnel vision on this issue, albeit less narrow than that of Suetonius and Dio, and that the situation was far more nuanced than Tacitus imagines. The fire could have been started deliberately, but by someone other than Nero, or it could have started by accident, then once it had taken hold it could have been helped along. The issue h ­ ere is not what actually happened, but what Tacitus says happened: Nero, to deflect criticism, “contrived culprits” (subdidit reos). ­There is no ambiguity—­the word “contrived” (subdidit) leaves no doubt whatsoever that the charges ­were bogus. And yet ­those culprits seem to have been taking responsibility for the deed. Of course t­here may have been special circumstances that led to this 152 • chapter V

outcome, but if so, Tacitus does not explain them, and perhaps that was deliberate. It would appear that the Christians, as often happens in cases of wrongful conviction, w ­ ere already unpop­u­lar for anti-­social be­hav­ior that had nothing to with the ­Great Fire. They may not have committed the crime, but criminal by nature they w ­ ere. If, however, they ­were being scapegoated for the arson, it seems to mean they can have confessed to only one ­thing, and that is, of being Christian.36 Does this mean, then, that Chris­tian­ity was in itself a crime in AD 64? This may seem a straightforward question, but in fact the topic has generated a huge debate. A number of scholars claim that by this date, legislation was already in place making Chris­tian­ity illegal. Some have argued that it was enacted by Nero, since Tertullian speaks of a Neronian institutum that condemned Christians specifically.37 But institutum has a range of meanings, and it is much more natu­ral to see Tertullian claiming that Nero was the first emperor to initiate the practice of persecuting Christians rather than that ­there was specific legislation making the sect illegal.38 And if ­there had been a formal and ­legal ordinance we would have expected it to be universally applicable, throughout the empire, but ­there is no reliable evidence of a widespread persecution.39 Some scholars are even prepared to give credence to Tertullian’s account of Tiberius’s ac­cep­tance of Chris­tian­ity in the face of senatorial opposition and place the initial legislation in the late Tiberian period.40 But the notion of any kind of formal legislation against the Christians as such seems to be belied by what is the earliest datable reference to the Christians by a Roman writer, prob­ably a de­cade e­ arlier than Tacitus’s account of the fire (as already noted, the precise date of the Annals is far from certain). Pliny the Younger, the nephew and a­ dopted son of the ­great encyclopaedist, Pliny the Elder, and a close friend of Tacitus, served as governor of Bithynia-­Pontus ­under the emperor Trajan. Much of his correspondence has survived, most famously a letter written in about AD 112, where Pliny asks Trajan how to proceed against Christians who appear before him as a result of anonymous denunciations.41 Trajan’s reply has also survived, and makes it clear that it was not Roman policy to hunt down Christians for prosecution (conquirendi non sunt). It seems that even fifty years ­after the fire of AD 64, ­there was still no systematic persecution of the sect—­actions against Christians The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  153

seem to be dependent on local conditions and local initiatives. Clearly Pliny was unaware of any formal legislation against them, and Trajan did not seem to have any reason to set him straight. In fact, some fifty years ago Timothy Barnes demonstrated emphatically that we have to wait u ­ ntil the reign of Decius (emperor AD 249–51) for the persecution of the Christians to be made official state policy ­under a formal ­legal enactment with force throughout the empire. Of course, Christians had been punished and put to death by Roman officials long before Decius, but the pro­cess by which this occurred was surprisingly informal. The most familiar criminal pro­cess in the republican period was the quaestio, a judicial investigation in which a body of jurors sat ­under the supervision of a magistrate. The quaestio was not explic­itly abolished ­under the emperors, but it was in time superseded by vari­ous imperial procedures. At the higher po­liti­cal level the most impor­tant of ­these was the senatorial court, with the emperor exercising the power of a judge.42 Clearly this mechanism could not be available for routine crimes, which led to the evolution of the cognitio extra ordinem, the “extra-­regular procedure,” where investigation, prosecution, and judgment ­were vested in an imperial magistrate, who would dispense justice by virtue of the power of his office (imperium), exercising authority that was personal and discretionary, through a system that most ­legal scholars deem less than satisfactory.43 The Roman magistrate had very broad discretion, particularly in cases that did not involve Roman citizens. As Barnes has stated, persecution was “local, sporadic, almost random.” 44 This was particularly the situation during the early imperial period; from the time of Hadrian in the second ­century, the discretion of the presiding magistrate came to be increasingly ­limited by the “constitutions” or ­legal enactments of the emperor.45 The case against the Christians could in theory have come before the emperor himself, and Nero could in princi­ple have presided over their ­trials in person, as he did in the arraignments of the Pisonian conspirators in the following year. But this seems very unlikely. It appears that Nero generally avoided a personal juridical role. His intervention in AD 62 in the case of a certain Veiento, a close associate accused of influence-­peddling, was portrayed as an exception.46 His role in the ­trials of the Pisonian conspirators in AD 65 would have been warranted 154 • chapter V

on the grounds that he had a close personal interest in the fate of ­those who had conspired against him.47 In the provinces, the magistrate presiding over the cognitiones was the provincial governor, like Pliny the Younger, when he investigated the Christians in Bithynia-­Pontus. In Rome itself the usual judicial magistrate was the city prefect (see glossary).48 In any event, Christian tradition claimed that the city prefect was the individual who generally presided over the t­ rials of early Christians.49 In 64, the officeholder was Titus Flavius Sabinus, the ­brother of the ­future emperor Vespasian.50 Another candidate would be the Praetorian prefect. The line between the protection of the emperor and his ­family and the protection of the state was not a clear one, and the Praetorians assumed an increasing role in maintaining public order, which in the nature of t­hings could involve arrest and execution.51 The Praetorian prefects in AD 64 ­were Ofonius Tigellinus, the sinister associate of Nero, and Faenius Rufus, the close ally of Nero’s ­mother. Both had held the office since the death in AD 62 of Sextus Afranius Burrus.52 For the rec­ord, we should also add the possibility of the prefect of the Vigiles conducting the hearings; ­later he certainly acquired the authority to try straightforward cases of arson.53 The prefect at this time is not known, but in any case the issue would prob­ably have been too po­liti­cally sensitive to be entrusted to someone at his level. Hence we find ourselves in a potentially confusing situation. We have no precise information about the grounds on which the Christians ­were condemned—­the charges are vague and undefined. And the presiding magistrate would have had the authority to make up his own mind about the allegations, what­ever they might be, provided the accused ­were not Roman citizens, which was prob­ably the case for the overwhelming majority of early Christians in the city. ­There may have been a belief, well grounded or not, that the Christians had been responsible ­either for starting the fire or at the very least for feeding the flames once it had taken hold. The Annals claim that the initial suspicions ­were deliberately sown by Nero, but we must be open to the possibility that if ­there was in fact action against the Christians ­after the fire, it might have had ­little or nothing to do with Nero and that the claim in the Annals that he falsely targeted them as suspects is totally speculative. In response to unsubstantiated rumors about the Christians, The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  155

the magistrate would have used his powers of coercitio (“right of coercion and punishment”) to arrest and interrogate them. The first group to be arrested would have been t­hose Christians who ­were already openly preaching their faith and publicly avowing their membership of the sect (qui fatebantur). They w ­ ere investigated and other Christians ­were now rounded up to join the first group. But by this time, the distinction between Christian and arsonist had prob­ably become a moot issue. Almost naturally and inevitably they had come to be viewed as one and the same.54 Mob rule prevailed: in the eyes of the public the Christians w ­ ere “guilty” (sontes) and deserved “exemplary punishment” (novissima exempla).55 It was the epitome of the manipulation of mass thinking by the classic po­liti­cal syllogism: (a) some awful troublemakers had set fire to the city, (b) the Christians ­were awful troublemakers, therefore (c) the Christians had set fire to the city.56 It is pos­si­ble that the confusion in the Annals simply reflects the nature of the beast rather than any shortcomings or hidden agenda of their author, in the sense that Nero deliberately created misunderstanding by conjuring up the notion that Chris­tian­ity and arson ­were almost interchangeable terms. In that case the worst criticism one might make about Tacitus ­here is that he could have explained the episode a ­little more clearly. Ronald Syme went out of his way to let the historian off the hook by suggesting that Tacitus “reproduces the mixed character of the situation itself—­false charges of incendiarism and genuine dislike of the Christians.”57 But Tacitus’s hands may not be clean. He may well have had a double agenda in this passage and have deliberately obscured the issue. He states categorically that Nero selected the Christians as scapegoats. But he finds the sect so disgusting that he goes out of his way to create a hostile prejudice against them, although being careful never to state outright that they w ­ ere arsonists. Hence, when we are told that ­people felt sorry for the Christians even though they ­were “guilty,” presumably of be­hav­ior associated with Chris­tian­ity, that is, general misdeeds and a hatred of the h ­ uman race, the text does not specify where their guilt lay. It is therefore difficult for the reader not to be lulled into the prob­ably intended error of thinking of them as guilty also of setting fire to Rome, and by the end of this section of the Annals it seems somehow established that the Chris156 • chapter V

tians ­were in fact guilty on e­ very front. We thereby lose sight of the impor­tant fact that initially they entered the picture only b ­ ecause they ­were deliberately targeted by Nero. Hence, if the message that this passage transmits is mixed, it may be so to a considerable extent precisely ­because its author was perfectly happy to be in league with Nero in creating the mix. We might in essence suspect him ­here of wanting to have it several ways at once: he wants to play the objective historian and rec­ord that the fire might have been accidental, but though playing the objective historian he nevertheless wants to leave the impression that ­after all it prob­ably was Nero’s fault, and, while creating the impression that it was Nero’s fault, he wants to suggest at the same time that the Christians did not have an unsullied rec­ord.58 Tacitus’s contempt for Nero is evident in almost ­every chapter of the Annals where the emperor is mentioned. But he seems to loathe the Christians with an equal passion. Nowhere in the account of the fire’s aftermath do we find the s­ imple and explicit statement that p ­ eople universally regarded as loathsome, are, despite being loathsome, actually innocent of arson. As Yavetz put it, “Tacitus did not want to clarify but to confuse the reader even more—­slightly incriminate both Nero and Christians, both of whom he hated.”59 Of course, it is just pos­si­ble that three apparently divergent scenarios had each played out. The fire could have started accidentally, and when it caught, Nero might have exploited the opportunity to turn a relatively ­limited outbreak into a major conflagration when he realized that he had been handed the opportunity to rebuild the city, or to find inspiration for his poetry, or what­ever it was that motivated him. And when the fire did become a conflagration it could have been seen by Christians as a harbinger of the Second Coming, which was expected imminently, and hence something to be helped on its way by true believers. In that case t­ here might be grounds for arguing that the unidentified individuals mentioned by all three main literary sources as aiding the flames ­were Christians.60 But, as stated ­earlier, at issue ­here is not what happened, but what the Annals say happened. And their author seems to have gone out of his way to try to pull the wool over our eyes. The above discussion has shown that prob­lems are raised by the narrative of this section of the Annals. In d ­ oing so it has assumed that The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  157

the passage is an au­then­tic piece of Tacitean writing. But t­ here are oddities in this part of the Annals that are so serious that in the late nineteenth ­century the Christian episode was denounced in its entirety as an interpolation, a forgery in the style of Tacitus that had been inserted at some ­later date into the manuscript almost certainly not by accident, but in order deliberately to deceive. The sweeping claim that the Tacitean passage was a forgery has won over very few adherents.61 The vocabulary and syntax and general Latin style, it must be acknowledged, perfectly align with the accepted corpus of Tacitus’s writings, and the text lacks the exaggerated mannerisms that might be expected in a forged piece. If the w ­ hole chapter is indeed an interpolation, it must have been inserted into the manuscript by at least the end of the fourth ­century AD, since parts of it are cited by a Christian writer active in the very early fifth ­century, Sulpicius Severus, most familiar as the author of the celebrated Life of Saint Martin.62 The putative forger, who ­will have succeeded in a deceptive coup of dazzling brilliance, would have been one of two t­hings. He might have been a Christian, but one smart and sophisticated enough to know that by castigating his own faith and generating a partially negative image of Chris­tian­ity he could throw sand in the eyes of a normally skeptical reader and thus create an irresistible believability. Hence, while the chapter is manifestly anti-­Neronian, the Christians are deliberately not shown in a particularly favorable light. Or he might have been a pagan, both anti-­Christian and anti-­Neronian, who took the opportunity to kill two birds with one interpolatory stone. Scholars whose knowledge of Tacitus is unsurpassed have accepted the Latin of the text as genuinely Tacitean, but it needs to be acknowledged that ­there is a long history of literary texts that, like works of art, have been recognized by gifted and honest experts as genuine but have proved ultimately to be phony. Moreover, ­those scholars who accept that the Tacitean passage is genuine—­and they are in the overwhelming majority—do acknowledge that it exhibits some troubling features. One section of the narrative is particularly awkward: the brief summary that the writer provides of the background of the Christians. The way that the now famous Pontius Pilate is introduced raises suspicions; he is mentioned simply as “procurator” without any indication of the “province” for which he was responsible (Judea was strictly 158 • chapter V

speaking not a true provincia but administratively subordinate to the provincia of Syria). Pilate is, of course, a very familiar figure in the ­later Christian tradition as the governor of Judea at the time when the crucifixion occurred. But to a Roman readership in Tacitus’s day, he was not nearly well enough known to be mentioned without some prefatory information. One might explain that away by assuming that an ­earlier reference to his generally incompetent term of office was made in one of the lost books of the Annals that covered the latter years of Tiberius’s reign, when Pilate served (chapter 1). But a major role for Pilate in one of ­those now lost books seems very unlikely, given Tacitus’s almost flippant statement in his Histories about Judea at the time: “­under Tiberius all was quiet” (sub Tiberio quies).63 Even the mere fact that Pilate’s term of office is mentioned as the context for the death of Christ comes as something of a surprise; it is a detail about Christ that would be of very ­little interest to a Roman but would have had considerable significance for a Christian reader. More strikingly, Pilate is said to have held the rank of “procurator.” This is simply inaccurate. The term “procurator” for someone in an administrative position has a long history (it is attested well before the imperial period), but it was not used for the equestrian governors of quasi-­provinces like Judea at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, that is, late in Tiberius’s reign (he died in AD 37).64 In fact, the designation of such governors as procurators was introduced by Claudius, thus ­after AD 41. The change apparently did not occur everywhere at the same time and seems to have prevailed only gradually.65 Before Claudius, equestrian governors like Pilate held the title of “prefect” (praefectus). We have explicit primary evidence that Pilate was no exception: on a building inscription found in the city of Caesarea in Judea he is unequivocally called a praefectus.66 Thus, the allusion to Pilate’s office, an item already likely to be far more in­ter­est­ing to a Christian than to a pagan in the Rome of Tacitus’s day, adds to the mystery by committing a serious, and quite elementary, anachronism on a technical point. Tacitus is elsewhere quite punctilious in his use of such terminology and makes a careful distinction between procurators and prefects. He reports, for instance, that during the preparations for a major offensive against the Parthians in AD 63, letters w ­ ere sent out to “tetrarchs, kings, prefects, procurators and praetors in The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  159

charge of neighbouring provinces [sc. to Syria]” where a distinction is drawn between the procurators, that is, the governors of small “provinces,” and the prefect who commanded cohorts of troops established within some provinces.67 While it may be true that at times the phraseology and the concepts applied by Tacitus to an e­ arlier era are more properly ­those of his own day (this certainly might be reasonably claimed about the language that he uses to describe the Christians),68 the error over Pontius Pilate’s office is of a dif­fer­ent order, it is a basic historical blunder and, as such, very surprising indeed if made by Tacitus.69 If this passage is not by Tacitus but is rather a l­ater interpolation, ­there may be a clue to how the error arose. Chris­tian­ity first evolved in a multilingual region, but the lingua franca of the rec­ord of early Chris­tian­ity was Greek, the language of the New Testament Gospels. The small number of early Christian writers in Latin, like Tertullian, seem to have made their own translations from Greek texts. At some ­later stage, Latin versions w ­ ere produced (Augustine alludes to the huge numbers of Latin translations of the gospels), and eventually, in the first de­cades of the fifth ­century, Jerome completed his Latin Vulgate text of the New Testament.70 The first suggestion of some form of Latin bible belongs to the ­middle of the third ­century, in the works of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, around AD 248–258. Cyprian may not have known Greek, but his Latin writings are suffused with biblical quotations (translated into Latin). We are, however, almost totally in the dark on the question of where and when the long pro­cess of generating ­these Latin texts first began. If ­there ever was a single such text, it was revised in a variety of ways at a variety of times, resulting in a wide range of versions.71 In the case of the Synoptic Gospels specifically, ­there seem to have been two Latin traditions, one that evolved in Roman Africa and the other Eu­ro­pean, quite possibly influenced by the African. In the Latin versions that predate Jerome’s New Testament, we find that at Luke 3.1, where in the original Greek text Pontius Pilate’s official position is conveyed by the very general Greek verb hegemoneuo (“to be leader”), the Vetus Latina (the collective name of the Latin texts that precede Jerome’s Vulgate) and indeed the Vulgate itself, translate the title by the phrase procurante Pontio Pilato. The verb procurare has a range of meanings and can be used to con160 • chapter V

vey the general sense of “to administer” as well as the more specific one of “to carry out one’s duties as procurator.” When the Annals erroneously identify Pontius Pilate as procurator, the author might well have been influenced by the wording of the Vetus Latina. All of this adds weight to arguments that at least the specific reference to the “procurator Pontius Pilatus” could actually be an interpolation by someone very familiar with Christian writings. The Annals continue with the surprising information that “the pernicious superstition had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judea, the starting-­point of that curse.” ­There is no other evidence in Greco-­Roman sources that ­there was any attempt by Rome to suppress Chris­tian­ity in Judea, and it is hard to believe that, in the period a­ fter the crucifixion, Rome would have had any interest in so ­doing—­the sect would hardly have been seen as impor­tant enough to justify serious countermea­sures. As noted ­earlier, the prob­lems that the first generation of Christians faced generally arose from friction between Christians and non-­Christian Jews, and hardly, in any case, represented “suppression” beyond the very local scene. The notion that the early believers ­were officially oppressed seems more distinctly Christian rather than Roman. ­There is another prob­lem of terminology ­here, one that is complicated by the eternal prob­lem of determining the original reading of a manuscript. The text of this part of the Annals as it now stands says that Nero picked on a group whom the vulgus (essentially, the “common” ­people) called Christians, presumably referring to a name that had already begun to emerge among the uneducated masses to describe the devotees of Christ. We do not have good evidence for when the expression “Christian” first came into common use. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Christians ­were first called such in Antioch, at a time when a g­ reat famine was prophesied, to occur in the reign of Claudius. Though ­there has not been agreement on which famine is referred to, the Antioch incident is clearly represented as occurring before Claudius died, in October, AD 54.72 We are of course talking about informal and unofficial usage, among “common p ­ eople.” Brent Shaw observes that “Christian” was still not the normal term that Roman officials used to refer to the sect in the early 60s, around the time of Paul’s death.73 ­There is, however, strong evidence that the original The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  161

reading of the manuscript was not Christiani, but Chrestiani, ­later corrected by the erasure of the “e” and the addition of “i.” Ultraviolet examination of the manuscript appears to confirm an initial “e.”74 It is still an open question w ­ hether the “e” was changed by the original scribe, when he saw that he had made a ­mistake, or w ­ hether the alteration was made by a dif­fer­ent hand at a ­later date. ­There are indications on the basis of the ink that the change from “e” to “i” was made ­later, although it has also been suggested that the change was initially made by the same hand and afterward modified by a l­ater hand.75 This may seem a trivial, even pedantic, issue of variant spellings, but in fact the variants make a fundamental difference to the way we interpret the passage. With the reading “Christiani” the text would be saying that at the time of the fire the name by which members of the sect would be ­later known, Christians, was already common currency among ordinary p ­ eople. With the somewhat better attested original reading “Chrestiani,” the message would be that at the time of the fire the term “Christian,” presumably by then a familiar and normal term, was erroneously pronounced “Chrestian” by ordinary ­people. The author goes out of his way to indicate that he is not being anachronistic and is speaking not of his own day, but of the period immediately ­after the fire, by his use of the past imperfect tense, “common ­people used to call” (appellabat).76 Whichever is the correct reading, Christians or Chrestians, this discussion of the minutiae of nomenclature seems to be something that would have been of marginal interest to a Roman reader, although it would perhaps appeal to a Christian writer, or a writer preoccupied by Christian issues. Thus, for all the reasons enumerated, we should regard with grave suspicion at least the passage “­These ­were ­people hated for their shameful offences whom the common p ­ eople called Christians/Chrestians. The man who gave them their name, Christus, had been executed during the rule of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilatus. The pernicious superstition had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judea, the starting-­point of that curse.” The general issue of a pos­si­ble interpolation in the Annals is revisited at the end of this chapter. Scholarship on this section of the Annals has generally placed its focus, quite rightly, on what the ancient sources have to say on the 162 • chapter V

topic. But ­there is also a princi­ple of historiography that takes account not only of what a given source might say, but, paradoxically perhaps, of what it does not say. Such argumenta ex silentio tend not to be given ­great weight, since ­there may be a perfectly good reason why a source chooses not to allude to any given event. In the case of the fate of the Christians as described in the Annals, however, the negative evidence seems overwhelming. The earliest literary source to follow the Annals in recording that the Christians ­were blamed and punished by Nero for their part in the fire of AD 64, if we limit ourselves to sources that are generally recognized as au­then­tic and reasonably securely dated, is Sulpicius Severus, already mentioned, in the early fifth ­century. Sulpicius paraphrased the Annals and cites parts of Tacitus’s account of the punishments.77 Before him, apart from the Annals, no source whatsoever, ­whether pagan or Christian, makes any identifiable reference to the incident in question. This is a remarkable situation. In par­tic­u­ lar, neither Suetonius nor Dio, who have left quite detailed accounts of the fire, make any allusion to a post-­fire persecution. Their agenda, of course, is to demonstrate unequivocally that Nero was responsible for the fire, and it might be argued that it would not have served their narrative to muddy the ­waters about responsibility by drawing attention to the fact that a third party was also implicated in the arson.78 But this would not have prevented them from using the episode to cast even further aspersions on Nero, for transferring to a third party the blame for his own transgressions. The silence of the sources, apart from the Annals, is discernible already in the earliest dateable allusion to the fire. In his Natu­ral History, Pliny the Elder refers to the destruction of the splendid nettle trees during the disaster (chapter 3) but says nothing about the punishment of the Christians. Since his more traditional historical work, the Histories, is now lost, ­there is no way of proving that Pliny did not actually cover the topic of the punishment t­ here, but if he did so, it is very surprising that not a single hint of the event made its way into the Natu­ral History—­his eclectic interests would surely have warranted at least some passing allusion. And it is more than surprising that his nephew and a­ dopted son, Pliny the Younger, who makes copious reference to his pre­de­ces­sor’s works in his own correspondence, gives no indication of having read anything about the fate of the Christians in The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  163

the Elder’s writings when he was himself governor of Bithynia-­Pontus and was confronted with the dilemma of how to deal with the unfamiliar sect.79 While Suetonius enthusiastically provides highly detailed accounts of Nero’s cruelty, and eagerly denounces him for his supposed role in ordering the fire, he is totally ­silent about any action against the Christians in its immediate aftermath. Where he talks about punishment of the Christians, he clearly refers to low-­level public disorder.80 Elsewhere he even rec­ords that Nero was opposed to spectacular and theatrical executions, and never put anyone to death in the gladiatorial shows he staged in the amphitheater in the Campus Martius, not even condemned criminals.81 The third major source for the event, Dio, has nothing at all to say about the Christians, even though he places considerable emphasis on the widespread antipathy ­toward the instigators of the fire. The original text of Dio has not survived for this period, of course, and his narrative is known only from summaries (epitomes), but an incident as dramatic as what is claimed about the Christians in the Annals is unlikely to have evaded his epitomator. The silence of pagan texts about the fate of the Christians a­ fter the fire, with the pos­si­ble sole exception of the Annals, is surprising enough, but it is surely remarkable that without exception no Christian writer before Sulpicius Severus, in the early fifth ­century, refers to any major punishment of the Christians in the aftermath of the fire or gives any indication of being aware of the relevant events described in this part of the Annals, events that clearly would have been viewed as the very first large-­scale martyrdom and persecution. It means that “no known legends, martyrologies, or tales would adapt or employ it as a motif in any way, not even in the vari­ous stories and legends that grew about the persecutions and martyrdoms suffered ­under Nero.”82 The earliest Christian source cited by scholars in the context of the AD 64 fire is Clement, the third Bishop of Rome. According to Christian tradition, he was active in the city in the last de­cade of the first ­century.83 In a letter addressed by Clement to Christians in Corinth he refers to the punishment of Christian w ­ omen. But despite the best efforts of some scholars, ­there is nothing to connect this activity to the fire, nor is it even clear when or where the ­women suffered.84 The first extant Christian authority on rec­ord as referring specifically and explic­itly 164 • chapter V

to Nero as persecutor of the Christians is Melito, Bishop of Sardis, who died in about AD 180. He reportedly claimed (his original text has not survived) that both Nero and Domitian uttered false accusations about the Christian doctrine, persuaded by malicious slanderers. But nothing relating to the aftermath of the fire is attributed to him.85 ­After Melito a very strong Christian tradition developed of Nero as the first persecutor of the Christians. Tertullian, Lactantius, Jerome, and Eusebius all agree in assigning that dubious honor to him. The supposed martyrdoms of Peter and Paul ­under Nero begin to enter the rec­ord in the late second ­century,86 and Christian writers may have extrapolated from their deaths a broader persecution and an undeserved reputation for Nero as the first persecutor.87 Paul almost certainly did die ­under Nero, and Peter may have, but no ancient source links their deaths to the aftermath of the fire.88 We reach familiar ground with Tertullian, born in the period AD 160–170, in Carthage (already a Christian center at the time). Tertullian is unrestrained in his condemnation of Nero as the first persecutor of the Christians and explains that the emperor was the first to shed Christian blood.89 It seems that Tertullian studied his sources at first hand. He is familiar, for instance, with the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan, and had almost certainly read the material himself, as the verbal parallels between the letters and Tertullian’s text clearly suggest.90 Yet it appears that ­either Tertullian knew nothing about the account of the aftermath of the fire that appears in the Annals, or knew it but chose to ignore it (hardly likely). He generally made a point of exposing false charges that had been made against Christians. Why then did he fail to mention that the Christians w ­ ere targeted as scapegoats in AD 64? The next relevant Christian source on our list is an equally significant figure. Born shortly ­after AD 260, very possibly in Caesarea, Eusebius became Bishop in that city in the period 303–313. He died between 330 and 340. He is best known for his two-­part Chronicle, a universal history up to AD 325, the original of which is lost but which has been reconstructed from excerpts and translations, and his Ecclesiastical History, a chronological account of the church from the time of the apostles to his own day. Eusebius’s silence about the events of the post-­fire narrative is particularly significant, ­because his Ecclesiastical The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  165

History takes the form of a detailed history of martyrdoms throughout the empire, some of them highly significant but o ­ thers generally 91 inconsequential from a historical perspective. Despite his theme, Eusebius makes no mention whatsoever of the punishments described in the Annals, punishments that would in effect constitute the first recorded mass execution of believers. And Eusebius claims to have widely consulted the sources. We see that for ­later Christian history he is fully aware, through Tertullian, of the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan, even if he did not examine the letters themselves.92 But he makes no allusion to any connection between the Christians and the fire when describing the excesses of Nero, and it is hard not to draw the conclusion that this is b ­ ecause he had never heard of one.93 Not only is Eusebius s­ ilent about any persecution following the fire, but an internal analy­sis of his writings seems to offer positive evidence that he was unaware of it. The Chronica of Eusebius, as preserved in Jerome’s translation, reports ­under the year 64 that, in order to watch a replica of burning Troy, Nero burned down the major part of Rome.94 But then ­under the year 68, again in Jerome’s translation, Nero is recorded as the first to launch a persecution of the Christians, in which Peter and Paul died in Rome.95 Eusebius thus clearly determined from the material he had available to him that the fire of Rome and the first Christian persecution ­were distinct events, separated by four years.96 The Christian theologian and apologist Lactantius was born in Roman Africa in the m ­ iddle of the third c­ entury. He died in 325, prob­ ably in Gaul. Lactantius was the author of a large corpus of writings, his best-­known work being De Mortibus Persecutorum, on the persecutors of the Christians and God’s punishment. He vigorously condemns Nero as one of t­hose persecutors.97 But again we have the remarkable situation of a major Christian source who says nothing about the supposed action of Nero against the faith in the aftermath of the ­Great Fire.98 Even as late as the early fifth ­century, around the time when Sulpicius Severus was writing his Chronicle, with its unmistakable allusions to Tacitus’s account of the punishment of the Christians, ­there is still a lingering silence elsewhere on this impor­tant topic. The Christian priest and theologian Orosius, active in that period, provides details of the fire, drawn essentially from Suetonius.99 He also describes the 166 • chapter V

persecution of the Christians in Rome, including the executions of Peter and Paul, but still without drawing any connection between ­those persecutions and the fire. Fi­nally, as a footnote to the silence of the Christian sources, we must add the silence of their opponents. If Christians had been convicted of setting fire to Rome, we would surely expect the fact to be highlighted by anti-­Christian writers. For instance, in the second ­century AD, Celsus, a Greek phi­los­o­pher and opponent of Chris­tian­ity, wrote an anti-­ Christian diatribe, Alethes Log­os (“True Word”), known through copious quotations by the Christian scholar Origen (supplemented by Origen’s refutations), but he seems to have skipped the potentially useful ammunition provided by the Annals.100 Two points stand out. The first is that the silence of Suetonius (and, to a lesser extent, of Pliny the Younger and Dio) appears to preclude any possibility that ­there was a ruthless post-­fire persecution of the Christians of the kind described in the Annals. Suetonius would hardly have listed the penalties imposed on the Christians as part of Nero’s routine administrative mea­sures if they had followed the fire and had been implemented with horrific brutality in the aftermath of one of Rome’s most momentous disasters. The second is that Christian writers before Sulpicius Severus—­each and ­every one of them—­would hardly have been able to resist referring to an account of what constituted the first Christian martyrdoms at the hands of their first Roman persecutor. Clearly, something is seriously wrong. One solution is to impute negligence to Tacitus, as Shaw has recently done, suggesting that Tacitus based his account on some dubious l­ater source.101 A ­limited version of Tacitean error was first proposed in the nineteenth c­ entury, when Pierre Batiffol suggested that Tacitus combined two separate events to create one incident, and that the fire and the punishment of the Christians ­were historically unconnected.102 The confusion could have arisen ­because actions taken by Nero against the Christians, as described by Suetonius, may have included a claim of arson, but a minor claim quite unrelated to the fire of AD 64, and prob­ably one of aw ­ hole complex of charges. In a sense it could be argued that this thesis of two originally separate sets of incidents revives a theory already held in antiquity, since Eusebius de facto separated the fire and The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  167

the persecution by some four years (see above). It would explain why Suetonius, who believes dogmatically that Nero was responsible for the ­Great Fire, is able to place his punishment of the Christians among the mea­sures that he clearly considers sound and meritorious, hardly the case if ­those Christians had been punished as innocent scapegoats. In this scenario, Tacitus could have had access to the same source as Suetonius on Nero’s punishment of the Christians—it is striking how similar their language is in referring to the sect. Tacitus might then have negligently, or deliberately, associated the actions taken l­ater against the Christians with the lynch-­mob passions that followed the fire. According to this thesis, we do not know what might have led to the punishment of the Christians. But given the ample evidence provided by the New Testament, supplemented by Suetonius’s Life of Claudius, Roman authorities may well have been faced with serious unrest between Christians and more mainstream Jews.103 Nero might have been inclined to take a sympathetic attitude t­oward the Jewish position through the influence of his wife Poppaea, whose pro-­Jewish attitude so impressed Josephus that he called her a “respecter of god” (theosebes).104 Josephus was able to establish a close personal relationship with Poppaea, when he visited Rome in support of certain Jewish priests imprisoned ­under the procurator, Felix. Josephus’s mission was successful, largely through Poppaea’s support, and he received generous gifts from her. Josephus was not the only Jewish visitor to receive a friendly welcome at court. Around AD 60–62, a Jewish deputation came to Rome to protest the de­mo­li­tion of a wall in Jerusalem, ­because it would open the ­Temple to public view. Poppaea intervened, and Nero ruled in their ­favor—to please her, according to Josephus.105 She may have similarly used her influence over Nero in adjudicating any clashes that might have occurred in Rome between Christians and mainstream Jews. The notion of a Tacitean error has the merit of recognizing that, as it stands, this part of the Annals pre­sents almost insuperable difficulties. But we still face the prob­lem of the silence of Christian writers. If Tacitus was careless enough to be taken in by a false story of persecutions subsequent to the fire, or to have assumed a connection between two unconnected historical events, it is hard to accept that ­every extant Christian writer would have been more sophisticated and discerning 168 • chapter V

than Tacitus, and would have been able to resist a harrowing account of an early Christian martyrdom. We must remember that Tertullian was perfectly happy to take seriously the surely absurd notion that Tiberius was sympathetic to Chris­tian­ity. By comparison, a persecution following the fire in AD 64 would be a perfectly reasonable and plausible idea. This loud silence of e­ very source before the fifth c­ entury AD, other than the Annals, seems to bring seriously into question ­whether any authority earlier than Sulpicius had read Tacitus’s account of the punishment of the Christians in the wake of the fire, and it m ­ atters not ­whether that section of the Annals is historically valid or seriously flawed. Is it conceivable that the Christian authors simply did not have access to the Annals, or at least to the ­later books? This notion is not as absurd as it might at first seem. Tacitus’s good friend Pliny declared that Tacitus’s historical writings would become immortal. Pliny has, of course, in the long term been vindicated, and t­ oday Tacitus is widely admired and intensely studied. But it seems that he made relatively l­ ittle impact on his immediate posterity.106 By the third ­century, the emperor Tacitus (reigned AD 275–276), who believed himself to be a descendant, reputedly ordered that his namesake’s works should be copied to rescue him from the neglect (incuria) of readers. The information comes from the curious and notoriously unreliable collection of imperial biographies written perhaps in the l­ater fourth or early fifth ­century, the Historia Augusta, and it is not a secure guide to the activities of the emperor Tacitus, but the anecdote would have had ­little point had the historian Tacitus’s works been widely read.107 Even in the sixth ­century the writer Cassiodorus can refer to “a certain Cornelius” when referring to Tacitus (citing his Germania about the collection of amber), implying that the historian had by then sunk into considerable obscurity.108 Several books of the Annals have dis­appeared completely. And for the text that is preserved, only one copy each of its two “halves” has survived from the ­Middle Ages. The ­later Medicean, comprising Annals 11–16 (11 and 16 partially missing, the last two books completely missing, or never written) as well as all the extant books of the Histories, was written down in the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in the eleventh ­century and was essentially unknown ­until it was The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  169

brought to Florence by Boccaccio in the second half of the f­ ourteenth ­century.109 This latter single manuscript is the sole source for the information about the post-­fire punishment of the Christians u ­ ntil Sulpicius Severus, testimony to the relative neglect of someone now regarded as Rome’s greatest historian and to the real­ity that chance can sometimes play a bigger role in the survival of ancient texts than the subsequent stature of the author.110 ­Were the Annals generally unavailable ­until the end of the fourth ­century? For what it is worth, the author of the Life of the emperor Aurelian (emperor AD 270–275), preserved in the highly dubious Historia Augusta, includes Tacitus among the historians we might regard as canonical (he includes also Livy, Sallust, and the Augustan writer Pompeius Trogus), but who are nevertheless guilty of errors, and claims that he has pointed out ­these errors. Unfortunately he does not specify which works of Tacitus he has read.111 Tertullian was certainly aware of Tacitus and on one occasion even pokes fun at him, referring to his name in a word play as “the most loquacious of liars” (“tacitus” means “­silent”). But, although Tertullian refers to the Histories in two of his works, and Orosius quotes the Histories liberally, ­there is no hard evidence that any authority before Sulpicius had access to the Annals specifically, as opposed to the Histories.112 Verbal echoes of the Annals have been detected in the Res Gestae by the fourth-­century soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus.113 But t­hese do not seriously affect the central thesis of neglect of the Annals; at best they merely push back the evidence for knowledge of that par­tic­ul­ar work a ­couple of generations. Hence the Christian authorities may be ­silent about the version of events found in the Annals for the ­simple reason that they had never read it. ­There is a second, more radical, but in some ways much simpler, solution to the prob­lem, proposed in its first manifestation by Polydore Hochart at the end of the nineteenth ­century and touched upon ­earlier in this chapter. Hochart argued that the ­whole section of Tacitus’s Annals containing the post-­fire persecution was an interpolation, added to the original text at some time before Sulpicius Severus.114 In support of his suggestion it is to be noted that the “Christian” section (Annals 15.44.2–4) is abruptly introduced and just as abruptly abandoned. The w ­ hole passage could be excised without creating any serious 170 • chapter V

dislocation of the sequence of thought. In fact, as it stands we are left hanging, with no indication of what the long-­term consequences of Nero’s seeking out scapegoats might have been. The subject is simply dropped. Also, t­ here is the oddity, already noted, of the mistaken reference to the office of Pontius Pilate and of the curious details about the origins of Chris­tian­ity. The theory of a major interpolation seems to have won few converts, and Hochart did not help his case by claiming that Suetonius’s reference to Nero’s punishment of the Christians was also an interpolation, and that the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan was fake. As a consequence, his suggestion faced a rough reception from the very outset.115 The idea long remained essentially dormant, but in the 1960s the issue was raised again by Paul Saumagne, who identified two parts of the narrative as interpolations—­the specific reference to the Christians and the details of the punishments.116 More recently, Carrier has made a case for an even more l­imited interpolation, excising the single sentence that contains the awkward reference to Pontius Pilate.117 Carrier’s suggestion of a minimal interpolation removes one particularly troublesome passage, but it does not remove the basic account of the post-­fire persecution of the Christians/Chrestians and the prob­ lems that the account invokes. Another possibility would be to assume a ­limited interpolation that lies somewhere between the suggestions of Saumagne and Carrier, and to speculate that at some point, not long before Sulpicius Severus read the Annals in the fifth c­ entury AD, one single spurious passage containing all the references to Chris­tian­ity was inserted into what Tacitus had originally written. This thesis would remove all reference to the Christians (retained by Carrier) but leave the reference to the punishments (excised by Saumagne). The text would then read as follows (with the putative interpolation in italics): 2. But neither h ­ uman resourcefulness nor the emperor’s largesse nor appeasement of the gods could stop belief in the nasty rumour that an order had been given for the fire. To dispel the gossip Nero therefore found cul­ ere ­people prits on whom he inflicted the most exotic punishments. {­These w hated for their shameful offences whom the common ­people called Chrestians. 3. The man who gave them their name, Christus, had been executed The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  171

during the rule of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilatus. The pernicious superstition had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judea, the starting-­point of that curse, but in Rome, as well, where all that is abominable and shameful in the world flows together and gains popularity.} 4. And so, at first, t­hose who ­were confessing ­were apprehended and, subsequently, on the disclosures they made, a huge number ­were joined with them—­more ­because of their hatred of mankind [or “­because of mankind’s hatred”] than b ­ ecause they ­were arsonists. As they died they ­were further subjected to insult. Covered with hides of wild beasts they perished by being torn to pieces by dogs; or they would be fastened to crosses and, when daylight had gone, set on fire to provide lighting at night. 5. Nero had offered his gardens as a venue for the show, and he would also put on circus entertainments, mixing with the plebs in his char­io ­ t­eer’s outfit or standing up in his chariot. As a result, guilty though t­hese ­people w ­ ere and deserving exemplary punishment, pity for them began to well up ­because it was felt that they ­were being exterminated not for the public good, but to gratify one man’s cruelty. (Tac. Ann. 15.44.2–5)

This pos­si­ble interpolation would resolve the prob­lem of the silence of both pagan and Christian writers on the aftermath of the fire. Moreover, since it would leave the description of the punishments intact, it might also be argued that a potential interpolator who saw the reference to crucifixion assumed that the victims must be Christian and altered the text accordingly, although crucifixion was a general form of punishment used by the Romans against non-­citizens, and indeed widely used by other ancient socie­ties.118 The phrase odio humani generis, generally taken as “hatred of mankind,” retained in the non-­ interpolated text, is one that is associated with the Christians. But it could be interpreted differently, to mean not a hatred of mankind but mankind’s hatred. In any case, although the notion of hatred of mankind is associated by the Romans with Christians (and Jews), it is not restricted exclusively to them. In the late republic, for example, Cicero speaks of a certain cross-­section of his fellow-­Romans: “who from their zeal to protect a private business or through a hatred of mankind (odio hominum) say they are minding their own business and do not seem to be harming anyone.”119 172 • chapter V

The notion of an interpolation does not, of course, resolve all the prob­lems. ­There is still the difficulty of the confessions. We might rationalize that a­ fter any major disaster ­there w ­ ill always be a small number of ­people determined to claim responsibility. One need recall only the celebrated case of the Frenchman Robert Hubert who in 1666 confessed to starting the ­Great Fire of London by setting fire to a building in the Westminster district.120 Even though Hubert was not even in ­England when the fire broke out, and Westminster was in fact untouched by the disaster, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and hanged. Such was the frenzied temper of the times. ­There may well have been a small number of similarly misguided souls in the Rome of AD 64 ­eager to make similar confessions. Or some might have expressed satisfaction at God’s punishment and simply have been misunderstood by non-­believers. Or some might have deliberately sought out martyrdom by not denying their guilt when questioned.121 Such individuals would have been rounded up, interrogated, possibly tortured, and then o ­ thers would have been picked up as collaborators essentially on hearsay and without any ­actual evidence of arson. ­These explanations are perhaps rather contrived. But they are not necessary. If the manuscript was tinkered with by an interpolator, it is very pos­si­ble that some prefatory words explaining the confessions but not fitting the interpolator’s agenda of a Christian involvement in the aftermath of the fire ­were discarded. In any case, the apparently premature confessions remain a prob­lem ­whether they w ­ ere made by Christians or non-­Christians. ­There are thus two basic approaches to resolving the fundamental prob­lems that this section of the Annals raises: e­ ither Tacitus simply made a ­mistake in combining two separate incidents, in an account that was not generally available to early Christian writers, or the segment of the Annals that mentions the Christians was not written by Tacitus but is an interpolation made some time in the fourth c­ entury. Neither solution is perfect, but each is arguably superior to simply taking the text at face value. Importantly, each removes the punishment of the Christians as an episode of the ­Great Fire of AD 64. Whichever option might seem the more attractive, it would still mean that the most dramatic and lasting consequence of the fire of AD 64 is based on a false premise, and that “Nero made an indelible stain on the memory of the early Church,”122 not necessarily b ­ ecause The Christians and the ­Great Fire  •  173

of what happened, but b ­ ecause of what p ­ eople have believed happened. For the best part of two millennia the Christian church has honored the suffering of its very first martyrs. The event that provides the motivation is more than likely fictitious. But to members of the faith it perhaps makes ­little difference, and the account that appears in the Annals ­will no doubt continue to serve as a source of profound inspiration, despite the dispassionately sober objections of scholars.

174 • chapter V

VI The New Rome

The fire of AD 64 was by any definition a catastrophe of the first order. Yet paradoxically the very magnitude of the devastation meant that something good might come out of it all, since major disasters can often serve to galvanize governing authorities into action. And the Roman principate was an ideal vehicle for initiatives where the zeal and energy of a single dominating personality ­were called for. The farsighted reforms that Nero introduced ­after the fire of AD 64 are best appreciated against the background of what was believed to have happened a­ fter Rome’s ­earlier g­ reat catastrophe, the Gallic sack of 390 BC. ­There was a deep-­seated, if largely misguided, conviction that the city destroyed by the Gauls had been a tidy and orderly one, laid out on the formal princi­ples that characterized some of the planned cities of the Hellenistic world. ­After the Gauls withdrew ­there was a mad rush to rebuild, and reconstruction forged ahead with ­little or no thought for planning and even less for regulation, in a spirit of chaotic laissez-­faire fueled by the initiative of individual Romans. ­People built with much enthusiasm but with l­ittle discipline and simply occupied any vacant space that happened to be on hand, with casual regard for property rights, and with no serious attempt to lay out proper grids. Livy cites this as the reason why the ancient sewers, built originally along public rights-­of-­way, often went ­under private buildings in his own day (the end of the first c­ entury BC).1 To add to the chaotic mix, the aediles promoted development without the customary public supervision. Speed was the order of the day: roof tiles ­were provided by the state and p ­ eople ­were allowed to quarry for stone and

to collect timber wherever they chose, provided they could guarantee to have the work done in less than twelve months. Buildings sprang up across the city, and while Rome was not rebuilt in a day, it was supposedly rebuilt in one year.2 The result of this un­co­or­di­nated scramble, it was thought, was that the orderly harmony of the old Rome was transformed into the haphazard mess of the new Rome. Or so tradition would have it. The current scholarly view is that most of this is essentially fantasy. It is highly unlikely that the Gauls would have destroyed Rome, and ­there is no archaeological evidence that they did. The ­later chaos and disorder of the narrow twisting streets was doubtless a fact, but it almost certainly preceded the Gallic sack, and then survived it, and when at last some thought was given to rectifying the chaotic mess, the population had grown too large to make that feasible. Hence the disorderly city that developed ­after the Gallic attack was not so much the betrayal of a glorious pre­de­ces­sor as an opportunity missed. But it ­really made ­little difference. What­ever had happened, Nero could use the myth of e­ arlier urban chaos as a pre­ce­dent to be avoided. Against this imaginary background, Rome in AD 64 could be re-­ ordered properly and reborn u ­ nder the aegis of a wise and energetic princeps. Much of what Tacitus and Suetonius have to say about Nero’s plans for the f­ uture development of the city is in fact laudatory.3 Suetonius concedes that his attempt to redesign the new city was carefully thought out (excogitavit).4 Tacitus contrasts the orderly rebuilding that the emperor instituted with the haphazard mess that had followed the departure of the Gauls, and what he goes on to describe comes very close to the modern concept of city planning.5 It is undeniable that in places Tacitus’s praise can be tinged with mild criticism, but the criticism suggests tepid admiration rather than serious complaint. In the Rome that grew out of the ashes of the AD 64 fire, the streets ­were to be properly surveyed, with wide roads and reserved open spaces, and apartment blocks restricted in height.6 It was possibly intended that ­these princi­ples would be emulated in other towns, like Ostia (see below), to judge from the evidence of the excavations t­ here, and they ­were apparently maintained in ­later periods in Rome itself, as suggested by the Severan marble plan.7 Party walls ­were banned; 176 • chapter VI

instead, each residence was required to have its own individual walls, isolated by a perimeter space. Nero laid down specific rules to ensure the solidity of buildings, one of which was the avoidance of wood in their construction. As far as pos­si­ble they w ­ ere to incorporate stone, and even the types of permitted stone w ­ ere specified: Alban or Gabine, va­ri­e­ties of volcanic peperino of the Campagna. The Alban, as its name suggests, was quarried in the Alban hills, the Gabine in the plain between Tivoli and Frascati; both ­were thought to be effectively fireproof. The Alban was somewhat softer and more malleable and lighter in color, the Gabine (Pietra Sperone) was rough and hard and Strabo claimed that it was the more useful. The Gabine was widely employed in Rome in such prestigious proj­ects as the Theater of Pompey and Forum of Augustus.8 It is not totally clear what precisely was meant by Nero’s requirement that stone should be used. This could refer to the fireproofing of external surfaces by cladding, but it is also pos­si­ble that the prescription stipulated the use of ­these par­tic­u­lar va­ri­e­ties of stone in the production of concrete. Concrete, especially when used in vaults, which lacked protective cover on their undersides, was prone to break up at high temperature if it contained limestone aggregate or badly mixed lime. Gabine and Alban stones ­were frequently employed as a concrete aggregate by the Romans, and it may be that a­ fter the AD 64 fire they ­were prescribed as the most effective materials to withstand excessive heat.9 Nero mandated height restrictions for buildings.10 He was not the first, nor the last, to try to regulate this feature. Augustus treated the issue of building height very seriously, and enthusiastically promoted a speech on the topic by a certain Rutilius, “On the Heights of Buildings” (de Modo Aedificiorum other­wise unknown).11 He reduced the height allowed on all new construction, restricting buildings on public streets to seventy (Roman) feet (about 20 m).12 Clearly t­ here was a need for such legislation. The phi­los­op ­ her Paprius Fabianus, active in the Tiberian period immediately a­ fter Augustus, complained that buildings ­were so high that t­ here was no way of protecting oneself against fire.13 But in the long term Augustus prob­ably did not have much success, other­wise Nero presumably would not have felt a need to reintroduce regulations on apparently very similar lines. Nero’s new ordinance may in turn have been difficult to impose in practice, and he The New Rome  •  177

prob­ably had no better luck than did Augustus. In any case, in the early second ­century the emperor Trajan yet again stipulated a height limit, this time of sixty feet.14 And ­after this well-­intended activity, and the best efforts of at least three emperors, the poet Juvenal, late in Trajan’s reign or just a­ fter it, can still complain about the excessive height of buildings: “what a distance it is to the lofty roofs from where a tile strikes the top of your head!”15 In another initiative aimed at reducing the dangers arising from fire, Nero required the provision of porticoes in certain classes of buildings. He seems to have considered this a seriously impor­tant mea­sure, since he was reputedly willing to cover the costs from his own pocket. What was their function? Tacitus mentions the new requirement only in the context of apartment blocks (insulae), commenting that the idea was to protect the façades of the blocks where they fronted onto the street. Suetonius says that the porticoes ­were to be provided both for apartments and private h ­ ouses and gives them a quite dif­ fer­ ent function—­their flat roofs could be used as platforms to fight fires.16 Neither explanation seems adequate. Height does of course give firefighters some advantage, but the top of a portico would hardly provide anything like the elevation needed to be at all effective, especially since the part of any ancient building most prone to fire is its wooden roof. Gus Hermansen notes how in their accounts of the G ­ reat Fire, Tacitus and Dio stress the disastrous consequences of burning debris falling from roofs and blocking the streets. In such situations, sheltered porticoes would provide s­ imple emergency exits during a serious conflagration. He suggests that we might get some impression of the impact of Nero’s regulations from the second-­century architecture of Ostia. In Ostia, spaces ­were maintained between buildings, and apartment blocks ­were vaulted on the ground floor, exactly as prescribed by Nero.17 How effective in practice Nero’s overall mea­sures might have been is difficult to judge. The history of urban fires seems in e­ very era to be one of regulations inspired by tragedies, a­ dopted with earnest enthusiasm at the time, then cheerfully ignored when the memory of the tragedy has faded. We can call on Juvenal once again, for the observation that by the early second ­century AD the terrible risk of fire, espe-

178 • chapter VI

cially for the poor living in high apartment blocks, was one of the striking drawbacks of life in Rome.18 By what seems to be a reasonable health and safety ordinance a­ fter a disaster on such a scale, Nero prohibited p ­ eople from gaining access to the debris and the dead bodies buried ­there, taking responsibility for the removal of the corpses and the rubble. Suetonius disparages this apparently sensible precaution, suggesting that the emperor’s motive was simply to gain easier access to any loot. His charge prob­ably has ­little merit beyond illustrating Suetonius’s agenda of presenting Nero’s fire-­related activities, with very few exceptions, in the worst pos­si­ble light.19 The rubble itself was used to fill the Ostian Marshes, and ships that had carried grain up the Tiber from Ostia to Rome w ­ ere required to return laden with debris. The ­whole operation suggests good planning and careful organ­ization. Guards ­were posted to protect the w ­ ater supply and to ensure a reasonable number of access points. This was a highly sensible precaution to ensure more effective firefighting in the ­future, since in the past private individuals had been in the habit of fraudulently siphoning off the ­water.20 Such theft was a very old prob­lem. As early as 184 BC, we hear of Cato the Elder dealing as censor with the prob­lem of w ­ ater being diverted into private dwellings, shops, and fields. In 50 BC, when he was aedile, Caelius Rufus clashed with the fraudulent ­water dealers who w ­ ere receiving bribes from the shop­keep­ers to divert w ­ ater to them, and he delivered a famous and much admired speech on the issue, De Aquis (“On the ­Water Supply”).21 And it continued to be a prob­lem afterward, despite Nero’s best efforts. Sextus Julius Frontinus was appointed ­water commissioner by the emperor Nerva in AD 97, and in that capacity, he produced a damning report on the w ­ ater situation. He observed that farmers, shops, and even brothels w ­ ere drawing off ­water illegally, and he provides a rich account of the clever schemes that had been thought up. Conduits larger than had been licensed ­were fed into the ­water supply: pipes that w ­ ere supposed to be stamped with their size ­were found to have an incorrect stamp. Also, pipes ­were placed below their authorized levels in order to draw off larger amounts of ­water. When a ­water right was transferred to a new owner, a new pipe would be placed in the system, but the old pipe

The New Rome  •  179

would sometimes be left ­there. And ­there ­were secret pipes ­running ­under the city, puncturing the system at vari­ous points.22 This was a ­battle that Nero was prob­ably bound to lose. But he did make the effort. And along with the improved access to the w ­ ater he provided firefighting appliances, kept in public view. Nero would have found it very difficult, if not impossible, to impose his new regulations on properties that had preexisted and survived the fire. It has been suggested that the Neronian codes applied to new subdivisions developed with modest concrete apartments, away from the center, perhaps in the northern Campus Martius or on Nero’s Vatican estate, located on the west bank of the Tiber. In the northern part of the Campus Martius some regularity can be detected in the insulae excavated along the Via del Corso, which follows the ancient Via Lata.23 The layout of the ancient Vatican area (the now very fash­ ion­able Prati district) is not well understood, but the evidence suggests that it was set out in general alignment with the Circus (racetrack) that Nero constructed ­there (it was begun by Caligula). The Circus ran approximately east-­west, with the Via Cornelia approaching it from the east.24 Miriam Griffin sees the possibility of another ambitious plan. In the context of Nero’s reformed building codes, Suetonius mentions a scheme to extend the city limits to incorporate Ostia and to connect the port ­there to Rome by a canal.25 This last proj­ect may have followed the AD 64 fire, when the plans for wider streets and less dense occupation (as well as the Golden House) would have led to a shortage of residential space in the inner part of the city. Nero might have hoped to encourage ­people to sell their land and to build within the newly incorporated city space. This might also be linked with the scheme of filling in the marshy areas near Ostia.26 Many of Nero’s efforts can be seen as being on the lines of modern initiatives designed to encourage business through government partnership. The Roman state did not involve itself directly in building ­houses. Rather, the emperor seems to have created incentives to encourage private individuals to take on the task. Hence he offered grants, prorated according to a person’s rank and the value of the property, and prudently established time limits for private ­houses or insulae of apartments to be completed in order for the claimants to acquire the money.27 It is more than likely that we should date to this period an 180 • chapter VI

enactment preserved in the l­ater ­legal rec­ord that any former slave who had acquired his freedom informally (a “Junian Latin”) could be granted full citizenship if he had assets no less than 200,000 sestertii, and spent at least half or more of his wealth on constructing a ­house. ­Under normal conditions such informally freed slaves ­were subject to restrictions on their freedom and their citizenship and could be transferred to other h ­ ouse­holds. ­These conditions ­were lifted in this special circumstance.28 In practice Nero’s incentive programs, like his building codes, may have been difficult to implement—­rebuilding would be dependent on the ­will and energy of the owner, and even where that ­will and energy existed, it would not in itself translate into tangible results u ­ nless t­ here was a ­labor force available to undertake the a­ ctual construction work. Such skilled craftsmen could hardly have been pre­sent in Rome in sufficient numbers to do the job. Much of the city had still not been rebuilt when Vespasian returned to Rome from his campaigns in the east in AD 70, some six years l­ater (although some of the prob­lems then might be due to the severe fire damage suffered during the civil clashes in AD 69).29 The fire of AD 64 allowed Nero to pre­sent himself as a responsible princeps, resolved on salutary mea­sures to avoid a similar disaster in the ­future, and to provide help for ­those who had suffered, demonstrating a considerable talent for planning and organ­ization in the pro­ cess. But at the same time, the devastation wrought by the fire brought out another side of his personality: it allowed him to indulge his artistic fantasies, in the form of an architectural program on a truly grandiose scale. Throughout his reign, Nero had demonstrated a g­ reat passion for building.30 The fourth-­century historian Aurelius Victor famously attributed to the emperor Trajan the observation that Nero surpassed all other emperors for a period of five years, his quinquennium, quite explic­itly with reference to Nero’s physical enhancement of Rome (augenda urbe maxime). Several proj­ects are known: a huge wooden amphitheater, admired by both Tacitus and Pliny, constructed in the Campus Martius in a single year, AD 57; the ambitious baths and gymnasium complex erected in the Campus Martius before 64, described by the third-­century Greek philosophical writer Philostratus as the finest in the city, and much admired by Martial; the ­great market The New Rome  •  181

that Nero dedicated in AD 59, on the Caelian Hill, tentatively identified on his coins; the arch to celebrate his perceived victory over the Parthians, dedicated in 62.31 One might add to ­these the completion of both the harbor at Ostia and the race track (Circus Vaticanus). ­These all seem to be worthy undertakings meant to improve public amenities. Nero had an impeccable precedent—­Augustus had established the imperial tradition that it was the duty of princeps to beautify the city as the prestige of the empire demanded, making his famous boast about turning Rome from a city of brick into one of marble.32 However impressive Nero’s architectural rec­ord before the G ­ reat Fire, none of his e­ arlier ventures comes close to the magnificent Golden House (Domus Aurea) that arose from the ashes a­ fter AD 64. Grandiose buildings send an ambiguous message. They can represent an altruistic desire on the part of a governing authority to provide superior amenities for the citizenry; in the Rome of the Julio-­Claudian period such was expected of a princeps. But at the other extreme they can also be symptoms of eccentricity or even megalomania.33 Both extremes have been detected in Nero’s ­grand designs for Rome ­after the ­Great Fire. He enhanced the city with a range of fine buildings, and even ­those who felt nostalgic for the Rome of old had to acknowledge that the new Neronian Rome was a ­thing of beauty.34 But at the same time he seized a unique opportunity to indulge his personal architectural fantasies. It is apparent from the accounts of Tacitus and Suetonius that his idea of a splendid architectural complex, as manifested by the Golden House, had evolved before the fire and had begun to find expression in his Domus Transitoria (see chapter 3).35 But the fire of AD 64 offered a spectacular opportunity to carry this flare for extravagant architectural ventures to unpre­ce­dented heights. Although Suetonius describes the Golden House as a “restoration” (restitutam) of the Domus Transitoria destroyed by the fire, it would surely be a ­mistake to take his wording ­here literally, or to assume that he would have had any ­great insights into Nero’s conceptual thinking.36 The Domus Transitoria was not ­grand enough to excite a single comment in the sources in its own right, we know of it only as a foil for the Golden House, which in real­ity represented a radically new proj­ect. In any study of the consequences of the ­Great Fire of AD 64, the Golden 182 • chapter VI

6.1. Pos­si­ble traces of the Golden House and Domus Transitoria. C. Panella.

House deserves to be considered in detail. Admittedly the complex for the most part did not itself long survive, but it had a transformative influence on Roman architecture and how ancient Romans viewed their cities. Nero acquired land desolated by the fire to build a spectacular palace with extensive parkland, set around a lake, in the very heart of the city. A splendid arcaded ave­nue led east from the forum up to the The New Rome  •  183

6.2. Reconstruction of the Golden House, looking west. R. Carlani.

large vestibule built on a level platform on the Velia ­saddle to ­house the colossus, a huge statue possibly designed originally with the features of Nero, and from ­there to the large ornamental lake. A fountain was constructed on the podium of the still uncompleted ­Temple of Claudius on the Caelian, almost certainly providing ­water for the lake below. On the edge of the Oppian section of the Esquiline Hill, on the north side of the Colosseum valley, a huge complex was built, and on the other, southern, side, the Golden House no doubt incorporated buildings erected or refurbished on the Palatine. Thus, the House would have offered splendid vistas from all three eminences, the Caelian, Esquiline, and Palatine. If all of this is indeed to be deemed a single concept, one unitary domus, it was a domus of amazing complexity, prob­ ably not emulated ­until many de­cades ­later when Hadrian constructed 184 • chapter VI

6.3. Neronian Dupondius. Yale University Art Gallery.

his extravagant villa complex at Tibur (Tivoli) some twenty miles north east of Rome. Tacitus and Suetonius, especially the latter, offer vivid descriptions. Suetonius notes that the vestibule was large enough to h ­ ouse a colossal statue standing 120 feet high, and its ­triple portico was a mile in extent (on which, see below). ­There was a pool “as big as the sea,” surrounded by buildings that ­were like cities, and tracts of dif­fer­ent kinds of land—­tilled fields, vineyards, and woods—­with large numbers and va­ri­e­ties of domestic and wild animals. Tacitus also rec­ords the fields, lakes, and woods replicating open countryside with spacious views. Suetonius adds a host of other details: t­ here ­were baths r­ unning with seawater and with sulphurous spring w ­ ater, and every­thing was overlaid with gold and studded with precious stones and mother-­of-­ pearl.37 He goes on to say that the dining rooms ­were fitted with ceilings consisting of ivory panels that rotated, and that flowers ­were scattered from up above, and pipes sprayed perfume. The main dining room was surmounted by a dome that rotated continuously, day and night, like a celestial sphere. Of all the extravagant features of the Golden House, it is prob­ably this rotating dining room, the cenatio rotunda, that has most captured the imagination. Our information comes exclusively from Suetonius. The New Rome  •  185

So far archaeologists have identified four candidates, two of them on the Palatine, a third in the famous octagon room in the Oppian palace, and the fourth imaginatively located at the western side of the artificial lake. It has also been suggested that the domed structure depicted on a dupondius of Nero might represent the cenatio (it is usually identified as his ­earlier market on the Caelian) (see fig. 6.3).38 Its pos­ si­ble location within the Golden House ­will be considered at vari­ous points in the remainder of this chapter. The rotating room is representative of a trend in the architecture of the period, epitomized in a complaint of Seneca that his contemporaries had abandoned nature in ­favor of clever devices. He writes of a dining room with a ceiling fitted with movable panels that constantly change with the courses of the meal, as well as a gadget that sprays perfumes from a height via hidden pipes. Seneca was not alone. Varro, active in the first c­ entury BC, writes of his extravagant country estate near Casinum (Cassino). Its g­ reat claim to fame was its aviary, with a ­giant mechanical rotating device turned continuously by a slave boy to deliver food and drink to the birds. The centerpiece was a rotunda, its interior marked to indicate the passing hours by the position of the sun during the day and the eve­ning star at night. In imitation of the famous Tower of the Winds at Athens, the main eight winds ­were depicted on the dome; an arrow, presumably linked to a vane on the outside, pointed to the prevailing wind on the inside. We can add to ­these descriptions a passage from the Satyricon of Petronius. During the banquet of Trimalchio the panels of the ceiling draw apart and a hoop is lowered bearing gifts for the guests, who are sprayed with saffron perfume coming from jets within the fruit. Nero’s rotating room seems to have been part of a well-­established architectural phenomenon.39 The drawing rooms (sellariae) of the Golden House ­were supposedly decorated by statuary plundered by Nero from vari­ous parts of the Roman world. Frustratingly, Pliny provides this information at the end of an extensive account of some of the greatest sculpture of the Greeks, and he reports simply that the very best pieces ended up in the Golden House, without specifying which went where. Pausanias offers quite detailed lists of statues plundered by Nero, but his rec­ord is no more helpful for our purposes, since he too fails to provide their destinations.40 186 • chapter VI

The Golden House has never ceased to fascinate and has inspired a huge body of scholarly research. But the studies of modern researchers tend to be highly speculative. Much of the structure would still have been incomplete when Nero died, and much was demolished and rebuilt by the Flavians. And almost all of what the Flavians spared was destined to dis­appear ­under Trajan. Consequently, we have to be satisfied with the tantalizing remains found in the substructures of l­ater buildings (often not securely identified). And we have to exercise considerable caution in assessing the literary accounts, which are generally prone to hostile exaggeration in their descriptions of such ­grand architectural proj­ects. Several de­cades e­ arlier Ovid claimed that the home of Vedius Pollio, former fabulously wealthy friend of Augustus, was as “large as a city,” and the third-­century Greek historian Herodian reported that the sons of the emperor Septimius Severus lived in a palace that was larger than a w ­ hole city.41 It helps such exaggerated accounts that grandiose megalomania is a traditional attribute of the tyrant. According to Suetonius, Caligula’s building proj­ects had impelled him to raise plains to the height of mountains, and raze mountains to the level of plains.42 Pliny asserts that Rome was twice encircled (cingi) by imperial palaces, first by Caligula and then by Nero, and he speaks of the Golden House enfolding (ambiens) the city. For all of Caligula’s enthusiasm for luxury accommodation, we know that the charge is totally ridicu­lous in his case, and hence we should not take it too seriously e­ ither in Nero’s.43 Admittedly, by Nero’s time a number of large, park-­like gardens had come into imperial possession, such as the Gardens of Agrippina in the Vatican area, of Lucullus on the Pincian Hill, the Gardens of Maecenas and the Lamian Gardens on the Esquiline and the Gardens of Sallust between the Quirinal and Pincian; hence in a certain sense it could be said that t­ hese vast imperial possessions embraced the center of the city. But Pliny was clearly seeking to convey the impression not of parkland, but of a vast palace spreading its physical tentacles over the civic area.44 Other references to the size of the Golden House should be seen very much in their context. As mentioned in chapter 2, Suetonius reported a popu­lar verse that Rome was turning into a single ­house and that Romans should migrate to Veii, provided Nero’s ­house did not swallow up Veii too. But in the way of popu­lar verses, this lampoon achieves its effect by The New Rome  •  187

pushing an idea to the limits of absurdity.45 And when Martial says that the Flavian public buildings w ­ ere rising up on land where just recently a ­whole city had been transformed into a single dwelling, the Golden House, we need to remember that Martial was using language designed to find f­avor with his Flavian patrons.46 The a­ ctual living quarters of Nero’s g­ rand complex may not have been nearly as luxurious as the literary sources want to suggest. At any rate, in a section that focuses on the short-­lived emperor Vitellius’s love of extravagant living (when someone ­else was footing the bill), Dio rec­ords that Vitellius thought that the Golden House was wretched and its furnishings scant and mediocre. When he fell ill, he found it difficult to locate a room where he could feel comfortable. Vitellius’s wife Galeria was scathing about the absence of decoration in the royal chambers.47 Similarly, we must apply due skepticism to modern estimates of its size. The calculations range widely, from a conservative 100 acres (approximately 40.5 ha) to as high as 400 acres.48 This wide range may seem remarkable, but it is perhaps what is to be expected when we try to put a figure to the overall size of a complex that we can not even define.49 And t­ here is not even general agreement about its basic character. One school of thought would see it as simply a variant of a very traditional villa, very much in the Roman tradition—­extravagant perhaps, but not inherently remarkable. It has been observed that the remains of the section surviving on the Oppian Hill are reminiscent of the seaside villas that appear in Pompeian paintings, with their statues, lakes, and vegetation. Another approach is almost the opposite, that the Golden House is a remarkable and revolutionary proj­ect, one that broke the traditional mold and shed the constraints of the past to represent a new landmark in the history of Roman architecture. And ­there is also the view that it was a palace inspired by notions of Eastern kingship and is replete with cosmological and astronomical symbolism.50 Even the name, Golden House, domus aurea, is puzzling. A domus strongly suggests a private dwelling, a unitary structure with clearly defined contours. But when the literary sources apply the term to the Neronian complex, they are surely not using it in a precise technical sense. When Pliny speaks of the city having been ringed by two “houses” (domus), he must intend the image in the sense of a string of 188 • chapter VI

individual residences making up a ­grand architectural concept. Hence the translation “Golden House” is somewhat misleading; domus aurea would perhaps be better rendered as something like a “golden domestic complex.”51 And in what sense would it have been golden (aurea)? The significance of this ele­ment in the name is far from certain. It might refer specifically to the gilding applied to the outside of the structure. Martial says that the halls of the Golden House “gleamed” (radiabant), and Pliny expressed astonishment at the amount of gold used.52 This would have been in keeping with Neronian taste—­when Tiridates came to Rome in AD 66 to be crowned King of Armenia, Nero reputedly covered the Theater of Pompey in gold foil.53 Seneca, perhaps alluding cryptically to the Golden House when indulging in one of his typical diatribes against wealth, quotes Ovid’s description of Apollo’s golden palace “clear with glittering gold” (clara micante auro).54 But this may be just a coincidence. Any gilding of a building by necessity has to be carried out in its ­later stages of construction, and it seems almost inconceivable that Seneca could have been witness to any gilding of the palace before his death, early in AD 65. In a more abstract way, the aurea ele­ment may refer simply to the complex as the harbinger of a new golden age. This figurative meaning is strongly implied by the Greek man of letters Dio Chrysostom (to be distinguished from the historian Cassius Dio), who spent time in Rome during the reign of Vespasian and may have seen the Golden House before most of it was destroyed. Some time ­later he proclaimed in a speech that a ­house of gold was in effect something worthless, no more useful than a tree of gold, and he would not want a real golden ­house, never mind one golden in name only, like Nero’s, a sentiment that has l­ittle point u ­ nless the term is being used figuratively in the case of Nero’s creation.55 A key question to ask about the Golden House is ­whether Nero saw it as a public or a private proj­ect. Some of its rooms presumably would have been intended for the exclusive use of the emperor and his ­family (which would certainly apply to the palaces on the Esquiline and Palatine), but it may not be useful to think of this as a h ­ ouse with a defined perimeter, one that caused roads to divert and that blocked general access. ­There would likely have been some sort of controlled access through the grounds—­there ­were certainly public roads r­unning The New Rome  •  189

through the Colosseum valley.56 We know that ­there was a ­Temple of Fortune in the vicinity of the lake (see below), which must have been accessible by the public. Augustus set something of a pre­ce­dent when he acquired properties on the Palatine in absentia, using agents, and declared when he returned to Rome that the land was to be made available as a public amenity—he even built the ­Temple of Apollo ­there.57 An obsessively private emperor like Tiberius, on the other hand, would no doubt have built a residence where he could enjoy a sequestered existence. But other prominent Romans seem to have enjoyed allowing the public into their homes. Pompey welcomed the p ­ eople into his garden in 61 BC, and ­after the defeat of Pompey’s son at the B ­ attle of Munda in Spain, in 45 BC, Caesar celebrated his victory by inviting the Roman p ­ eople to his estate.58 Nero was far more gregarious than ­either Pompey or Caesar, let alone Tiberius, and he seems to have believed that he was living out his life on the stage, in the public eye, surrounded by his adulating subjects. He craved popu­lar attention—­and felt comfortable mingling with the masses, as he reputedly did when the condemned arsonists ­were subjected to horrendous punishments ­after the ­Great Fire. As Tacitus comments disparagingly, Nero liked to treat the ­whole city as if it was his home.59 The central purpose of his g­ rand palace would be lost without the public t­ here to admire it.60 While this attitude may seem to hint at megalomania, in fact it conformed to the precepts of no less an authority than Vitruvius, writing a ­couple of generations e­ arlier. Vitruvius advocated the princi­ple by which one’s home should match one’s profession. The merchant, for example, should have storerooms, the banker secure vaults and the like, but nobiles, the holders of public office, who often perform their public duties within their homes, should reflect this public dimension by building homes that seem almost a blueprint for the Golden House, with g­ rand regal vestibules, spacious halls and courtyards, and extensive groves and walks. Hence, in Rome, the Domus Aurea may have resembled a small-­ scale version of the Campus Martius, an aesthetically rewarding unit with private spaces, but other­wise intended for all and open to Romans for communal plea­sure.61 Suetonius comments that Augustus built his mausoleum on the Campus as his last resting place, obviously 190 • chapter VI

a very private location, but opened up to the public the groves and the walkways (silvas et ambulationes) that surrounded it.62 In more modern terms the Golden House, certainly the section between the Esquiline and Palatine/Caelian, was surely no Neuschwanstein or Buckingham Palace. A useful modern parallel might be the Mathildenhöhe, a parklike area on the outskirts of Darmstadt in Germany, adorned with striking Jugendstil buildings, the brainchild of the ­Grand Duke of Hesse: ­there the buildings themselves are mainly private, but some are public, and both types stand together in a beautiful landscaped area open to the public as accessible parkland. It has even been argued that Nero may have allowed small industrial endeavors to continue within the confines of the complex.63 Trying to estimate the acreage of an entity that evades precise definition, as this one does, is surely a doomed enterprise. The architects/engineers responsible for the Golden House w ­ ere Severus and Celer.64 They are other­wise almost totally unknown, but, to judge from their names, w ­ ere Roman rather than Greek.65 Clearly they enjoyed Nero’s f­ avor, and possibly appealed to him as visionary architects undaunted by apparently insuperable obstacles, since they had ­earlier received a commission to construct a navigable canal, built with convict l­abor, 160 Roman miles long, from Lake Avernus in Campania all the way to the mouth of the Tiber.66 Suetonius notes that it was to be wide enough to allow ships with five banks of oars to pass each other. It no doubt helped that Severus and Celer would have had access to the almost unlimited resources of the emperor to indulge their ambitious impulses. Their fingerprints in Rome may be detected in the way that the edge of the Oppian Hill was cut away to accommodate part of the palace, and the Velia ­saddle was excavated and buttressed to allow for the construction of the vestibule (see below). Such proj­ ects matched the temper of the times—­that same kind of domination of nature was evidenced at Subiaco (the site of a ­later Benedictine monastery in Lazio), where a splendid villa was constructed in the Neronian period and the river was dammed to create artificial lakes. The starting point of any attempt to get a general sense of the Golden House complex is the work of the poet Martial. He has left us a vivid description, written, in elegiac couplets, during the short reign of Vespasian’s son and successor, Titus (AD 79–81), to celebrate the The New Rome  •  191

inauguration of Vespasian’s ­great amphitheater, known ­later as the Colosseum: ­ ere where the starry colossus has a close-up view of the heavens H And high scaffolding rises up in the midst of the street,67 Once gleamed the hated halls of a savage king And one single ­house was starting to occupy a ­whole city. ­Here where rises the revered mass of the splendid amphitheater 5 ­Here ­were Nero’s lakes. ­Here where we marvel at the baths, amenities that came so quickly, An arrogant estate stole the dwellings of the wretched. Where the Claudian portico lays out its wide-­spread shade Stood the furthest section of the doomed palace. 10 Rome is handed back to Rome, and ­under your rule, Caesar, The pleasures, once of the master, are now ­those of the ­people. (Martial, Liber de Spectaculis 2)

Martial is extremely informative h ­ ere.68 He locates Nero’s artificial lake on the site of the Colosseum and reveals that the complex also embraced the area to the west, where Nero’s huge statue, the colossus, stood in Vespasian’s time (it was prob­ably first erected by that same emperor). Martial also reveals that the palace occupied part of the Oppian, at least the part that l­ater ­housed the Baths of Titus (see below). And fi­nally, he shows that its furthest extent in the southeast was marked by the platform of the ­Temple of Claudius. He says nothing of any structures on the Palatine, nor of the section adjacent to the Forum Romanum. We can supplement Martial’s description with the testimony of Suetonius, outlined above.69 Suetonius’s account is noteworthy for what it does not contain. He seems, to the extent that he gives any topographical clues, to limit himself to the Velia and the Colosseum valley, referring to the vestibule, the lake, the wooded areas. He makes no mention of the podium of the ­Temple of Claudius, or of the buildings on the flanking hills, the Palatine, Esquiline, and Caelian, nor, like Martial, of any construction between the Forum Romanum and the vestibule. ­These omissions and discrepancies are not necessarily problematic; but they reinforce the notion that the contours of the Golden House do not lend themselves to easy definition.

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It ­will be simplest at this point to consider each section of the complex in turn, recognizing that t­hese “sections” are to some degree arbitrary divisions ­adopted for the con­ve­nience of modern analy­sis. We can begin with what is by far the most complicated, and, ironically ­because of that, the simplest to deal with ­here, the Palatine Hill. The enormous archaeological difficulties that this area poses have been noted above. It is a reasonable assumption that from an early date Nero would have added to the assemblage of imperial buildings on the hill, and Neronian structures that might have been part of the ­earlier Domus Transitoria have been tentatively identified (see chapter 3). Positive identification of buildings belonging to the ­later Golden House is an even more hazardous venture. It is broadly accepted that if Nero was not responsible for the initial construction of the huge unitary palace of the Domus Tiberiana, he would likely have developed and enhanced the residence already in place when he came to power in AD 54. That Neronian structure, w ­ hether Nero’s own original creation or a refurbishment of a previously standing complex, was most likely lost in the fire of AD 64, as Tacitus seems to suggest.70 It is also broadly accepted that Nero would have replaced what was destroyed with ele­ments of the new Golden House proj­ect. Wiseman has recently argued that the Palatine was in fact extensively redesigned by Nero ­after the fire, with four g­ reat complexes. One of t­ hese would have been the Domus Tiberiana, the second the ­great vestibule that he created on the Velia spur, to be occupied ­later by Hadrian’s ­Temple of Venus and Rome (see ­later in this chapter). He locates another on the Vigna Barberini in the northeast sector of the hill, where a Domitianic palace was ­later built. The fourth occupied the site of yet another ­future Domitianic palace, the massive Domus August(i)ana.71 In this last sector, the Bagni di Livia under­lying the triclinium of the ­later Domitianic palace is generally acknowledged to be part of the Domus Transitoria (chapter 3). The Bagni is cut through by a large architectural structure that must (since it cuts into it) be l­ ater than the Bagni, but which also underlies, and hence must be ­earlier than, the Domitianic palace built over the area.72 Only its foundations remain, in the form of two concentric circular structures connected by radial arms. On the outer of ­these, 35 m in circumference, the brickwork has

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6.4. Circular structure, Golden House, Palatine. A. Louis.

survived, with a waterproofing layer of mortared marble cladding. The circular feature stood inside a large square base of which only traces survive, approximately 42.5 sq m. The construction sequence suggests very strongly that we have h ­ ere a feature of the Golden House, perhaps the foundations of one of the rotating dining rooms. What may have been a similar feature, but much better preserved, was discovered in 2009, in the northeast sector of the Vigna Barberini. An artificial terrace was constructed t­ here between 70 and 92 and a large Domitianic palace erected on top of it. Before this, Nero had installed an impressive structure that ­rose up on the slope of the hill as it was then. ­Later buried in the fill used to create the terracing, it served as a support for the Domitianic palace above. It has recently been excavated ­under the direction of Françoise Villedieu. What remains of the building is made up of a central pier 4 m in dia­meter, which is encircled by two concentric walls. The outer, thicker one is 2 m thick, with a dia­meter of 20 m, and the inner wall is 16 m in dia­ 194 • chapter VI

6.5. Substructure of rotating chamber below Vigna Barberini. F. Villedieu, N. André.

6.6. Base and inner steps, central pillar. F. Villedieu, C. Durand.

meter. The central pillar is hollow, and at its base a doorway provides access to its interior and to a circular staircase. Two sets of semicircular arches link this central pillar to the encircling wall. The ­whole of the surviving “tower” is 20 m high. The superstructure is lost.73 Villedieu has suggested it as another candidate for some sort of rotating chamber. The New Rome  •  195

­ hese two circular features (this one and the one cutting into the T Bagni di Livia) strengthen Wiseman’s case for ele­ments of the Golden House in ­these two dif­fer­ent sectors of the hill. It is worth noting that they are both highly innovative, suggesting that any other buildings erected by Nero on the Palatine a­ fter the fire of AD 64 might have been as groundbreaking as the striking palace preserved on the Oppian ridge of the Esquiline at the opposite side of the Colosseum valley (see below). To judge from Martial’s description (“Where the Claudian portico lays out its wide-­spread shade / Stood the furthest section of the doomed palace”), the slope of the Caelian Hill seems to have been regarded, rightly or not, as the eastern limit of the Golden House.74 ­Here the proj­ect made use of the podium of the huge and presumably still incomplete ­Temple of Claudius. Work on the ­temple was abandoned and a huge fountain h ­ ouse (nymphaeum) was integrated into the eastern side of its podium.75 This fountain was supplied by a feeder flowing from an aqueduct that had been completed e­ arlier by Claudius, the Aqua Claudia. This spur was built by Nero on tall, slender arches, which Frontinus says ­were known as the “Neronian Arches” (Arcus Neroniani); they w ­ ere l­ater fortified by Vespasian.76 The eastern edge of the podium was excavated in 1880 when the modern Via Claudia roadway was built. The excavations revealed a large brick wall, 167 m long and 11 m high, with a series of alternating niches symmetrically framing a large chamber at the center. Between each pair of rectangular niches are three or four ­others that are semicircular in shape, on a smaller scale. ­There is no trace of the portico mentioned by Martial, but a colonnade would prob­ably have run along the front, with the openings corresponding to the niches. ­There are traces of a ­water channel, and presumably the ­water flowed from ­here north to Nero’s lake. The ­whole façade would almost certainly have been embellished with sculptures. It is pos­si­ble that ­there was an upper story, perhaps with cascades. The nymphaeum would no doubt have been destroyed when Vespasian eventually undertook the completion of Claudius’s t­ emple. On the north side of the podium l­ittle has survived. ­There is a series of vaulted chambers, some of which are encrusted with lime, and ­there must have been ­water pipes ­here at one point. Farther down the slope 196 • chapter VI

t­here are traces of terracing, prob­ably a fountain cascade. The slope was no doubt decorated with architectural features. A fountain piece in the form of a ship’s prow with a boar’s head and sea monsters has survived.77 In his description of the Golden House Suetonius sets his sights on the Colosseum Valley and the Velia, and to the extent that the complex might be said to have had a central focus Suetonius seems to place it ­here, giving pride of place to what he calls the vestibulum. This vestibule, he says, was designed to contain Nero’s huge statue, the colossus, erected eventually by Vespasian (on the Sacra Via, according to Dio). This might be taken to suggest that Vespasian opened up a thoroughfare through the area, but of course we do not know that the vestibule was ever conceived by Nero as a private zone.78 It seems unlikely: the statue was surely intended to be seen and admired. We know that when erected by Vespasian it did stand in the vestibule, since Hadrian l­ater moved it closer to Vespasian’s amphitheater to make way for his monumental ­Temple of Venus and Rome, which means that we know the original general location of the statue and hence of the vestibule from the location of the podium of that ­Temple. In order to accommodate the massive horizontal platform of the vestibule, Nero’s architects cut back and buttressed the slopes of the Velia and Palatine. This would have been a huge undertaking, and it seems more than likely that the vestibule was far from finished before Nero’s death. What had already been completed was greatly modified by the Flavians and ­under Hadrian, when anything Neronian would have been demolished to make way for the ­Temple’s podium. We must also supplement Hadrian’s activities with subsequent destruction in ­later years, particularly the 1930s construction of the Fascist Via dei Fori Imperiali, which cut straight through the vestibule. As a result, no discernable trace of the original Neronian structure has been detected except perhaps on the perimeter near the southeast corner. We must keep in mind, of course, that in using words like vestibulum to describe the vari­ous features of the Golden House, Suetonius would have drawn on the familiar repertoire of domestic architectural terms and have assigned traditional labels that may not necessarily truly reflect the original Neronian concept. Indeed, Suetonius’s architectural descriptions ­here are so cryptic that he might well have based The New Rome  •  197

his account on a technical description that perhaps he did not himself fully understand. Although he seems superficially to offer very precise information, it proves on close inspection to be frustratingly uninformative: “Its vestibule [sc. the Golden House’s] was such that it contained (or ‘it could contain’) a colossal statue of him [sc. Nero] that stood 120 feet high; so spacious was it that its ­triple portico was a mile long” (vestibulum eius fuit, in quo colossus CXX pedum staret ipsius effigie; tanta laxitas, ut porticus triplices miliarias haberet). All well and good, but we do not know to what the “it” of “so spacious was it” refers; it is equally ambiguous in Latin as in En­glish, and could refer to the so-­called vestibule, or to the Golden House as a w ­ hole. Nor can we tell from the text if the colossus ever stood in the vestibule in Nero’s time or if the vestibule was simply designed in such a way as to be able to accommodate it; again, the Latin can convey ­either meaning. The rest of the description is even more frustrating. Did “it” have three porticoes, each a mile long, or a portico system with three sets of columns one mile long in total. And “mile” has been used in this translation b ­ ecause the porticoes are milariae, a thousand units long, prob­ably referring to 1,000 paces, hence close to our modern mile (a Roman pace was what we would call a double pace). But it is not impossible that it refers to one thousand Roman feet.79 Suetonius’s evidence, then, does not ­really live up to its promise. A recent study of the site concludes that the Hadrianic ­temple podium did indeed conform to the pre-­existing Neronian plan, occupying an area of some 17,000 sq m, and also that the porticoed section of the Sacra Via rising up to the vestibule from the Forum Romanum on the one hand, and the platform of the vestibule on the other, ­were not on a straight line but form a slight ­angle of a few degrees. Much useful archaeological information on the southeast corner of the vestibule has come to light as a result of the Meta Sudans excavations. The eastern section of the east-­west road r­unning along the southern edge of the vestibule has been carefully investigated by Emanuele Brienza, who has concluded that the road r­ ose from the eastern end up to the Arch of Titus location some 10.2 m, with a gain in elevation of some 5% or 6%.80 ­There was a portico at e­ ither side of the road, and Brienza concludes that the porticoes consisted of a series of arched vaults with rectangular pillar supports. Superimposed on the 198 • chapter VI

6.7. Reconstruction of portico. Southern edge of vestibule. E. Brienza.

pillar supports w ­ ere engaged decorative pilasters. Fragments of engaged Corinthian capitals have survived, possibly of the Neronian era.81 To negotiate the rising slope of the road Brienza assumes that the floor of the porticoes followed the slope and that differing sizes of the plinths on which the pilasters stood would compensate for the changes in elevation. The roof level would of course be horizontal and would be stepped in stages. We must bear in mind that Nero’s porticoes may never have been built beyond the foundation level and at least some of the surviving traces of construction could belong to the Flavian period. It was Nero’s intention that the dominant feature of the vestibule would be his most remarkable architectural enterprise, and the most lasting vis­i­ble relic of the aftermath of the G ­ reat Fire, the monumental statue known from antiquity as the colossus.82 This proj­ect made a vivid impression on Pliny the Elder, who has left a detailed account of its origins and appearance.83 Pliny informs us that it was created by the sculptor Zenodorus, a leading practitioner of the day, who specialized in larger-­than-­life commissions (he is other­wise unknown). Zenodorus was in Gaul when he was hired for the Golden House, completing a ten-­year contract for a massive statue of Mercury for the Arverni at the cost of 400,000 sestertii. Apparently his g­ reat success The New Rome  •  199

with that assignment induced Nero to send for him for the Golden House commission. According to Pliny, Zenodorus practiced a d ­ ying art. Although Nero was willing to make gold and silver available, the sculptor chose to use bronze, and b ­ ecause of its huge size the image had to be made in parts, to be assembled afterward. This was the last time this method was used, and the technique of fusing bronze was henceforth lost. Pliny remarks that Zenodorus’s creation was the largest of all the ­great statues of antiquity, and that the finished product may have stood some 120 Roman feet high.84 Dio tells us explic­itly that it was actually erected in AD 75, not by Nero, but by Vespasian, in the year of Vespasian’s consulship, more than ten years a­ fter the fire.85 In 1961, Lugli argued that the statue could not have been completed in Nero’s lifetime and that it must have been assembled for the very first time just before it was erected in 75. Lugli’s view has been broadly accepted: ­after all, it took Zenodorus ten years to construct the smaller statue of Mercury, and ­there would hardly have been sufficient time to complete the colossus between mid-­AD 64 and early 68.86 What did the colossus represent? Certainly Pliny is unequivocal that Zenodorus was originally commissioned to create a statue that resembled Nero (illius principis simulacro). Pliny actually visited the sculptor’s studio in Rome, where he was impressed by the clay model that he saw ­there and by its likeness to the emperor (Pliny’s reminiscence suggests that he did not see the statue as fi­nally erected). But precisely what the statue was meant to represent at the outset is uncertain. It may, of course, simply have represented Nero; Pliny implies this, commenting that it was dedicated to Sol, the sun, ­after Nero had fallen in disgrace.87 It might have been intended to represent Sol from the outset, and, of course, it might nominally have been intended to represent Sol but have borne the features of Nero.88 Dio comments that some thought it resembled Titus, perhaps suggesting e­ ither that the face was somewhat generic, or that it was reworked when the statue was assembled/completed by Vespasian, if indeed it had already received its facial features before Nero died. Afterward it presumably did represent the sun (Sol), since on l­ater coins it is depicted wearing a radiate crown.89

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Statuary of prominent Romans was common enough, of course, but one erected on such a huge scale to represent Nero himself, if that was the intent, would have been extraordinary, and it may be no accident that Zenodorus’s last known commission had been of a god. And Nero does not seem to have ­limited himself to the bronze statue. We have a remarkable account by the elder Pliny of a ­giant canvas, depicting Nero, 120 Roman feet high, erected in the “Maian Gardens,” prob­ ably located on the Esquiline. This was something never previously seen, although it is not obvious precisely what Pliny claims was unprecedented—he may be referring to a canvas on this scale.90 The coincidence of the height of each structure suggests that this second piece could have been a temporary replica on canvas of the projected bronze monument, but the erection of a canvas of that size would have been a major technical challenge. In any case it was destroyed by lightning. When in the second ­century AD Hadrian needed the site of the colossus for his ­great ­Temple of Venus and Rome, he transported the statue, still erect, using a team of twenty-­four elephants, to a spot near the Colosseum. According to legend, it was Hadrian who removed the features of Nero from the statue, but we can be confident that they had not appeared on the version erected by Vespasian.91 In the late second c­ entury, Commodus reputedly replaced the statue’s head with his own, along with a club and a bronze lion, to turn himself into a latter-­day Hercules, then ­after his death the features of the sun w ­ ere apparently restored.92 This was clearly a monument with a rich history. It is depicted on coins of the third c­ entury as located in the vicinity of the Colosseum and the Meta Sudans,93 and it was still standing in AD 354.94 Its fate a­ fter that is unknown. Part of its Hadrianic base near the amphitheater was rediscovered in the nineteenth c­ entury and surveyed in the 1980s.95 It stood at 17.60 m × 14.75 m, consisting of brick-­faced concrete, originally with a facing of marble. Other­wise, no trace of the colossus survives t­ oday. In a sense it can be argued that it is the most familiar architectural legacy of the ­Great Fire, since it may well have given its name to one of Rome’s most famous and familiar landmarks, the Colosseum.96 East of the vestibule the depression that lies between the Esquiline and the Caelian hills is still ­today occupied by Vespasian’s Colosseum.

The New Rome  •  201

It was ­here that Nero constructed his celebrated lake. Martial is the only literary source to provide its specific location, but the more general accounts of Tacitus and Suetonius certainly fit his information well enough. The lake, described in hyperbolic terms by Suetonius (“as big as a sea”), must have been an arresting sight. Traditionally, it was seen as a Capability Brown type of creation, one that harmonized with the landscape, to create the impression of a natu­ral body of w ­ ater occupying the irregular shape created by nature in the lower recesses of the surrounding hills. Recent archaeological investigations have cast serious doubt on this assumption, and it is now broadly accepted that the lake was very much an artificial phenomenon, not only fed by ­water brought from the fountain ­house on the Caelian, but also synthetic and formal in shape. It is to be noted that Martial and Tacitus both talk of lakes in the plural, stagna (Martial perhaps in part for metrical reasons), and the complex may have consisted of a main body of ­water and one or more minor pools (as shown on the reconstruction, see fig. 6.2).97 From the late nineteenth c­ entury, traces of what might be porticoes or terraces have come to light on the lower slopes of the Esquiline, as incidental discoveries during the installation of utilities such as gas lines or sewer pipes. Recent excavations in the area of the Meta Sudans have revealed much more substantive evidence.98 The features that have emerged point to a lake in the form of a ­great rectangle, framed on each side by substantial structures, appearing far more Versailles than Blenheim Palace. The archaeological evidence is not, of course, definitive (it almost never is by itself), and the presence of a rectilinear row of rooms to the west of the lake, revealed by the Meta Sudans excavations, does not necessarily preclude a naturally s­ haped phenomenon.99 But the conclusions of the excavation team are supported by Suetonius’s description of the lake, expressed, it must be admitted, rather obliquely. He says that it was “surrounded (circumsaeptum) with buildings made to appear like cities.” This description is generally taken to refer to a landscape dotted with shrines and porticoes, like follies on an En­glish country estate. But the word has a much more restrictive meaning, implying something more like “fenced around.”100 According to the archaeologists, the “fence” in this case would have taken the form of a portico, which suits a formally ­shaped space, almost certainly 202 • chapter VI




















Meters 150

6.8. Lake and vestibule. C. Panella.

rectangular. Suetonius’s “like a city” (ad urbium speciem) is baffling, no ­matter how we interpret the lake. The expression certainly does not lend itself to a picturesque landscape. One possibility is that the rectangular frame echoes the ­triple portico that Suetonius assigns to the vestibule, and might have been planned on a monumental scale, something we might associate with a city rather than a park. Suetonius’s phrase, like the claim that the lake was “as big as a sea,” would be an absurd exaggeration, but of course it may well be that the framing portico never got beyond the foundation level and was thus never actually seen, giving him license for some imaginative hyperbole.101 In her contribution to the Meta Sudans excavation report, Maura Medri concluded that the lake was some 195 m × 175 m, located within a t­riple portico of approximately 200 sq m.102 From the evidence in the general area Panella argues that the ground surrounding the lake was raised significantly by the piling up of fire debris, from 16 m to The New Rome  •  203

20 m asl (above sea level), and that in the ­actual lake basin the pro­ cess would have been reversed, and the debris would have been removed.103 Remains of pre-­Neronian walls and pavements from below the stagnum have been discovered ­under the Flavian levels in the Colosseum, at 15.5 m asl, indicating that the basin of the lake must be above this level.104 The ­water t­able has been calculated as prob­ably between 12 and 14 m asl, hence the probable need for an artificial ­water supply from the Caelian Hill. No trace of the lake floor has been detected, but a depth between 4 and 6 m has been calculated by the difference between the early Neronian ground level, 15.5 m asl, and the post-­Fire level of the debris in the surrounding area, at 20–22 m asl.105 The clay in the soil likely would have been sufficient to hold the ­water without the need for an artificial basin. A deep sewer making a right-­angled turn was found in the southeast of the valley, which Rea associates with the lake.106 Useful physical evidence was brought to light by the Meta Sudans excavations. Along the continuation north of the modern via di San Gregorio between the vestibule on the west and the lake on the east, two parallel building blocks w ­ ere brought to light. In the western range, just to the east of the vestibule, w ­ ere rectangular rooms, perhaps shops, on e­ ither side of the road to the Esquiline, with their openings onto that road. ­These would have been demolished u ­ nder Vespasian (if they ­were ever completed) to create the space between the Colosseum and the vestibule, as part of the clear zone that would presumably have been created around the amphitheater. It is very pos­si­ ble also that with the building of the amphitheater, the eastern portico of the vestibule was dismantled and the area cleared back to what would become the eastern edge of the podium erected l­ater by Hadrian for his Temple (figs. 6.9, 6.10).107 To the east of the range of rooms flanking the vestibule, hence between them and the lake, was a corridor separating them from a second series of rooms to their east. This other range of rooms was damaged or destroyed ­because of the construction of the Colosseum and much ­later by the installation of a modern Metro line. Traces revealed by ­later construction proj­ects have been examined, along with further evidence collected by recent exploratory excavation.108 The remains are so tenuous that they lend themselves to widely differing interpre204 • chapter VI

6.9. Area between vestibule and lake. C. Panella.

tations. Carandini has argued that the main residential wing of the Golden House was located ­here, including the rotating dining room described by Suetonius.109 Panella on the other hand is much more cautious about what can be deduced from the flimsy archaeological evidence. She suggests that the single-­story double ranges could have been The New Rome  •  205

6.10. Southern corner of vestibule and lake. C. Panella.

part of the terracing that would have negotiated the slope between the vestibule and the lake below.110 East of the lake very l­ittle evidence survives of any structures, and it may be ­here that the semi-­rural landscape described by Suetonius was located.111 Suetonius talks of the vari­ous tracts of land, woods, vineyards, tilled fields, inhabited by a range of dif­fer­ent wild and domesticated animals. One of the buildings located in this area would presumably have been the ­Temple of Fortune, built, according to Pliny, within the precincts of the Golden House. The original ­Temple had originally been consecrated by King Servius Tullius and the new version must have been a spectacular sight, built out of very hard and apparently transparent stone imported from Cappadocia, in eastern Asia Minor. During the day, when its doors w ­ ere closed, it was still 112 illuminated within by the natu­ral light. 206 • chapter VI

6.11. Van Deman’s Sacra Via and vestibule. E. Van Deman.

To the west of the vestibule, the area between it and the Forum Romanum is not mentioned by the literary sources as part of the Golden House. Almost a ­century ago Esther van Deman investigated the archaeological evidence for Neronian construction h ­ ere, and since her time the section between the forum and the vestibule has generally The New Rome  •  207

6.12. Van Deman’s reconstruction of Nero’s portico. E. Van Deman.

been considered part of Nero’s proj­ect.113 The archaeological material started to reveal itself in the ­later nineteenth ­century, and consists mainly of architectural substructures, in the form of foundations and column bases, as well as a variety of scattered architectural fragments. It appears that the ancient Sacra Via as it led from the forum was straightened, and widened to about 30 m. As it proceeded east it ­rose up the Velia slope, and by the time it reached the Clivus Palatinus (see above) it had changed its elevation by about 14 m.114 Nero flanked it on ­either side with arcaded porticoes formed by double rows of piers with space for pedestrians between, possibly two stories high, standing some 2.5 m above the street below, and reached by steps. ­These arcades followed the sloped gradient of the street below.115 A complex of vaulted halls stood on ­either side, their size suggesting that they might have had a commercial function.116 Van Deman’s conclusions have been challenged, most notably by Fernando Castagnoli, who believes that much of the work that she assigned to Nero’s Golden House may well be Flavian.117 We simply do not know how far advanced the Neronian scheme was by AD 68, but at the very least it does seem to have been altered substantially by the Flavians. Buttresses w ­ ere placed on the inner sides of the pillars, suggesting that they ­were intended to carry a heavier structure than planned by him.118 Any reconstruction of the Golden House to the west of the vestibule must by necessity be highly speculative; the issue is greatly complicated by the absence of literary evidence 208 • chapter VI

6.13. Detail of portico. E. Van Deman.

and the uncertainty about how much of it, if any, was finished by Nero above the foundation level. The most complete section of the Golden House to have survived reasonably intact is located on the side of the Colosseum valley opposite to the Palatine, that is, on the spur at the southwest edge of the Esquiline known as the Oppian.119 The splendid palace located t­ here did not survive ­because of its architectural importance, which is unquestioned, but by the pure accident that, ­after a fire in AD 104, the complex was incorporated into the foundations of the baths of Trajan, and remained preserved u ­ ntil being rediscovered during the Re­nais­ 120 sance. We do not know the relationship of this structure to the Golden House as a ­whole ­because it is not mentioned in any literary source, the closest reference being Martial’s comment that the Baths of Titus, which abut it to the west, stood on land where “an arrogant estate stole their ­houses from the poor.” When it was discovered in the fifteenth ­century, the Oppian wing was so admired that it was assigned initially to one of the respected emperors, such as Titus or Trajan, and it was not recognized as Neronian ­until the nineteenth ­century. The Neronian attribution is not seriously challenged ­today,121 but scholars w ­ ill occasionally go beyond its ­simple attribution to the Golden House and speak of it as the main building of the complex.122 We must be cautious in making such assumptions. Suetonius’s use of the word vestibulum, however casual, at least implies that, if anywhere, it was the Velia and Colosseum valley area that constituted the “heart” of the Golden House complex.123 With that caveat, it must be acknowledged that the Oppian wing is the only place where we can properly assess the place of the Golden House in the history of Roman architecture, and scholars deem that place to be significant indeed. The palace has been hailed as one of the most celebrated buildings of the ancient world, one that marks a milestone in the history of Classical architecture. William MacDonald, author of one of the standard handbooks on Roman architecture, identifies it as a true turning point, a revolutionary landmark, which demonstrated how art and architecture can benefit from the firm hand of a power­ful autocrat determined to create a residence worthy of his status and position, where he can indulge his imagination and sense of innovation. In ­doing just this, Nero took the mundane fireproof 210 • chapter VI

6.14. Reconstruction of Oppian Wing. H. Beste.

qualities of concrete and made it capable of a supreme aesthetic statement.124 MacDonald also suggests that the enduring Roman love of combined polygonal, curving, and rectilinear plans began with this complex.125 To the premier expert on Roman vault construction, Lynne Lancaster, the g­ reat shift was not so much in the exploitation of concrete in creating techniques in vaulting, but in the change in attitude ­toward design and the way buildings are illuminated by natu­ral light.126 The surviving Oppian wing consists of a long colonnaded building with a five-­sided court in its western section. This may have been balanced by a similar court in the east, of which surviving traces have been detected.127 If it was indeed symmetrical, the structure would have been just over 350 m in length, which would extend to 500 m if the adjoining Baths of Titus represent part of the original complex. This might be compared with 402 m for the façade of the main palace of Versailles.128 Moreover, such a symmetrical arrangement would mean that its central axis was occupied by its magnificent domed octagonal hall, on which more is said below. ­There is an almost universal body of thought that the Oppian wing as it now stands represents dif­fer­ent phases of construction, and that the ­earlier phase is to be dated before the fire of AD 64, therefore belonging to the Domus Transitoria. Larry The New Rome  •  211

6.15. Oppian Wing and Baths of Titus. A. Louis.

Ball, who has subjected the building techniques of the complex to very close scrutiny, examined this thesis in some detail and concluded that the architects bought up property as it became available and skillfully accommodated their structures to the space available. Also, Coarelli has observed that the western complex of rooms fits awkwardly onto the remainder of the wing and has suggested that their division might mark the junction between the Domus Transitoria and the Golden House. Laura Fabbrini’s discovery of traces of fire in the upper story above the Octagon room adds credence to the argument that the palace began life as part of that pre-­fire structure (see chapter 3).129 All that said, it is prob­ably safe to assume that the remarkable features of the building that have survived t­oday essentially reflect Nero’s ­grand vision ­after the fire, and that the complex is in harmony with the imaginative ambition of the remainder of the Golden House, the porticoed approach on the Sacra Via, the spectacular vestibule, the artificial lake, the nymphaeum attached to the podium of the ­Temple of Claudius on the Caelian. Although Fabbrini argues that even the true gem of the Oppian complex, the celebrated octagonal hall, was at the outset part of the Domus Transitoria, she suggests that in its ­earlier manifestation that hall was a fairly conventional structure. Its brilliant, imaginative features, on the other hand, she attributes to the post-­fire phase.130 In the west the five-­sided court complex is flanked by what seems to be a self-­contained wing. At its center is a large rectangular yard, and to the east and south a series of rooms, one containing a nymphaeum (fountain h ­ ouse). MacDonald argues that the design of the clusters of rooms, on the princi­ple of dynamic axiality, can be considered revolutionary.131 The nymphaeum suite also demonstrates an in212 • chapter VI

novative and imaginative use of vault construction for the purpose of creating added support. The largest barrel-­vaulted room (13.75 m span) leading to the court at the west side was buttressed by walls on ­either side of the supporting wall (a barrrel vault is essentially an extension of a s­ imple curved arch along a prescribed distance to create a semi-­ cylindrical effect).132 Immediately to the west of this section stood the Baths of Titus, dedicated in AD 80 and now known only from drawings made by Palladio.133 Titus’s building shares the exact same axis as the original Neronian wing standing to its east. This strongly suggests the possibility that t­here was a baths complex in the Neronian structure, perhaps even connected to the lake below by stairs, and that Titus might have exploited t­hese preexisting Neronian baths and simply adapted or renovated them.134 This thesis draws some support from the literary sources—­Suetonius and Martial both emphasize that Titus’s baths ­were completed very quickly.135 Also it has been pointed out that the Baths of Titus, if a stand-­alone building, would have been built without the usual porticoes and gardens, and that conversely without it Nero’s Oppian wing would seem to be lacking a baths wing.136 The Oppian palace has been known since the Re­nais­sance and closely studied since then. In the 1980s the surviving evidence was subjected to close examination by Fabbrini and much of our current understanding is based on her conclusions.137 Among other ­things, she demonstrated that it was built on at least two stories and would thus have looked out to the north as well as to the south. L ­ ittle remains of the upper story. Parts of it w ­ ere uncovered above the octagon and the inner court standing at the east; ­there survive only two small peristyles with fountains, and a w ­ ater basin flanked by columns. By contrast, the lower story is in a relatively good state of preservation. The building consists of a large complex of concrete halls: one hundred and forty-­two rooms have been identified. The extensive use of concrete makes the structure truly distinctive and gives it a secure place in the history of architecture.138 Nero took concrete vaulted design to new heights of creativity and also into mass production, and this complex has been seen as the earliest monumental structure where the vault was placed in the ser­vice of both technology and artistic impulse.139 Tacitus remarked that t­here was a requirement that new The New Rome  •  213

buildings ­after the fire ­were to be “without beams” (sine trabibus). This, quite reasonably, is generally taken to mean that they ­were not to use timbers in their floors or their walls, which would reduce the amount of flammable material. MacDonald suggests, however, that Tacitus was using the expression to refer to a major switch to concrete vaults, which of course do not use beams in their construction. This would be in keeping with Suetonius’s claim that Nero thought out “a new form for the buildings of the city” (formam aedificiorum urbis novam).140 The Golden House can, on the evidence of the Oppian palace, be regarded as having made the single most significant advance in architectural innovation, and the most remarkable of the remains of the Oppian palace is surely the famed octagonal hall.141 This room is about 14 m across at its widest point, with rectangular recesses on five sides. It is generally identified as an example of the ingenious circular dining room with moving parts, as described by Suetonius. The recess that adjoins the hall at the north was fitted with a basin for ­water, which was presumably supplied from the upper floor. Griffin notes that the ­water descended into the room at a steeper gradient than would be needed in a nymphaeum, and she entertains the possibility that the ­water powered a mechanical device. At the center of the dome, light was provided by a round open space (oculus), as found also in the Pantheon. A mechanical turning device might have hung down through this opening, and on the outside of the dome ­there ­were two sets of circular grooves ­running around the oculus, possibly tracks for just such a contrivance.142 The octagonal hall is a daring and sophisticated creation, revolutionary in its design, and testimony to the highly novel approaches ­adopted by Severus and Celer. Larry Ball asserts that its design “threw a gauntlet” at the feet of all subsequent Roman architects, and he describes it as far more radical than anything that had come before it in ­either Greece or Rome. In his view it changed profoundly the history of Roman architecture and marked a key stage in the long pro­cess whereby Romans liberated themselves from the essentially post and beam construction of the Greeks and exploited concrete to create their own distinctive vault architecture. He observes that it established “new standards of technical mastery and geometric complexity” and stands 214 • chapter VI

6.16. Octagon Room. E. M. Moormann.

alongside Domitian’s Palace on the Palatine (completed in AD 92) and Hadrian’s Pantheon on the Campus Martius and his Villa at Tivoli (both begun ca AD 118) for making pioneering advances in the development of vaulted concrete and establishing new standards of technical mastery and geometric complexity.143 In a sense the octagon hall resembles the atrium of a traditional home, with a compluvium (a space for rain to enter through the roof) and vari­ous rooms opening up into a central area. But in this case the roof of the room is a dome, in fact the first example of a dome in Rome, although arguably not a true one, since it metamorphoses from the eight segmented sides of its octagonal design into a hemi­sphere rising up to the oculus.144 The base of the octagon is defined by eight piers that frame the exits, three of which lead out of the building. The other five exits lead to radiating rooms. The two rooms on the east-­ west axis ­were each constructed with a barrel vault. The two rooms The New Rome  •  215

6.17. Octagon Room, construction of vaults. L. Lancaster.

between them and the room on the north enter the octagon hall obliquely and are especially in­ter­est­ing, being covered by the earliest known examples of groin vaults (or cross vaults), created by the intersection of two barrel vaults.145 Perhaps the most revolutionary feature is the way that light is allowed to penetrate above the haunches of the octagonal vault, thus creating what are known as vault haunch clerestory win­dows.146 The Oppian wing is significant for its architectural boldness and innovation. But it is noteworthy also for the decoration of the walls, 216 • chapter VI

6.18. Octagon Room plan. B. Ward-­Perkins.

which ­were extensively painted in what has become defined as the Fourth Pompeian style, a form that had evolved since the Claudian period. We know the identity, if not the exact name, of one of the craftsmen who decorated the palace. Among artists who can lay claim to some distinction, Pliny rec­ords a certain Famulus (who appears in the manuscripts also as Amulius or Fabullus), a Roman, like Celer and Severus, and very much a Roman, a serious and decorous man who always wore his toga when painting and whose main oeuvre was the decorated walls of the Golden House.147 According to Pliny, his style of painting was dignified and severe and, at the same time, florid and “watery.”148 La Rocca suggests that Pliny was implying that although Famulus used many colors, ­these complemented each other so that the overall effect did not seem garishly bright.149 He painted a Minerva whose eyes seemed to follow the spectator around the room; she almost certainly belongs to the Golden House, since Pliny observes that it was hard to see Famulus’s work anywhere ­else ­because that commission became his prison. It was not too oppressive a prison, however: when in artistic mode, Famulus may have dressed like a bourgeois, but The New Rome  •  217

in his work habits he was something of a Bohemian, painting for only a few hours each day.150 Trajan had saved money by burying the Oppian wing to serve as the substructure for his own elaborate baths complex in the early second ­century. He may have considered it something of a bonus that he would be obliterating the final trace of Nero’s extravagant palace on the Esquiline. Ironically, by his actions he in fact preserved the Neronian structure and also the paintings that decorated it, since they stayed buried and ­were not exposed to the air ­until their rediscovery, during the papacy of Sixtus IV. The rooms came to light during restoration, begun in 1471, of the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli. ­Because the walls of the palace w ­ ere buried under­ground, t­ hose who wished to see the paintings had to be lowered by a system of ropes and pulleys. They could then explore through a network of tunnels, often needing to crawl to reach their destination. The artist Giovanni da Udine was one of the early visitors, exploring the rooms with none other than his master, Raphael himself. The two artists ­were overwhelmed by the quality of the paintings and amazed that they had survived for so long, and it is not hard to understand their astonishment.151 Once rediscovered, this part of the Golden House became one of the most significant resources for the reception of Greco-­Roman art.152 It is impor­tant to appreciate that Pompeii and Herculaneum ­were yet to be revealed to the post-­Classical world, and ­there was nothing to prepare the visitors for the luxurious array of painted scenes, patterned and figurative designs with exotic fo­liage, real and fantasy animals, p ­ eople from the everyday and from my­thol­ogy, imaginatively presented in a rich palette of colors. “Contemporaries . . . ​­were shocked by the nonchalance, or even the complacency, with which unlimited credence was given to unreal images, bizarre forms that had never been seen in nature.”153 ­Because the rooms ­were under­ground they ­were accordingly called “grottoes,” and in turn the painted scenes found on their walls and ceilings w ­ ere labeled as “grotesques”; thus did the aftermath of the fire of AD 64 add a new word to a number of languages, including, ultimately, En­glish. Artists ­were inspired by what they saw, and its impact is seen in the painted rooms of the period. Grotesque motifs begin to stand out in the framed panels of vaulted ceilings, and ­whole rooms are decorated 218 • chapter VI

6.19. Oppian Wing painting. L. Mirri.

in bright colors, with elaborate staged scenes in the upper sections of the wall. The influence of the Golden House manifested itself when in 1516 Raphael began work on the Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena (1516)—­a bathroom attached to the cardinal’s private chambers in the Vatican. Individual grotesque motifs “star in the framed panels of the vaulted ceiling, but the w ­ hole room is frescoed in bright colors, with the upper sections of the wall now featuring elaborate mises-­en-­ scènes.”154 The archetypal outcome of the influence of the Golden House was Raphael’s decoration of the g­ reat Loggia of the Vatican.155 The thirteen vaulted bays are decorated with biblical scenes, the walls filled with vertical strips of miniature painting. It is perhaps one of the most impressive rooms ever created, and its inspiration came as a direct consequence of the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64. Ironically many of the The New Rome  •  219

6.20. Odysseus mosaic, Oppian Wing. H. Lavagne.

Neronian paintings have deteriorated dramatically since their exposure. The first systematic excavations took place in the late eigh­teenth ­century, and a number of engravings ­were made with color restorations of the best-­preserved examples of the paintings, an invaluable rec­ord, given that some of the original material is no longer available ­today. The wall paintings ­were highly influential. Another remarkable ­thing about the Golden House, and possibly an innovation of the building, was the introduction of mosaics in the vaults.156 The best surviving piece is in the nymphaeum in the western section of the Oppian wing, where a mosaic is set against the red background of the vault. The subject is Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops. The octagonal frame is 220 • chapter VI

largely missing but it seems to have been mostly light blue and grey-­ green, while the figures are composed of black, khaki, and green tesserae.157 This application of what was essentially a floor medium to a vault ­will become very common with Christian mosaics. When dedicating a completed section of his Golden House, Nero wittily commented that he at last had a shelter fit for a h ­ uman being.158 Otho, quite happy to r­ ide on Nero’s coattails, authorized 50 million sestertii for the palace’s completion.159 Even so, the complex was still not up to the standard of comfort to which the next emperor, Vitellius, felt himself accustomed. But in any case, most of it was doomed to an early death. Vespasian spent very ­little time ­there and generally preferred the Gardens of Sallust.160 He got rid of the fountain built into the podium of the then unfinished ­Temple of Claudius, and brought the ­temple to completion.161 In addition, he removed the works of art assembled by Nero and used them to decorate his own ­grand architectural proj­ect, the ­Temple of Peace (possibly completed by his son Domitian).162 He drained Nero’s artificial lake and constructed his amphitheater, the Colosseum, to be inaugurated ­after his death by his son Titus.163 During the same general period Titus opened his hastily built baths in the west section of the Oppian range, perhaps as a renovation or adaptation of a baths complex of the Neronian building.164 The eastern part of the Oppian complex, not affected by Titus’s baths, seems to have been the only residential ele­ment of the Domus Aurea to stay in use for an extended period of time, ­until AD 104, when it was damaged by fire.165 On the Palatine, Domitian built a new palace a­ fter the fire of AD 80 and would thus have removed any remaining traces of the Domus Aurea. Nero’s ­giant statue proved to be the longest living architectural monument to the ­Great Fire and was still standing in AD 354 (see above). Its subsequent fate is unknown. Rome was indeed transformed a­ fter the ­Great Fire, and the transformation was spectacular. That said, it might be argued that Nero’s new Rome was an object lesson in the transitory nature of h ­ uman glory. All buildings are to a greater or lesser degree ephemeral. Eventually they collapse or decay, or are restored and refurbished to the extent that virtually none of their original fabric remains intact. But Nero’s post-­fire buildings for the most part seem to have been t­ hings The New Rome  •  221

of a particularly brief moment, the majority not surviving even the next ruling dynasty. Far more impor­tant, however, their legacy survived. ­Under the patronage of a ruler who cared more for art than he did for routine administration, the devastating fire of AD 64 provided an incentive to create innovative architectural forms and concepts that endured and are still with us ­today. In this sense, the impact of the ­Great Fire on our visual culture would prove to be profound and long-­lasting.

222 • chapter VI

VII The Significance of the ­Great Fire

­ here are moments in history, like the Chernobyl debacle, when a sinT gle event is so spectacularly disastrous that it proves fatal for the governing regime. We seem to witness just such a phenomenon in AD 64, when Rome was ravaged by the ­Great Fire. The fire was, of course, a catastrophe for the ­people who lived t­ here. But it also left in its wake such power­ful feelings of mistrust and resentment, and created such an unbridgeable gulf between the emperor and the Roman elite, that it would in the end turn out to be no less a catastrophe for Nero himself, and for the dynasty to which he belonged. Before AD 64, Nero’s position seems to have been virtually unassailable. He had committed some unquestionably outrageous acts, like the murder of his m ­ other, but the outrageous murder of a m ­ other can be weathered when the son is im­mensely popu­lar and the m ­ other deeply unpop­u­lar, and when ­there are public relations experts like Seneca on hand to manage any potentially hostile reaction. But as a disaster the ­Great Fire was in a class of its own, and its repercussions unpre­ce­dented. Nero did manage to stay in power for almost four more years, but the wound inflicted by the flames of AD 64 proved to be a mortal one, making his end all but inevitable. The fire led to such a collapse in support for Nero that the damage to his hold on power could never be repaired. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to overstate the case. The decline in popularity suffered by the emperor ­after AD 64 was not a ­simple phenomenon—­the situation was in fact quite complex and nuanced. We need to ask ourselves in par­tic­u­lar how widespread Nero’s unpopularity was from that time

on, and w ­ hether he lost the affection of the ­great mass of ordinary Romans.1 This is surprisingly difficult to determine, since the ancient literary sources tend generally to be focused almost exclusively on the upper classes, paying ­little attention to the thoughts and feelings of ordinary ­people. We might begin by stating the obvious: the major financial losses resulting from the destruction of property and the massive costs of recovery in the wake of the AD 64 fire would have been felt almost exclusively by the wealthy upper classes. The majority of ordinary Romans would not have owned real estate, and even before the fire would not have been in a position to contribute much in the way of cash; hence they would have had no par­tic­u­lar reason for resenting the draconian financial mea­sures introduced in AD 64. Juvenal famously and contemptuously insisted that the Roman lower classes ­were interested in two t­ hings only, panem et circenses (“bread and games”).2 As for the first, Dio does claim that Nero suspended the grain dole in the immediate aftermath of the fire.3 But it was doubtless soon reintroduced (see below). And games ­were something of a Neronian speciality, provided in abundance. Apart from the numerous traditional public spectacles designed to keep ­people happy, ­there would have been the ­great extravaganza that accompanied the staged submission of Tiridates and his enthronement as King of Armenia in a lavish ceremony in Rome in AD 66. How genuinely enthusiastic the crowds might have been on such occasions is of course impossible to mea­sure. But it is surely telling that, in the two de­cades immediately following Nero’s death, at least two imposters, possibly three, popped up in the east and ­were able to build up considerable followings.4 And although Suetonius claims that when news arrived that Nero had died ­people donned liberty caps and ran ecstatically about the city, he does concede that ­there ­were some who for a considerable time afterward planted spring and summer flowers on his tomb, and erected statues to him and posted his edicts.5 The men who strug­gled to succeed Nero did not behave as if they believed they w ­ ere replacing a totally discredited ruler. Galba of course, of necessity, had to distance himself from Nero, since he had rebelled against him. But when Otho, who in turn replaced Galba, was greeted by the soldiers and ordinary citizens as “Nero Otho,” he welcomed 224 • chapter VII

the form of address, and, according to Suetonius, he may have used it in his earliest letters to the provincial governors. Otho also restored some of Nero’s statues, or at the very least turned a blind eye when ­others chose to set them up (perhaps the statues mentioned e­ arlier) and reappointed some of Nero’s old officials to their former posts. He also raised the question of special honors to Nero’s memory.6 One of Otho’s first acts as emperor was to allocate 50 million sestertii for further work on the Golden House.7 Vitellius, who supplanted Otho, was perhaps not so overt in publicly respecting Nero’s memory, but even he carried out formal funerary rites to the late emperor in the Campus Martius, and during the banquet that followed he ordered musicians to perform Nero’s songs, and greeted them with enthusiastic applause.8 What Otho and Vitellius might have thought of Nero deep in their hearts is irrelevant. Their conduct shows that they had clearly de­cided it would be po­liti­cally advantageous to pre­sent themselves as admirers of their supposedly infamous pre­de­ces­sor. All of this goes strongly against the idea that the ­great mass of the ­people resented Nero for the fire and for the building program that he initiated in its wake. It is surely significant that although Dio claims that some cursed Nero for starting the fire, he does admit that this is just an inference—­Nero’s name did not in fact appear in the graffiti that began to materialize soon afterward.9 Tacitus makes a telling comment about the reaction to Nero’s death, to some degree reflecting the kind of mixed reception that Suetonius describes. He asserts that the news provoked a range of emotions. For senators the response was one of joy and an exultant sense of liberty. The equestrians, or at least their se­nior members, w ­ ere almost equally elated. The more respectable ordinary ­people, in par­tic­ul­ar ­those who had links with the leading families, welcomed the reports.10 But the lower classes, addicted to the circus and theater, as he puts it, w ­ ere actually upset by what they heard. This situation, as reported, in some ways parallels the response to the death of Caligula, which was welcomed by the senatorial class but greeted with widespread dismay by the masses.11 Specific criticisms of Nero in the immediate aftermath of the fire are in fact few and far between. We are told that the admirable policy of creating wider and straighter streets in the new city led to complaints The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  225

that the new thoroughfares offered no shade, but that seems to reflect a sad truth that some ­people are simply never satisfied rather than any deep-­seated sense of anger ­toward Nero.12 One particularly unpop­u­ lar mea­sure, if, as Dio claims, Nero did indeed implement it, would have been the suspension of the ­free dole of grain, noted above. This may not, however, have been a long-­term arrangement. The grain supply would unavoidably have been interrupted by the fire, and Dio may have extrapolated from that inevitable hiatus a more sustained and deliberate interruption.13 Certainly, during the dreadful punishment of the supposed incendiaries in late 64 (see chapter 5), when rumors ­were supposedly flying about Nero’s complicity in the fire, the emperor is described as mingling comfortably with the crowds, with no sign of any under­lying tensions.14 The alleged broad unpopularity of Nero among of the masses, we are asked to believe, was nourished by a striking manifestation of Neronian post-­fire megalomania, the Golden House. Superficially, this might seem an attractive thesis. It might be tempting to see this spectacular proj­ect as a constant, and provocative, reminder that the fire had worked to Nero’s benefit, which would in turn encourage a notion that he would have had a good reason for starting it in the first place.15 Tacitus would like us to feel that he captured the then current popu­lar mood when he said that in order to build his palace, Nero exploited the nation’s destruction.16 But just how persuasive is Tacitus on this point? ­After all, he also claims that the palace appealed to the conspirators ­after the fire as a potential venue for Nero’s assassination b ­ ecause it was “hated” (invisa). But that action, we know, was planned for the festival of Ceres in April, AD 65. Given the severe financial crises immediately ­after the fire, and the huge clearing operation that followed it, ­there could hardly have been much, if any, of the palace already built in early 65.17 “Hated” is surely Tacitus’s own superimposition. The “hated palace” is an under­lying theme of the description left by the poet Martial, during the reign of Titus (AD 79–81), quoted in chapter 6.18 Martial’s language is striking. He asserts that the grandiose ­house “stole the dwellings of the wretched” and that “one single ­house was starting to occupy a w ­ hole city.” The w ­ hole concept was redolent with the haughty arrogance of an imperial potentate. Hence 226 • chapter VII

the complex contained “the hated halls” of a “king” (rex), the site was an “arrogant estate,” and the ­house a “palace” (aula).19 But Martial’s poem may not be a reliable guide to how ­people looked generally upon the complex. His composition is something of a tour de force of obsequiousness, and we do need to bear in mind that the poet’s chief aim was to be breathlessly enthusiastic about the building program of Titus and his late ­father Vespasian, and Nero’s Golden House offered a very con­ve­nient foil. Other ancient writers eagerly subscribed to the campaign to convince us that the Golden House was widely resented. Pliny the Elder, writing prob­ably no more than a de­cade ­after construction began, speaks with breathtaking hyperbole of its surrounding the city (ambientis urbem) and insists that Romans had twice seen the ­whole city encircled by a palace, once ­under Caligula, then again ­under Nero. He goes on to insist that the “drawing rooms” (sellaria) of ­these two emperors occupied more space than the entire estates of ­great men who had built Rome’s empire and had earned Triumphs for defeating her enemies.20 It all reflects the kind of inflated language we find in Seneca, that p ­ eople in Nero’s day wanted h ­ ouses the size of cities.21 But of course Pliny had no love for ­these two emperors. He elsewhere lumps them together as the “firebrands of the h ­ uman race” and calls Nero the e­ nemy of that same h ­ uman race, castigating him also as a “poison” inflicted on the world by his ­mother Agrippina, a man so barbarous that he gave superstitious magic a good name by comparison. So, hardly an objective witness.22 Suetonius rates the Golden House as Nero’s most wildly extravagant proj­ect, and preserves the lampoon mocking its size, the verse couplet urging Romans to move to Veii b ­ ecause Rome was becoming a 23 single residence (see chapter 2). ­There is, however, one very concrete demonstration of how prone Suetonius was to massive exaggeration. In describing the semi-­rural landscape that supposedly lay east of the vestibule he speaks of a stagnum (a pool or lake) as “big as the sea” (intar maris). Its site was l­ ater occupied by Vespasian’s Colosseum. Up ­until twenty years ago the spirit of Suetonius’s description was essentially accepted. But recent archaeological investigations have revealed traces of what was in fact a spacious, but far from grandiose, rectangular pool, estimated at some 195 m × 175 m.24 Thus, at 34,125 sq m, The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  227

the stagnum is slightly larger than the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, at 31,500 sq m. The Round Pond in Hyde Park, London, is 30,000 sq m, and the Serpentine, in the same park, a massive 160,000 sq m. Hence Nero’s stagnum was indeed an impressive architectural feature, but Suetonius clearly went way beyond the casual exaggeration we happily live with, and used language that evokes the megalomania of a tyrant determined to outdo nature.25 The ancient descriptions of the Golden House wallow in this kind of extravagant hyperbole, reminiscent of Plutarch’s overstated assertion that during the late republic Crassus succeeded in buying up a large part, or even most, of Rome.26 Suetonius rubs salt in the wound when he observes that a­ fter Nero had finished part of the h ­ ouse (very possibly the Oppian wing) he announced that he could fi­nally live in a dwelling that was fit for a ­human being.27 The ancient literary authorities had their own agenda. Pliny was happy to ingratiate himself with Vespasian, and Martial was keen to flatter Titus and Domitian, and their spin on the Golden House should be seen in that light. But modern scholarship seems sometimes to have been bitten by the very same bug. Some recent investigators see the complex as a grotesque manifestation of Nero’s self-­ image as a sun god, an Apollo on earth ushering in a new Golden Age (see chapter 6).28 But this is l­ittle more than surmise. The enterprise in its own right was certainly g­ rand enough, but it was far from the only ambitious building proj­ect in Rome’s history. We should certainly not pay too much heed to the denunciations of extravagant dwellings that proliferate in the pious writings of the time. ­These are standard set pieces, none of which can be connected specifically to the Golden House, composed primarily by outrageously wealthy individuals like Seneca, who preached poverty while amassing private fortunes.29 Romans could tolerate an ostentatious display of wealth, and the short-­lived emperor Otho does not seem to have feared resentment when he authorized a vast sum to continue the construction of Nero’s complex. The Oppian wing may have served as the Roman residence of Titus, and at any rate it certainly stayed in commission ­until destroyed by fire in AD 104. This would hardly have been likely if the Golden House had caused widespread popu­ lar offense.30 228 • chapter VII

The Flavians, who generally had their fin­ger on the public pulse, are deemed by most modern scholars to have courted popularity by getting rid of such a vivid reminder of Nero’s autocracy, and by behaving generously in dismantling his buildings to make way for public amenities like the Colosseum. But in fact, much of the Golden House would likely still not have been built on Nero’s death, and one of Otho’s first acts as emperor, to authorize substantial funds to continue work on the complex, suggests that the public mood might have been in ­favor of completing, rather than demolishing, it. Moreover, the most con­spic­ u­ous symbol of Nero’s presence, one that provided no real public amenity, was the huge statue he commissioned, the colossus, and even if the features w ­ ere altered so they no longer resembled Nero (if they ever had done), the monument would surely have served as a constant reminder of the late emperor and his ­grand design. But not only did Vespasian allow the colossus to stand where it remained ­until the time of Hadrian, it is very likely that Vespasian was the one who first erected it. Moreover, t­ here may in real­ity be no ­great symbolism in the location chosen by Vespasian for his grandiose amphitheater, the Colosseum. It could simply be that he made use of land that he had acquired at even better bargain rates than had Nero before him—by virtue of becoming emperor Vespasian inherited what Nero had converted into imperial properties. And the amphitheater, as well as the gladiatorial school that was built to its east, would not, it appears, have involved massive de­mo­li­ tion of palace buildings, since much of the site had been occupied by the ornamental pool, or by semi-­parkland. It is not even certain that the porticoes supposedly framing the pool had been built by the time of Nero’s death. Would the Golden House have been popularly viewed as a manifestation of the self-­centered monomania of an all-­powerful monarch? ­There has been a tendency to see it as Nero’s Neuschwanstein or Nonsuch Palace, a monument to its creator’s obsessive sense of grandeur, but, as a last straw, a monument that did not dominate remote countryside, like t­ hose oversized follies of Ludwig II or Henry VIII, but was sited blatantly within the central core of Rome.31 But was the complex actually viewed that way by all levels of society at the time? Could it not be the case, that, as Elsner commented, “Nero only became an outrageous and prodigal builder when he fell from power.”32 The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  229

This putative resentment over Nero’s building program would supposedly have been aggravated by the figuratively incendiary story that he intended to give his own name to the brand new capital that would emerge from the ashes of the old. This claim appears in both Tacitus and Suetonius, and the latter adds further meta­phorical fuel to the flames by alleging that Nero intended to call the new city “Neropolis,” thus imposing a Greek name on the new Rome.33 The tradition of perpetuating a ruler’s glory through the name of a city was an old one. Alexander had named cities ­after himself. Prominent Romans had done the same. The consul Sextus Calvinus founded Aquae Sextiae (Aix-­en-­Provence) in 122 BC, and two cities in Asia Minor ­were renamed Pompeiopolis (“City of Pompey”) in honor of Pompey.34 During the imperial period t­here was nothing remarkable in a locality adopting the name of an emperor or a member of his f­ amily. Outside Italy cities w ­ ere certainly renamed in honor of Nero. Artaxata in Armenia, destroyed by Corbulo in AD 58 or 59 during the wars with Parthia, was rebuilt by King Tiridates and renamed Neroneia, in part to commemorate Tiridates’s ­grand visit to Rome in AD 66.35 Josephus reports that, in AD 61, the Jewish ruler Agrippa II renamed the city of Caesarea Philippi, located near the base of Mount Hermon, as Neronias, in honor of the emperor.36 Neronias in Cilicia in Asia Minor was also presumably named in his honor.37 All of that happened outside Italy. Within Italy, such gestures usually would have been seen as excessive sycophancy. Some forty years ­earlier, in AD 27, ­there had been unsuccessful proposals that the Caelian Hill be renamed Mons Augustus, in honor of Tiberius, who was particularly generous ­toward the victims of a major fire ­there and whose bust had been the only artefact to escape the flames unscathed.38 We are dealing with perception, of course. Nero’s conduct may have been no less exemplary than Tiberius’s, but a hostile tradition ensured that it would not be remembered that way, and consequently Nero’s supposed scheme for the new name is presented as a display of megalomania. It is meant to be seen in the same light as Commodus’s much ­later plan, reputedly promoted by his mistress, Marcia, to rename Rome colonia Commodiana, an idea that even the highly eccentric Historia Augusta describes as lunacy—­dementia.39 But in any case the claims of the Neronian name change are totally speculative, and 230 • chapter VII

no evidence whatsoever is provided that this was an official or even intended policy. Tacitus says that it seemed (videbatur) that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new city; Suetonius does not say that he actually changed Rome’s name, or had even stated that he would; rather, he claims, presumably reading Nero’s mind, that he had firmly de­cided to do it (destinaverat). How convincing is this assertion? Could Nero actually have a­ dopted such a policy? We do have parallel evidence for his tactful restraint in the face of flattering proposals a­ fter the ­Great Fire. Tacitus rec­ords, in the final chapter of Annals 15, how in the reaction to the failed conspiracy of Piso in the wake of the fire, the consul-­designate Anicius Cerialis proposed that a ­temple be rapidly erected to the Deified (divus) Nero out of public funds. To his credit Nero made a statesmanlike reply, personally vetoing the flattering proposal on the grounds that such honors w ­ ere not appropriate 40 for a ruler ­until ­after his death. ­There is no reason to think that his reaction would have been any less statesmanlike if he had been asked to give his name to the reborn post-­fire city. The focus so far has been on the reaction of the p ­ eople at large to the fire, and it is suggested ­here that the masses may not have turned against Nero at the time. This might explain the curious scheme described by Suetonius, in which shortly before his death Nero planned to bypass the senate and go directly to the popu­lar assembly to plead his case.41 The speech that he prepared for the occasion reputedly was ­later found in his desk. It was believed that he abandoned the plan from fear of assassination. The Greek phi­los­op ­ her Dio Chrysostom writing almost certainly during the reign of Domitian recounts the view that Nero’s subjects would have been happy to see him rule forever, and every­body wished that he was still alive.42 As a footnote, it should be added that it might not have mattered much even if the ordinary ­people had indeed remained enthusiastic about Nero, since the thoughts and feelings of the masses seem to have made very ­little difference beyond bolstering the egos of individual emperors. From time to time in the early imperial period we do see expressions of popu­lar anger. ­There is no way of telling w ­ hether ­these outbursts w ­ ere totally spontaneous or ­whether they ­were orchestrated, and it is perhaps not impor­tant, ­because they had l­ ittle or no practical effect.43 An emperor would no doubt find it personally gratifying to enjoy the ­favor of the The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  231

g­ reat mass of the ­people, but in the end the opinion of the rank and file was a negligible ­factor in his survival stakes. Ultimately, his power was dependent on the loyalty of the army. But the Roman army was, with the exception of one unit, stationed near Rome’s frontiers, and it was difficult and dangerous for army commanders to attempt isolated coups—­not that they did not try from time to time, and occasionally succeeded. This left two keys to power. One was the Praetorian guard, a unit of the army but posted in the capital city itself (the Urban Cohorts ­were too small in number to be of po­liti­cal significance). The importance of the Praetorians in any power strug­gle was demonstrated in AD 37 when Caligula’s succession was engineered by Macro, their prefect. And it was demonstrated again, ­after Caligula’s assassination only four years ­later, when Claudius used lavish bribes to ensure their loyal support. But another key ele­ment in determining an emperor’s survival prospects was the moral and practical support of the Roman elite, the members of the ­great noble families who despite the reforms of Augustus continued to dominate the senate and much of public life. Roman senators had admittedly lost much of the po­liti­cal authority they enjoyed u ­ nder the republic, but they still commanded enormous re­spect and prestige. While the Praetorian prefect Macro might have used the men u ­ nder his command in AD 37 to make Caligula’s candidacy all but inevitable, he went to some lengths to win the support of the senate to secure and legitimize the succession. Similarly, from what we can reconstruct of the murky events surrounding Caligula’s assassination, the final blow may have been struck by two middle-­ranking Praetorian officers, but the moral and po­liti­cal force ­behind the assassination seems to have been provided by the nobility. Fairly or unfairly, ­those in charge generally get the credit for ­things that go well ­under their watch, but also, conversely, the blame when ­things go badly. A broad sentiment seems to have developed among the more se­nior senatorials that the disaster of AD 64 should never have been allowed to get so far out of hand, that the regime of the reigning emperor was irreparably compromised, that the emperor himself had become a liability.44 But also, in addition to the embryonic po­liti­cal opposition to Nero, a sizeable portion of the ruling elite would have had very personal and very specific grounds for nursing a griev232 • chapter VII

ance. Nero’s egregious be­hav­ior in past years might not have impressed them, they might at some level even have despised him. But provided his conduct did not affect their own ­careers or their own wealth, they seem to have been perfectly willing to tolerate it and to take the view that his antics had l­ittle impact on their own personal comfort and well-­being. As a result of the fire, however, the upper classes, and in that number we have to include the wealthier members of the equestrian class, ­were affected personally and directly, since they ­were asked to dig deep into their pockets to subsidize the economic reconstruction.45 The rebuilding involved Nero in major expenditures and he was obliged to collect large sums from private individuals as well as from ­whole communities.46 Sometimes he was able to raise funds by voluntary contributions, but on occasion he had to use compulsion. Property o ­ wners who rented out their buildings found themselves seriously out of pocket, since for one year the rents for private ­houses and apartments ­were diverted to the emperor’s account.47 Disasters chase their own tails. They create the need for major expenditures, which have to be funded, but the economic dislocation means that ­there is likely to be less revenue available. We do not have an itemized list from Nero’s time, but it is fairly safe to make a projection of the prob­lems: t­ here would be the loss of employment, the loss of raw materials, accompanied by a shortage of housing.48 All of this would tend to increase the broad malaise, compounding the financial and economic prob­lems. Even Nero’s gesture of removing debris and bodies from the destroyed buildings at his own expense was characterized as a scheme to get his hands on plunder.49 Nero was forced to take desperate financial mea­sures when confronted with the revolt of Galba. Every­one was obliged to contribute part of their income, and, as noted, t­ hose renting h ­ ouses or apartments ­were required to pay the equivalent of a year’s rent to the emperor’s trea­sury. The situation was clearly dire, and in order to lessen the tax burden, ­people ­were paying in worn coins. ­Under normal circumstances this prob­ably would not have been considered a prob­lem, since wide differences in coin weights tended to be readily tolerated, but now Nero was driven to demand unworn coins (nummum asperum). ­There was an additional prob­lem that they ­were paying in debased coinage, presumably holding on to their pure silver denarii and The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  233

handing over the impure coins that Nero had begun to issue ­after the fire (see below). Nero demanded pure gold and silver. The exactions ­were so draconian that they ­were sometimes met by a blank refusal to pay.50 A severe storm in Campania in AD 65, and an outbreak of some sort of plague in Rome in the same year, would have placed added strain on the bud­get.51 Suetonius reports that in his desperate attempt to raise funds Nero bankrupted individuals and emptied the coffers of provinces. Tacitus also says that he ruined provinces (he reputedly sent his agents Acratus and Carrinas Secundus through Asia and Achaea to loot the t­ emples t­ here), as well as Italy, and even impoverished allies and ­free cities, supposedly exempt from tribute.52 Apart from having to provide funds from their own resources, many of the elite, both nobility and wealthier equestrians, had suffered at a more personal and emotive level, in that they had witnessed the destruction of their fine Roman homes and properties. Hence, while the mass of the population may not have been troubled by the dominating prospect of the Golden House, the nobility would have resented the extravagant buildings rising up on the foundations of the very ­grand residences that many of them had owned before the fire. ­There may have been a par­tic­u­lar resentment in districts like the Palatine, which was the prestige residential location in Rome and was increasingly taken over by the imperial palaces.53 Suetonius speaks generally of the loss of fine homes, “­there also went up in flames at that time homes of generals of old, still decorated with e­ nemy spoils.”54 But specific information is not abundant in the literary sources. The only individuals known to have lost ­houses, apart from the emperor himself, are Tigellinus, the Praetorian prefect, whose home in the Aemilian district was destroyed in the second phase of the fire, and Caecina Largus, who presumably lost his desirable property on the Palatine when his famous nettle trees ­were burned down.55 For further evidence of the loss of fine properties in Rome we must turn to archaeology. Attention has already been drawn to the ­houses investigated on the north slope of the Palatine at the juncture of the Via Sacra and the Clivus Palatinus (see fig.  3.5). T ­ hese w ­ ere badly damaged by the fire and eventually abandoned. Their destruction was followed by major de­mo­li­tion work to clear the site, then to level it and make it ready for new buildings, assumed to be part of the Golden 234 • chapter VII

House.56 The main residence excavated was identified by Carandini as a very distinguished one indeed, the ­house of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, a profligate politician of the late republic.57 His ­house on the Palatine had been renovated in 58 BC, to become the epitome of luxury, with four black marble columns, 38 Roman feet high, set up in a ­giant atrium, removed to adorn the Theater of Marcellus in 17 BC. In 53 BC Scaurus’s property, which had earned him no small mea­sure of mockery, changed hands for 14.8 million sestertii. Carandini suggests that the complex also incorporated the homes of Lucius Octavius, consul of 75 BC, and of the ­great orator Lucius Licinius Crassus. If Carandini is correct we have ­here the location of the famous nettle trees mentioned by Pliny (chapter 3), since Crassus was their original own­er.58 The identification of the ­owners of the property is of course speculative, arguably imaginative, but ­these ­were certainly luxury residences. They would have belonged, if not to ­these specific individuals, to members of the same social elite. Whoever might have owned them in AD 64, their loss would have been sorely felt. To the east of ­these fine dwellings are the ­houses uncovered by the Meta Sudans excavations on the road to the south of the ­later vestibule of the Golden House. ­These certainly also belonged to wealthy upper-­class ­owners.59 Moreover, in his report on the evidence revealed when the sewer was built in 1877 to drain the Esquiline and the area around the Colosseum, Rodolfo Lanciani noted that excavation revealed a neatly paved street lined by ­houses destroyed by the fire and buried now by a deep layer of burned debris.60 The best preserved section of the Golden House is the complex on the Oppian section of the Esquiline, incorporated ­after AD 104 into the foundations of Trajan’s baths complex. For Juvenal, the Esquiline was a byword for wealth. He contrasts it with the crowded Suburra, and speaks of the nouveaux riches who aspire to take over the mansions (magnae domus) on the Esquiline and the Viminal.61 In the Oppian wing, u ­ nder one of the group of rooms on the façade of the complex south of the large rectangular nymphaeum room, republican ­houses ­were discovered. They had floors in mosaic and opus signinum, and fragments of painted decoration in the First style.62 The terrace that holds up the front of the Oppian complex was artificially created and was built in part on the top of the ­house buried beneath.63 Also, The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  235

during repairs to the floor of S. Pietro in Vincoli made between 1956 and 1958, remains w ­ ere discovered of a ­house possibly rebuilt at the end of the republic. It seems to have been replaced a­ fter the fire by a fine dwelling from which traces of a portico and fountain and gardens have survived, prob­ably associated with the Golden House.64 By chance, part of one of t­hese pre-­fire h ­ ouses managed to escape the flames. At the southwestern corner of the Oppian, north of the Colosseum (close to the intersection of Via degli Annibaldi and the Via del Monte Oppio and the Via della Polveriera) is an excellent example of the kind of luxury that the destroyed h ­ ouses could boast. In 1984, a nymphaeum (fountain ­house) was discovered some 6 m below the current surface, the Ninfeo degli Annibaldi. It dates to the Augustan period and is t­ oday cut by the wall that retains the m ­ iddle street. Part of what originally must have been an imposing home somehow managed to survive the destructive path of the fire, perhaps ­because it was sealed by the collapsing debris, but t­ here is no trace of the rest of the building. The nymphaeum takes the form of a semi-­elliptical apse, with a basin, 1.45 m deep, covered with marble slabs, at its centre. ­There are niches capped by medallions in the lower part parts of the wall. The wall is decorated with white, red, and yellow plaster, in which ­were inserted vari­ous types of shells, mother-­of-­pearl, slabs of marble, and colored glass (­shaped in the form of skulls of oxen, cornucopia, discs), and fragments of pumice stone. Given its location, this must surely have been part of a ­house acquired by Nero ­after the fire, which it remarkably survived.65 To the south, sondages carried out ­under the floor of the Colosseum have brought to light pre-­Neronian walls and pavements of dwellings that ended up beneath the ornamental lake.66 The modern excavator is confronted by mute strata in the archaeological rec­ord, to be studied with proper academic detachment. For upper-­class Romans t­ hese would have represented g­ rand homes, symbols of success and prestige, in some cases in the possession of a single ­family for many generations. According to Tacitus, the general sense of outrage over the fire became particularly acute at the point when it was initially brought ­under control, only to break out once again soon a­ fter.67 It seemed highly suspicious, he claims, that the second blaze started on the estate of the emperor’s close associate Ofonius Tigellinus. The sense of 236 • chapter VII

outrage could well have been aggravated by the crushing disappointment when it was realized that the ending of the fire was an illusion. But ­there may also have been a much more concrete basis for the indignation. The lull in the fire was pos­si­ble b ­ ecause of the creation of a vast firebreak. Buildings had been destroyed over a huge area, so that the vio­lence of the fire, up to that point unremitting, would be countered with “open ground and bare sky” (campus et velut vacuum caelum). As noted e­ arlier, this strategy would have required the controlled and deliberate de­mo­li­tion of standing structures, to create the firewall and deprive the flames of combustible material. This would entail considerable destruction of property, a destruction officially authorized by the emperor. While courtiers close to Nero, like Tigellinus, might have been ready to accept the de­mo­li­tion of their residences and simply to make the best of it, t­ here would have been a natu­ral sense of righ­teous anger among ­those outside the charmed inner circle over the loss of their fine properties through deliberate state action.68 One might add a footnote to the theme of destroyed properties, that it would not be the loss of private and secular buildings only that stirred up feelings against the regime among the old ruling families. Impor­tant public and sacred buildings ­were also lost. As discussed in chapter 3, the original Meta Sudans erected by Augustus, a profoundly significant monument, was destroyed in the fire of AD 64. Its destruction and the burial of its site u ­ nder structures of the Golden House ­were clearly viewed as a major spiritual disaster by Romans, as shown by the fact that the Flavians ­later built a replacement very close to where the Augustan original had stood. Moreover, if the sacred area facing the Augustan Meta Sudans is—as the excavator of the site has surmised—­the ancient sanctuary of the Curiae Veteres, traditionally associated with Romulus, and also left buried beneath Nero’s portico, rather than rebuilt in situ, then it suggests that the sanctuary of the Curiae had to be relocated, since regionary cata­logues testify to its existence in the fourth ­century.69 The terraces to the east of the vestibule would in that case have been a constant reminder not only of Neronian extravagance and megalomania, but of the fact that his ­grand complex occupied land held in ­great reverence by more conservative Romans. The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  237

It is difficult to find direct evidence for the broad feelings of any group of ­people at any given point in history. The literary sources, ­unless they are contemporaneous, can do ­little other than speculate, and even if they are contemporaneous they may seriously misread, or even misrepresent, the current mood. We can only mea­sure ­these feelings indirectly, by the way that p ­ eople are known to have reacted to events. And we do have a dramatic reaction to the G ­ reat Fire from segments of the Roman ruling classes. If the fire engendered deep resentment in a certain group, we might expect that at least some members of that group would feel impelled to take action directly against the emperor. And this is precisely what we do see, only a m ­ atter of months l­ ater.70 A close cause-­effect relationship is impossible to prove, of course, but we must other­wise assume a remarkable coincidence that the very first recorded conspiracy to remove Nero just happened to occur almost immediately ­after the fire. And if a substantial number of senators w ­ ere prepared to risk life and limb in overt conspiracy, ­there must have been many more who w ­ ere too cowardly or principled to rebel but who ­were also profoundly dissatisfied. Tacitus had ­earlier indicated that Nero’s reign was marked by an inauspiciously bloody beginning, and that at its very outset his m ­ other Agrippina contrived the murder of the governor of Asia, Marcus Junius Silanus.71 But Tacitus is quite explicit in laying that deed specifically at Agrippina’s door, and makes clear that Nero was in no way complicit. In fact, for all his egregious be­hav­ior, Nero did not, as far we can tell, contrive the po­liti­cal murder of any member of the senatorial order outside the imperial f­ amily before the year of the fire. He clearly felt some ner­vous­ness about hints of ambition within his own ­family. Hence, he may have eliminated his (step)­brother and potential rival Britannicus as early as AD 55, and he certainly murdered his ­mother in AD 59. Faustus Cornelius Sulla, Nero’s cousin, was exiled as a potential rival in AD 58. The obscure and self-­effacing Gaius Rubellius Plautus, great-­grandson of Tiberius (through his grand­ daughter Julia) seems to have attracted a similar dynastic suspicion, and was banished in AD 60. Both men would die in AD 62. Yet outside his own ­family circle, and despite the re­introduction of treason ­trials in AD 60 in response to the publication of scurrilous verses attacking the emperor, ­there is no evidence that Nero felt he had any238 • chapter VII

thing serious to fear from the senatorial order or that he did not enjoy their broad support. This all changed in AD 64. And when it did, the resentful senators, and some equestrians, found common cause with the officers of the Praetorian guard. The role of a large segment of the guard in the conspiracy is something of a mystery. They would not be likely to have suffered financially as a result of the fire and presumably would have seen no par­tic­u­lar advantage in a change of emperor. Although they ­were technically soldiers of the Roman army, they enjoyed considerable advantages of pay and conditions of ser­vice compared to the regular legionaries. And they enjoyed ­these no m ­ atter who was in power. But t­ hese privileges w ­ ere, of course, dependent on t­ here being an emperor in place. The guard might be persuaded to shift loyalties if, as seems to have happened ­under Caligula, the be­hav­ior of an individual emperor threatened the imperial system itself, along with the privileges it brought them. Hence, an egregiously erratic and incompetent emperor could create a situation where the disaffected Praetorians would unite with t­hose ele­ments of the senate seeking a change of regime, provided it did not entail a reversion to the old republican system. Moreover, although the senatorial class had lost much of its power with the ending of the republic, such was the Roman reverence for custom and tradition, and so strong was the conviction that traditional virtues ­were transmitted through the ­family line, that the Roman nobility still commanded enormous prestige. What­ever the reason, a­ fter the fire of AD 64, ele­ments of the nobility, rich equestrians, and the Praetorian guard found common cause, and de­cided that Nero had to be removed. Up to now he had never faced the danger that all autocrats fear, the threat of conspiracy, or at least conspiracy outside the close ­ family circle. ­ After the fire, that situation changed with a vengeance. The Pisonian Conspiracy, named ­after its notional leader, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, was exposed in April, AD 65. It is treated in greater detail than any other incident in the surviving works of Tacitus, taking up twenty-­seven chapters of the Annals.72 Tacitus’s version can be amplified by information from Dio and from a brief notice in Suetonius. Hence, we might expect the incident to be well-­documented. In fact, it is bafflingly obscure. Its origins are a mystery to Tacitus, possibly The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  239

­ ecause they did not have any formal po­liti­cal underpinning and did b not spring from deep po­liti­cal convictions, but seemed to arise simply from a profound but essentially incoherent sense of resentment.73 In terms of potential brute force, the conspiracy was strong and ­viable. One of the two Praetorian prefects and no fewer than seven of the twelve tribunes who each commanded the twelve cohorts of the guard ­were involved or ­were suspected of involvement. Only two tribunes are identified as remaining totally loyal to Nero.74 But its execution demonstrated clearly that, in any attempted putsch, mere strength, while of course an impor­tant asset, is not, in itself, nearly enough. A conspiracy needs to be inspired by a clear sense of purpose and motivated by a profound need for po­liti­cal change. Resentment alone ­will not suffice. The motives of t­hose senators who e­ arlier had successfully conspired against Caligula ­were made evident in the aftermath—­they believed that they had restored liberty (at least as they understood it) and brought back the old republic. But the plot against Nero lacked that kind of idealism, and the anti-­Nero plotters seem to have been inspired by l­ittle more than antipathy provoked by the fire and its consequences. Indeed, the prime motivating force may have been a desire for revenge for the material losses the senators and equestrians had suffered and the financial burdens they had been obliged to shoulder. Vestinus Atticus, who is singled out as someone excluded by his senatorial colleagues from the conspiracy, had not lost his fine ­house on the Palatine, and it is pos­si­ble that the senatorial conspirators felt that he therefore would not share their strong resentment.75 We find l­ittle evidence of romantic idealism, no selfless commitment to replace an irresponsible and possibly un­balanced autocrat with a restored republic.76 The suspicion that the conspiracy was inspired by specific personal grievances rather than by a clearly thought out po­liti­cal agenda seems to be confirmed by its chaotic nature. ­There was no central driving force ­behind the plot, unlike the one against Caligula, where we can detect clearly the hand of a power­ful freedman, Callistus, and perhaps even of the next emperor, Claudius. Its leader, Piso, seems to have been totally unsuited to the task. Security was almost non-­existent. The ­whole scheme almost collapsed when an indiscreet freedwoman, Epicharis, party to the conspiracy and frustrated by her growing convic240 • chapter VII

tion that the conspirators ­were worse than useless, acted on her own initiative and tried to enlist the support of a friend, Proculus, an officer in the fleet, who proved utterly untrustworthy. She did display tremendous courage ­later ­under torture, but that hardly excuses her initial indiscretion, nor the irresponsibility of the conspirators in entrusting her with their plans.77 As it turned out, Proculus suffered the common fate of many whistle­blowers, he was simply not believed and the conspirators had a lucky, if short-­lived, escape. But they did not learn from their errors. On the eve of the day planned for the putsch, the senatorial Flavius Scaevinus, who had won the honor of striking the first blow, gave his dagger to his freedman to be sharpened, and acted very suspiciously, prompting that same freedman to report the dubious ­goings on, with literally fatal consequences for the conspirators. This was the first of a series of blunders. In fact, so incoherent was the conspiracy that some years ago it was suggested that the only pos­si­ble explanation for the mess was that the Pisonian conspirators ­were in real­ity themselves the arsonists of AD 64!78 Piso gave his name, but l­ittle true leadership, to the plot.79 Charming, eloquent, and literate, he seems to have possessed many desirable qualities, but he clearly lacked strength of character and exhibited l­ittle talent for practicalities. In some re­spects he seems cast from the same mold as Nero: we hear of his skill at ball and board games, and of his pastimes of writing light poetry and performing on the lyre.80 But he seems not to have held any military command, nor is ­there any evidence of a serious civil ­career. Tacitus has major concerns about his competence, and rightly so: for example, Piso refused to allow the conspirators to strike the blow at his villa at Baiae ­because it would look like a violation of the laws of hospitality, and the w ­ hole conspiracy floundered when he lost his nerve and was incapable of making a direct appeal to the Praetorians and o ­ thers. Nor do ­those around him inspire confidence—­the less than sterling character of some of the plotters, as well as their questionable motivations, did not augur well. The plot was so lacking any sense of core po­liti­cal objectives that, according to Tacitus, it was ­later believed that it had never happened, that the w ­ hole business had merely been fabricated by Nero in order to bring down men he e­ ither feared or envied. Just as supposedly happened with the Christians, ­there was a belief that he identified a group The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  241

and concocted false charges against them for his own ends. This scenario is not particularly convincing, but it is certainly the case that the senators, equestrians, and Praetorian officers ­were involved in an incoherent action with ill-­defined goals, and ­were willing to give their backing to a man like Piso, someone clearly deficient in even the basic qualities of leadership. It is l­ittle won­der that the w ­ hole effort crumbled so quickly. For pre­sent purposes our focus is on the broad nature of the conspiracy as a reaction to the ­Great Fire, rather than the plot’s dénouement, which need not be covered in detail. Suffice to say that nineteen individuals ­were put to death, or committed suicide to avoid execution, and that thirteen ­were exiled. The most famous of ­those who lost their lives was Seneca, phi­los­o­pher and former tutor and advisor of Nero, although it is not clear how involved he r­ eally was. He was forced to commit suicide. The fire clearly created a breach between Nero and impor­tant ele­ ments of Roman society, one that proved impossible to heal. In a fundamental way, relations between the emperor and the nobility would henceforth never be the same. The atmosphere of suspicion and distrust did not die out with the ending of the conspiracy. The fallout from the reaction to the fire continued, and several prominent Romans died during the course of the following year, AD 66. One of the most famous was the littérateur and bon vivant Petronius. Almost nothing is known about this man’s life, but he is very likely the Petronius who wrote the celebrated Satyricon (see chapters 2 and 3). Nero trusted Petronius’s taste implicitly and dubbed him his arbiter elegentiae (“the arbiter of elegance”). Petronius was reputedly brought down by the Praetorian prefect Tigellinus, who exposed his rival’s close relations with the indolent senator Flavius Scaevinus, a key player in the Pisonian conspiracy, who distinguished himself by betraying the conspirators to save his own skin.81 Petronius seems to have realized that the game was up, and he was determined to go out in style. He gathered his friends around for a meal and then cut his veins, spending his last hours in light and playful conversation, and in composing his w ­ ill, in 82 which he listed Nero’s depravities. It is also in the period ­after the ­Great Fire that Nero began to crack down seriously on one of the most stubborn sources of opposition in 242 • chapter VII

the early imperial period, the celebrated philosophical sect, the Stoics. They advocated a ­simple life, lived in accord with nature, and preached the self-­sufficiency of virtue. They ­were clearly potential opponents of the imperial system but had generally been able to reach an accommodation with the notion of the temporal ruler. This worked well for Stoics like Seneca who, while professing a creed based on the sufficiency of virtue for a happy life, somehow managed to become im­ mensely wealthy. But ­after the fire the po­liti­cal tensions w ­ ere so strong that this modus vivendi was no longer sustainable. First, Seneca was obliged to take his own life. He was followed by two other distinguished members of the sect. The Stoic Quintus Marcius Barea Soranus had been consul in AD 52, and governor of Asia in 61 / 62. His son-­in-­law, Annius Pollio, had been sent into exile following the Pisonian conspiracy.83 Soranus was accused of being friends with Rubellius Plautus, executed ­earlier by Nero, and for inciting the citizens of Asia to revolt.84 He committed suicide. Even more significant was the forced suicide of the celebrated Stoic Thrasea Paetus. His ­career exemplifies the distinct change in attitude that came about in the wake of the fire.85 He had always been something of a thorn in Nero’s side. He had shown his in­de­pen­dent attitude in his choice of wife, Arria, whose f­ather Caecina Paetus was associated with an unsuccessful rebellion against Claudius in AD 42; Thrasea even a­ dopted the cognomen Paetus ­after his father-­in-­law’s death. He constantly refused to try to curry ­favor with Nero. In AD 59, amidst the sycophantic votes of praise for the emperor a­ fter the murder of his m ­ other, Thrasea walked out of the senate. He was less than enthusiastic in offering his ser­vices for the games instituted by the emperor in that year to mark the first shaving of his beard, the Juvenalia. In 62, he opposed the death penalty for the praetor Antistius, convicted for writing lampoons against Nero, and was able to win over the senate to his opinion, despite Nero’s disapproval. In Nero’s eyes Thrasea was a pious hypocrite—­someone who looked down upon Nero’s stage per­for­ mances but who in his youth had performed in tragic costume at a festival in his hometown.86 Yet, remarkably, during the pre-­fire period Nero had tolerated Thrasea—­the only punishment he imposed was to make it clear to him that he was not in f­avor. Hence when the senators went en masse to offer congratulations to Nero on the birth of The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  243

his ­daughter Claudia Augusta in January AD 63, Thrasea was not allowed to attend.87 For the moment he did not suffer more serious consequences. ­After the fire, relations between Nero and Thrasea took a far more serious turn. Thrasea’s last recorded act of defiance was his refusal to support the award of divine honors to Nero’s wife Poppaea ­after her death in AD 65, and even to attend her funeral.88 Tacitus says that both Thrasea and Barea Soranus before him met their ends ­because Nero wanted to eliminate men of virtue, and Dio also says that they w ­ ere brought down as men of rank and virtue. While specific serious charges are recorded against Soranus, in Thrasea’s case the transgressions seem fairly trivial—he failed to take the customary senatorial oath or carry out vows for the emperor’s safety, he was lax in performing the duties of one of the priesthoods that he held, he had not attended the senate for three years, and he had focused his attention on private business rather than on affairs of state.89 ­These sound like pretexts to cover the true situation, that Thrasea was in AD 66 condemned to death in the growing atmosphere of paranoia in the aftermath of the fire. The one concession granted him was the choice of how to die. He opted to cut his wrists. What we can see from this series of events is that Nero’s relatively relaxed tolerance of in­de­pen­dently minded senatorials before the fire was never again exhibited a­ fter it. The close relationship between nobility and emperor had been shattered beyond repair. Tacitus talks of how despondency fell over the senate at the time of what he calls “the recent perils,” presumably with reference to the Pisonian conspiracy, and says that by AD 66 the despondency had been turned to dread with the ­trials of Thrasea Paetus and Soranus.90 ­There is even further evidence of how bad the situation had become. Suetonius mentions two plots in the aftermath of the fire. He identifies the more serious as the familiar conspiracy of Piso, but then, in a very brief and cryptic notice, he alludes to a second, l­ater, conspiracy led by Annius Vinicianus, hatched and uncovered in Beneventum (Benevento in Campania, in southern Italy).91 Annius Vincianus had an impor­tant ­family connection. He was the son-­in-­law of Nero’s outstanding general, Domitius Corbulo, who had forged g­ reat victories against the Parthians. It is pos­si­ble that the plot was exposed in Beneventum ­because Vinicianus had intended to murder Nero ­there 244 • chapter VII

as the emperor passed through on his way to Greece in September of AD 66. He may have brought down o ­ thers in his wake. When Dio mentions Thrasea and Soranus as examples of the many fine men who fell victim to Nero merely ­because of their personal qualities, wealth, or ­family distinction, he notes that the list also included Corbulo, who was summoned to Greece and ordered to kill himself, as happened also to the b ­ rothers Scribonius Proculus and Scribonius Rufus, legates of Upper and Lower Germany, respectively.92 This evident efflorescence of opposition to Nero a­ fter the fire from the influential members of the senatorial class helped pave the way for the successful rebellion in AD 68 of Galba, a general with no hereditary links to the reigning emperor. The association of historical cause and effect is rarely clear-­cut or ­simple. The relationship between Nero and the governing classes definitely changed from AD 64 on, and it is reasonable to interpret the growing tensions and hostility as one of the consequences of the G ­ reat Fire. But the further we get from AD 64, the more tenuous the link. Once the power strug­gle had begun ­after Nero’s downfall in AD 68, it would seem almost frivolous to ascribe the course of the civil conflict and Vespasian’s ultimate victory to the events of July 64. The fire may have brought a change in the course of Rome’s history, but the precise nature of that change is almost impossible to determine. This same caution must be applied with par­tic­ul­ar vigor when we consider the impact of the fire on Rome’s financial system. Certainly, we can say that a major adjustment occurred at some point in AD 64 in the production of Roman coinage. It was a change that proved impossible to reverse, at least to reverse permanently, and the impact must have been far-­reaching, even if difficult to define and understand: the effects of any change in the money supply may not manifest themselves for a considerable time, and they may manifest themselves in ways that are hard to recognize. We have very ­little explicit literary information about the minting of coins in ancient Rome, and the fact that the ancient literary sources say so ­little about the theory or the pro­cess of producing money makes this already difficult topic even more challenging. We do not know how decisions w ­ ere reached about such basic m ­ atters as the number of coins to be minted or their design or their precise metallic content. That said, The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  245

the emperor presumably maintained oversight, and it is unlikely that the policies of the mint would have run ­counter to his general wishes. Beyond that, what information we possess is derived almost entirely from the coins themselves, and any conclusions are thus bound to be highly speculative. This reservation certainly applies to one of the consistent themes throughout much of Roman imperial history from Nero on, the phenomenon of “inflation.” Monetary inflation has even been cited as a key cause of the ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, the consequence of the irresponsible minting of worthless coinage to cover state expenses. This is at best a major oversimplification. Romans did indeed suffer through bouts of severe monetary inflation, but they survived them and even flourished in their aftermath. That said, even if its effect cannot be defined precisely, inflation must certainly have helped to shape Rome’s history.93 If we apply a very s­ imple rule of traditional monetary theory to the situation in AD 64, we would expect the fire to have a major impact on the money supply.94 Nero was faced with a massive prob­lem of compensation and reconstruction, to which might be added his personal expenditures for the grandiose Golden House. The literary sources place g­ reat emphasis in the aftermath of the fire on his desperate need to raise money. Modern states, when faced with such demands on their trea­sury, resort to what has become known as “quantitative easing.” ­Because their money is “fiduciary” and their units of currency have virtually no inherent value but are essentially pledges from a central bank, governments can increase the money supply simply by printing notes and thereby stimulating the economy through increasing revenue, while at the same time ­running the risk of serious inflation, where the oversupply of money c­ auses it to lose its purchasing power. Ancient Rome, unlike a modern central bank, could not of course simply print (more) money. Its currency was linked at least to some degree to the inherent value of the metal of the coins. But Roman emperors ­were able to create the same effect, by tinkering with the quality of their coinage to deal with a monetary shortfall caused by overspending. The tinkering could involve a lowering of the proportion of precious metal content, that is, the purity, of the coinage, or alternatively, a lowering of the weight (or, of course, a combination of the two). The latter would be a more blatant and instantly detectable 246 • chapter VII

7.1. Neronian Silver Denarius AD 64–65. Yale University Art Gallery.

mea­sure, and ­there is a practical restriction on how far monetary authorities can go in reducing the size and weight of any given coin issue. A reduction in fineness is far less obvious and consequently the temptation to push the debasing pro­cess to its ultimate level can prove irresistible, as clearly proved to be the case in the third ­century AD.95 In discussions of Roman monetary “policy” in the Julio-­Claudian period, the focus is on the silver coins, the denarii. In a sense, ­these constituted the backbone of the currency available throughout the Roman Empire, and ­were undoubtedly the key ele­ment in major financial transactions and long-­distance currency exchange. Coins in base metal denominations ­were essentially intended as small change for everyday transactions. At the other end of the spectrum, gold coins would have been used primarily for bullion, as a means of storing wealth, without much market exchange—­Rome did not even have its own gold coinage u ­ ntil the time of Julius Caesar in the first 96 ­century BC. When considering Neronian silver coinage specifically, we must be aware of a feature that is highly complicated when studied in detail but can be summarized quite succinctly for the pre­sent purposes. The denarii of Nero are traditionally divided into two phases, “pre-­reform” and “post-­reform.”97 Coins struck from the beginning of the reign are dateable, on the basis of their inscribed legends, up to some point ­after the beginning of Nero’s tenth tribunician year, between December, AD 63 and December, 64. All ­these coins, from 54 to 64, seem to form a stylistic continuum, and, unusually, both the silver (and gold) coins bear on their reverse the inscription EX S C (ex senatus consulto: “in The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  247

accordance with a decree of the senate”), a practice mainly l­imited in ­earlier reigns to base metal coinage. The denarii minted a­ fter AD 64 to the end of the reign are quite unlike the “pre-­reform” issues; they have dif­fer­ent obverse legends, more mature portraits, and dif­fer­ent reverse types. Most significantly, they can not be dated by their legends, and ­after AD 64 their sequence is determined largely on the basis of the more mature portraits. What “monetary policy,” in the very l­imited sense of the phrase, can one extrapolate from t­ hese coin series? As noted ­earlier, the minting of silver coinage can be increased in two ways (without ­going through the obvious pro­cess of mining more silver), by reducing e­ither the weight or the metallic purity of the coins. Nero, it appears, did both. First the weight. Nothing explicit is said by the ancients about the weight of Neronian denarii.98 We must look for secure evidence at the coins themselves, and from as early as the sixteenth c­ entury, scholars have sought this evidence by weighing the coins.99 It is now broadly accepted that t­here was some reduction in weight during the reign of Nero, and the reduction seems to have occurred at the point of the change from the pre-­reform denarii to the l­ater post-­reform Neronian issues, in AD 64.100 Purity has historically been much more difficult to mea­sure. It has long been recognized that silver coins from the time of Septimius Severus, at the end of the second ­century AD, w ­ ere massively debased. This is apparent on the most cursory inspection of the physical coins without the need for g­ reat technical sophistication. But it was believed that denarii had stayed essentially pure up to Severus’s time. Metallic analyses in the early nineteenth ­century, however, established that the silver had been debased well before Severus.101 The application of non-­ destructive x-­ray spectral analy­sis in the twentieth c­ entury made it easier to persuade curators and private ­owners to make their collections available for examination.102 An impor­tant step forward was made by two scholars working collaboratively from the late 1990s, Kevin Butcher, a numismatist, and Matthew Ponting, a chemist. By drilling a tiny hole into the coin’s rim, they ­were able to make a highly complex assessment of its overall metallic purity.103 Their analyses have produced fascinating results, particularly for the coins of Nero.104 They

248 • chapter VII

have demonstrated that denarii consisted of essentially pure silver from Augustus on, with only tiny trace ele­ments of copper and other base ele­ments, ­until we reach the post-­reform coins of Nero.105 With the post-­reform coins, beginning, it is assumed, at some point in AD 64, ­there is a dramatic change, when the denarii exhibit only an 80% degree of purity. This seems to be sustained ­until the end of the reign. Then in his final year, Nero issued denarii with a higher relative silver content, although far from pure, on the order of 90%. We might briefly summarize the situation following Nero’s death. In the strug­gle for the succession, the silver coinage of Galba maintained Nero’s revised 90% standard, and Otho in his early issues seems to have maintained that level also, but in his final issues before his death Otho went back to Nero’s initial post-­reform fineness of 80%, also a­ dopted by Otho’s successor Vitellius. A purity of 80% was maintained through Vespasian and Titus to the third year of Domitian’s reign, when he experimented with an almost total purity, but fell back in AD 85 to a 90% standard, which continued to the third year of Trajan’s reign, then fell back to the 80% level. ­There followed a decline u ­ nder Hadrian between 80% and 70% (the chronology of Hadrian’s coinage is problematic). The denarii of Hadrian’s successors, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, have a 70% purity. ­There seems to be a slight reduction ­under the next emperor, Commodus, and his two short-­lived successors, Pertinax and Didius Julianus, followed by a far more serious reduction with the accession of Septimius Severus in AD 193. Within a year, Severus’s silver coinage suffered a massive devaluation to something less than 50% purity.106 From Septimius Severus on, the supply of silver coinage soared dramatically and its purity showed a matching decline.107 An impor­tant development occurred in 215 when the emperor Caracalla, Severus’s son, introduced a new silver coin that numismatists call the antoninianus (based on one of the ele­ments of Caracalla’s name), with its distinctive radiate imperial portraits. It is generally believed that it circulated initially as a double denarius, although only one and a half times its weight. The antoninianus, which started out with a fineness of around 50% (as gauged by methods producing results that most likely give too high a mea­sure of purity),108 had, by the time of Claudius II

The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  249

(AD 268–270), been reduced to a fineness of about 1%, the familiar “Crisis of the Third C ­ entury,” when the intrinsic value of the silver coinage plummeted almost to zero.109 This was no abstract prob­lem, and we do get occasional glimpses of the kind of difficulties that can occur when coins cease to be accepted as ­legal tender. Egypt had its own monetary system and one must be cautious about applying Egyptian evidence elsewhere in the empire, but a papyrus fragment illustrates the consequences of coin debasement t­here at the height of the monetary crisis, when bankers ­were unwilling to accept the official imperial coinage and had to be forced by the governing authority to do so: Since the public officials have assembled and accused the bankers of the banks of exchange of having closed them [sc. their banks] through their unwillingness to accept the divine coins of the emperors, it has become necessary that an injunction should be issued to all the ­owners of the banks to open them, and to accept and exchange all coins except the absolutely spurious and counterfeit, and [the injunction to be issued] not only to them, but to all who engage in business transactions of any kind what­ever, knowing that if they disobey this injunction they ­will experience the penalties ordained by them previously by his highness the Prefect [of Egypt].110

The ultimate origins of this kind of stand-­off can, it is argued ­here, be traced to the consequences of the ­Great Fire, which occurred in the same general period as a major devaluation of the silver coinage. ­There is no way to prove a causal connection. The topic of Roman coinage is a vast and complicated one, and a ­whole range of issues has been brought into the discussion by numismatists. ­There is the complex issue of the exchange relationship between gold and silver coinage. Also, in the Julio-­Claudian period specifically ­there is the thorny prob­lem of when the mint was moved from Lyon (Ludgunum), its location ­under Augustus, to Rome, a move that had certainly taken place by AD 69, and which would have had implications for the metallic content of the coins minted. Butcher and Ponting’s analyses reveal changes in the trace ele­ments in the silver coinage, which has convinced them that the corresponding change of mint location occurred u ­ nder Nero. All of ­these aspects of the prob­lem need to be brought into the equation. Nevertheless, the fact remains that enormous demands ­were made on 250 • chapter VII

the trea­sury immediately ­after the fire, and consequently a desperate need to increase revenues, to the extent that, according to Tacitus— no doubt with the usual exaggeration—­Italy was devastated and w ­ hole provinces ruined. Perhaps it was in this year that Nero apparently found himself in such financial difficulties that he could not even meet his military payroll.111 When we consider that in the very same year, AD 64, Roman silver coinage was debased, for the very first time, and on a serious scale, by 20%, and that the change remained in place ­until almost the end of the reign, it is very difficult not to suspect a direct link with the consequences of the fire, and most scholars have accepted such a link.112 The short-­lived reversion to a higher silver content at the end of the reign is even more intriguing, b ­ ecause we do have a rare, possibly highly relevant, comment from Suetonius about coinage, during Nero’s final months. Suetonius tells us that when Nero was forced to impose onerous taxes to raise cash in response to the revolt of Vindex (an event that would eventually result in his downfall), t­ here seems to have been a loss of faith in the currency. It is very difficult to understand what was happening b ­ ehind the scenes, but it appears that t­ here was a concerted effort by p ­ eople to pay taxes in debased and worn coinage. Suetonius comments that Nero demanded unworn coins, of refined silver and gold, that would meet a test for high purity.113 The gravity of the situation is conveyed by the fact that he was exceptionally demanding that the coins be unworn (nummum asperum), not generally a major concern for Romans, and was explic­itly demanding that they be of high metal purity, even though it was the coins issued ­under his aegis that had been debased.114 The reversion to a purer standard might have been an attempt to meet that loss of confidence, a mea­sure sustained by Galba and for a short time by Otho. This may reflect the seriousness of the military situation. Michael Crawford, for instance, suggests that the reduced value of the denarius contributed to the potential disloyalty of the Rhine armies. The improved purity standards in AD 68 might have represented a last-­ditch effort to stave off rebellion.115 The attempt to go back to something closer to the old Augustan standard proved to be temporary. Once a governing authority has increased its monetary supply without increasing its productivity, in the The Significance of the ­Great Fire  •  251

case of fiduciary currency, or without increasing the supply of metal, in the case of intrinsic currency, it is almost impossible for that authority to sustain the self-­discipline needed to revert permanently to the old standard. From the time of the G ­ reat Fire, the progression was ­toward ever greater debasement—it would not be a smooth and consistent course and from time to time purity would be increased, but the semi-­permanent reform of AD 64, involving a 20% decrease in the reduction of the silver purity of the denarius, would lead, it seems almost inexorably, to Claudius II’s almost silver-­free silver currency in the third ­century. The G ­ reat Fire of AD 64 wreaked havoc in Rome. A large number of the inhabitants suffered directly and horrifically, and of t­ hose who escaped the flames t­ here can have been very few who did not seriously feel its indirect impact in some way. But its effect was not l­imited to the generation living in Rome, nor was it confined to that city alone. The fire was a catalyst that galvanized the forces that would unite in bringing an end to Nero’s reign. The irreparable breach that it created between Nero and the power­ful elite of Roman society led inescapably not only to his own removal and death, but also to the extinction of the dynasty to which he belonged, one established by Augustus. From now on potential emperors would need qualifications other than a ­family link to the empire’s founder, and often the most crucial of ­those qualifications was success on the battlefield. From the time of the fire, Rome’s po­liti­cal system would be on course for a radical and permanent change. The fire also had an impact on Rome’s monetary system and hence on its financial well-­being, with results that are literally incalculable, but that w ­ ere real and continued to r­ ipple through Rome’s economic history for centuries to come. It was yet another of the consequences of the fire of AD 64 that combined to shape the f­ uture destiny of the city and its empire.

252 • chapter VII


As a notorious arsonist, to say nothing of a persecutor of the Christians and murderer of his own ­mother, Nero matched perfectly the ste­reo­type of the depraved villain. That image was soon established. It is to be expected that the Flavian dynasty that came ­after Nero would have been keen to disparage him. Much more curiously, the Revelation of John, dated generally around the late first ­century, is believed by many to have exploited the tales that arose in the east of the living Nero, by portraying him as the notorious seven-­headed “Beast.” As a bonus, the mysterious text prophesies that the sinful city of Rome ­will be destroyed by fire with the Second Coming: “And [they] cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like unto this ­great city!’ ” Nero has a second, equally curious, role in the Christian tradition, as the Antichrist proclaimed in biblical prophecies, resolved to oppose the true Christ before the Second Coming. Both Lactantius and St.  Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries refer to the phenomenon, and in the early fifth ­century, Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel, rec­ords that many p ­ eople of his day still shared his opinion that Nero was the Antichrist. But the idea was by then ­running apparently out of steam, and it seems not to have survived much beyond the fifth ­century.1 Alongside this exotic portrayal of Nero the Antichrist ­there persisted the more familiar one of Nero as the conventional brute. He

is a common dark figure to medieval writers, the most famous in the English-­speaking world being Geoffrey Chaucer. In “The Monk’s Tale,” one of the celebrated Canterbury Tales, written in the 1380s, Chaucer’s monk calls Nero “as vicius as any feend that lith ful lowe adoun” (as vicious as any fiend in hell), who “Rome brende for his delicasie” (burned Rome for his plea­sure).2 Yet although he was a favorite butt of medieval writers, it is fair to say that Nero did not acquire his mass post-­Classical image as an evil ne’er-­do-­well and arsonist ­ until the seventeenth ­ century, and that happened mainly ­because in that period he became a familiar character on the public stage. Admittedly, in the English-­speaking world he got off to something of a disappointing start.3 The first extant literary work devoted entirely to Nero since Suetonius’s Life seems to be Matthew Gwinne’s Nero, first performed in February 1603, in St. John’s College, Oxford, hence technically still an Elizabethan play (the queen died on March 24).4 It begins with the events of AD 49, when Nero’s m ­ other Agrippina marries Claudius, and ends in AD 68 with Nero’s suicide. It is a relentlessly tedious piece, not helped by its being in Latin. Most Elizabethan history plays simply followed the ancient sources pretty faithfully, and this plodding work is doggedly faithful to that princi­ ple. Hence it is perhaps less than exciting to hear from a surprisingly pedantic Roman citizen that ­after the fire: Nempe regiones Roma bis septem tulit / Vix quarta pars intacta. tres aequae solo (“Indeed Rome had fourteen districts. Scarce a quarter are untouched. Three have been leveled to the ground”).5 Fortunately, ­things did improve. In 1675, the celebrated dramatist Nathaniel Lee staged his first dramatic production, in London, the Tragedy of Nero, widely regarded as the greatest of the Neronian plays of the period. We can compare Gwinne’s lifeless pedantry of some de­ cades ­earlier with Lee’s spirited version of Nero’s fierce threats ­after the mob breaks into the palace: Nothing but Flames can quench my kindled Ire. Fierce as young Phaeton I ­will return: ­Great Rome, the World’s Metropolis ­shall burn. On Tybers flood new Beams I ­will display, And turn black Night into a golden day.6 254 • Epilogue

The seventeenth c­ entury also saw the initiation of Nero into another world, that of opera, marked by L’incoronazione di Poppaea (1642– 1643), with libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, and m ­ usic possibly (but not certainly) by Monteverdi. This is regarded as the first historical opera ever written, on any topic. Its focus is on Nero’s infatuation with Poppaea and in this, the first of the Neronian operas, the ­Great Fire is not mentioned, as is also the case in other Neronian operas that followed during the same ­century. Practical issues of staging no doubt discouraged any thought of having a city burn down during the per­for­mance. The first operatic attempt to meet the challenge comes at the beginning of the next ­century, in a non-­Italian piece, the first composed for an opera ­house located outside of Italy. The Nero (1705) of Friederich Christian Feustking had m ­ usic by Handel, and in fact was Handel’s first opera, staged initially in Hamburg in 1705. The work begins with the funeral of Claudius and ends with the u ­ nion of Nero and Poppaea. In the final act Rome is in flames, and Agrippina blames the fire on her son. By more stringent historical standards she had of course been dead for several years by this time, but her presence is typical of the very relaxed attitude ­toward historical veracity in opera, as in other theatrical media.7 Nero became a fixture on the operatic stage, and what is particularly impressive is how cosmopolitan the productions w ­ ere. The Néron of 1879, for instance, was written in French by the librettist Jules Barbier, with ­music provided by Anton Rubinstein. It saw its first per­for­ mance, in German, in the newly built Hamburg Opera House in 1879. The Rus­sian premiere, in Italian, was held in St. Petersburg in 1884. The premiere of the original French version had to wait ­until 1894, in Rouen. The opera is particularly in­ter­est­ing, as it was the first to give a prominent role to the Christians, and indeed Nero is even in love with a Christian, Chrysa, supposedly the ­daughter of the Epicharis identified by Tacitus and Dio as one of the participants in the post-­fire conspiracy.8 The nineteenth ­century saw Nero and the fire move into another medium. In 1815/16, Lorenzo Panzieri choreographed a ballet, La morte di Nerone, first performed in Venice (­music by Johann Caspar Aiblinger). In this version of the story, popu­lar demonstrations in ­favor of Octavia enrage Nero and he o ­ rders his servants to burn down the Epilogue • 255

city, and goes off to get a good view of it. As the city is destroyed ­people dress up as Bacchants to celebrate the event, and gather around Nero, who watches the spectacle from the high ground. Poppaea arrives, and expresses her disapproval, whereupon Nero strikes her with a knife. The ballet ends with Nero’s suicide. This was not the last balletic treatment of the theme. Antonio Pallerini’s six-­act Nerone was first presented in Milan in 1877 (with m ­ usic by Costantino dall’Argine). The ballet covers almost the w ­ hole of Nero’s principate, leading to the final act when we witness festivities in the Golden House, complete with dancing girls, where news is brought that Galba is on his way to Rome. The drunken Nero feels no fear—he takes up his lyre and points out the burning city to his guests. By the end of the act Galba and his followers are breaking into the palace and Nero commits suicide.9 Growing literacy also meant that the nineteenth ­century was witness to a ­great surge in the popularity of the novel, and a striking number of works of fiction from this period focus on the strug­gle between Rome and Chris­tian­ity. They reached their peak with Henryk Sienkiewicz’s celebrated Quo Vadis, first published in serial form in Polish between 1894 and 1896. It is essentially a love story, between a Roman commander and a Christian barbarian princess, played out against the background of the fire of AD 64 and the subsequent persecution of the Christians. It quickly became a literary phenomenon, translated into numerous foreign languages, and its author received the Nobel Prize for lit­er­a­ture in 1905. It had a ­great impact on other media. Feliks Nowowiejski composed Quo Vadis Op. 30, an oratorio in German, which opened in Amsterdam in 1909 and was then performed across the world, in venues that included Car­ne­gie Hall in New York. The novel was adapted also as a Zarzuela (Spanish operetta) by Henri Cain, performed in Nice in the same year, 1909. The Zarzuela roughly covers the contents of the original book, including the fire, which breaks out during an orgiastic banquet, offering wonderful scope for wild ­music and dancing, with the city burning in the background.10 More significantly, Sienkiewicz’s book was published on the eve of the burgeoning of film as a popu­lar medium, and its theme proved irresistible.11 In 1901, Pathé brought out a one-­reel short (twelve minutes) of Quo Vadis, directed by Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet, where the key scenes ­were re­created as rather static tableaux.12 In 256 • Epilogue

1909, Luigi Naggi, fresh from his 1908 success with The Last Days of Pompeii, directed Nerone (En­glish title: Nero and the Burning of Rome), a major international success, beginning when Octavia was still alive and ending with Nero’s death, and Rome burning down en route. The cleverest and most innovative moment of the film comes near the end, where we see Nero lying on a couch while his thoughts are projected against a background. An idyllic country scene gives way to what appears to be the city on fire, and Nero is terrified by inner angst. In 1912, Enrico Guazzoni, working for the major Italian film com­ pany, Società Italiana Cines, created a version of the Neronian fire that ran for two hours (8 reels). It is considered by some to be the first “blockbuster” in the history of film, with a cast of five thousand. It was a ­great international success. The fire was depicted through the special effect of superimposition.13 The topic was not guaranteed gold, however. In 1924, Gabriellino D’Annunzio, the son of the famous poet, directed his own version of Quo Vadis, with its burning city and persecuted Christians, for Unione Cinematografica Italiana. The production ran massively over bud­get and proved to be a commercial disaster. It was the last film that D’Annunzio would direct.14 The failure of D’Annunzio’s remake of the novel did not discourage other studios from trying their luck. In 1951, a version of Quo Vadis appeared from the studios of Metro-­Goldwyn Mayer. It is arguably the most famous Hollywood Roman epic ever made, with a spectacular per­for­mance by Peter Ustinov as Nero and an even more spectacular recreation of the fire. An enormous commercial and critical success, it was nominated for eight Acad­emy Awards (although it failed to win any). Nero and the fire have continued to fascinate the public at large, and the topic pops up all over the world in vari­ous contexts. In 1955, the Devil, apparently dormant since the time of Nero the Antichrist, returned in the form of the smooth-­talking Mr. Applegate in the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, singing of “Nero fiddlin’ thru that lovely blaze.” Ten years ­later, even Dr. Who got involved. In the second season of the celebrated British TV series, it emerged that the Doctor is apparently to be blamed for it all, since he surreptitiously used his glasses as a lens to burn Nero’s plans for the New Rome and thus inadvertently—or was it deliberately?—­inspired the emperor with the idea for the fire.15 For the French, n ­ eedless to say, it is not enough simply Epilogue • 257

to enjoy Nero as a wacky and oddly entertaining villain; he has metamorphosed into a universal figure of profound psycho-­social significance: as the visionary intellectual André Louis warned us in 1981, the “pyromanic Nero” is dormant in all humankind and may awaken, at any moment, to threaten civilization’s ­future.16 And if we are in any doubt about how seriously the French take ­these ­things, let it be noted that in 2002, they or­ga­nized a scholarly conference on Quo Vadis in Toulouse, and published the proceedings.17 On a more cheerfully mundane level, in 1985 the Italians gave us a spectacular remake of Quo Vadis as a six-­hour miniseries (RAI tele­vi­sion). And perhaps even more mundanely, though perhaps less cheerfully, in 2005 the Germans turned the Peter Ustinov movie version of Quo Vadis into a live “Rockmusical,” with a per­for­mance, to mixed reviews, in the amphitheater in Trier.18 Perhaps the final word can be left to the inspired lyr­ics of the British punk band, the Stranglers, in their cult piece No More Heroes: What­ever happened to all the heroes? All the Shakespearoes? They watched their Rome burn.

The Stranglers are lamenting that all our heroes have feet of clay, and each and e­ very one is in real­ity no more heroic than Nero. But it is punk rock, so who ­really knows what it means, or if it means anything? What is impor­tant for our purposes is that the lines demonstrate that Nero and the ­Great Fire of Rome have become so much a part of our popu­lar culture that a punk group can simply omit Nero’s name and leave it to our collective memory, aided by the contrived rhyme and the image of burning Rome, to fill in the blank space. Nero and the G ­ reat Fire have clearly “arrived” as pop-­culture icons. In the clichéd expression, they have become a “phenomenon.”

258 • Epilogue


TACITUS Tac. Ann. 15.38.1. A disaster followed, w ­ hether accidental or plotted by the emperor is unclear (for the sources have both versions); but it was worse and more calamitous than all the disasters that have befallen this city from raging fires. 38.2. It started in the part of the Circus adjacent to the Palatine and Caelian Hills. ­There, amidst shops containing merchandise of a combustible nature, the fire immediately gained strength as soon as it broke out and, whipped up by the wind, engulfed the entire length of the Circus. For t­ here ­were no dwellings with solid enclosures, no t­ emples ringed with walls, and no other obstacle of any kind in its way. 38.3. The blaze spread wildly, overrunning the flat areas first, and then climbing to the heights before once again ravaging the lower sections. It outstripped all defensive mea­sures ­because of the speed of its deadly advance and the vulnerability of the city, with its narrow streets twisting this way and that, and with its irregular blocks of buildings, which was the nature of old Rome. 38.4. In addition, ­there was the wailing of panic-­stricken w ­ omen; ­there ­were ­people very old and very young; ­there ­were ­those trying to save themselves and ­those trying to save ­others, dragging invalids along or waiting for them; and ­these p ­ eople, some hanging back, some rushing along, hindered all relief efforts. 38.5. And often, as they looked back, they found themselves u ­ nder attack from the flames at the sides or in front; or if they escaped to a

neighboring district, that also caught fire, and even ­those areas they had believed far distant they found to be in the same plight. 38.6. Eventually, unsure what to avoid and what to head for, they crowded the roads or scattered over the fields. Even though escape lay open to them, some chose death b ­ ecause they had lost all their property, even their daily livelihood; ­others did so from love of ­family members whom they had been unable to rescue. 38.7. And nobody dared fight the fire: t­here ­were repeated threats from numerous p ­ eople opposing efforts to extinguish it, and ­others openly hurled in firebrands and barked out that they “had their instructions.” This was to give them more freedom to loot, or e­ lse they ­were indeed ­under o ­ rders. 39.1. Nero was at Antium at the time, and he did not return to the city u ­ ntil the fire was approaching the building of his by which he had connected the Palatine residence with the gardens of Maecenas. But stopping the fire from consuming the Palatine and his ­house and every­ thing in the neigborhood proved impossible. 39.2. However, to relieve the homeless and fugitive population, Nero opened up the Campus Martius, the monuments of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and he erected makeshift buildings to ­house the destitute crowds. Vital supplies w ­ ere shipped up from Ostia and neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was dropped to three sestertii. 39.3. ­These w ­ ere mea­sures aimed at the p ­ eople, but they proved a dismal failure. For the rumor had spread that, at the very time that the city was ablaze, Nero had appeared on his private stage and sung about the destruction of Troy, drawing a comparison between the sorrows of the pre­sent and the disasters of old. 40.1. Fi­nally, on the sixth day, the blaze was brought to a halt at the foot of the Esquiline. Buildings had been demolished over a vast area so that the fire’s unremitting vio­lence would be faced only with open ground and bare sky. But before the panic had abated, or the plebs’ hopes had revived, the fire resumed its furious onslaught, though in more open areas of the city. As a result, ­there w ­ ere fewer ­human casu-

260 • principal sources

alties, but the destruction of ­temples and of porticoes designed as public amenities was more widespread. 40.2. And that par­tic­u­lar conflagration caused a greater scandal ­because it had broken out on Tigellinus’s Aemilian estate; and it looked as if Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new city, one that was to be named a­ fter him. In fact, of the fourteen districts into which Rome is divided, four ­were still intact, three had been leveled to the ground, and in the other seven a few ruined and charred vestiges of buildings ­were all that remained. 41.1. To put a figure on the ­houses, tenement buildings, and ­temples that ­were lost would be no easy ­matter. But religious buildings of the most time-­honored sanctity ­were burned down: the t­emple that Servius Tullius had consecrated to Luna; the g­ reat altar and sanctuary that the Arcadian Evander had consecrated to Hercules the Helper; the t­ emple of Jupiter Stator offered in a vow by Romulus; the palace of Numa; and the shrine of Vesta holding the Penates of the Roman ­people. Other casualties w ­ ere rich spoils taken through our many victories; fine specimens of Greek art; and antique and au­then­tic works of literary genius. As a result, though surrounded by the g­ reat beauty of the city as it grew again, older ­people still remember many ­things that could not be replaced. 41.2. ­There ­were ­those who observed that this fire started on July 19, which was the date on which the Senones captured and burned the city. ­Others have taken their interest so far as to compute equal numbers of years, months, and days between the two fires. 42.1. In fact, Nero took advantage of the homeland’s destruction to build a palace. It was intended to inspire awe not so much with precious stones and gold (long familiar and commonplace in the life of luxury) as with its fields, lakes, and woods that replicated the open countryside on one side, and open spaces and views on the other. The architects and engineers ­were Severus and Celer, who had the ingenuity and audacity to attempt to create by artifice what nature had denied, and to amuse themselves with the emperor’s resources.

principal sources  •  261

42.2. For they had undertaken to dig a navigable channel from Lake Avernus all the way to the mouth of the Tiber, taking it along the desolate shoreline or through the barrier of the hills. In fact, one comes across no aquifer h ­ ere to provide a w ­ ater supply. ­There are only the Pomptine marshes, all e­ lse being cliffs or arid ground—­and even if forcing a way through this ­were pos­si­ble, it would have involved an extreme and unjustifiable effort. But Nero was ever one to seek the incredible. He attempted to dig out the heights next to Avernus, and traces of his futile hopes remain to this day. 43.1. As for space that remained in the city a­ fter Nero’s house-­building, it was not built up in a random and haphazard manner, as ­after the burning by the Gauls. Instead, ­there ­were rows of streets properly surveyed, spacious thoroughfares, buildings with height limits, and open areas. Porticoes ­were added, too, to protect the façade of the tenement buildings. 43.2. ­These porticoes Nero undertook to erect from his own pocket, and he also undertook to return to their ­owners the building lots, cleared of debris. He added grants, prorated according to a person’s rank and domestic property, and established time limits within which ­houses or tenement buildings w ­ ere to be completed for claimants to acquire the money. 43.3. He earmarked the Ostian marshes as the dumping ground for the debris and ordered ships that had ferried grain up the Tiber to return downstream loaded with debris. The ­actual edifices ­were, for a specific portion of their structure, to be f­ ree of wooden beams and solidly made of rock from Gabii or Alba, since such stone is fireproof. 43.4. In addition, ­because individuals had had the effrontery to siphon off w ­ ater, watchmen would be employed to ensure a fuller public supply, and at more points. Every­one was also to have appliances accessible for fighting fires, and h ­ ouses ­were not to have party walls but each would be enclosed by its own. ­These mea­sures ­were welcomed for their practicality, and they also enhanced the aesthetics of the new city. 43.5. ­There ­were, however, t­hose who believed that the old configuration was more conducive to health, inasmuch as the narrowness

262 • principal sources

of the streets and the height of the buildings meant they w ­ ere less easily penetrated by the torrid sunlight. Now, they claimed, the broad open spaces, with no shade to protect them, w ­ ere baking in a more oppressive heat. 44.1. Such w ­ ere the precautions taken as a result of h ­ uman reasoning. The next step was to find ways of appeasing the gods, and the Sibylline books w ­ ere consulted. U ­ nder their guidance, supplicatory prayers ­were offered to Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpina, and t­ here ­were propitiatory ceremonies performed for Juno by married ­women, first on the Capitol, and then on the closest part of the shoreline. (From t­ here ­water was drawn, and the ­temple and statue of the goddess ­were sprinkled with it.) ­Women who had husbands also held ritual feasts and all-­night festivals. 44.2. But neither h ­ uman resourcefulness nor the emperor’s largesse nor appeasement of the gods could stop belief in the nasty rumor that an order had been given for the fire. To dispel the gossip Nero therefore contrived culprits on whom he inflicted the most exotic punishments. ­These ­were ­people hated for their shameful offenses whom the common ­people called Chrestians [or Christians]. 44.3. The man who gave them their name, Christus, had been executed during the rule of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilatus. The pernicious superstition had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judea, the starting point of that curse, but in Rome as well, where all that is abominable and shameful in the world flows together and gains popularity. 44.4. And so, at first, t­ hose who confessed w ­ ere apprehended and, subsequently, on the disclosures they made, a huge number w ­ ere found guilty [or “­were linked”]—­more b ­ ecause of their hatred of mankind than ­because they ­were arsonists. As they died, they w ­ ere further subjected to insult. Covered with hides of wild beasts, they perished by being torn to pieces by dogs; or they would be fastened to crosses and, when daylight had gone, set on fire to provide lighting at night. 44.5. Nero had offered his gardens as a venue for the show, and he would also put on circus entertainments, mixing with the plebs in his char­io ­ t­eer’s outfit or standing up in his chariot. As a result, guilty

principal sources  •  263

though t­hese ­people ­were and deserving exemplary punishment, pity for them began to well up ­because it was felt that they ­were being exterminated not for the public good, but to gratify one man’s cruelty. 45.1. Meanwhile Italy had been completely devastated to raise Nero’s funds; the provinces had been ruined, and so had the allied ­peoples and the so-­called ­free communities. Even the gods became part of ­those spoils, with ­temples gutted in the city and their gold removed, gold that the Roman ­people in e­ very generation had consecrated through triumphs or as votive offerings, following success or in time of fear. 45.2. Moreover, throughout Asia and Achaea it was not simply the ­temple offerings, but the statues of the gods, too, that w ­ ere being plundered.

SUETONIUS Suet. Nero 16.1. He devised a new structure for the city’s buildings and ensured that before apartment buildings and private h ­ ouses ­there stood colonnades, from the terraces of which fires could be fought, and he erected ­these at his own expense. He had also intended to extend the city walls as far as Ostia and bring seawater into the old city through a canal. 16.2. U ­ nder Nero’s rule many offenses ­were severely dealt with and checked, and t­ here ­were many new ordinances. A limit was set on expenditure. Public dinners ­were reduced to sportulae. It was forbidden for cooked food, with the exception of legumes and vegetables, to be sold in taverns, whereas ­earlier ­there was no sort of fare that was not on offer. The Christians, devotees of a new and abominable superstition, w ­ ere subjected to punishment. The char­io ­ t­eers, who had assumed the right, long enjoyed with impunity, of wandering about cheating and robbing ­people for fun, saw their amusements disallowed. Fan clubs of pantomime actors, along with the actors themselves, ­were banished from the city. Suet. Ner. 31.1. However, being more prodigal in no other area than in his building, Nero constructed a ­house that ran all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline. This he initially called the Domus Tran264 • principal sources

sitoria, but when it ­later burned down and was rebuilt, he renamed it the Golden House. With regard to its dimensions and splendor, it would suffice to note the following features. Its vestibule was such that it could contain a colossal statue of him that stood 120 feet high; so spacious was it that its t­ riple portico was a mile long. The pool, too, was as big as a sea, and was surrounded with buildings made to appear like cities; and t­ here ­were also tracts of land of dif­fer­ent sorts—­tilled fields, vineyards, and woods—­with large numbers of domestic and wild animals of all kinds. 31.2. In the other areas of the structure every­thing was overlaid with gold and studded with precious stones and mother-­of-­pearl. The dining rooms had ceilings made of ivory panels that could rotate so that flowers could be scattered from above and fitted with pipes for dispensing perfume. The principal dining room had a dome which, day and night, was continuously revolving, like the heavens; and ­there w ­ ere baths ­running with seawater and with sulphurous w ­ ater. When he had finished the ­house in this style and was dedicating it, his approval of it was ­limited to the statement that he had at last begun to have shelter fit for a ­human being. Suet Ner. 38.1. But Nero spared neither his p ­ eople nor his city’s walls. When someone said in the course of a general conversation: “­After I die let the earth catch fire,” he replied: “No, while I am alive.” And he clearly made that happen. As though offended by the unsightliness of the old buildings and by the narrow, winding streets, he burned down the city, and did it so openly that a number of ex-­consuls caught servants of his on their estates with kindling and torches in their hands and did not touch them. Furthermore, some granaries in the area of the Golden House, whose land he particularly coveted, w ­ ere demolished by military engines—­because they ­were built with stone walls—­and then set alight. 38.2. For six days and seven nights it was a raging cataclysm, with the plebs forced to seek shelter among the monuments and tombs. In addition to huge numbers of apartment blocks, ­there also went up in flames homes of generals of old, still decorated with ­enemy spoils; ­temples of the gods promised in vows and consecrated by the kings, or ­later in the days of the Punic and Gallic wars; and anything e­ lse memorable or worth seeing that had survived from antiquity. Nero principal sources  •  265

looked out over this conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, delighting in the “beauty of the flames,” as he put it, and he sang “The Capture of Troy,” dressed in his stage costume. 38.3. Moreover, to lay his hands on as much plunder and spoils as he possibly could, he undertook to remove the cadavers and debris at no cost, while allowing none to approach the remnants of their own property; and with contributions that he not only received but actually demanded, he came close to draining the provinces and the fortunes of individuals.

DIO Dio 62.16.1. Nero thereupon set his heart on something he had doubtless long been wishing to do, namely, to destroy in his lifetime the ­whole city and his w ­ hole realm; at any rate he, too, declared Priam to have been incredibly fortunate in having witnessed the simultaneous destruction of both his country and his kingdom. 16.2. In secret he sent men all over the place pretending to be drunk or up to some other mischief and had them set one, two, or more fires in vari­ous areas of town. The result was that p ­ eople ­were totally perplexed, unable to find how the calamity started or how to end it, though they did see and hear many strange ­things. 16.3. ­There was nothing to be seen other than a lot of fires, as in a military camp, and nothing to be heard in p ­ eople’s conversations except: “Such and such is on fire,” “Where?” “How?” “Who started it?” “Help!” Extraordinary bewilderment gripped every­body everywhere, and they began to run around in dif­fer­ent directions like madmen. 16.4. Some p ­ eople, while helping ­others, would learn that their own homes w ­ ere burning; o ­ thers would learn that theirs had been destroyed before they ­were even told they ­were on fire. Some would run out of their buildings into the alleyways with the notion that they could do something to help from outside, and o ­ thers would run into the streets thinking they would accomplish something even inside. 16.5. The shrieking and wailing of ­children, ­women, men and the old all together was endless, so that between the smoke and the uproar it was impossible to see anything or have any idea of what was 266 • principal sources

happening; and as a result one could see some standing t­ here speechless, as if they ­were dumb. 16.6. Meanwhile, many who ­were carry­ing out their personal effects, and many, too, who w ­ ere stealing t­hose of ­others, would wander into each other and trip over their bundles. They could not go forward, but neither could they stand still; they would push, and be pushed, bowl ­others over, and be bowled over themselves. 16.7. Many w ­ ere suffocated, and many ­were crushed, so that none of all the misfortunes that can befall p ­ eople in such predicament failed to overtake them. They had no chance of escaping anywhere easily, and anyone who survived an immediate crisis died when he fell into another. 62.17.1. Nor did ­these ­things all take place on one day; they occurred over several days and nights. Many ­houses ­were destroyed ­because of the lack of help, and many ­were also set alight by the very ­people who came to lend a hand. This was ­because the soldiers, including the Vigiles, had their focus on the looting and not only failed to put out fires but even started fresh ones. 17.2. While such t­hings w ­ ere ­going on in vari­ous spots, the wind caught the flames and drove them together against the remaining buildings. The result was that nobody thought any longer about personal property or ­houses. All the survivors stood in any seemingly safe spot and looked at what appeared to be a number of islands or many cities all ablaze at the same time. 17.3. No longer w ­ ere they distressed over the loss of their possessions, but now lamented the public calamity and reflected on how once before most of the city had been devastated like that, by the Gauls. 62.18.1. While the ­whole population was in this state of mind, many, crazed by the disaster, ­were leaping into the very flames. Not so Nero, who climbed to the highest point of his palace, from where most of the conflagration could best be seen, and, putting on his cithara-­player’s costume, sang what he called “The Destruction of Troy,” but what was actually perceived as being “The Destruction of Rome.” 18.2. The disaster that the city experienced then was without parallel e­ arlier or ­later, apart from the Gallic sack. The entire Palatine hill, principal sources  •  267

the Theater of Taurus, and some two thirds of the rest of the city went up in flames, and the loss of life was incalculable. 18.3. ­There was not a curse that the ­people did not utter against Nero, although they did not state his name, avoiding it by merely cursing “­those who had set fire to the city.” [18.4.] 18.5. He now levied vast amounts of cash from both private citizens as well as communities, sometimes by force, using the fire as an excuse, and sometimes through nominally voluntary contributions. As for the residents of Rome, he deprived them of the grain allowance.

268 • principal sources


chapter I. background

1. Calp. Ec. 1.42. 2. Suet. Ner. 11.2; Dio 61.18.2. 3. Plin. Pan. 46.4–5: Nero is referred to elliptically as the scenicus imperator. 4. Plin. Ep. 3.5.6; they apparently started at the point where the work of the lost historian Aufidius Bassus ended (when that might have been is much debated). 5. Tac. Ann. 1.69.2, 13.20.3, 15.53.3–4 (see chapter 7); Hist. 3.28.1. 6. Tac. Ann. 4.5.2. 7. Tac. Ann. 1.1.3; Hist. 1.1.4. 8. Circus: Tac. Ann. 15.38.2; Palatine: Tac. Ann. 15.39.1; Tigellinus: Tac. Ann. 15.40.2; religious buildings: Tac. Ann. 15.41.1. 9. Tac. Ann. 15.41.1. 10. Suet. Ner. 19.3. 11. That said, many scholars, especially in France, are beginning to rate him more highly: Fromentin (2016); also, most recently, Madsen (2020). 12. See Pelling (1997). 13. Frere (1972), 14, 20–22. 14. Tac. Ann. 15.43.3. 15. ­There are two very impor­tant ancient sources of topographical information. The Forma Urbis Romae, commonly known as the Severan Marble Plan, is a large marble map of ancient Rome, put together between AD 203 and prob­ably 211. The map was made up of marble slabs, mea­sur­ing in total 18.1 × 13 m. Destroyed some time during the M ­ iddle Ages, the fragments have since then been gradually reassembled, in a pro­cess that is still ongoing; see the very useful site: https://­formaurbis​.­stanford​.­edu​/­docs​/­FURmap​.­html, accessed March  5, 2020. We are also heavi­ly dependent on two “regionary cata­logues” of late antiquity, lists of buildings and landmarks arranged according to the fourteen regiones into which Augustus divided the city. It is broadly agreed that the oldest, the Curiosum, was put together around the time of Diocletian (AD 284–305). The l­ater Notitia was compiled before the death of Constantine (AD 337) and derived its information from a version of the Curiosum. 16. By Tarquinius Priscus and Tarquinius Superbus: Livy 1.38.6; 56.2. The first stage involved the conversion of the local brook into a sewer. 17. For a recent treatment of the Roman landscape: Arnoldus-­Huyzendfeld (2016), 193–97.

18. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1–2. 19. Tac. Ann. 4.64. 20. Dion. Hal. 5.19.1. 21. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1. 22. Tac. Ann. 15.38.1; Dio 62.18.2. 23. Beloch (1886). Maier (1954), 321–22 provides a list of calculations of the population of Rome made before 1950, ranging from 250,000 (Lot) to 2 million (Friedländer). Among recent contributions: Brunt (1971); Parkin (1992), 4–5; Storey (1997); Lo Cascio (1994), (2001); Witcher (2005); for a general survey of the broader issues: Wilson (2011). 24. Livy Per. 98. Phlegon, a Greek historian of Hadrian’s time, gives the slightly higher figure of 910,000 (Phlegon, FGrHist 257, fr. 12, 6). 25. Aug. RG 8. 26. The issue of the number of Roman citizens resident overseas and their inclusion in the census registration is thoroughly discussed by Brunt (1971). 27. Aug. RG 15; Dio 55.10.1. 28. Beloch (1886), 400–401. 29. Augustus is said to have imported 20 million “mea­sures” (modii) of grain from Egypt annually to supply one-­third of the city’s needs. The literary sources, on average, report that the grain allotted to vari­ous groups (soldiers, slaves, and the like) averaged 4 modii per person per month. Jos. BJ 2.386; Aur. Vict. Epit. 1.6. See the summary in Oates (1934), 103–5. 30. See in par­tic­u­lar the in­ter­est­ing insights of Storey (1997), who argues, against the current general thinking, for a figure ­under 500,000. 31. See Maier (1954) in par­tic­u­lar for a sober assessment of what can be achieved. More than sixty years a­ fter Maier’s article, despite increasingly sophisticated methodologies, we are no closer to a consensus. 32. The population of London at the time of the ­Great Fire in 1666 is thought to have been about 300,000. ­There are no reliable figures on casualties on that par­tic­u­lar fire, but many con­temporary sources, while acknowledging the massive material losses, claimed that ­there was only a handful of fatalities: Tinniswood (2003), 3, 80.

chapter II. fires in ancient rome

1. Cic. Off. 2.19.6; Hor. Sat. 1.1.77. 2. The Gallic sack of Rome is described in some detail, particularly by Livy, but the coverage of the resulting fire(s) is fairly ­limited. 3. Code 25: Harper (1904), 19. 4. Pritchard (1969), 209: No. 13. 5. None of the original texts have survived and they are known to us only from vari­ous ­later citations (prob­ably not always reflecting precisely the original provisions). 6. Building space: Varro Ling. Lat. 5.22; pyres: Cic. de Leg. 2.24.61.

270  •  Notes to chapter II

7. Digest 47.9.9 (Gaius 4, ad XII Tab). 8. The meaning of Mater Matuta is uncertain. Mater is of course “­mother”; Matuta seems to refer to a goddess of the morning or dawn. 9. Livy 24.47.15, 25.7.6, 33.27.3–4; Haselberger et  al. (2002), 234. Servius Tullius: Livy 5.19.6; Ovid Fast. 6.480 (Mater Matuta); Dion. Hal. 4.27.7 (Fortuna). 10. Boni (1900), 333–34; Coarelli (1983), 130–39; (2014), 83–84; Cristofani (1990), 113. The Regia and the Comitium ­were certainly rebuilt; the same may be true of the ­Temple ­under Sant’Omobono; see Pisani Sartorio (1995); Carandini (2017), 157; an alternate view is that this last sanctuary was abandoned for a considerable period of time, possibly ­because of its association with the expelled kings: see Coarelli (1988), 209; Cornell (1995), 237–38; most recently: Brocato, Ceci, and Terrenato (2016). Excavations in the area by the Università della Calabria and the University of Michigan are currently ongoing: https://­sites​ .­lsa​.­umich​.­edu​/­omobono​/­site​-­description​/­, and https://­www​.­a rchaeology​.­org​ /­issues​/­132–1405​/­trenches​/­1982​-­reexcavation​-­rome​-­earliest​-­temple, both accessed March, 2020. 11. Historians now generally agree in dating the ­battle to 387 / 386. 12. ­There is an alternative version that the Capitol was also sacked: Ogilvie (1965), 720; Cornell (1995), 317. 13. Diodorus Siculus 14.113–16; Livy 5.39–55; 6.1; Florus 1.13; Oros. Pag. 2.19.4–11 (Florus and Orosius essentially derive their information from Livy); Rubin (2004), 18; Cornell (1995), 313–18. 14. Suet. Ner. 39.2. 15. Livy 5.42.2, 7. 16. Livy 5.43.1. 17. Livy 5.43.4, 6.1.2. 18. Cornell (1995), 318; Bernard (2018), 45–62; for very tenuous archaeological evidence for the destruction, see Roberts (1918), 58–64. 19. Rec­ords during Gallic sack: Livy 6.1.2.; Tabularium: Cic. Nat. Deor. 3.74; Haselberger et al. (2002), 238–39; ­Temple of Nymphs: Cic. pro Mil.73; pro Cael. 78; Parad. Stoic. 31; Sibylline books: Plin. NH 13.88; Tac. Ann. 6.12.4; Commodus: Dio 72.24.2. 20. Naumachia: Plin. NH 19.190; Symmachus: Amm. Marc. 27.3.3–4; Sym. Ep. 1.44. 21. Oros. Pag. 4.4.1 provides the date of 275 BC and says the ­temple was destroyed by lightning: aedes Salutis ictu fulminis dissoluta. Lightning strikes: 206 BC, Livy 28.11.4; 166 BC, Obsequens 12. The t­ emple must have been rebuilt a­ fter the Claudian destruction since it is mentioned in the regionary cata­logues as standing in the fourth ­century; Haselberger et al. (2002), 219–20. 22. Cic. Tusc. 1.4; Val. Max. 8.14.6 (signature); Plin. NH 35.19. 23. Plin. NH 35.19. 24. Vitr. Arch. 2.8.17. 25. Juv. Sat. 3.193. 26. Livy 21.62.2–3. 27. Plin. NH 16.36, citing a now lost work of the historian Cornelius Nepos.

Notes to chapter II  •  271

28. Livy 24.47.15–16. The area was known as the Salinae, possibly with reference to old saltworks. 29. Tac. Ann. 15.38.2. 30. The ­Temple of Spes (“Hope”) was located in the Forum Holitorium, adjacent to the Forum Boarium. 31. Mercando (1966); Haselberger et  al. (2002), 127; Diffendale (2016), 141; Carandini (2017), 165. 32. Ov. Fast. 6.625–28. ­There was another major conflagration in the Forum Boarium soon a­ fter, in 192 BC, recorded by Livy 35.40.8. Archaeological sondages carried out in the Forum have provided some confirmation of Livy’s account, and have exposed two layers of cinders separated by a major ash deposit (Gros and Adam [1986], 32). The Forum Boarium was clearly a firetrap and it is no surprise that this area also suffered in the G ­ reat Fire of AD 64 (Tac. Ann. 15.41.1). 33. Tac. Ann. 15.38.1. 34. Rubin (2004), 223, notes that only nine other fires can be dated precisely in the period from the Gallic sack down to the Visigothic destruction of AD 410. 35. Livy 26.27.1–6. 36. Florus 3.21.7: iaculatus incendia. 37. Cic. Cat. 3.9; Sall. Cat. 47.2; Livy 6.4.3, 25.39.17; Plin. NH 13.88; 33.154; 35.14; Tac. Ann. 6.12.4; Plut. Sull. 27.6; App. Bell. Civ. 1.83, 86; Aug. Civ. Dei 2.24; Obsequens 57; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 151.9). 38. App. Bell. Civ. 1.86; Tac. Ann. 15.38.1. 39. Catiline: Cic. Cat. 3.9; Clodius: Cic. pro Sest. 95; Antony: Cic. Phil. 2.48, 11.37. 40. Tac. Ann. 15.42.1; Suet Ner. 38.3. 41. Cic. Att. 1.4.3; Plut. Crass. 2.4; Plin. NH 33.134. 42. Sometimes triumviri instead of tresviri, sometimes nocturni instead of capitales, the names seem to be essentially interchangeable. Livy 9.46.3 cites Licinius Macer’s claim that Gnaeus Flavius, aedile in 304 BC, had held the office of nocturnus some time before that year. Livy Per. 11 seems to date the institution a­ fter 290 BC; Kunkel (1962), 71–79; Robinson (1992), 105; Nippel (1995), 22; Ramieri (1996), 7; Cascione (1999), 9–10 n. 18; Lovisi (1999), 98 n. 162. Originally tresviri w ­ ere appointed by the praetor, then, ­after 242 BC, they ­were elected in one of the popu­lar assemblies (comitia tributa) (Digest 43. Livy 4.45.1–3; Sablayrolles (1996), 414. 44. Plaut. Amph. 155, Aul. 416–17: the character Euclio threatens to report the slave Congrio to the tresviri capitales ­because he is in possession of a knife. 45. Plin. NH 21.8. 46. Livy 32.26.17. 47. Livy 39.14.10. 48. Digest 1.15.1. It is pos­si­ble that the tresviri ­were assisted in their tasks by an ancillary body known as the quinqueviri uls cis Tiberim (“board of five on both sides of the Tiber”). We hear of the latter in operation only once. In the context of the actions taken to suppress the Bacchanalia, Livy 39.14.10 reports that the tresviri ­were commissioned to place guards through the city at night to prevent illegal gatherings and to stop fires. He then adds that “as assistants to the 272  •  Notes to chapter II

triumviri (= tresviri), the quinqueviri uls cis Tiberim ­were to supervise the buildings, each in his own district.” The Digest rec­ords that this Board of Five was appointed ­because it was incon­ve­nient for regular magistrates to appear in public in the eve­ning, which might suggest that the quinqueviri ­were in a sense the night shift for the tresviri, who ­were perhaps reluctant to work unsocial hours (Digest But Livy’s brief comment is the only extant reference to this shadowy institution apart from the Digest: Pailler (1985). 49. Val. Max. 8.1 damn. 5; Nippel (1995), 22 suggests that the neglect was exhibited during the ­Great Fire of 241. 50. Tac. Agr. 2.2: panegyrics of Arulenus Rusticus on Thrasea Paetus, and of Herennius Senecio on Priscus Helvidius. 51. Strabo 5.3.7 (= 5.235); Roller (2018), 295. 52. Vitr. Arch. 2.8.20. 53. Vitr. Arch. 2.7.2; Sablayrolles (1996), 426. 54. Tac. Ann. 15.43.3. 55. Vitr. Arch. 2.9.14–16. 56. Plin. NH 16.190, 200. 57. Strabo 5.3.7 (= 5.235). 58. Juv. Sat. 3.199–200. 59. Dio 53.33.5. 60. Dio 53.24.4–6, cf. 54.2.4; Vel. 2.91.3, 92.4; Rich (1990), 159; Sablayrolles (1996), 9; Closs (2013), 46–47. The episode is beset by chronological prob­ lems, but it is likely that Egnatius’s aedileship and Augustus’s new mea­sure belong to 22 BC. 61. Dio 54.2.4; Rich (1990), 173; Sablayrolles (1996), 24. Strictly speaking, the duty was assigned to the “curule” aediles, nominally superior to the regular aediles, but the distinction was something of a historic relic. 62. Dio 55.8.5–6. Forum: Plut. C.Grach. 12.3–4; Plin. NH 19.23; Dio 43.23.3; see Coarelli (1985), 222–30; Purcell (1995), 331–32; Haselberger et al. (2002), 219; Swan (2004), 78. 63. For the arguments that this fire belongs ­earlier than 7 BC, perhaps 14 or 9 BC, see Swan (2004), 78–79. 64. Crook (1967), 174–75. 65. Dio 55.8.6–7; Plin. NH 3.66; epigraphic evidence seems to confirm Dio’s dating of the institution of the vicomagistri to 7 BC; see ILS 9250 and Niebling (1956), 323–28; Ricci (2018), 108–11. 66. Suet. Ner. 49.1; Dio 55.24.6; Swan (2004), 170; Wardle (2014), 356–57. 67. Suet. Cal. 10.3. 68. Suet. Claud. 25.2 rec­ords that Claudius stationed a cohort each in Puteoli and Ostia for fire prevention. It is not clear w ­ hether t­ hese ­were Urban Cohorts or Vigiles: Ricci (2018), 126. 69. Dio 55.26.4; Ulpian, Digest 1.15.2. 70. Publius Rufus may be the Plautius Rufus linked by Suet. Aug. 19.1 with the conspirator Lucius Paul(l)us, Augustus’s grandson-­in-­law; the connection is tenuous, see Swan (2004), 184. 71. Dio 55.26.4, 31.4; see also Strabo 5.3.7 (= 5. 235); Suet. Aug. 25.2, 30.1; App. BC 5.132; Digest 1.15.1–5; Hirschfield (1905), 252–57; Baillie-­Reynolds Notes to chapter II  •  273

(1926); Robinson (1977), (1992), 106–10, 184–88; Rainbird (1986); Nippel (1995), 96–97; Sablayrolles (1996); Ruciński (2003); Rubin (2004), 73–83; Wallat (2004). 72. Suet. Aug. 25.2 seems to suggest that Augustus used the Vigiles to prevent disturbances during grain shortages; Ricci (2018), 113. 73. Gai. Inst. 1.32b. 74. Digest 1.15.1–5 is particularly informative on this topic and summarizes the duties of the prefect of the Vigiles, defining his general responsibilities and judicial authority (most of the information relates to the post–­AD 64 period). 75. Suet. Aug. 25.2. 76. Sablayrolles (1996), 27–29. The size of the auxiliary cohorts may not be relevant, since the Vigiles may have been seen more as analogous to legionaries. Tiberius bequeathed on his death equal amounts to the Vigiles and the legionaries, which suggests that they might have received the same pay (Dio 59.2.3). 77. ILS 2163. 78. Dio 55.8.7; Suet. Aug. 30.1; Digest 1.15.3 pr. 79. The praefectus vigilum was charged with pursuing runaway slaves ­under Severus: Digest–2. 80. Dio 58.9.2–6, 12.2. 81. Jos. BJ 4.645; Tac. Hist. 3.64.1, 69.1. 82. Petron. Sat. 78; Plin. Ep. 10.33.2; Digest 83. CIL VI.1057, 1058, 2994. 84. Pin. Ep. 10.33. 85. Sen. Clem. 1.25.5: Seneca was not, of course, giving Nero instruction in firefighting, but suggesting an analogy to controlling excessive cruelty. 86. ILS 2155, 2174; CIL XIV. 4387. 87. Meiggs (1973), 305; see Hülsen, BC 1893, 131–34; Lanciani NS 1889, 19 and 77; Reynolds (1926), 46–47. The complex is large, and Reynolds speculates that the praefectus vigilum may have resided on site, a notion supported by inscriptions found in the area: CIL 6.233, 1092, 1144, 1157, 1226. 88. Dio 62.17.1; see Daugherty (1992). 89. Mart. Ep. 3.52.2, 4.66.13, 5.42.2, 6.33.3–4; Juv. Sat. 3.7–9. 90. Sen. Ep. 64.1; Pet. Sat. 78. 91. Dio 57.14.10. In the Augustan period a Praetorian guard member is recorded as being involved in fighting fire in Ostia (ILS 9494). 92. Tac. Ann. 15.50.4. 93. Livia: Suet. Tib. 50.3; Barrett (2002), 164; Agrippina: Dio 60.33.12. 94. Suet. Cal. 16.3; Dio 59.9.4; Fasti Ostienses (Degrassi [1947), 191) provides the exact date, October 21, AD 38: X 30: XII K Nov Aemiliana arserunt (“twelve days before the Kalends of November the Aemiliana burned down”). 95. Suet. Claud. 18.1. 96. Dio 61.33.12 (= Zonaras 11.11); see the discussion at Sablayrolles (1996), 785. 97. Dio 72.24.2. 98. Tac. Ann. 15.43.2; Suet. Nero 38.3; Dio 66.10.2; Suet. Vesp. 8.5. 99. Tinniswood (2003), 80.

274  •  Notes to chapter II

100. Dio 48.9.5: the level was set at two thousand sestertii. 101. Fasti Ostienses (Degrassi [1947), 189, X 36: K. Nov. pars Circi inter / vitores arsit, ad quod T[i] / Caesar (sestertium miliens) public(e) d(edit); Tac. Ann. 6.45.1; Dio 58.26.5; Humphrey (1986), 100. 102. Suet. Cal. 16.3; Dio 59.9.4. 103. Tac. Ann. 15.22.2. Tac. Ann. 14.47.3 dates the construction to AD 62; Suet. Ner. 12.3 and Dio 61.21.1 place it in AD 60; on the gymnasium: Phil. Vit. Apol. 4.42. 104. As is evident in this survey, the sources did not rec­ord fires systematically. That said, it would have been remarkable if none had commented on a major fire in the immediate aftermath of the G ­ reat Fire. Of course, for the last two years of Nero’s reign, the Annals of Tacitus are missing and Dio has survived only in epitomes. 105. Suet. Tit. 8.3; Dom. 5; Dio 66.24; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 198.18); Oros. Pag. 7.9.14. 106. Destruction of Capitol in AD 69: Stat. Silv. 5.3.196; Tac. Hist. 3.69, ­71–73, 4.54; Suet. Dom. 1.2; Vit. 15.3; Plut. Publ. 15.2–4; Dio 65.17.3; Aur. Vict. Caes. 8.5; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 186); Oros. Pag. 7.8.7; subsequent restoration: Tac. Hist. 4.4.3; Suet. Vesp. 8.5; Dio 66.10.2; Aur. Vict. Caes. 9.7. 107. Stat. Silv. 1.1.34–35.

chapter III. the g ­ reat fire

1. The ancient sources for the fire are: Pet. Sat. 53 (?); Anon. Octavia 831–33; Plin. NH 18.5; Stat. Silv. 2.7.60–61; Tac. Ann. 15.38–43; Suet. Ner. 38; Dio 62.16–18; Aur. Vict. Caes. 5; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 183); Eutr. Brev. 7.14; Sulp. Sev. Chron. 2.29; Oros. Pag. 7.7.4–6; Sen. Ep. ad Paul. 11 (12); note also the lost Lucan, De Incendio Urbis. 2. Pliny may have been in Rome at the time of the fire. He seems to have seen maps of the Caspian area sent to Rome by Corbulo, the commander in the campaigns against Parthia in the late 50s–­early 60s (Plin. NH 6.40), and he saw the models for the colossus being prepared for the Golden House (see chapter 6). 3. Tac. Ann. 15.41.2; Tacitus follows Livy’s version, which has the Gauls enter Rome on the day ­after the victory at the Allia, which he dates to July 18 (Hist. 2.91.1). 4. Suet. Ner. 38.2. 5. Plin. NH 17.5. 6. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1. An event that occurred in ancient Rome a­ fter sunset on July 25 would be deemed to have occurred on July 25. From at least the first ­century BC, Roman practice was to date the day not from sunrise to sunrise, as happened in some other ancient socie­ties, but as we do, from midnight to midnight: Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. 3.2; Macr. Sat. 1.3 (both citing Varro). 7. CIL 6.826 = ILS 4914 = AE 2001.182. 8. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1.

Notes to chapter III  •  275

9. Dio 62.17.1. 10. Tac. Ann. 16.18.1. 11. Pet. Sat. 53. 12. Tac. Ann. 16.18. 13. Observed by Walsh (1970), 130 n. 6; see Baldwin (1976); Champlin (2003), 524 n. 51. 14. The Romans calculated their dates by inclusive counting, so that both July 19 and August 1 would be included in the computation. 15. The form Quinctilis is also found. Quintilis and Sextilis mean “fifth” and “sixth” months, so called ­because Romans considered January and February dead months and up ­until 153 BC began the year proper on March 1. Our modern calendar, derived from the Roman, reflects this practice in that the names of our months from September to December are, etymologically speaking, each two months ­behind. 16. Baldwin (1976), 36, who shows that this was not just a stylistic tic of Petronius. At Sat. 38.10 Petronius talks of the Kalendis Iuliis, and thus refers to July by its then current name rather than by the archaic form Quintilis/Quinctilis. 17. Tac. Ann. 15.38.2. 18. Livy 1.35.8; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 3.68.1. 19. Livy 1.56.2; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.44.1. 20. Livy 8.20.2. 21. Ennius apud Cic. Div. 1.108. 22. 174 BC: Livy 41.27.6; Plin. NH 36.102. 23. Plin. NH 8.21; assigned by Tac. Ann. 15.32 to AD 63. 24. Aug. RG 19; Humphrey (1986), 78. 25. Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 3.68; for a summary of the archaeological remains: Haselberger et al. (2002), 88. 26. He is identified as a fruit vendor (pomarius) from the Circus (CIL 6.9822 = ILS 7496). 27. Cic. Mil. 24. 28. Cic. Div. 1.132; Juv. Sat. 6.588–91; Hor. Sat. 1.6.113–14. 29. Juv. Sat. 3.65; Priapea 27.1 (Magno notissima Circo); SHA Elag. 26.3, 32.9 (to be treated with caution); Cyprian De Spect. 5. 30. Dio 50.10.3; he mentions also the destruction of the ­Temples of Ceres and of Spes, and several other unspecified buildings. Augustus himself rec­ords (Aug. RG 4.1) that he carried out repairs, but only to the pulvinar, possibly a shrine above the tracks, which the sponsor of the games could occupy in the com­pany of statues of the presiding gods. 31. Fasti Ostienses (Degrassi [1947), 189, X 36: K. Nov. pars Circi inter / vitores arsit, ad quod T[i] / Caesar (sestertium miliens) public(e) d(edit); Tac. Ann. 6.45.1; Dio 58.26.5; Humphrey (1986), 100. 32. Gnaeus’s wife, Agrippina the Younger, was technically Tiberius’s grand­ daughter, ­because Tiberius had ­adopted her f­ ather, Germanicus. 33. Suet. Ner. 6.3. 34. The evidence is largely indirect. Suet. Dom. 5.1 mentions that buildings of Domitian w ­ ere demolished and the stone reused to rebuild the Circus Maximus, when “both sides” of the Circus burned down (deustis utrimque lateribus). 276  •  Notes to chapter III

Dio 68.7.2 speaks of Trajan embellishing and enlarging the Circus. Pausanias 5.12.6 also refers to Trajan building a splendid racetrack, although he makes no reference to a fire. 35. Suet. Ner. 16.2; Pollini (2017), 214. 36. Tac. Ann. 15.38.2. 37. Tac. Ann. 15.38.3. 38. Dio 62.16.2. 39. Dio 62.17.2. 40. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 41. I owe this observation to Peter Wiseman. 42. Tac. Ann. 15.69; the ­house is not identified explic­itly as on the Palatine, but the description seems to establish its location ­there. 43. Plin. HN 17.5. 44. Jos. Ant. 19.237; Suet. Cal. 59. 45. Villedieu et al. (2007), 85, 97–98; (2009a), 194; (2010), 1091 n. 5; (2011), 8; Arnoldus-­ Huyzendveld (2007), 391–401; Carandini, Bruno, and Fraioli (2010), 147–48, Carandini (2017), 305 n. 352; Panella (2006), 282–83; (2011), 84; Tomei (2011), 131; Carandini (2017), 239, 273 n. 325. An earthquake in AD 68 is mentioned by Suet. Galb. 18.1. 46. Tac. Ann. 15.43.3. 47. The Vigna Barberini, to the northeast of the Domus Augustana, was excavated by the École Française de Rome, 1985–1989, and a palatial Domitianic structure was identified: see Villedieu et al. (2007). 48. Wiseman (2019), 20. 49. Vell. 2.81.3; Suet. Aug. 29.3, 57.2, 72.1; Dio 49.15.5; Tomei (2013), ­61–64; Wiseman (2013), 102–3; (2019). 50. Coarelli (2012); Carandini (2017); excavations: Tomei and Filetici (2011). A very useful summary of the issues is provided by Wiseman (2013). 51. Tomei (2011), 118–20. 52. Krause (1987); Tomei and Filetici (2011); Coarelli (2012); Wiseman (2013); Carandini et al. (2010), 246; Hoffmann and Wulf (2004); ­Temple of Augustus: Cecamore (2002), 202–7 makes the radical suggestion that the platform of the Domus Tiberiana was actually the location of the ­great ­Temple of Augustus. She notes that no source explic­itly says that Nero was involved in construction on the Palatine. 53. Krause (1985), 133–35; (1986), (1987), 781–84; (1994), (1995), (1995a), summarized at Krause (2009), 81. 54. The Fourth Style could be Claudian, of course, but the extravagance far better suits Nero. 55. Carettoni (1949), 52–53; Panella (2011), 84. 56. Carettoni (1949); Tamm (1963), 74 (Golden House); Boëthius and Ward-­Perkins (1970), 213–14; Griffin (1984), 127; Coarelli (1985), 148–49; Cassatella (1990), 101, 104 n. 46; Royo (1999), 310–11; De Vos (1995), 2009; Leach (2004), 156; Perrin (2009), 53; Claridge (2010), 148; Beste (2011), 153–54; Tomei (2011), 123–29; (2013), 70; Viscogliosi (2011), 92; Coarelli (2014), 148–49; La Rocca (2017), 203–4; Carandini et al. (2010), 276–77 assign the Bagni to the Golden House. Notes to chapter III  •  277

57. See, however, Walsh (2019). 58. Tac. Ann. 15.38.3–6; Dio 62.16.2–17.2. 59. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 60. Sen. Cons. 2.18.4; Tac. Ann. 1.41.3; Antium: Tac. Ann. 15.23.1; Suet. Aug. 58, Cal. 8.2, Ner. 6.1; Dio 58.25.2; Blake (1959), 40; Coarelli (1982), 295–96. 61. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 62. Tac. Ann. 15.50.4. No other source mentions Nero’s firefighting activity, and scholars have emended the text h ­ ere to take out the reference to the burning ­house. This is not necessary. It did not suit the sources to depict Nero taking a responsible role in the fire—­they prefer to dwell on his poetic per­for­mance during its course, so they had no interest in referring to this incident. The reference to the activity is preserved by Tacitus presumably ­because his focus ­here is on Subrius Flavus, not on Nero. 63. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 64. Suet. Ner. 31.1 (see chapter 6). 65. Given that the name transitoria implies something that connects two points, one might ask ­whether the domus included any of the structures on the Esquiline or Palatine. Champlin (1998), 334; (2003), 202, 205, insists that we would expect it to refer only to the buildings between the hills; but the title may be somewhat casual. 66. Wiseman (2019), 31 translates domus as “property.” 67. Recorded in the acts of the Arval Brethren, ILS 229, 230. 68. Sen. Contr. 9.4.18: proton cholumban, deuteron de grammata: see Richardson (1992), 196; Barrett (1996), 43; Pollini (2017), 213. 69. MacDonald 1982, 21–35; Morricone Matini (1987); Palombi (1990), 67 n. 66; Papi (1995a); Coarelli (2014), 99. House of Domitius Ahenobarbus: Blake (1959), 1.36–37; Carandini (1988); Domus Transitoria: Boëthius and Ward-­ Perkins (1970), 212–13. 70. Gualandi (1999); see Carandini (2017), 227, 232, tabs. 64, 66 for the pos­ si­ble ­owners of the h ­ ouses (discussed in chapter 7). 71. Colini (1983); Haselberger et  al. (2002), 95; Panella (2011), 85; Lott (2013), 184–87; the reason for the name “Acilii” is not known. 72. Panella has published the archaeological work in an extensive series of reports, listed ­under her name in the bibliography. 73. Meta Sudans may well have been a generic term for monuments of this type. Seneca, for instance, alludes to a Meta Sudans (Ep. 56.4) that may have stood outside Rome. 74. Zeggio and Pardini (2007), 21–22. 75. According to tradition, Romulus divided the population of Rome into 30 curiae, the equivalent of modern boroughs. Representatives of the 30 curiae gathered in the Curiae Veteres u ­ ntil it became too small and a new assembly place, also called a curia, was built. 76. On the pos­si­ble identification of the ­house where Augustus was born, see Panella (2007), 76. 77. Panella (1996), 92–93; (1999), 290; (2007b), 95–97. 78. Zeggio, in Panella (1996), 159–63; see also Panella (1990), 62–63.

278  •  Notes to chapter III

79. Carbonara (2006); Panella (2006), 278–81; (2013), 135–38; Saguì and Cante (2016), 443–45; material from the site is published in Panella and Saguì (2013a), (2013b), Panella and Cardarelli (2017). 80. Panella (2006), 278–79; Castelli (2013), 43–47; Saguì (2013), 135. 81. Hostetter and Brandt (2009), 171, 253. 82. Rea (1987/88), Rea et  al. (2000). Sondage 1: Rea at al. (2000), 318–19; (2000a), 101. 83. Colini and Cozza (1962), 70–71, fig. 95; Panella (2013), 80. 84. Chiesa di S. Clemente—­Archivio: Busta 40. 85. Guidobaldi (1978), 17; Coarelli (2014), 174–75; the site is a complex one. 86. Excavation ­under the nave of the church, to the east, has brought to light what seems to be a horreum (granary), generally identified as pre-­Neronian. Coarelli argues that it was constructed a­ fter the fire, possibly ­under Domitian: Blake (1959), 28–29; Griffin (1984), 133; Nash (1968), I.353; Rickman (1971), 107; Lancaster (2005), 188–89; Coarelli (2014), 172–73. 87. Mart. Ep. 5.22.5–6; 12.18.2; Juv. Sat. 11.51. 88. Workshops: ILS 7547, 7556, 7565; Mart. Ep. 7.31, 9.37.1, 10.94.5–6; Juv. Sat. 11.141; Brothels: Persius 5.32; Mart. Ep. 2.17, 6.66.1–2; 11.61.3, 11.78.11. 89. Anderson (1984), 105. The market has dis­appeared, although pos­si­ble traces have been detected: Meneghini, Corsaro, and Caboni (2009), 193. 90. Plin. NH 34.84. 91. Lanciani (1901), 19–20. 92. Lugli (1968), 5. 93. Anselmino, Ferrea, and Strazzulla (1990–1991); Anselmino (2006); Strazzulla (2006); Panella (2011), 84. 94. West: Pavolini (Caput 1993); East: Pavolini (Topographia 1993); (2006), 94. 95. Pavolini (Caput 1993), 118–19. 96. J. T. Peña, in a review of the report (JRA 13 [2000], 552), is somewhat skeptical of the conclusions. 97. Pavolini (1993), (2006), 445, 461. 98. Suet. Ner. 38.2. 99. Dio 62.18.2. 100. See Welch (2007), 120–25, 306 n. 54. 101. See the summary in Haselberger et al. (2002), 44–45; more recently Welch (2007), 108–27. 102. Strabo 5.3.8 (= 5.236), referring to “three theaters” (presumably of Marcellus, Balbus, and Pompey) and “an amphitheater” in the Campus Martius. See Wardle (2014), 232, 236, 239; Roller (2018), 259. 103. Philippus: this portico was built by Marcius Philippus, u ­ ncle of Augustus. He had married the younger ­sister of Augustus’s ­mother; the portico was constructed around the restored ­Temple of Hercules and the Muses. Octavia: this portico consisted of a huge enclosure built around the two ­temples of Juno Regina and Jupiter Stator (to be distinguished from the ­earlier ­Temple of Jupiter Stator supposedly vowed by Romulus, whose location is much disputed; see ­later in this chapter). Both the Portico of Octavia and the Theater of Marcellus ­were dedicated to Octavia’s son, Marcellus, who died in 23 BC: Suet. Aug. 29.5; Dio 51.23.1.

Notes to chapter III  •  279

104. Richardson (1992), 11, suggests that ­because no damage is recorded to the supposedly neighboring buildings, the amphitheater in actuality stood well to the east of them and was damaged when fire broke out in the Aemiliana estate of Tigellinus. 105. ILS 7888b; Tac. Ann. 15.39.2. 106. Dio 53.27.1; 55.8.3–4; SHA Hadrian 19.10. 107. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1; this area, possibly housing granaries, is traditionally located between the north of the Capitoline and the Quirinal, on the basis of a passage of Varro (RR 3.2.6), although Coarelli has argued that it should be situated by the Tiber, immediately to the north of the bridge leading from the Forum Boarium, the Pons Aemilius (Coarelli [1988], 147–55). 108. Griffin (1984), 129; Pollini (2017), 214. 109. Palmer (1976–77), 148–50. 110. Fabbrini (1982), 20–22. 111. Suet. Ner. 31.1. 112. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1. 113. Tac. Ann. 15.40.2. 114. Furneaux (1891), 367; Werner (1906), 25–26; Beaujeu (1960), 67; Palmer (1976), 52; Griffin (1984), 129; Panella (2011), 82; Ash (2018), 189. 115. Suet Ner. 38.2; Dio 62.18.2. 116. On the letters, see Sevenster (1961), 11–14; Hine (2017). 117. Parkin and Pomeroy (2007), 50–51, citing figures derived from the text of Nordh (1949). One must note ­here the prob­lem of the exact definition of an insula, and the frequency with which numbers are corrupted in manuscripts. On the tenuous evidence for insulae in the imperial period, see Priester (2002). 118. Barlow (1938) 83: centum triginta duae domus, insulae quattuor milia sex diebus arsere. See Beaujeu (1960), 68–69. Most of the manuscripts read quattuor milia (P reads quemadmodum instead of quattuor, K omits milia), cf. Suet. Ner. 38. 2. Newbold (1974), 858, calculates that 12,000 insulae ­were destroyed. 119. Tac. Ann. 15.41.1; on the significance of the t­emples mentioned: Shannon (2012), 751–53. Tacitus has already mentioned the destruction of the Circus Maximus and Nero’s residence on the Palatine and the damage to the Aemilian estate of Tigellinus. 120. Tacitus alone attributes its construction to Servius Tullius, but Servius is recorded in other sources (Livy 1.45.1–3; Dion. Hal. 4.26.4) as the founder of the ­Temple of Diana in the same area, and it is pos­si­ble that the two names refer to one and the same ­temple. An emendation of Tacitus’s text to Luna has been suggested, with reference to the ­Temple of Juno Lucina on the Esquiline, a goddess associated with Servius Tullius (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.15.5); Koestermann (1968), 243; Champlin (2003), 122–23. 121. Aur. Vic. De Vir. Ill. 65.5. Oros. Pag. 5.12.3–10 provides an incoherent description of the topography of the event; Haselberger et al. (2002), 162. 122. The ­temples ­were close enough that the doors of Luna are said to have been torn off in a storm and dashed into a wall ­behind Ceres (Livy 40.2.2). 123. Ser. ad Aen. 8.269; Macrob. Sat. 3.11.7, 12.4; Strabo 5.3.3 (= 5.230). 124. Servius ad Aen. 8.271; see also Festus 270L. 125. Coarelli (1988), 61–77; Haselberger et al. (2002), 136. 280  •  Notes to chapter III

126. Coarelli (1983), 26–33; (1996), (2012), 34, 108; Ziółkowski (1992), ­87–91; Tomei (1993); Arce (1999); Claridge (2010), 156–57; Wiseman (2013), 245–47; (2017); Carafa, Carandini, and Arvanitis (2013); Carandini (2016), (2017), Tab. 19, 61, 73, 280; Carandini et al. (2017). 127. Livy 1.12.1–8, 10.36.11, 37.15–16; Ovid Trist. 3.1.31–32; Fast. 6.793–94; Dio. Hal. 2.50.3; App. Bell. Civ. 2.11; Plin. NH 34.29; Plut. Rom. 18.7; Cic.16.3; Florus; Aur.Vict. De Vir. Ill. 2.8. 128. Carafa, Carandini, and Arvanitis (2013); Carandini (2016), (2017), Tab. 19, 61, 73, 280; Carandini et al. (2017). 129. Zevi (2016), 289: . . .] statori in Palatio. 130. Wiseman (2017). 131. Tac. Hist. 1.43. 132. Tac. Ann. 15.40.2. 133. Tac. Ann. 15.44.1. 134. Tac. Ann. 16.27.1. Talbert (2014), 114–30; armed soldiers occupied the ­Temple of Venus Genetrix, but, as Talbert points out (p. 114), that would be appropriate if the senate was meeting in the nearby Curia Julia. Also, troops w ­ ere posted in other parts of the city. 135. Tac. Ann. 15.53.1. 136. Suet. Ner. 25.2; Humphrey (1986), 101, suggests that Nero had the arch pulled down ­because he felt it should be rebuilt. 137. Tac. Ann. 15.53.3. 138. Suet. Ner. 25.2. 139. Tac. Ann. 15.44.1. 140. Tac. Hist. 1.27.1; Plin. NH 12.94, does speak of the destruction by fire of a shrine of Augustus on the Palatine, but he does not assign the event to the Neronian fire. 141. Tac. Hist. 1.27.2. 142. Dio 62.17.3; 18.2. 143. Tac. Ann. 15.41.2. 144. Koestermann (1968), 245–46. 145. Ash (2018), 193. 146. Tinniswood (2003), 21. 147. On the altars, see the careful and thorough treatment by Closs (2016). Also: Hülsen (1891), Hülsen, MDAI(R) 9.1894.94–97; Palmer (1976), 51–52; Richardson (1992), 21; Rodríguez-­Almeida (1993); Sablayrolles (1996), 458–59; Darwall-­ Smith (1996), 236; Cline (2009); Coarelli (2014), 239; Rubin (2004), 101–2. 148. Closs (2016), 3; see also Richardson (1992), 21; Darwall-­Smith (1996), 236; Flower (2006), 237–40; Cline (2009). 149. Hülsen MDAI(R) 9.1894.95–97. 150. CIL 6.826, 30837 = ILS 4914 = AE 2001, 182. 151. Sacrum faciat; ­here Mazocchi reads litaturum se sciat “let him know that he is to perform an auspicious offering.” Hülsen CIL 6.826 considers Mazocchi’s reading improbable. 152. Rodríguez-­Almeida (1993) argues for a dedication date of AD 92 on the basis of a reference to pilae (“columns”) in Martial 5.22, 7.61 (which is dated to 92). Notes to chapter III  •  281

153. Coarelli (2014), 239; Champlin (2003), 128; Palmer (1976), 52. 154. Champlin (2003), 128 uses the location of the altar as evidence that the fire did not spread up the Aventine. 155. Dio 62.18.2. 156. Suet. Tit. 8.3.

chapter IV. responsibility

1. Tac. Ann. 15.39.3; Suet Ner. 38.2; Dio 62.18.1. 2. Tac. Ann. 15.44.2. 3. The modern scholarly view, however, tends t­ oward rejecting the traditional view of Nero the arsonist: see Warmington (1969), 123–24; Bradley (1978), 230– 31; Griffin (1984), 133; Wiedemann (1996), 250–51; Dyson (2010), 164–65; Panella (2011), 85–86; Beste and von Hesberg (2013), 324; Pollini (2017); Drinkwater (2019), 235–36. Champlin (2003), 178–209 musters the arguments for Neronian responsibility. 4. Apparently now official in the case of Chicago! On October 6, 1997, Chicago City Council exonerated Catherine O’Leary of blame for the ­Great Chicago Fire.  Chicago Tribune: https://­www​.­chicagotribune​.­com​/­news​/­ct​-­xpm​-­1997​ -­10​-0 ­ 7​-­9710080245​-­story​.­html, accessed March 5, 2020. 5. Tac. Ann. 15.38.1–2. 6. Hülsen (1909). 7. Aug. RG 21.1; Augustus’s own words seem to contradict Suetonius’s claim (Aug. 56.2) that Augustus made his forum narrower ­because he did not dare to expropriate neighboring ­houses (non ausus extorquere); on the issue of expropriation: Rod­gers (2004), 315–16, 321–22. 8. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 9. Tac. Ann. 15.40.2; Caecina Largus: Plin. NH 17.5. 10. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 11. Caligula: Suet. Cal. 31; Commodus: SHA Commodus 15.7 (to be treated with caution); Herodian 1.14.2; Dio 72.24 provides the date but exonerates Commodus. 12. Suet. Ner. 43.1, repeated by Aur. Vict. Caes. 5.14 (see Townend [1960], 112); Dio 63.27.2; Dio’s text for this period survives in epitomes and it is not impossible that other references might have been lost. 13. Tac. Ann. 15.67.2. 14. Champlin (2003), 185. 15. Tac. Ann. 12.41.5; Barrett (1996), 118–21. A Subrius Dexter, perhaps his ­brother, is known as Praetorian tribune in AD 69 and as procurator in 71 (Tac. Hist. 1.31.2; CIL X 8023). The ­family w ­ ere thus of equestrian rank, but they moved to senatorial status in the next generation (Syme [1983], 115). 16. Tac. Ann. 15.50.4. 17. Vitellius may similarly have earned the reputation of arsonist, b ­ ecause of the burning of the Capitol in AD 69 (Suet. Vit. 17.2). 18. Jos. BJ 2.250. 282  •  Notes to chapter IV

19. Drinkwater (2019), 247. 20. Dio 16.18.3. 21. Two biographies of Lucan have survived, one by Suetonius, the other by Vacca. ­Little is known about Vacca, who was prob­ably active a­fter the fifth ­century; see Marti (1950); Fantham (2011), 4. 22. Tac. Dial. 20.5. 23. Tac. Ann. 15.49.2; Suet. Vit. Luc.; Dio 62.29.4; Vacca, Vit. Luc. 24. Tac. Ann. 15.56.3; Suet. Vit. Luc. 25. Ahl (1971), (1976), 333–53 suggests that Vacca was referring to the De Incendio Urbis, supported by Champlin (2003), 320 n.17; Closs (2013), 194–96. The thesis is challenged by Van Dam (1984), 480–81 and Courtney (1993), 354. Ash (2016), 29, notes that when Tacitus (Ann. 15.49.3) describes the annoyance caused Lucan by the activities of Nero he uses the perhaps telling expression accendebant (­were inflaming). 26. Stat. Silv. 2.7.60–61. 27. Galba: Barnes (1982); Kragelund (1988); Wiseman (2008); early Flavian: Boyle (2009); Ginsberg (2017); Domitian: Ferri (2003). 28. Jos. BJ 2.250. 29. Plin. NH 17.5. 30. Detlefsen (1868), ad loc. 31. Ciaceri (1918), 405; Townend (1960), 111; Bradley (1978), 231; Champlin (2003), 319 n.12. 32. Stat. Silv. 2.7.60–61. 33. Mart. Spect. 2. 34. Suet Ner. 38.1. 35. Dio 58.23.4. 36. Dio 62.16.1–2. 37. Dio 58.23.4. 38. Suet. Tib. 62.3; Townend (1960), 111; Bradley (1978), 228; Champlin (2002), 319 n.12. 39. Dio 62.18.1; see Libby (2011), 208–47. 40. Suet. Ner. 38.2. 41. For the Tower of Maecenas on the Esquiline, see Häuber (2013), 213, 873–74. 42. Tac. Ann. 15.39.3. 43. Tac. Ann. 15.33.2. 44. Tac. Ann. 16.4.1; Dio 62.29.1. 45. Tac. Ann. 15.33.2; Scheda (1967). Courtney (1993), 359 suggests that the verses recited during the fire ­were part of the Troica recorded by Dio 62.29.1 in AD 65. 46. Tac. Ann. 15.38.1. ­There has been much speculation about who the hostile sources may have included. Townend (1960) and Beaujeu (1960) f­avor Cluvius Rufus; Syme (1958) and Hanslik (1963), Pliny the Elder. 47. He thereby, of course, advertises his credentials to speak as an unbiased historian, sine ira et studio. 48. Vell. 2.130.1; Sen. Cons. Marc. 22.4; Tac. Ann. 3.72.2; Suet. Tib. 47, Cal. 21; Dio 57.21.3, 60.6.8; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 172.16), ­under AD 21. Notes to chapter IV  •  283

49. Theater of Pompey: Tac. Ann. 3.72.2; Ships: Tac. Ann. 15.18.3 (fortuitus). 50. Tac. Hist. 3.71.4. The event is ­later than the fire of AD 64, of course, but the Histories ­were written before the Annals. 51. Pollini (2017), 214. 52. Tac. Ann. 15.37; Shannon (2012), 750–56; Shannon-­Henderson (2019), 319. 53. ­There seems to be a deliberate echo between this phrase and the oddly similar introduction to the death of Seneca, several chapters ­later in the same book (Tac. Ann. 15.60.2): sequitur caedes (“the death followed”); see Ash (2018), 275. 54. Tac. Ann. 15.38.1; on the preceding passage, see Allen (1962). 55. Tac. Ann. 15.38.2–6. 56. Tac. Ann. 15.38.7. Tacitus uses a very strong word ­here—­they “barked out”—­vociferabantur; Ash (2018), 184, notes that Tacitus elsewhere applies this verb to mutinous soldiers ­under high pressure (Hist. 3.14, 4.25.2). 57. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1; see also Sen. Clem. 1.25.5. Tacitus had e­arlier (Ann. 15.38.7) claimed that no one dared fight the fire. 58. Suet. Ner. 38.1. 59. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1; Suet. Ner. 31.1. 60. Rubin (2004), 106. 61. Ash (2018), 186, points out that the adjective popularis conveys intent rather than result. 62. App. Pun. 27 (132); Pollini (2017), 220. 63. Harper’s Weekly, October 28, 1871. We might ponder Suetonius’s highly prejudicial assertion (Suet Ner. 38.2), that Nero found the flames “­things of beauty,” in the light of Chapin’s admission. 64. Juv. Sat. 8.221 considers it Nero’s archetypal poem. 65. Tac. Ann. 15.40. 66. Tac. Ann. 15.41. 67. Tac. Ann. 15.42. 68. Tac. Ann. 15.43. 69. Tac. Ann. 15.44. 70. Tac. Ann. 15.45; Plin. NH 34.84 claims that some of the finest plundered statuary ended up in the Golden House. 71. Suet. Ner. 16.1; on this, see especially Bradley (1978), 226–35. 72. Suet. Ner. 38.1. 73. Mart. Ep. 5.7; Stat. Silv. 1.1.35; Livy 6.1.3 speaks of Rome being “reborn” (renata) from the destruction of the Gallic sack: Sablayrolles (1996), 423. 74. Sen. Epist. 91.13; Barrett (2002), 123. 75. Lancaster (2005), 169. One might note that for many the damage done to Notre Dame de Paris, in April 2019, provided an opportunity to replace the steeple that had been fancifully restored by Viollet-­le-­Duc in the nineteenth ­century. 76. 14 BC: Dio 54.24.2–3; AD 22: Tac. Ann. 3.72.1; outstanding building: Plin. NH 36.102. 77. Hier. Chron. 2120. 78. AD 80: Dio 66.24.2; Suet. Tit. 8.4; Philocalaus 146; Hier. Chron. 2105; Hadrian: Oros. Pag. 7.12.5; Hier. Chron. 2126; Dio 69.7.1; Ammianus 16.10.4.

284  •  Notes to chapter IV

79. Old-­timers: Tac. Ann. 15.38.1; Gallic invasion: Tac. Ann. 15.43.1. 80. The conjunction quasi regularly introduces a specious and insincere explanation. In totally neutral contexts, quasi can introduce the reasoning of the agent with no irony intended. Such usage is, however, relatively uncommon, and Suetonius’s account ­here is clearly not neutral. 81. Townend (1960), 111, notes that Suetonius’s comment is consistent with the notion that he might have been using as his source the ex-­consul Cluvius Rufus. 82. Suet. Ner. 38.2. 83. Suet. Ner. 38.3. 84. Bradley (1978), 228. 85. Dio 62.15.1–6. 86. Dio 62.16.1. 87. Dio 62.16.2. 88. Dio 62.16.3–6. 89. Dio 62.17.1; almost certainly they ­ were preoccupied with preventing looting. Daughterty (1992), 231–32, assumes that Dio is accusing the Vigiles themselves of looting. 90. Dio 62.18.1. 91. Dio 62.18.2–4. 92. Dio 62.18.5.

chapter V. the christians and the ­great fire

1. Livy 5.50.1–7. 2. Tac. Ann. 15.44.1. 3. Lact. Div. Inst. 1.6. 4. Livy 36.37.4. 5. Champlin (2003), 192–93 sees a reference to a sacred pit of uncertain location. 6. It has been suggested that Juno is in her capacity as Juno Moneta (“the warner”), whose geese on the Capitol had warned of the attack of the Gauls (Champlin [2003], 194). 7. Tac. Ann. 15.44.2. 8. ­There has been much debate about w ­ hether Nero’s action constitutes a “persecution.” The issue is surely academic: the Christians, as an identifiable group, ­were subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, ­whether this was “persecution,” “mistreatment,” “punishment,” or even a “pogrom,” as Barnes (2010), 3, calls it. 9. Hence, the Cambridge History of Chris­ tian­ ity (Mitchell and Young [2006], 71), as one example among numerous ­others, states that Nero’s action “led to the first official persecution of Christians.” 10. See especially Frend (1965), 160–71; (1984), 109–10; (2000), 820–21; (2006), 503–5. 11. Coniungere, “to link” (coniuncti is its past participle passive), would be unusual ­here, but it is found in ­legal contexts: Cic. Sest. 132: “he joined ­those

Notes to chapter V  •  285

citizens in the same danger and accusation [with me]” (eos civis coniunxit eodem periculo et crimine); see also Cic. Prov. 42, Sull. 93, Vat. 41, Fam. 5.17.2; Cook (2010), 59. On the reading of the MS, see Schmitt (2011), 523 n. 30. The Oxford Classical Text of C.  D. Fisher, first published 1906, reads convicti, as does the 1965 Teubner edition of Koestermann, and the 1983, 1994 Teubner editions of Heubner. Wellesley’s 1986 Teubner edition retains the reading coniuncti. 12. For the variants that have been proposed for the MS reading aut crucibus adfixi aut flammandi, see Cook (2010), 69–70. 13. The early sources are summarized in Canfield (1913), 45–56, 141–60, and a useful, if selective, bibliography up to 1934 is found in Cambridge Ancient History X (1934), 982–83. From 1948 on, we have the benefit of the valuable surveys conducted periodically by Classical World: 48 (1955), 121–25; 58 (1964), 69–83; 63 (1970), 253–67; 71 (1977), 1–32; 80 (1986), 73–147; Shaw (2015), 98–100 provides a useful bibliography of more recent contributions. 14. Cook (2010), 51, 56. 15. Most recently: Fredriksen (2018). 16. Act. Apost. vi.12; vii.59; see also Act. Apost. vi.8–­vii.60; viii.1–4; ix.1–2; xii.1–2, 3–19; xiii.45, 50–51; xiv.2, 4–6, 19–20; xvii.5–9, 13–14; xviii.12–17; xx.3; xxi.27; I Thessal. ii.14–16; 2 Cor. 11:25; Cook (2010), 28. 17. Tert. Apol. 5.2; Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 176–7); HE 2.2.1–4. 18. Suet. Claud. 25.4. Suetonius does not provide a date. Oros. Pag. 7.6.15 states that in the ninth year of his reign (AD 49), Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Dio 60.6.6 says that Claudius banned their traditional gatherings in AD 41 (the first year of the reign); t­ hese may or may not be separate incidents; see Millar (1962), 124–25; Riesner (1994), 154; Gruen (2002), 36. 19. Boterman (1996), 72–95, provides a survey of the scholarship; among more recent contributions, see Reinach (1924), 117; May (1938), 38; Momigliano (1934), 33; Hoerber (1960); Bruce (1962); Stern (1979), 19–23; Boterman (1996), 95–102; Smallwood (1976), 201–16; (1999), 176; Rutgers (1994), 66; Engberg (2007), 99–104; Hurley (2001), 177; Lampe (2003), 11–16; Shaw (2015), 84; Pollini (2017), 222–23. Graves and Podro (1957), 39–42, suggest that Christ did in fact escape from the cross and made his way to Rome; see also Janne (1933–34); May (1938), 40; Hoerber (1960). 20. Tac. Ann. 15.44.2; Tert. Apol. 3.5; Ad nat. 1.3.9; Lact. Div. inst. 4.7.5; Spier (2007), 43 n. 443; Cook (2010), 16. The Greek christos “anointed” was confused with the more familiar Greek adjective chrestos “good” (Renehan [1968]). In an exhaustive survey of Suetonius’s manuscripts, Boman (2011), 355–76, concludes that the best “original” reading is indeed Chresto. 21. Koestermann (1967), 456–69; Benko (1969); Solin (1983), 659, 690; Borg (1972–73), 211–12; Slingerland (1997), 179–201, 203–17; Gruen (2002), 39; Cook (2010); Carrier (2014), 272; Levick (2015), 142 argues that he was a Jewish zealot. 22. Pollini (2017), 221, 229; Engberg (2007), 99–104. 23. Suet. Ner. 16.2. 24. Bradley (1972), 9–10, persuasively suggests that Suetonius’s text should be emended to read affecti suppliciis Christiani. 25. Mentioned also at Tac. Ann. 13.25.4, 14.21.4. 286  •  Notes to chapter V

26. ­There has been speculation that Suetonius’s Christiani ­here is a corruption of an original Chrestiani: Doherty (2009), 616–18; Dando-­Collins (2010), 6; see Carrier (2014), 269. 27. Act. Apost. 18.15. 28. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum, a fake compilation of martyrdoms fancifully attributed to St.  Jerome but prob­ably composed in about the sixth ­century, claims that Peter, Paul, and 977 ­others ­were put to death ­under Nero, an event commemorated annually by the church on June 29. This w ­ hole entry should be viewed with considerable suspicion—­the information it contains has ­little or no historical value: Rossi and Duchesne (1894); Frend (1984), 109. June 29 was long the traditional day on which both Peter and Paul ­were executed (although not in the same year): Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 185); HE 2.25.8; Hier. De Vir. Illust. 5. 29. Lampe (2003), 38–40; (2015), 117–18; Barnes (2010), 3. 30. Dio 50.10.3–6. 31. Dio 55.8.5–7; see Johnstone (1992). 32. Dio 62.18.3. 33. Last (1937), 89. 34. Tac. Ann. 15.44.3; Suet. Ner. 16.2; Pliny similarly calls Chris­tian­ity a superstitio (Ep. 10.96.8–9); Shaw (2015), 83–84; on superstitio see Janssen (1979). Barclay (2014), 316–17, points out that Suetonius’s allusion to Chris­tian­ity as a nova (“new,” “strange”) superstition shows that he was not confusing Christians and mainstream Jews. 35. Getty (1966), 286–88 emends qui to quidam, “Certain individuals confessed ­after being arrested,” favored by Ash (2018), 206. 36. As a number of scholars have argued, including Momigliano (1934), 725; Dibelius (1942), 31; Fuchs (1950), 77; Büchner (1953), 183; Beaujeu (1960), 72–77; Ste. Croix (2006), 110; Cook (2010), 57–59. It has also been claimed that Tacitus is suggesting that the Christians confessed to being arsonists: Klette (1907), 107–44; Reitzenstein (1978), 137, first suggested in 1937. 37. Tert. ad Nat. 1.7.4; see Giovannini (1984), 20; Walsh (2019). 38. Barnes (1968), 33–35; (1985), 105. 39. The exception is Orosius (Pag. 7.7.10), who says that Nero carried the persecution into “all of the provinces.” 40. Sordi (1999), 110. 41. Plin. Ep. 10.96–97. 42. Kelly (1957). 43. Millar, JRS 58 (1968), 222, points out that t­here in no evidence that the expression cognitio extra ordinem was ever used by an ancient source for such procedures. But, like damnatio memoriae, another unattested phrase, the expression has become familiar and conventional. 44. Barnes (1985), 161; the republican quaestiones, which for all their faults ­were at least governed by fairly strict rules, ­were reserved for the upper classes and government officials (Sherwin-­White [1963], 13–23). 45. Ste. Croix (2006), 115. 46. Tac. Ann. 14.50. 47. Tac. Ann. 15.69.1; Sherwin-­White (1963), 110–12. Notes to chapter V  •  287

48. Only four years ­earlier Tacitus reports that a Valerius Ponticus was punished ­because he had tried to pervert justice by preventing some defendant from coming before the city prefect (Tac. Ann. 14.41.1). 49. Freis (1967), 23–28; Beaujeau (1960), 40; and Ste. Croix (2006), 8, are inclined ­toward the city prefect. 50. Tac. Hist. 3.74–5: Sabinus would survive Nero, to be put to death by Vitellius. 51. At an early stage in the reign of Commodus, Apollonius was tried and convicted by the Praetorian prefect Perennis (Eus.  HE 5.21), with some role also played by the senate, before whom Apollonius reputedly spoke. The Digest 1.11.1 praef. says that the prefect’s brief was to modify “public order” (data est plenior licentia ad disciplinae publicae emendationem). 52. Tigellinus is the preferred candidate of Hanslik (1963), 106, and also named as a pos­si­ble candidate in PIR2 O 91. 53. Digest cognoscit praefectus vigilum de incendariis. 54. Peter’s first epistle (I Pet. 4:15) gives us a good sense of how the Christians ­were viewed: they ­were reviled as miscreants, thieves, murderers. 55. Tac. Ann. 15.44.5. 56. Similar conclusions: Barnes (1968), 34–35; (1985), 151. 57. Syme (1958), 533 n. 5; Momigliano (1934), 725, suggests that Tacitus was innocently confused, and combined two contradictory versions of the aftermath of the fire (see below). 58. See Clayton (1947). 59. Yavetz (1975), 183. 60. That the Christians might have had some role in the fire is first argued by Pascal (1900), who denounced them in vitriolic terms. His basic thesis is entertained by Bonfante (1923), Herrmann (1949), Bishop (1964), Giovannini (1996), 121–29; Pollini (2017), 213, 230. Pascal (1901) suggested that they ­were carry­ ing out Nero’s ­orders. 61. Hochart (1885); Dando-­Collins (2010), 9–16, 106–10, offers a variant, with Egyptians substituted for Christians in the putative interpolation. 62. Sulp. Sev. Chron. 2.29. 63. Tac. Hist. 5.9.2. 64. Jones (1960), 115–25; Sherwin-­White (1963), 6; Brunt (1983). 65. In Sardinia, Lucius Aurelius Patroclus is still praefectus in AD 46, and Marcus Iuventius Rixa procurator by AD 66. Kokkinos (1990), 132, on the basis of an inscription from Bir el-­Malik, argues that the change took place in Judea ­after AD 46 / 47 but before 51 / 52. 66. AE 1963: 104. 67. Tac. Ann. 15.25.3. 68. Shaw (2015), 87. 69. Schmitt (2011), 521 n. 23, cites Tacitus’s use of the word arcus (“arch”) to describe one of the posthumous honors voted for Germanicus in AD 19 (Ann. 2.83.2), instead of the official ianus, the term used in the Tabula Siarensis, a con­ temporary inscription listing t­ hose same honors (AE 1983.515). But loose wording for an architectural feature is hardly a convincing parallel. 70. Aug. Doct. Christ. 2.16. 288  •  Notes to chapter V

71. Metzger (1977); Burton (2013); Houghton (2013). 72. Acts. 11.26–28, 42; ­there is evidence of famine in Rome in AD 42 and 51, and famines in dif­fer­ent parts of the world at other times: Dio 60.11.1, 51: Tac. Ann. 12.43.1; Suet. Claud. 18.2; Oros. Pag. 7.6. 73. Act. Apost. xxiv.5, xxvi.28; Shaw (2015), 87; also Luomanen (2008), 282– 83. A famous graffito at Pompeii (CIL 4. 679), discovered by the archaeologist Alfred Kiessling in 1862 and dated before the destruction of AD 79, supposedly contains a reference to Christiani or Christianos. It has excited much attention (Berry [1995], Lampe [2003], 8) but the rapid decomposition of the text a­ fter discovery has vitiated its interpretation. 74. Zara (2009); christianos is read by the Oxford Classical Text of Fisher, first published in 1916, and the 1965 Teubner text of Koestermann; chrestianos is the reading in the 1986 Teubner text of Wellesley and the 1983, 1994 Teubner texts of Heubner. 75. Woodman (2004), 325. n. 53. 76. See the reservations of Moss (2013), 138–9; Carrier (2014), 275. 77. Sulp. Sev. Chron. 2.29. 78. Drinkwater (2019), 248. 79. Carrier (2014), 269. 80. Suet. Ner. 16.2. 81. Suet. Ner. 12.1. 82. Carrier (2014), 283. 83. Iren. Haer. 3.3.3; Eus. HE 4.23.11. 84. I Clem. 5.2–6.2; Champlin (2003), 123–24; Schmitt (2012), 487–515, sees historical value in the letter; Shaw (2015), 84–85 dismisses it as providing no useful evidence for the fire; on its authenticity: Zwierlein (2009), 316–31, (2011), 453–58; on the punishments: Coleman (1990). 85. Melito’s accusation of Nero (and Domitian) is preserved by Eusebius (HE. 4.26.2–14, see also HE 4.13.8). Klette (1907), 25, identifies the “slanderers” as mainstream Jews. 86. Eusebius (HE 2.25.8, 4.21.1) quotes a letter of Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, who we know was alive in AD 171, in which Dionysius asserts that both men ­were martyred, at the same time, in Rome. 87. Shaw (2015). 88. The deaths of Peter and Paul have been subjected to intensive scholarly investigation, well summarized by Shaw (2015), 74–78; t­ here is an almost universal consensus that they w ­ ere unconnected to the G ­ reat Fire. Scholars generally agree that Paul died before AD 64, with 62 as the most broadly agreed year. ­There is ­little consensus about the ultimate fate of Peter, although Barnes (2010), 5–9, 26–31, 331–42, links his death to the punishments that followed the AD 64 fire. 89. Tert. Apol. 5.3, Scorp. 15.3; see also Ad Nat. 1.7.8. For summaries of the case provided by Tertullian, see Carrier (2014), 278–79; Shaw (2015), 96. 90. Tert. Apol. 2.6: on the ­later reception of Pliny’s correspondence, see Cameron (1965); Corke-­Webster (2017). 91. Carrier (2014), 279–80. 92. Eus. HE 3.33.1–4; citing Tert. Apol. 2.6. Notes to chapter V  •  289

93. Eus. HE 2.25.4 (citing Tertullian as a source), 2.22, 3.1.2, and 4.26 (for his use of other sources). 94. Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 183); the Armenian version (Karst [1911], 215) places the fire in AD 63. 95. Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 185); the Armenian version (Karst [1911], 216) places the persecution in 67. 96. Schmitt (2011), 526. 97. Lact. De mort. pers. 2.5–7; Carrier (2014), 281; Shaw (2015), 93. 98. Lactantius wrote an account of the fire that broke out in Nicomedia some time before early AD 303 (De mort. pers. 12–15; followed by Eusebius HE 8.6). ­There are several parallels between it and Tacitus’s account of the AD 64 fire, such as the agents employed to start the fire, the fact that it ­stopped and started again, the scapegoats, the tortures that followed. Lactantius seems thus to have been influenced by Tacitus when reporting on the AD 303 fire (Rougé ([974]), but to have apparently ignored him for the events of AD 64. 99. Oros. Pag. 7.7. 100. Allard (1885), 36; Canfield (1913), 53; Keresztes (1984), 48; Schmitt (2011), 526; we might note also the anti-­Christian fourth-­century emperor Julian the apostate, who has left a body of writing, including polemics against Christians, but who nowhere rec­ords that they ­were blamed for the fire. 101. Shaw (2015), (2018); for a contrary view: Jones (2017). 102. Batiffol (1894), 514–15 was followed by Klette (1907), 18; Bacchus (1908), who argued that the persecution antedated the fire; Canfield (1913), 51, 57, 68–9; Momigliano (1934), 725–26, 887. Profumo (1905), 267, claimed that the fire followed the conspiracy of Piso. 103. Klette (1907), 99–100; Canfield (2013), 469; Keresztes (1984), 411–13; Grégoire (1964), 104; Momigliano (1934), 725–6; Griffin (1984), 133; Ste. Croix (2006), 108; Pollini (2017), 234; Drinkwater (2019), 246. 104. Ant. 20.195; on the meaning of the term see Smallwood (1959). Allard (1885), 42–43 was apparently the first to argue that Poppaea was acting for the Jews. 105. Jos. Vit. 16. 106. Plin. Ep. 7.33.1: Pliny’s own works seem to have suffered a similar eclipse; see Cameron (1965); Corke-­Webster (2017). 107. SHA Tacitus 10.3. 108. Cass. Var. Epist. 5.2, on Tac. Germ. 45.4–5. 109. Newton (1999), 346. The “first Medicean,” containing Annals 1–6 (books 5 and 6 are fragmentary), was produced in the ninth ­century, possibly in Fulda. 110. The minor works of Tacitus w ­ ere similarly preserved in a single separate ninth-­century manuscript, of which only a small portion has survived. 111. SHA Aurelian I.2.1. 112. Tert. ad Nat. I.11.1–3; Apol. 16.1–3; Tac. Hist. 5.2; Barnes (1985), 18–19, 28, 105, 108, 196, 201–2. 113. Fletcher (1937), 389–92; Wilshire (1973); Barnes (1998), 48–49, 88, 192–95. 114. Hochart (1885), 219–21. 115. See Furneaux (1891), 569–70. 290  •  Notes to chapter V

116. Saumagne (1962), (1964), followed by Rougé (1974), 440. Saumagne believes that the interpolated lines came from a lost section of Tacitus’s Histories; see also Viklund (2010), who suggests that they originated as a marginal gloss. 117. Carrier (2014), 283. 118. On crucifixion generally in the ancient world, see, most recently: Jensen (2017), 8–15. 119. Cic. Off. 1.29. 120. Tinniswood (2003), 163–68. 121. Drinkwater (2019), 246–47. 122. Cook (2010), 29.

chapter VI. the new rome

1. Livy 5.55.4–5. 2. Livy 5.55.4–5; 6.4.6; see also Diodorus Siculus 14.116.8–9; Plut. Cam. 32.3. 3. Tac. Ann. 15.43; Suet. Ner. 1.6.1. 4. Suet. Nero. 16.1; Rubin (2004), 131–32. 5. Tac. Ann. 15.43.1; city planning: Taylor et al. (2016), 65–66. 6. Balland (1965) suggests that Nero was much influenced by Hellenistic “Hippodamian” princi­ples of urban planning. 7. MacDonald (1982), 28. 8. Tac. Ann. 15.43.3; Strabo 5.3.10 (= 5. 238); Vitr. Arch. 2.7.1; Roller (2018), 262; Coarelli (2014), 517–20. 9. Taylor et al. (2016), 66. 10. Tac. Ann. 15.43.1. 11. Suet. Aug. 89.2; Rutilius may be the much-­admired consul of 105 BC, on which see Marshall (2008), 110; Favro (1992), 73–75; Wardle (2014), 497. 12. Strabo 5.7 (= 5. 235). 13. Sen. Contr. 2.1.11. 14. Anon. Epit. de Caes. 13.13; it seems likely that Trajan was reaffirming Nero’s limit, which had presumably fallen into abeyance, u ­ nless Nero had prescribed a higher figure. 15. Juv. Sat. 3.269. 16. Tac. Ann. 15.43.1–2; Suet. Ner. 16.1. 17. Hermansen (1981), 217–23; Taylor et al. (2016), 66; Priester (2002), 132. 18. Juv. Sat. 3.197–222. 19. Suet. Ner. 38.3. 20. Tac. Ann. 15.43.3. 21. Cato: Livy 39.44.4; Caelius: Cic. Ad Fam. 8.6.4; on Caelius’s speech: Front. de Aq. 1.76.1–2; Landels (1978), 52; Rod­gers (1982). 22. Front. de Aq. 1.76.110–15; on the frauds: Dodge (2000), 188. 23. See Gatti (1917). 24. Taylor et al. (2016), 66–68. 25. Suet. Ner. 16.1. Notes to chapter VI  •  291

26. Griffin (1984), 130–31. 27. Tac. Ann. 15.43.2. 28. Gaius Institutes 1.33; Ulpian 3.1; the mea­sure is dated by Gaius to the reign of Nero, and almost certainly belongs to the period a­ fter the fire: Griffin (1984), 130. 29. A Vespasianic inscription (ILS 245) puts the blame for the poor condition of the streets on the “neglect of e­ arlier periods” (vias urbis neglegentia superioribus corruptas). 30. For a very useful survey of Nero’s building activities: Beste and von Hesberg (2013). 31. Aur. Vict. Caes. 5.1–2; see also, Anon. Epit. de Caes. 5.1–3; amphitheater: Plin. NH 16.190, 200, 19.24; Tac. Ann. 13.31.1; Suet. Ner. 12.1; Anon. Epit. de Caes. 5.3; baths/gymnasium: ILS 5173; Mart. Ep. 2.48.8, 3.25.4, 7.34.4–5; Tac. Ann. 14.47; Suet. Ner. 12.3; Dio 61.21.1; Philost. Apoll. 4.42; Anon. Epit. de Caes. 5.3; Eutropius 7.15.2; market: Dio 61.18.3; arch: Kleiner (1985), 89. 32. Suet. Aug. 28.3. 33. Elsner and Masters (1994), 115. 34. Tac. Ann. 15.41.1. 35. Tac. Ann. 15.39. 1; Suet. Ner. 31.1. 36. Suet. Ner. 31.1. 37. Suet. Ner. 31.2; Tac. Ann. 15.42.1 does not seem to find the presence of gold and precious stones particularly remarkable by the standards of g­ reat h ­ ouses of the time. 38. RIC2 Nero 109–11, 184–87, 399–402 (Dio 61.18.3); see Profumo (1905), 671–93; Fabbrini (1982), 23; Villedieu (2010), 1105–8; Barrett, Fantham and Yardley (2016), 75; on the dating of the coin: MacDowall (1979), 78–79. 39. Varro RR 3.5.10–17; Pet. Sat. 60; Sen. Ep. 90.115; see Hemsoll (1990), 35. 40. Plin. NH 34.84; Pliny observes that the statues w ­ ere moved ­later by Vespasian to decorate his new ­Temple of Peace and other buildings; Pausanias 5.25.8, 5.26.3, 9.27.3, 10.7.1, 10.19.2; see also Dio Chrys. Orat. 31.148. 41. Ovid Fast. 6.641; Herodian 4.1.2 (often mistranslated as “the largest of the city”). 42. Suet. Cal. 37.3; Hemsoll (1990), 16. 43. Plin. NH 33.54; 36.111. 44. Hemsoll (1990), 15. 45. Suet. Ner. 39.2. 46. Mart. Spect. 2.4. 47. Dio 65.4.1. 48. 100 acres: Warden (1981); 125 acres: Griffin (1984), 139; 200 acres: Hemsoll (1990), 16; Perrin (2009), 51; 350–400 acres: Pollini (2017), 221, following Boëthius-­Ward-­Perkins (1970), 214. W. V. Harris, in a review of LTUR II in JRA 10 (1997): 383–88, comments at 385, “I suspect that we may be in danger of exaggerating the amount of land which this admittedly huge complex occupied.” 49. Van Essen (1954), 381, 88 claims that the Golden House included the podium of the ­Temple of Claudius (also Buzzetti [1993]), and that its structures extended up to the crest of the Caelian, and believes that on the Esquiline it em-

292  •  Notes to chapter VI

braced the Sette Sale, the cisterns of Trajan’s baths, now generally considered to be Trajanic. La Rocca (1986), 32; Perrin (2009), 50, argue that the complex incorporated the Gardens of Maecenas. 50. Villa: Ward-­Perkins (1956); Boëthius (1960); Boëthius and Ward-­Perkins (1970), 214; Purcell (1987), 198–200; villa and garden, Hemsoll (1990), 13–14; seaside villa: La Rocca (2017), 209; revolutionary: MacDonald (1982), 25–46; Ball (2003); eastern and solar associations: L’Orange (1942), (1953), a thesis generally out of f­avor now but considered sympathetically by Hemsoll (1990), 29; Hannah, Magli, and Palmieri (2016); an extravagant palace: Toynbee (1947), 132–34; the center of the new Rome: Perrin (1983), 78; Leach (2004), 159. 51. Mart. Spect. 2.3; Plin. NH 36.111; see Wiseman (2013), 258. 52. Plin. NH 33.54, cf. 36.111. 53. Plin. NH 33.54. 54. Sen. Ep. 115.13; Ovid Met. 2.2: palace; 107–8: chariot. 55. Dio Chrys. Orat. 47.15; onomati (“in name”) in contrast to to onti (“in real­ity”). See Perrin (2009), 51, “c’est la maison de l’âge d’or.” 56. Griffin 1984, 138–41; Darwall-­Smith (1996), 37–38; Champlin (2003), 205–6; Fertik (2015). 57. Vell. Pat. 2.81.3. 58. Plut. Pomp. 44.3; 45 BC: Val. Max. 9.15.1 (see D’Arms [1998], 40–41). 59. Tac. Ann. 15.37.1. 60. Vitr. Arch. 6.5.2. 61. Griffin (1984), 139–41; Hemsoll (1990), 16; La Rocca (2017), 206; Champlin (2003), 209, speaks of a fusion of residence and garden (domus and horti). 62. Suet. Aug. 100.4. 63. Argued by Morel (1987), 146–48; a workshop making bone and ivory objects may have survived in one sector of the Palatine East excavations to the southwest of the Arch of Constantine: Hostetter (2009), 178. 64. Tac. Ann. 15.42.1; see Ball (2003), 7; the two names appear together, along with a ­woman, Antonia, on an undated lead pipe found in Rome (CIL 15.7393) (Bruun [2007]). Lanciani (1901), 20, claimed that a fragment of marble tomb of a Celer still existed in the garden of S. Agnese fuori le Mura on the Via Nomentana: CELERI NERONIS AUGUSTI L[IBERTO]. For Celer’s pos­si­ble name on a papyrus fragment (P.Ryl. 608; CPL 248), see Cotton (1981), 38–39. 65. Domitian similarly hired a Roman, Rabirius, to design his ­later g­ rand palace on the Palatine: Mart. Ep. 7.56. 66. Tac. Ann. 15.42.1–2; Suet. Nero. 31.3. 67. “Scaffolding” represents Martial’s pegmata. The meaning of the term ­here is highly controversial, see Coleman (2006), 23–27. 68. Roman (2010), 93 n. 29, notes the irony that the principal piece of evidence for the nature and extent of the Golden House is a poem essentially celebrating its destruction. 69. Suet. Ner. 31.1. 70. Tac. Ann. 15.39.1. 71. Wiseman (2019), 32–35.

Notes to chapter VI  •  293

72. Griffin (1984), 139; Cassatella (1990), 101–4; (1995); Royo (1999), 312; Perrin (2009), 52; Castagnoli (1964), 189; Cecamore (1994–95), 10, 18. 73. Villedieu et al. (2007); Villedieu (2009), (2009a), (2010), (2011), (2011a), (2016); Arnoldus-­Huyzendveld (2007), 391–401; Carandini (2017), 239; Panella (2011), 84; Tomei (2011), 131; see also https://­journals​.­openedition​.­org​/­mefra​ /­526, accessed March 5, 2020. 74. Mart. Spect. 2.9–10. 75. It seems unlikely that Nero would have destroyed an ­actual ­temple of Claudius, as claimed by Suet. Nero 9.1, without Tacitus or Dio mentioning what would have been a spectacular example of impiety; Von Hesberg (2011), 110. 76. Front. Aq. 1.20.3; 2.76.3: Nero took the aqua Claudia to the t­emple of Claudius and distributed the ­water from ­there. 77. Colini (1944), 137–42; Hemsoll (1990), 11; Champlin (2003), 203; Claridge (2010), 343–44; Coarelli (2014), 217–18. 78. Dio 66.15.1; see Cassatella and Panella (1995). 79. The issues are laid out by Papi (1995). 80. Brienza (2016), 118–19. 81. Pensabene and Caprioli (2009). 82. Suet. Ner. 31.1. 83. Plin. HN 34.45–47. For modern treatments, see Lega (1989–80), (1993); Bergmann (1994), (2013); Ensoli (2000); Smith (2000); Albertson (2001). It impressed Pausanias too; he claims (1.18.6) that the two largest statues ever built ­were the Colossus of Rhodes and the Colossus of Nero. 84. Suet. Ner. 31.1; Plin. NH 34.45 provides the figure of 120 feet, but the text is corrupt and scholars emend it to read 106.5, 119, or 119.5 feet; Dio 66.15.1 gives 100 feet; ­these figures may or may not have included the base, which could in part explain the discrepancy; Hier. Chron. 2090 rec­ords a monument 107 feet high, erected in the seventh year of Vespasian’s reign. Martial (Spect. 2.1) vaguely refers to it reaching the stars, and claims (Epig. I.70.7–8) that it surpassed the Colossus of Rhodes. The range of 100–120 Roman feet would represent 29.5 and 35.4 meters. The issue is usefully summarized by Albertson (2001), 103–6. 85. Dio 66.15.1; Suetonius (Vesp. 18.1) speaks of Vespasian rewarding the restorer (refectorem) of the colossus, presumably Zenodorus, since it is unlikely that anyone ­else would have possessed the necessary skills for the task. 86. Lugli (1961), 4–5; Carandini (1988), 383–4; Bergmann (1994), 9; (1998), 190; Albertson (2001), 98–99. Late chroniclers ­favor Lugli’s dating: Howell (1968), 293–94. 87. Plin. NH 34.45. 88. Tac. Ann. 15.74.1 reports that special honors ­were paid to Sol in AD 65 for having brought to light the Pisonian conspiracy. 89. Dio 66.15.1; Smith (2000), 536–53, argues that the colossus was never intended to depict Nero but was of Sol from the outset. 90. Plin. NH 35.51; the Maian Gardens ­were prob­ably close to the Lamian gardens (CIL 6.8668), which in turn w ­ ere close to the Gardens of Maecenas, on the Esquiline (Philo Leg. 351). 91. Dio 66.15.1; SHA Hadr. 19.12–13. 294  •  Notes to chapter VI

92. SHA Comm. 17.9–10; Dio 72.22.3; Herodian 1.15.9. 93. Alexander Severus Sestertius, AD 223: RIC 4.2: 410–11; Gordian III Medallion, AD 243: Gnecchi Ruscone (2012), 89, nos. 22–23. 94. As mentioned in the calendar of that year: CIL 1.2:266: June 6 “the colossus is crowned” (colossus coronatur). 95. Lega (1989–1990), 339–48; Claridge (2010), 306. 96. Or the amphitheater may have acquired the familiar name b ­ ecause of its huge size. The question is discussed at length by Canter (1930). 97. Mart. Spec. 2.5–6; Tac. Ann. 15.42.1; Suet. Ner. 31.1. 98. Panella (1990), (1995), (1996), 69–71; (2011), 166–67; Medri (1996), 185–86; Carandini (2017), 294. The nineteenth-­century evidence is noted by Panella (1990), 67–68. 99. In her concluding resumé, Rea (2000), 338, notes that the sondages carried out recently in the Colosseum have revealed no trace of the structures related to the lake (see also Rea [2000], 101] and she suggests that the lake might have fit into the natu­ral contours of the slopes of the Esquiline and Caelian (as commonly believed ­until recently). 100. Suet. Ner. 31.1. 101. Panella (1995), 54, suggests that the lake proj­ect was almost certainly not completed. 102. Medri (1996), 185, fig. 166; Panella (2011), 166. 103. Panella (1990), 62–63; (1995), 54; (2001), 57 n. 36; (2011), 167. 104. Rea (2000), 311, summarized at Rea (2001), 77; Lancaster (2005a), 57, 59. 105. Medri (1996), 184 n. 89; Panella (2001), 57 n. 36; Lancaster (2005a), 59. 106. Rea (2000), 101. 107. As suggested by Rea, Beste, and Lancaster (2002), 344. 108. Metro line: Schingo (2001); recent excavations: Rea (2009); Rea, Beste, and Lancaster (2002), 344. A wall that could be a trace of the eastern range of rooms was discovered by the installation of a pipe for Italgas in 1986; see Rendina and Schingo (1987–88). 109. Carandini et al. (2010), 253–60; (2011), 144–46; (2017), 294. 110. Panella (1995), 53; (2011), 166. 111. Suet. Ner. 31.1; Panella (1995), 53; (2011), 167; for pos­si­ble remains of the Golden House at the eastern extreme of the Ludus Magnus, see Van Essen (1954), 390. 112. Pliny NH 36.163. 113. Van Deman (1923); Van Deman and Clay (1925). Van Deman believed that the vestibulum embraced the slope of the Velia that led up from the forum to the platform at the top. 114. MacDonald (1982), 29; Griffin (1984), 139; Perrin (2009), 52; Caran­ dini (2017), 293; the precise route of the Sacra Via is one of the most hotly debated issues of Roman topography. 115. Medri (1996), 170, has suggested that the rise in elevation from the forum to the platform of the vestibule was achieved by a series of stepped horizontal sections, rather than van Deman’s sloping arcades. Medri’s scheme thus contrasts with that of Brienza’s reconstruction of the porticoes on the east-­west road south of the vestibule. Notes to chapter VI  •  295

116. Griffin (1984), 140, suggests that the halls along the Sacra Via would have had some commercial function. 117. Castagnoli (1964), 195–99; (1981), 267–68. 118. Carandini (2017), 249 suggests that the Neronian porticoes ­ were not vaulted. 119. It now lies beneath the modern Parco delle Terme di Traiano. The lit­er­a­ ture is extensive: see Warden (1981); MacDonald (1982), 31–46; Fabbrini (1982), (1983), (1985–86), (1995); Griffin (1984), 141–42; Hemsoll (1990); Ball (1994), (2003); Segala and Sciortino (1999); Beste (2011a), Beste and von Hesberg (2013), 325–26; Coarelli (2014), 180–87. 120. Eus. Chron. (Helm [1956], 194.11); Oros. Pag. 7. 12.4; Hemsoll (1990), 12. 121. But see Warden (1981), who argues that the east wing of the Oppian complex is post-­Neronian. 122. See, for instance, Hemsoll (1990), 11. 123. Main part: Champlin (2003), 131. 124. MacDonald (1982), 25–31; see also Lancaster (2005), 1. 125. MacDonald (1982), 43; see also Hemsoll (1990), 10. 126. Lancaster (2005), 11. 127. Fabbrini (1983), (1985), 56, suggests that ­there may have been a second pentagonal court, and then a major block of rooms, corresponding to the west block. 128. Hemsoll (1990), 16. 129. Coarelli (2014), 182–83; Fabbrini (1982), 5–6; Ball (1994), (2013) in par­ tic­u­lar treats at some length the idea of dif­fer­ent phases. Meyboom and Moormann (2013) disagree with his chronology, arguing that the decoration of the structure occurred all between AD 64–68, with possibly some l­imited work being conducted by Otho. See also Leach (2004), 160. 130. Fabbrini (1982), 22. 131. MacDonald (1982), 43. 132. Lancaster (2005), 134. 133. Hemsoll (1990), 33 n. 5; Dio 66.15.1 for the date of Titus’s baths. 134. Suet. Tit. 7.3; Hemsoll (1990), 11; Ball (2003), 249–53; Champlin (2003), 207; Coarelli (2014), 186–87 (already suggested in the first edition, [1980], 183). 135. Mart. Spect. 2.7 (velocia munera) and Suet. Tit. 7.3 (thermis celeriter exstructis); Coarelli (2014), 186–87; Nielsen (1993), 45–47; Champlin (2003), 206– 7. Champlin (2003), 206, sees t­ hese baths as a deliberate echo of the complex that Nero had erected in the Campus Martius, dedicated with its adjoining gymnasium in 60 (Dio 61.21.1, referring to the adjoining gymnasium) or 62 (Tac. Ann. 14.4.2) and suggests that the Neronian baths on Titus’s site would have been integrated with the lake below by a g­ rand staircase. 136. Nielsen (1993), 45–47. 137. Fabbrini (1982), (1983), (1985–86). 138. Kleiner (2010), 116–19 provides a useful summary of the innovative architecture of the Domus Aurea. See also Ball (2003); Taylor et al. (2016), 61.

296  •  Notes to chapter VI

139. MacDonald (1982), 41–42. 140. Suet. Ner. 16.1; Tac. Ann. 15.43.3; MacDonald (1982), 28–29. 141. Of course, the octagonal hall, like the rest of the Oppian palace, has survived by accident. Within the context of the lost Golden House as a w ­ hole, it might not have been unique. 142. Griffin (1984), 141; for a detailed analy­sis of the pos­si­ble rotational devices, see Stortz and Prückner (1974). 143. Ball (2003), 24–27; see also Hemsoll (1990), 17; Quenemoen (2014), 71–72. 144. The earliest known concrete dome in Italy is found at Baiae in the ­Temple of Mercury, from the late first c­ entury BC. See Lancaster (2005), 42–43, for a technical account of how the octagonal dome was constructed. 145. Lancaster (2005), 34–35. 146. Ball (2003), 219–21; Lancaster (2005), 143. 147. Plin. NH 35.120. 148. The manuscripts are corrupt at this crucial point, reading something like floridis / floridus umidus. 149. La Rocca (2017), 211. 150. Dacos (1968), 224; (1969), 210, argues that Famulus was the primary artist of the complex, but sees a second school at work in the lesser workshops (see also Taylor [2003], 219). Meyboom and Moormann (2013), 61–62 downgrade Famulus’s role. They argue that the stylistic differences vis­i­ble throughout point to work by three dif­fer­ent workshops, all operating in the Fourth Style but producing dif­fer­ent versions of it. Leach (2004), 158, cautions against thinking of the Domus Aurea as setting a trend for other centers; see also La Rocca (2017), 209–13. 151. Dacos (1969) 100–101; Segala and Sciortino (1999); Scholl (2004) 80–83: Squire (2013), 445–46. 152. Leach (2004), 157. 153. Zamperini (2008), 122, 126. 154. Segala and Sciortino (1999), 49–50; Squire (2013), 456; see also Dacos (2008), 29–33; Zamperini (2008), 124–28. 155. Piel (1962), 1–87; Dacos (1969), 107–13; (2008), 15–135; Segala and Sciortino (1999), 51–52; Squire (2013), 457. 156. Sear (1977), 25–26, 90–91; Griffin (1984), 126. 157. Lavagne (1970); Sear (1977); 90–92; Ball (2003), 182; Meyboom and Moormann (2013), 174. 158. Suet. Ner. 31.2. 159. Suet. Oth. 7.1. 160. Dio 66.10.4. 161. Suet. Vesp. 9.1. 162. Plin. NH 34.84. 163. CIL VI 2059; Mart. Spect. 2.5–6; Suet. Vesp. 9.1, Tit. 7.3; Aur. Vict. Caes. 10.5. 164. Suet. Tit. 7.3; Hemsoll (1990), 12. 165. Hier. Chron 2120; Orosius Pag. 7, 12.4.

Notes to chapter VI  •  297

chapter VII. the significance of the g ­ reat fire

1. See especially Morford (1968); Griffin (1984), 112, 133; Flaig (2002), (2010); Courrier (2014), 895; see Champlin (2003), 184, on Nero’s continuing popularity with the masses ­after the fire; also Gwyn (1991), 444–45; Davies (2000), 39–41; Drinkwater (2019), 261. 2. Juv. Sat. 10.81. 3. Dio 62.18.5. 4. In AD 69, a shadowy figure, whose main credential as Nero impersonator seems to have been skill at the cithara, caused g­ reat alarm in Greece and Asia, and gathered a following on the island of Cynthus (Tac. Hist. 2.8–9; Dio 64.9.3; Zonaras 11.15). In AD 80, another false Nero, Terentius Maximus, from Asia, won the support of Artabanus IV, a pretender for the throne of Parthia, and for a time seemed to pose a serious threat to Rome (Dio 66.19.3; Zonaras 11.18; John of Antioch. Fr. 104M). Suetonius (Nero 57.2) speaks of yet another imposter, who in AD 88 gained influence with the Parthians. Many scholars believe that this last is a misdated reference to the same Terentius Maximus. The topic is nicely summarized by Champlin (2003), 10–12. 5. Suet. Ner. 57.1; cf. Tac. Hist. 1.78.3. 6. Plut. Otho 3.1; Suet. Otho 7.1; Tac. Hist. 1.78.3; Dio 64.8.21. 7. Suet. Otho 7.1. 8. Suet. Vit. 11.2; Dio 65.7.3. 9. Dio 62.18.3. 10. Tac. Hist. 1.4. 11. Jos. Ant. 19.128–30, 159–60. 12. Tac. Ann. 15.43.5; Suet. Ner. 38.3; Newbold (1974), 864. 13. Suet. Ner. 38.3; Dio 62.18.5; Newbold (1974); Champlin (2003), 180; Rubin (2004), 110. Coins issued a­ fter AD 64 continue to celebrate the annona, hardly appropriate if it had been cancelled (RIC 12 372–74, 389–91, 430–31, 493–97). 14. Tac. Ann. 15.44.4, 50.4. 15. Suet. Ner. 38.1. See Purcell (1987), 190. 16. Tac. Ann. 15.42.1. 17. Tac. Ann. 15.52.2; date: Tac. Ann. 15.53.3. 18. Mart. Spect. 2. 19. Mart. Spect. 2; Morford (1968), 159. 20. Plin. NH 33.55, 36.111. 21. Sen. Epist. 90.43. 22. Firebrand and public ­enemy: Plin. NH 7.45–6; poison: Plin. NH 22.92; magic: Plin. NH 30.15; fire: Plin. NH 17.5. 23. Suet. Ner. 31.1, 39.2. 24. Suet. Ner. 31.1; Medri (1996), 186; Rea, Beste, and Lancaster (2002), 343. 25. Seneca the Elder (Con. 5.5) deems fishponds as large as navigable oceans to be the stock attributes of a fantasy ­house. 26. Plut. Crass. 2.4: tes Romes to pleiston meros. 298  •  Notes to chapter VII

27. Suet. Ner. 31.2. 28. L’Orange (1942), (1943); Hannah, Magli, and Palmieri (2016). 29. Cato fr. 139 (Cugusi); Cic. Sest. 94; Sall. Cat. 12.3–4, 13.1, 20.11; Hor. Od. 2.15.18, 3.1.24; Ep. 1.1.83–87; Sen. Contr. 5.5; Vell. Pat. 2.33.4; Luc. Bell. Civ. 10.110–21; Pet. Sat. 120; Sen. Ep. 88.22; 90.7, 9, 15, 43; 115.8–9; 122.8; see especially Edwards (1993), 137–72. 30. Davies (2000), 40; Plin. NH 36.37 mentions a domus Titi (“house of Titus”) as the location for the Laocoon group (the statue of the prophet Laocoon and his sons being killed by a serpent). A version of this, the famous Vatican Laocoon, was found in the Oppian section of the Golden House: Van Essen (1955). 31. Hemsoll (1990), 10; Champlin (2003), 200; Drinkwater (2019), 242, 252. 32. Elsner and Masters (1994), 123; Drinkwater (2019), 262. 33. Tac. Ann. 15.40.2; Suet. Ner. 55; on the name: Poulle (2010). Suetonius does not link the information about the name change to the events of the fire, he simply claims that Nero had de­cided to call Rome “Neropolis.” Balland (1965), 367, suggests that the Greek form of the name proclaims a city based on Hellenistic princi­ples of urban planning, as elucidated by Hippodamus of Miletus. 34. Aquae Sextiae: Livy Per. 61; Pompeiopolis: App.  Mith. 115; Strabo 12.3.40. 35. Dio 63.7.2. 36. Jos. Ant. 20.211. 37. The fifth-­century theologian Theodoret of Cyrrhus (Hist. Eccl. I.6) refers to Theognis as the bishop “of Neronias,” in Cilicia. If the city was still named ­after Nero it means, remarkably, that its name survived the disgrace and downfall of the emperor by more than three centuries. 38. Tac. Ann. 4.64. 39. SHA Comm. 8.6; Dio 72.15.2; Col(onia) L(ucia) An(toniniana) Com(modiana) appears on coins of 190: RIC 3.560, 570. 40. Tac. Ann. 15.74.3. Tacitus is unwilling to see Nero’s refusal in positive terms—he contends that Nero feared that such an honor, traditionally paid to emperors ­after their deaths, would be a bad omen. 41. Suet. Ner. 47.2. 42. Dio Chrys. Orat. 21.10. 43. See the instances recorded at Tac. Ann. 5.4, 14.60.4; Jos. Ant. 19.128–30, 159–60; thoroughly treated by Courrier (2014), 848–98. 44. Closs (2013), 110–96, argues that the lit­er­a­ture of the period conveys the idea that failure to deal with fires became a major ele­ment in determining how bad an emperor was; even Tiberius’s absence from Rome, when the Caelian suffered a major fire, in AD 27, was held against him (see chapter 2). 45. Griffin (1984), 133; Pollini (2017), 222. 46. The city of Lugdunum (Lyon) alone made a contribution of four million sestertii, which supposedly exactly matched the amount given by the emperor as relief for a disaster that the city had itself suffered: Tac. Ann. 16.13.4. Tacitus does not specify what disaster Ludgunum had endured. Seneca Ep. 91 writes of a devastating fire t­here, but seems to date it to AD 58, six years before the fire of Rome, since he says that it occurred one hundred years a­ fter the city’s founding, Notes to chapter VII  •  299

traditionally dated to 43 BC. On the Lugdunum fire: Closs (2013), 181–87, 277–79. 47. Suet. Ner. 44.2. 48. Newbold (1974). 49. Suet Ner. 38.3; since no source puts a number to Nero’s expenditures on the fire (drawn on the emperor’s trea­sury, his fiscus), the gesture does not make the same impact as, say, the specific 100 million sestertii that Tiberius gave to help victims of the fire on the Caelian (Tac. Ann. 6.45.1). Caligula’s generosity in helping victims of a fire is recorded by Dio among the emperor’s worthy acts (Dio 59.9.4). 50. Suet. Ner. 44.2; see Crawford (1970), 45–46. 51. Tac. Ann. 16.13.1. 52. Tac. Ann. 15.45.1–2; Suet. Ner. 38.3; Dio 62.17.5; Champlin (2003), 180, is prob­ably right in suggesting that the plundering of the ­temples for works of art was motivated by aesthetic rather than financial considerations; ­there is no evidence that Nero sold any of the acquired objects. 53. If Nero lived up to the undertaking recorded by Tac. Ann. 15.43.2, that he would return to the o ­ wners their properties once cleared of debris, he could have done so only in the areas that ­were not incorporated into the Golden House. 54. Suet. Ner. 38.2. 55. Caecina: Pliny HN 17.1–5; Tigellinus: Tac. Ann. 15.40.2. 56. Gualandi (1999). 57. Carandini (2017), 227, 232, tabs. 64, 66; see also Claridge (2010), 118. 58. Cic. Scaur. 45k–­m; Off. 1.138; Asconius, Scaur. 27–28c; Plin. NH 17.1–5. 59. Panella (2006), 278–79; (2013), 135. 60. Lanciani (1901), 19–20. 61. Juv. Sat. 3.71, 11.50–51. 62. Coarelli (2014), 185; Fabbrini (1985–86), 130 n. 5. 63. Sanguinetti (1958), 42–45; Fabbrini (1983), 183–84 n. 29; (1985–86), 130 n. 5; (1995), 57. 64. Colini (1960), 55–56; Casti (1995–96), (1997–98); Casti and Zandri (1999), 47–53; Coarelli (2014), 191. 65. Coarelli (2014), 191; http://­www​.­060608​.­it​/­en​/­cultura​-­e​-­svago​/­beni​-­culturali​ /­beni​-­archeologici​/­ninfeo​-­di​-­via​-­degli​-­annibaldi​.­html, accessed March 5, 2020. 66. Rea (2000), 311; Lancaster (2005a), 57, 59. 67. Tac. Ann. 15.40.1. 68. Bohm (1986). 69. Panella (2014), 72. 70. Pollini (2017), 221–22. 71. Tac. Ann. 13.1.1; Barrett (1996), 153–55. 72. Tac. Ann. 15.48–65. 73. Tac. Ann. 14.65.1 provides an unconvincing explanation of the origins of the plot: see Barrett, Fantham, and Yardley (2016), 195. 74. Veianus: Tac. Ann. 15.67.4; Gerellanus: Tac. Ann. 15.69.1. 75. Tac. Ann. 15.69; Vestinus’s ­house is not explic­itly placed on the Palatine, but the description fits that location. 300  •  Notes to chapter VII

76. The only individual recorded as remotely motivated by reforming zeal was the senator Plautius Lateranus, who stood out among the o ­ thers as a patriotic man, inspired by devotion to the res publica (Tac. Ann. 49.2). Juvenal Sat. 10.15, 17–18 tells us that his fine h ­ ouse on the Caelian Hill, which had apparently escaped damage, or at least serious damage, was seized by the ­orders of Nero. The property eventually passed to the church, and the name is preserved as “Lateran.” 77. Tac. Ann. 15.51, 57; Dio 62.27.3. 78. De Franco (1946), 49. 79. Dio does not give him any role (we are, of course, at the mercy of Dio’s epitomators). 80. Games: Laus 185, 190; lyre: Laus 163–77; complimentary: Mart. Ep. 12.36.8. 81. Tac. Ann. 14.24.4, 53.2, 54.1–3, 55.2, 56.2–3, 59.1, 66.1, 70.1. 82. Tac. Ann. 16.18–19. 83. Tac. Ann. 15.56.3. 84. Tac. Ann. 16.23.1; Dio 62.26.3 adds that he was accused of using magic. 85. For a useful summary: Fratantuono (2018), 106. 86. Tac. Ann. 14.12.2, 48–49, 15.23.4, 16.21.1–2; Dio 62.26.1. 87. Tac. Ann. 15.23.4. 88. Tac. Ann. 16.21.2. 89. Tac. Ann. 16.22. 90. Tac. Ann. 16.29.1. 91. Suet. Ner. 36.1; a very fragmentary section of the rec­ord of the Arval brotherhood dated to June 19, AD 66 (Smallwood [2011]) appears to refer to the “exposure of plots of evil-­doers”: nefaria cons]ilia. 92. Dio 63.17.2–3. 93. Views of the effect of inflation on Rome have ranged between the extreme position of Peden (1984), that inflation was a fundamental prob­lem, to that of Whittaker (1980), that inflation was not an inherent feature of economic decline. From evidence in Egypt, Rathbone concludes that an increase in the supply of coins does not lead to price inflation, and argues that t­here was no serious price inflation in the third ­century AD before the 270s (Rathbone [1996]; see also [1997]). Note also Keynes’s surprising observation: “the coincidence that the decline and fall of Rome was contemporaneous with the most prolonged and drastic deflation” (my emphasis) (Keynes 1930, II.151), cited by Whittaker (1980), 1. For a useful general survey of the dif­fer­ent scholarly approaches ­adopted at vari­ous periods, see Butcher (2015). 94. The ancients understood under­lying economic pro­cesses far less well than we do ­today and we must be cautious about speaking of a Roman “monetary policy.” Hence Michael Crawford (1970), 46, suggests that the purpose of Roman coinage was relatively ­simple: “Coinage was prob­ably in­ven­ted in order that a large number of state payments might be made in a con­ve­nient form and t­ here is no reason to suppose that it was ever issued by Rome for any other purpose than to enable the state to make payments.” Not every­one agrees: see, for example, Lo Cascio (1981), who argues for a Roman monetary policy aimed at regulating the relative values of the gold, silver, and base metal and at providing the market with appropriate means of exchange. Notes to chapter VII  •  301

95. Pliny the Elder reports that it was known that t­ here ­were attempts to debase silver, and that experts could detect the quantity of gold, silver, or copper in ore by striking it with a whetstone (Plin. NH 33.126–27). 96. See Duncan-­Jones (1987), 237–56; Goldsmith (1987), 41–42; Lo Cascio (2008), however, argues that gold was a more common medium of exchange than is generally assumed. 97. See, in par­tic­ul­ar, MacDowall (1979). 98. Plin. NH 33.47 does observe of the gold coin, the aureus, as generally reported, that “the emperors gradually curtailed the weight ­until, at last, Nero [did so] (novissime Nero) at the rate of forty-­five [to the pound].” But note that some of the manuscripts omit Nero’s name and actually read et novissime vero (“but fi­nally”). Moreover, not all the manuscripts read XXXXV (45) to the pound, some read XLV milia (45,000). 99. Savot (1627), 139; Lind (2009), 264. 100. As an example, the Skellow hoard in Yorkshire includes 13 Neronian denarii, three e­ arlier than 64 (ranging between 3.54 and 3.64 grams), the remainder ­later (between 2.96 and 3.48 grams): Crawley and Meadows (1997), 58; Lind (2009), 164 n. 17. 101. Akerman (1834); Rauch (1857); see Lind (2009), 265. 102. Kellner and Specht (1961). 103. Butcher and Ponting (2014), a book that followed a number of major articles on the topic: Butcher and Ponting (1995), (2005), (2005a), (2009), (2012). 104. Butcher and Ponting (2014), 192–238. 105. The heightened levels of trace ele­ments (about 1%) in the issues of AD 60–61 (RIC 12151–52) are attributed to less vigorous cupellation pro­cesses (Butcher and Ponting 2014, 196–97). 106. Butcher and Ponting (2012). 107. See fig.  4  in Hopkins (1980), 110. Figures currently available for silver coinage ­after AD 194 (the debasement of Severus) do not reflect the recent advances in technique for mea­sur­ing purity and are likely to be too high. 108. Before the work of Butcher and Ponting it was assumed that the silver coins ­were composed of a ­simple double layer, a deceptively high-­silver surface, and a lower-­silver interior. They demonstrated that the low-­silver interior consisted in turn of an upper level relatively rich in silver and a much more debased inner core (copper was the base metal most commonly used in the alloy). At the time of writing they have not yet analyzed the coins of the third ­century. 109. See the list in Harl (1996), 131, and the useful general list of inflations in Crawford (1978). 110. P.Oxy. 12. 1411, AD 260, cited by Burnett (1987), 104. 111. The information is provided in an undated context by Suet. Ner. 32.1. 112. MacDowall (1979), 135; Griffin (1984), 198; Sutherland (1987), 96, “certainly due to the g­ reat fire”; Howgego (1995), 118; Harl (1996), 90; Alston (1998), 121; Wolters (2003), 137; Rathbone (2008), 253, tentatively: “perhaps another emergency response to the ­great fire.” Thornton (1971) suggests an enlightened policy for the benefit of society on the lines of Roo­se­velt’s New Deal; Lo Cascio (1981), 84, posits a calibration of the relative value of gold and silver. See 302  •  Notes to chapter VII

the discussion at Butcher and Ponting (2014), 230–34; they are somewhat skeptical but concede that “a link between the fire and the debasement cannot be dismissed entirely (234).” 113. Suet. Ner. 44.2. Suetonius says that the silver was to be pustulatum, a variant of pusulatum (“refined” or “purified”): Digest 19, 2, 31; Mart. Ep. 7, 86, 6–7. 114. Crawford (1970), 45–46; Martial Ep. 4.28.5 refers to unworn coins given as welcome gifts (novae monetae), but his emphasis seems to be on their flashy glitter rather than on their inherent value. The satirist Persius comments that an unworn coin confers no real advantage (Sat. 3.69–70). 115. Crawford (1978), 152; Crawford (1975), 563 n. 11, notes that the willingness of troops in 68 / 69 to support a usurper followed a substantial reduction in weight of the denarius (he credits Keith Hopkins with the observation); Butcher and Ponting (2014), 219–22.

epilogue. the g ­ reat fire as an enduring cultural phenomenon

1. Lact. Mort. Pers. 2; Aug. Civ. Dei. 20.19; Hier. Dan. 11.30; also, Sulp. Sev. Chron. 2.29; Lawrence (1978); Jenks (1991); Gwyn (1991); 452–53; Grzybek (2002). 2. G. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales: The Monk’s Tale, 16, 17. 3. On the continent, the situation was much livelier: the fire caught the eye of one of Spain’s greatest playwrights, Lope de Vega (1562–1635), whose brisk Roma Abrasada (“Rome Burned”), was printed in 1625. 4. University dramas ­were much in vogue at the time. The most celebrated of ­these was Dr. Thomas Legge’s Latin tragedy of Richardus Tertius (Richard III), performed at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1579. 5. 5.2.324–45. 6. Act 4, Scene 4; Kastan (1977) sees the play as a commentary on the Stuart Restoration. The notion of the fire as a tool for wreaking vengeance on the mob may be inspired by Octavia 801, 851–52. 7. Manuwald (2013), 37–38 (Busenello); 150–58 (Feustking). Manuwald’s study is impressively thorough. 8. Manuwald (2013), 208–216. 9. Manuwald (2013), 323 (Panzieri); 339 (Pallerini). 10. Manuwald (2013), 240–46. 11. For a detailed account of Nero and the ­Great Fire in film, see Winkler (2017). 12. Wyke (1994), 14. 13. Wyke (1994), 15. 14. Wyke (1994), 17. 15. Season 2, episode 4; see Tulloch and Alvarado (1983). 16. Louis (1981), 117: “Quand le Néron pyromane qui sommeille en l’homme se réveille.” 17. Joucaviel (2005). 18.­ https://­musicalzentrale​.­de​/­index​.­php​?­service​=0 ­ &subservice​=2 ­ &details​ =­811, accessed March 5, 2020. Notes to Epilogue  •  303


aedile  A magistrate in charge of vari­ous aspects of public administration. The position could be held on completion of the quaestorship. Arval brotherhood  A priestly college made up of twelve men in addition to the emperor. Importantly for the historian, the college kept rec­ords of its rituals inscribed on stone. The rec­ord for the period 21 BC to AD 304 has survived (with major gaps). assemblies  Groupings of Roman citizens convened to carry out specific tasks. aureus (pl. aurei)  Gold coin, worth 25 silver denarii. auxiliaries  Ele­ments of the Roman army, made up of non-­citizens, distinguished from legionaries, who ­were citizens. censor  A magistrate with responsibility for public morality, exercised by supervising the register of citizens and the membership of the senate. In the imperial period the emperors discharged the duties of the censor. centurion  The commander of a legionary “­century,” consisting originally of 100 men but, by the imperial period, of 80. cognomen  The third ele­ment of a Roman name (as Caesar in Gaius Julius Caesar), sometimes reflecting a supposed ancestral physical attribute, sometimes a title granted to mark an achievement, such as Africanus. cohort  An operational unit of the Roman army; ­there w ­ ere ten cohorts to a legion. The term is also applied to in­de­pen­dent units of the auxiliaries, and also of military units in Rome, such as the Praetorians, the Vigiles, and the Urban Cohorts. colony (colonia)  Originally a settlement of Roman citizens, usually veterans. L ­ ater the status could be conferred on other types of towns as a mark of distinction.

consul  The se­nior Roman magistrate. Two ­were elected at a time, originally for a period of a year. From 5 BC it had become fairly routine for consuls to resign during the course of the year. Their replacements ­were known as “suffects” (suffecti). Strictly speaking, consular rank was attainable only a­ fter the candidate had reached the age of forty-­two, but an ex-­consul in one’s ­family background could open up the office much sooner, possibly by the age of thirty-­two, and members of the emperor’s ­family could get ­there even ­earlier (Nero was seventeen when he held his first consulship, in AD 55). denarius (pl. denarii)  Silver coin, worth 4 sestertii. dictator  A magistrate elected during the republic in an emergency. He would hold office for six months. Digest  The ­great compendium of Roman law compiled u ­ nder Justinian I in the early sixth ­century AD, arranged in fifty books and subdivided into titles according to subject ­matter. dupondius (pl. dupondii)  A coin made of an alloy of zinc and copper, worth half a sestertius. donative  A distribution of cash to mark a special occasion. equestrian (eques, pl. equites)  A member of an order originally serving in the cavalry, ­later broadly the commercial m ­ iddle class, whose property was worth 400,000 sestertii. Although not eligible for the Roman senate, members of the order (also known as knights) played an impor­tant part in the administration of the empire, and held certain key offices, such as the prefectures of Egypt and of the Praetorian guard. Fasti Ostienses  The rec­ord of significant Roman events from 49 BC to AD 175 found preserved in stone in Ostia. foot  A Roman foot, at 29.6 cm, was slightly less than a modern imperial foot (30.48 cm). freedman  A former slave who had been granted his freedom. Often the freedman would stay in the ser­vice of the ­house­hold where he had been slave. imperium  The power to command, assigned for a fixed period to magistrates of a certain rank. insula (pl. insulae)  Literally “island,” the common term for a high apartment block in ancient Rome, generally offering modest accommodation on several stories. 306 • Glossary

knight  See equestrian. legate  A broad term with three common meanings: (a) an individual assigned a par­tic­u­lar task; (b) the commander of a legion; (c) the governor of an imperial province. legion  The main operational unit of the Roman army, consisting of between 5,000 and 6,000 men, all Roman citizens, u ­ nder the command of a legate appointed by the emperor. maiestas  Short for maiestas laesa (“injured majesty”), an offense initially against the dignity of the state, then l­ater against that of the emperor and his ­family also, broadly, “treason.” mile  A Roman mile constituted one thousand (double) paces (the pace was standardized in the Augustan period at five Roman feet), hence five thousand Roman feet (approximately 1,479 m / 1,617 yards). nomen  The central ele­ment of a Roman name (as Julius in Gaius Julius Caesar), indicating the holder’s gens or ­family. novus homo  The complex Roman electoral system made it difficult for an outsider to break into the ranks of the ruling elite. Someone who attained the consulship without the benefit of a consular ancestor in his f­ amily tree was such a novelty that he was dubbed a “new man.” patrician  A member of a select branch of the Roman aristocracy that controlled power in the early republic. By Nero’s day the old social and po­liti­cal distinction between plebeian and patrician was something of a relic, observed only in such arcane areas as the qualifications for obscure religious offices. opus signinum  Concrete fortified by crushed tile. peperino  Light volcanic rock with dark inclusions, reminiscent of pepper. plebeian  Originally, members of the lower order of citizens who ­were not patrician. By the imperial age ­there ­were several prominent and distinguished plebeian families. plebeian tribune  A magistrate originally charged with protecting the plebeians against the patricians. During the republic the tribune was power­ful, ­because of his right to veto and to initiate legislation, while the person of the holder was sacrosanct. ­Under the empire his importance declined and the office became a routine stage between the quaestorship and praetorship. Glossary • 307

pontiff (pontifex)  A member of one of the four priestly colleges of Rome. The pontifex maximus was the se­nior priest. praenomen  The first ele­ment in the name of a Roman man (as Gaius in Gaius Julius Caesar), corresponding to the “given” name. praetor  A se­nior magistrate second in rank to the consuls. Eigh­teen ­were elected annually u ­ nder Nero. Their main task was to preside over the courts. Praetorian guard  The imperial guard, originally consisting of nine cohorts, u ­ nder the command of a prefect or pair of prefects. They ­were an elite unit, usually stationed in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, enjoying higher rates of pay than the legionaries and other special privileges. prefect/praefectus  This term meant basically “the person placed in charge,” and could have a range of applications, both military and administrative. The more significant military ones ­were (a) the commander of an auxiliary unit or of the fleet; (b) the camp prefect, second-­in-­command to the legionary legate and commander of the troops in the legate’s absence; and (c) the commander of the Praetorian guard or of the fire ser­vice (Vigiles). The key administrative prefects ­were the prefect of Egypt and the prefect of the grain supply. Some smaller districts (such as Judea) w ­ ere governed by equestrians with the rank of prefect (of procurator from Claudius on). All the above prefectures ­were held by equestrians. The ancient office of city prefect (praefectus urbi) was held by a senator of consular rank. By the late republic his duties ­were largely ritual, but his functions w ­ ere revived by Augustus, and he was given responsibility for maintaining order in the city and commanding the Urban Cohorts; he was allowed to exercise summary justice in dealing with minor criminal cases and gradually assumed responsibility for more serious cases. He might have been in charge of the criminal investigations that followed the G ­ reat Fire. princeps (“holding first rank”)  Roman emperors sought to cloak the real­ity of their position by the fiction that they ­were simply the leading citizens in an essentially republican system. proconsul  The senatorial governor of a “public” province, chosen by lot.

308 • Glossary

procurator  A highly flexible term. It is used for a private agent or bailiff on an estate. From Claudius on, the term is used for administrators of small districts (see “prefect”). ­There ­were also procurators who oversaw financial business relating to the imperial properties within the provinces, some of whom eventually assumed official administrative duties, as “provincial” procurators, in subordinate roles to the governors, in both the imperial and senatorial provinces. The position was held by equestrians or freedmen. propraetor  The governor of a province with the rank of praetor. Legates (governors) of imperial provinces held this rank even if they had previously held the consulship, so as not to challenge the consular authority of the emperor. province (provincia)  The term initially referred to the sphere of competence of a magistrate but acquired a more geo­graph­i­cal character, defining individual external territories governed by Rome. Following the Augustan settlement, overseas provinces w ­ ere of two types. (a) “Imperial” provinces, in the less settled part of the empire, h ­ oused Roman legions and w ­ ere administered by governors appointed directly by the emperor. Egypt was a major imperial province in its own class, governed by an equestrian prefect. (b) “Public” provinces (sometimes referred to as “senatorial”), in the more stable areas, with rare exceptions did not ­house legions. Public provinces w ­ ere governed by proconsuls, men of senatorial rank elected by lot from a preselected list of candidates. quaestor  A magistrate who by virtue of this office became a member of the senate. A candidate for the quaestorship needed to be at least in his twenty-­fifth year. The duties ­were often financial. senate  The se­nior governing body of the Roman state, made up of ex-­ magistrates of at least the rank of quaestor. U ­ nder Augustus, the number was approximately six hundred, prob­ably somewhat more ­under Nero, each with property worth 1 million sestertii. Although less power­ful than ­under the republic, the senate still commanded considerable prestige. sestertius (pl. sestertii)  The highest-­value base-­metal Roman coin, made of an alloy of zinc and copper, worth two dupondii. It is the standard used to express monetary values (with the symbol HS).

Glossary • 309

Modern equivalency is a complex topic, but ­under Nero the annual pay of a legionary soldier was 900HS. toga  The traditional public dress of Roman men, made of fine white wool. Boys wore the toga praetexta with a purple border. At about the age of fourteen, they put this aside for a plain white version, the toga virilis, in a ceremony that marked the transition to manhood. The wearing of the toga praetexta was resumed by ­those holding high office. travertine  A type of limestone. tribune  An officeholder. The most familiar holders ­were the tribunes of the plebeians, appointed historically to protect the lower ­orders. The term also has vari­ous military applications: particularly significant are the Praetorian tribunes, each commanding one of the twelve cohorts of the Praetorian guard in Nero’s time. tribunician authority (tribunicia potestas)  Emperors did not hold the office of tribune of the plebeians, but ­were granted the authority of the tribunes, which conferred several privileges, including the right to convene the senate and the popu­lar assemblies, and to introduce or veto legislation. This authority in many re­spects lay at the heart of the imperial system, and emperors dated their accession from the time of its bestowal. Triumph  The pro­cession led by a commander, a­fter a major victory, through Rome to the ­Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, accompanied by war booty and prisoners of war. In the imperial period the Triumph became restricted to members of the imperial ­family. Triumphal regalia  Legates of the emperor could not celebrate personal Triumphs, and their victories ­were recognized by the right to wear the garb of a person who in the republic would have earned the ­actual honor. Vigiles  Members of the Roman fire ser­vice established by Augustus in AD 6, or­ga­nized in seven units, each with responsibility for two of Rome’s regiones.

310 • Glossary


Ancient authors and their works, and the titles of periodicals, are referred to by the standard abbreviations. AE AJA AJPh ANRW CIL CJ CP CQ CW ILS JEA JRA JRS JSAH JThS MAAR MDAI(R) MH NC NS OJA PBSR PP RIDA

Année Epigraphique American Journal of Archaeology American Journal of Philology Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum Classical Journal Classical Philology Classical Quarterly Classical World Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Journal of Roman Archaeology Journal of Roman Studies Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Journal of Theological Studies Memoirs of the American Acad­emy in Rome Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung Museum Helveticum Numismatic Chronicle Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità. Oxford Journal of Archaeology Papers of the British School at Rome La Parola del Passato Revue Internationale des Droits de l’Antiquité


Rivista Italiana di Numismatica e Scienze Affini Transactions of the American Philological Association Wiener Studien Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik

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334 • Bibliography


Romans are normally indexed by nomen, where it is known, but famous individuals, such as emperors, are indexed by the form of the name that is generally familiar. The entries on the most impor­tant literary sources, Pliny the Elder, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio, are restricted to substantive discussions of their evidence. Achaea. See Greece Acratus, 234 Actium, 7, 63 AD 80, fire of, 31, 54–55, 70, 112–113 aedile, 42, 43, 44, 99, 175, 179, 272, 273nn60 and 61, 305 Aemiliana, 13, 51, 53, 58, 60, 99–100, 116, 131, 234, 261, 274n94, 280n104 Aemilius Scaurus, Marcus, 235 Aeneas, 134, 139 Africa, province of, 11, 14, 64, 75, 97, 160, 166 Agrippa, Herod, 66 Agrippa, Lake of, 128 Agrippa, Marcus Vipsanius, 43, 62, 63, 98, 99, 135, 260 Agrippa, thermae of, 54, 99 Agrippa II of Judea, 230 Agrippina the Elder, 98, 120, 187 Agrippina the Younger, 8, 9, 10, 51, 119–120, 155, 223, 227, 238, 254, 274n93, 276n32 Aiblinger, Johann Caspar, 255 Alban Stone, 177 Alexander the ­Great, 230 Alexandria, 134 Allia, 30, 275 Ammianus Marcellinus, 135, 170 Anician quarries, 41

Anicius Cerialis, 231 Annaeus Mela, 121 Annius Pollio, 243 Annius Vinicianus, 244–245 Antichrist, 253, 257 Antioch, 161 Antistius, 243 Antium, 8, 65, 72, 116–117, 130 Antonia, 293 Antoninianus, 249 Antoninus Pius, 249 Antony, Mark, 7 Apollo, 189, 228 Apollo, ­Temple of, 65, 68, 107, 144, 190 Apollonius, 288 Appian, 37 Aquae Sextiae, 230 Arae incendii, 58–59, 108–113, 124, 143, 144 archaeology, role of, 15–17, 28–29, 55, 70, 96, 202 Armenia, 189, 224, 230 Artabanus IV, 298n4 Artaxata, 230 Arulenus Rusticus, 273n50 Arval ­Brothers, 74, 278n67, 301n91, 305 Arverni, 199 Asia, province of, 14, 48, 206, 230, 234, 238, 243, 264, 298n4

Atilius Regulus, Marcus, 105 atrium regium, 36 Aufidius Bassus, 269 Augustus, 3, 7–8, 9, 15, 19, 22, 23, 32, 40, 41, 42, 43–45, 46, 47–50, 51, 60, 62, 68, 69, 70, 72, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84, 98, 99, 107, 116, 135, 177–178, 182, 187, 190, 232, 237, 249, 250, 251, 252, 269n15, 270n29, 273nn60 and 70, 274n72, 276n30, 278n76, 279n103, 281n140, 282n7, 308, 309, 310 Augustus, fire-­fighting reforms of, 42–49 Augustus, Mausoleum of, 19, 190 Augustus, ­Temple of, 69, 277 Aurelius Patroclus, Lucius, 288n65 Aurelius Victor, 181 aureus, 302n98, 305 auxiliaries, 45, 305, 308 Aventine Hill, 18, 19, 35, 61, 63, 104, 107–109, 112, 144, 282n154 Babylon, 28 Bacchanalia, 39, 256, 272n48 Bagni di Livia, 69–71, 73, 193, 196, 277n56 Baiae, 241, 297 Balbus, Theater of, 54, 98, 279n102 Barbier, Jules, 255 Barea Soranus, Quintus Marcius, 243–245 Basilica Aemilia, 135 Beneventum, 244 Betjeman, John, 136 Bhagavad Gita, 131 Bithynia-­Pontus, 48, 153, 155, 164 Boccaccio, 170 Boudicca, 16 Britannicus, 9, 120, 238 Brutus, Marcus Junius, 53 Buckingham Palace, 191 Burrus, Sextus Afranius, 155 Busenello, Giovanni Franceso, 255

Caecina Largus, 66, 116, 234, 282n9, 300n55 Caecina Paetus, 243 Caelian Hill, 20, 52, 61, 65, 94–96, 182, 184, 186, 191, 192, 196, 201, 202, 204, 212, 230, 259, 292n49, 295n99, 299n44, 300n49, 301n76 Caesarea (Maritima), 159, 165 Caesarea Philippi, 230 Caligula, 8, 10, 12, 46, 51, 53, 66, 68, 69, 72, 117, 118, 125, 148, 180, 187, 225, 227, 232, 239, 240, 282n11, 300n49 Calpurnius Siculus, 8 Camillus, 30, 143 Campania, 54, 191, 234, 244 Campus Martius, 19, 31, 41, 53, 54, 97–99, 105, 128, 130, 164, 180, 181, 190, 215, 225, 260, 279n102, 296n135 Capitoline Hill, 18, 19, 20, 30, 31, 36, 38, 54, 55, 106, 127, 144, 145, 263, 271, 275n106, 280n107, 282n17, 285n6, 310 Cappadocia, 206 Capua, 36, 56 Caput Africa, 95 Caracalla, 249 Carbo, 37 Carinae, 76 Carrinas Secundus, 234 Carthage, 96, 130, 160, 165 Casinum, 186 Cassiodorus, 169 Catiline, 37, 272n39 Celsus, 167 Celtis Australis. See lotos censor, 179, 305 centurion, 119, 305 Ceres, 144, 263 Ceres, festival of, 107, 226 Ceres, T ­ emple of, 104, 107, 276n30, 280n122 Ceres and Proserpina, ­Temple of, 144 Chapin, John, 27, 131

336 • Index

Charles I, 117 Charles II, 52, 117 Chaucer, Geoffrey, 254 Chicago, ­Great Fire of, 5, 27, 114, 131, 282n4 Chrestus, variant spelling, 146–149, 162, 171, 263, 286n20, 287n26, 289n74 Christ, 146, 148, 149, 159, 161, 162, 171, 253, 263, 286n19 Christians, 3, 5, 10, 56, 132–133, 143–174, 221, 241, 253, 255, 256, 257, 263, 264, 285nn8 and 9, 286n24, 287nn26, 34, and 36, 288nn54, 60, and 61, 289nn73 and 74, 290n100 Chrysa, 255 Cicero, 19, 27, 28, 32, 37, 62, 111, 172 Cilicia, 230, 299 Circus Maximus, 1, 13, 19, 35, 53, 56, 61–65, 71, 94, 104, 105, 107, 108, 115, 116, 128, 139, 144, 259, 269n8, 276nn26 and 34, 276n34, 280n119 Cispian Hill, 20 Claudia Augusta, 72, 244 Claudia Quinta, 52, 53 Claudius, 8, 9, 12, 33, 46, 51, 66, 68, 69, 79, 81, 82, 83, 91, 119, 149, 159, 161, 184, 196, 217, 232, 240, 243, 254, 255, 271, 273, 286n119, 308, 309 Claudius II, 249, 252 Clement, Bishop of Rome, 164 Cleopatra, 7, 63 Clivus Palatinus, 75, 208, 234 Cloaca Maxima, 18 Clodius, Publius, 31, 37 Cluvius Rufus, 283n46, 285n81 cognitio extra ordinem, 287, 154, 155 cohort, 45, 46, 47, 48, 160, 232, 240, 243, 273n68, 274n76, 305, 308, 310 colonia Commodiana, 230

colony, 72, 305 Colosseum, 21, 74, 76, 86–87, 91, 94, 192, 201, 204, 221, 227, 229, 235, 236, 295n99 Colosseum, valley of, 65, 94, 184, 190, 192, 196, 197, 210 Colossus of Rhodes, 294nn83 and 84 comitium, 29, 271n10 Commodus, 31, 51, 118, 201, 230, 249, 271n19, 282n11, 288n51 Compitum Acilii, 75, 77 concrete, 4, 28, 82, 84, 177, 180, 201, 211, 213–215, 297n144, 307 Congrio, 272 Constantine, 269n15 Constantine, Arch of, 76, 94, 293n63 Constantino dall’Argine, 256 consul, 37, 42, 63, 65, 66, 74, 136, 200, 230, 231, 235, 243, 265, 285n80, 291n11, 306, 307, 308, 309 Corbulo, 230, 244, 245, 275n2 corn dole. See grain dole Cornelius Nepos, 271n27 Cornelius Sulla, Faustus, 238 Crassus. See Licinius Crassus, Marcus Cumae, Sibyl of, 144 Curiae Veteres, 81, 237, 278n75 Curiosum, 104, 269n16 Cybele, 52 Cynthus, 298n4 Cyprian, 160 Damn Yankees, 257 D’Annunzio, Gabriellino, 257 debasement of coins, 4, 116, 233–234, 245–252, 301n93, 302nn95, 107, 108, and 112 Decius, 154 De Incendio Urbis of Lucan, 121–122, 275n1, 283n25 denarius, 233, 247–252, 302n100, 303n115, 306 Diana, 280 Didius Julianus, 249 Digest, 273n48, 274n74, 288n51, 306

index • 337

Dio, 14–15, 120–121, 124–126, 137–140, 266–268 Dio Chrysostom, 189, 231 Diocletian, 269 Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, 289n86 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 62 diribitorium, 54, 99 Domitian, 11, 13, 40, 54, 55, 58, 59, 68, 70, 71, 76, 87, 104, 108, 110–113, 122, 123, 124, 134, 143, 144, 165, 193, 194, 215, 221, 228, 231, 249, 276n34, 277n47, 279n86, 283n27, 289n85, 293n65 Domus August(i)ana, 68, 70, 193, 277n47 Domus Tiberiana, 67, 68, 69–71, 107, 193, 277n52 Domus Transitoria. See Golden House Domus Titi, 299n30 Drusus, ­brother of Tiberius, 47 Drusus, son of Tiberius, 50, 139 Dr. Who, 257 Egnatius Rufus, Marcus, 42, 273n60 Egypt, 7, 47, 250, 270n29, 288n61, 301n93, 306, 308, 309 Elegabalus, 63, 84 Epicharis, 240, 255 equestrian, 14, 25, 47, 62, 159, 225, 233, 234, 239, 240, 242, 282n15, 306, 307, 308, 309 Esquiline Hill, 2, 20, 73, 74, 92, 94, 99–100, 125, 129, 131, 184, 187, 189, 191, 192, 196, 201, 202, 204, 210, 218, 235, 260, 264, 278n65, 280n120, 283n41, 292n49, 294n90, 295n99. See also Oppian Hill Euclio, 272 Eusebius, 165–166, 167, 289nn85 and 86, 290n98 Evander, 104, 105, 261 Fabius Pictor, Gaius, 33 Faenius Rufus, 155

Farriner, Thomas, 114 Fasti Ostienses, 53, 63, 274n94, 275n101, 276n31, 306 Faustus. See Cornelius Sulla, Faustus Felix, 168 Feustking, Friederich Christian, 255 Fire of AD 64 Arae Incendii, 58–59, 108–113, 124, 143 arsonists, 114, 128, 129, 132, 133, 136, 138–139, 146, 167, 260, 265, 266, 267, 287n36, 290n98 Bagni di Livia, 70–71, 73 beginning, 1, 18, 19, 20, 35, 57, 61–65, 96, 115, 139, 259, 266 Caecina Largus, 66, 116, 234, 282n9, 300n55 Caelian Hill, 20, 65, 95–96, 259 casualty figures, 21, 23, 27, 59, 96–97, 100, 139, 260–261, 270n32 Circus Maximus, 1, 13, 61–65, 71, 107, 115, 116, 144, 259, 269n8 Colosseum floor, 86 Colosseum valley, 20, 65, 94 Compitum Acilii, 75–76 date, 1, 5, 57–60, 107–108, 115, 148, 245, 261, 275n6, 276nn15 and 16 devastation, 2, 27, 106–107 Domus Transitoria, 100, 116–117 duration, 1–2, 57–60, 108, 110, 116, 137, 260, 265, 267 Esquiline Hill, 2, 99–100, 129, 131, 260, 280n120, 283n41. See also Oppian Hill in this entry extent, 17, 20, 97–104, 254 firebreaks, 49, 129, 136, 139, 237 Fortuna Respiciens, ­Temple of 95 Gallic sack compared, 29, 30, 58, 60, 97, 101, 109–108, 131, 135, 139, 261, 267 Hercules, Altar of, 104–105, 261 ­human dimension, 2, 13, 21, 23, 71, 72, 86, 135, 252, 259, 260, 261, 266–267 Jupiter Stator, ­Temple of, 105–106, 261

338 • Index

looting, 37, 71, 129, 139, 133, 139, 179, 260, 266, 267, 285n89 Ludus Magnus, 87–92 Luna, ­Temple of, 104, 261 moonlight, 115 Oppian Hill, 100–101 Palatine Hill, 13, 20, 65–70, 73, 95, 97, 103, 107, 116, 259, 260, 267, 269n8 rec­ords, lack of, 57, 96 refuge, area of, 98–99 Regia, 106 rumors, 2, 36, 37, 72, 114, 118, 119, 120, 124, 126, 130, 145, 260, 263 San Clemente, church, 91 scapegoats, 36, 56, 118, 145, 151–157, 165, 168, 171, 263, 290n98 Seneca–­St. Paul correspondence, 103–104 Statilius Taurus, Amphitheater of, 97–98, 103, 268 Suburra, 92–94 Templum Pacis, 94 Terme di Elagabalo, 84, Tigellinus estate, 13, 58, 60, 99–100, 116, 131–132, 234, 236–237, 261, 269n8, 280nn104 and 119, 300n55 Vesta, ­Temple of, 106, 261 wind, 1, 2, 35, 64–65, 72, 115, 128, 259, 267 Flavius, Gnaeus, 272n42 Flavius Sabinus, Titus, 155 Flavius Scaevinus, 241, 242 Fortuna, ­Temple of (Forum Boarium), 29, 35, 54, 271n9 Fortuna, ­Temple of (Golden House), 95, 190, 206 Fortuna Respiciens, ­Temple of, 95 Fortunata, 60 Forum Boarium, 18, 19, 29, 34, 35, 65, 104, 105, 272nn30 and 32, 280n107 Forum Holitorium, 272 Forum of Augustus, 116, 177, 282n7

Forum Romanum, 18, 20, 29, 36, 39, 40, 43, 66, 74, 93, 106, 107, 135, 151, 183, 192, 198, 207, 208, 295nn113 and 115 Frontinus, 179, 196 Gabine Stone, 177 Gaius, ­legal writer, 292n28 Gaius Gracchus, 104 Galba, 11, 106, 107, 122, 224, 233, 245, 249, 251, 256, 283n27 Gallic sack of Rome, 19, 21, 29, 30–32, 33, 35, 38, 58, 60, 97, 106, 107, 112, 131, 135, 139, 143, 175–176, 262, 267, 270n2, 271n19, 27234, 275n3, 284n73, 285n6 Gaul, 9, 11, 22, 41, 118, 166, 199, 265 Gerellanus, tribune, 300 Giovanni da Udine, 218 Golden House Aqua Claudia, 196, 294n76 Blenheim Palace, 202 Caelian Hill, 184, 191, 192, 196, 201, 202, 204, 221, 292n49, 295n99 Capability Brown, 202 Celer, 106, 191, 214, 217, 261, 293n84 cenatio rotunda, 185–186, 194–196, 205, 265 Claudius, ­Temple of, 184, 192, 196–197, 212, 221, 292n49, 294nn75 and 76 colossus, 184, 185, 192, 197, 198, 199–201, 229, 265, 275n2, 294nn83, 84, 85, and 89, 295n94 Darmstadt, 191 dome, 186, 211, 214–215, 297n144 Domus Tiberiana, 193 Domus Transitoria, 71, 73–74, 94, 100, 101, 116, 182–183, 193, 211–212, 260, 264–265, 278nn65, 66, and 69

index • 339

Golden House (continued) Esquiline Hill, 74, 100, 131, 184, 187, 189, 191, 192, 196, 201, 202, 204, 210, 218, 235, 264, 292n49, 295n99. See also Oppian Hill, palace on this entry Famulus, 217, 297n150 Fortuna, ­Temple of (Golden House), 95, 190, 206 Galeria, 188n99 Golden, meaning of, 189, 293n55 Hesse, ­Grand Duke of, 191 industrial activity, 191, 293 innovations, 4, 188, 196, 210–215, 222, 296n138 lake, 183–185, 186, 188, 190, 192, 196, 202–206, 212, 213, 221, 227–228, 236, 261, 262, 295nn99 and 101, 296n135, 298n25 Laocoon group, 299n30 Loggia, Vatican, 219 Ludus Magnus 229, 295n111 Martial, 124, 191–192, 196, 210, 226–227, 228, 293n67 Mathildenhöhe, 191 megalomania, 182, 187, 228–230, 237 Neuschwanstein, 191, 229 Nonsuch Palace, 229 nympheum (Oppian), 212–213, 220, 235 octagon room, 186, 211, 212–213, 214–217, 297nn141 and 144 Odysseus mosaic, 220–221 Oppian Hill, palace on, 20, 74, 100–101, 135, 184, 186, 188, 189, 191, 192, 196, 210–221, 228, 235, 292–293n49, 296n121, 297n141, 299n30 Otho, 221, 225, 228, 229, 296n129 paintings (Oppian Palace), 216–220, 296n129, 297n150 Palatine Hill, 107, 184, 189, 191, 192, 193–196, 197, 208, 221, 234–235 Pausanias, 294n83

portico, 185, 192, 196, 198–199, 202–203, 204, 208, 209, 212, 213, 229, 236, 237, 265, 295n115, 296n118 privacy, 189–191, 197 resentment, 3, 223, 225–228, 234, 237–238, 240, Sacra Via, 192, 197, 198, 207–210, 212, 295n114, 296n116 Sette Sale, 292n49 Severus (architect), 106, 191, 214, 217, 261 size, 30, 185, 187–188, 191, 192, 198, 226, 292 statues, plundered, 94, 186, 221, 284n70 St. Jerome, 294 Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 219 sun, palace of, 188, 228, 293n50 Titus, Baths of, 192, 210, 211, 212, 213, 221, 296nn133 and 135 vault, 4, 177, 178, 196, 198, 208, 211, 213–216, 218, 219, 220, 221, 296n118 Velia, 184, 192, 197, 208, 295n113 Venus and Rome, ­Temple of, 20, 74, 84, 193, 197, 198, 201, 204 Versailles, 202, 211 Vespasian, 20, 86, 94, 192, 196, 197, 200, 201, 204, 221, 227, 229, 292nn29 and 40, 294nn84 and 85 vestibule, 20, 74, 79, 84, 184, 185, 190, 191, 192, 193, 196–199, 201, 203, 204–206, 207, 208, 210, 212, 227, 235, 237, 265, 295nn113 and 115 Vigna Barberini, 193, 194–196, 277n47 Vitellius, 188, 221 Zenodorus, 199–201, 294n85 grain, 23, 28, 31, 47, 130, 179, 226, 260, 262, 270n29, 274n72, 308 grain dole, 17, 22–23, 224, 226, 268, 298n13

340 • Index

Greece, 23, 107, 214, 234, 245, 264, 298n4 Guazzoni, Enrico, 257 Gwinne, Matthew, 254 Hadrian, 14, 15, 20, 49, 74, 84, 99, 135, 154, 184, 193, 197, 198, 201, 204, 215, 229, 249, 284n24 Hammurabi, 28 Handel, George Frederic, 255 Harper’s Weekly, 27, 131, 284n63 Hattusa, 28 height restrictions, 41–42, 176–178, 262, 263 Henry VIII, 229 Hercules, 201 Hercules, Altar of, 13, 104, 261 Hercules and Muses, ­Temple of, 279n103 Herennius Senecio, 273n50 Herodian, 187 Hesse, ­Grand Duke of, 191 Hittites, 28 Horace, 27, 28, 62, 121 Horatius, 18 Hortensius, orator, 68 Hubert, Robert, 173 insula, 34, 41, 42, 92, 96, 103, 104, 176, 178–179, 180, 233, 264, 265, 280nn117 and 118, 306 interpolation, 158, 160, 161, 162, 170–173, 288n61, 291n116 involvement, imperial, in firefighting, 40, 42, 43, 47, 51, 52–53, 56 Isis and Serapis, ­Temple of, 54 Iuventius Rixa, Marcus, 288n65 James, Duke of York, 52 Jews, 103, 145, 148–149, 150, 151, 161, 168, 172, 286nn18 and 21, 287n34, 289n85, 290n104 Josephus, 120, 122, 168, 210 Judea, 146, 158, 159, 161, 162, 172, 263, 288n65, 308

Julia, ­daughter of Augustus, 8, 98 Julia, grand­daughter of Tiberius, 238 Julio-­Claudian dynasty, 3–4, 8, 11, 72, 139, 182, 223, 247, 250, 252 Julius Caesar, 3, 41, 43, 52, 60, 61, 62, 190, 247, 305, 307, 308 Julius Epaphra, Gaius, fruit-­seller, 62 Julius Vindex, Gaius, 11, 118, 251 Junian Latin, 181 Junius, senator, 52 Junius Brutus, Gaius, 33 Junius Brutus, Marcus, 53 Junius Silanus, Marcus, 238 Juno Lucina, ­Temple of, 280n120 Juno Moneta, 285n6 Juno Regina, ­Temple of, 279n103 Jupiter Optimus Maximus, ­Temple of, 19, 36, 37, 38, 51, 54, 55, 127, 144, 271n12, 275n106, 282n17, 310 Jupiter Stator, ­Temples of, 13, 105–106, 261, 279n103, 281n129 Juvenal, 42, 49, 62, 63, 92, 178, 224, 235, 301 Juvenalia, 243 Lactantius, 149, 165, 166, 253, 290n98 Lacus Volsciniensis, 41 Lake Avernus, 191, 262 Lamian Gardens, 28, 74, 187, 294n90 larch, 41 Lares, 75 Larignum. See larch Lee, Nathaniel, 254 Legge, Thomas, 303n4 Licinianus, Lucius Piso, 106 Licinius, innkeeper, 62 Licinius Crassus, Lucius, 66, 235 Licinius Crassus, Marcus, 37–38, 42, 228 Licinius Macer, 272n42 lictor, 44 Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, 228

index • 341

Livia, 8, 51, 70, 135, 274n93 Livilla, 125 Livy, 15, 30, 31, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 170, 175, 269n16, 270n2, 271n13, 272nn32, 42 and 48, 275n3, 284n73 Loggia, Vatican, 219 London, ­Great Fire of, 5, 17, 27, 52, 64, 108, 114, 117, 135, 270n32 looting, 28, 30, 31, 37, 38, 46, 48, 71, 129, 133, 139, 179, 234, 260, 266, 267, 285n89 Lope de Vega, 303n3 lotos (nettle tree), 66, 116, 122, 163, 234, 235 Louis XV, 124 Louis, André, 258 Lucan, 121–123, 275, 283nn21 and 25 Lucilius, 103 Lucius Afranius, 10 Lucius Octavius, 235 Lucius Paul(l)us, 273n70 Lucullus, Gardens of, 187 Ludwig II, 229 Lugdunum. See Lyon Luna, ­Temple of, 13, 104, 261, 280n122 Lyon, 46, 229, 250, 299n46 Macro, 48, 232 Maecenas, Gardens of, 20, 73, 74, 125, 137, 187, 260, 292n49, 294n90 Maecenas, Tower of, 125, 137, 266, 283n41 Magna Mater, ­Temple of, 52–53, 65 Maian Gardens, 201, 294n90 Marcellus, 42, 279 Marcellus, Theater of, 98, 235, 279nn102 and 103 Marcia, 230 Marcus Aurelius, 249 Mars Ultor, ­Temple of, 116 Marsyas, 39 Martial, 49, 92, 124, 134, 181, 188, 189, 191–192, 196, 202, 210, 213, 226–227, 228,

281n152, 293n67, 294n84, 303n113 Martyrologium Hieronymianum, 287n28 Mater Matuta, ­Temple of, 29, 35, 271nn8 and 9 Mercury, 199, 200 Mercury, ­Temple of, Baiae, 297 Meta Sudans, 76–86, 198, 201, 202, 203, 204, 235, 237, 278n73 Minerva, 36, 217 Mithras, 91 Mons Augustus, 230 Monte Cassino, 169 Monteverdi, 255 Moscow, 115 Mount Hermon, 230 Munda, ­Battle of, 190 Mussolini, 20 Naggi, Luigi, 257 Naples, 126 Napoleon, 115 Nasta, 60 Naumachia, 32, 41 Neptune, Basilica of, 54, 99 Nero absence during initial fire, 54, 65, 72, 117, 130, 260 Agrippina the Younger, ­mother, 8, 9, 10, 119, 155, 223, 226, 238, 253, 254, 255 amphitheater, 41, 181, 292n31 Annius Vinicianus, 244–245 Antichrist, 253, 257 Antium, 8, 65, 72, 116–117, 130, 260, 278n60 arson schemes, 37, 253, 254 art works plundered, 94, 133, 186, 221, 234, 264, 284n70, 292n40, 300n52 Barea Soranus, Quintus Marcius, 243–245 baths, 53, 181, 292n31, 296n135 birth, 7 Britannicus, 9, 120, 238 Circus Vaticanus, 182

342 • Index

Claudia Augusta, ­daughter, 72 Claudius, ­Temple of, 184 Corbulo, 245, curses against, 121, 139, 225, 268 death, 3, 11, 112, 137, 223, 224, 228, 245, 252, 254, 256, 257 debris removal, 13, 37, 51, 67–68, 75, 137, 226, 233, 262, 300n53 Domitius Ahenobarbus, Gnaeus, ancestor, 66 Domitius Ahenobarbus, Gnaeus, ­father, 8, 74, 278n69 Domus Tiberiana, 69–70 equestrians, 225, 233, 234, 239 expiatory rites, 143–145 exploitation of disaster, 226 Faustus Cornelius Sulla, 238 financial exactions, 133, 137, 140, 119, 125, 224, 226, 233–234, 240, 246, 264, 266, 268, 300nn49 and 52 fire-­fighting, involvement in, 51, 73, 119, 125, 133, 137, 140, 278n62 Flavians, hostility of, 11, 38, 108, 112, 117, 120, 123, 124, 253 Galba, 224, 245 games, provision of, 9, 53, 126, 147, 172, 224, 263 grain dole, suspension, 224, 226, 298n13 guilt, not presumed, 13, 35, 123–128, 133, 137, 139, 140, 148, 157, 259, 268, 282n3 guilt, presumed, 11, 13–14, 35, 36, 37, 98, 112, 113, 114–140, 145, 164, 168, 259, 265, 266, 282 gymnasium, 53, 181, 275, 292n31, 296n135 height restrictions, 41–42, 177, 262–263, 291n14 hostis, 3, 10, 11, 112 imposters, 224, 298n4 juridical activities, 154–155 Lucan, 121, 122 market, 181–182, 292n31 masses, popularity with, 10, 224–225, 231

motives, 116, 130–131, 134–138, 226, 265, 266 Neropolis, 230–231, 261, 299n33 Octavia, first wife, 8, 119, 122, 255, 257 Otho, 224–225 Partian Victory Arch, 182, 292n31 performer, 10, 119, 120, 126, 147, 172 Petronius, 242 Pisonian Conspiracy, 15, 66, 107, 119, 121, 154, 231, 239–244, 255, 290n102, 294n88 poetic per­for­mance during fire, 2, 15, 114, 116, 125–126, 130–131, 137, 139, 260, 266, 267, 278n64 Poppaea Sabina 10, 168, 255, 256 popularity, initial, 8–10 Praetorian Guard, relations with, 8, 11, 239 Pythagoras, 128 quinquennium, 225–226 regulations ­after fire, 40, 41, 56, 64, 132, 143, 144, 175–181, 262, 264, 291nn5 and 6 relief mea­sures, 52, 53, 56, 98–99, 130, 260, 262 religious rites ­after fire, 141–145 resentment, 56 Rubellius Plautus, Gaius, 238 Scribonius Proculus, 245 Scribonius Rufus, 245 Senatorial elite, disaffection, 3–4, 10–11, 223, 225, 232, 235, 239, 238–242, 244–245, 252 Seneca the Younger, 8, 121 Stoics, 243–244 Subrius Flavus, 51, 73, 119–121, 278n62, 282n15 Thrasea Paetus, 243–244 Troy, Nero’s poem on, 2, 116, 125–126, 130–131, 137, 139, 166, 260, 266, 267, 284n63 tyrant and villain 5, 8, 10, 14, 146, 187, 253, 254 Vigna Barberini, 194–196

index • 343

Nero (continued) Vitellius, 224 ­water supply, 179–180, 262 Neroneia, 230 Neronias, 230 Neropolis, 230, 261, 299n33 nettle tree. See lotos New Testament, 148, 160, 168 Nicaea, 14 Nicomedia, 290n98 Ninfeo degli Annibaldi, 236 Nonguet, Lucien, 256 Notitia, 104, 269 Notre Dame, Paris, 284n75 Nowowiejski, Feliks, 256 Numa, 29, 106, 261 Nymphs, ­Temple of the, 365 Octavia (play), 122, 303n6 Octavia, Portico of, 54, 98, 279n103 Octavia, wife of Nero, 8, 10, 119, 120, 122, 255, 257 Octavian. See Augustus Odysseus, 220 O’Leary, Catherine, 114 Oppenheimer, Robert, 130 Oppian Hill, 20, 74, 100–101, 135, 184, 186, 188, 189, 191, 192, 196, 210–221, 228, 235, 236, 292n49, 296n121, 297n141, 299n30. See also Esquiline Hill Orosius, 33, 166, 170, 271n13, 287n39 Ostia, 17, 23, 46, 49, 130, 145, 176, 178, 179, 180, 182, 260, 262, 264, 273n68, 274n91, 306 Otho, 11, 107, 221, 224–225, 228, 229, 249, 251, 296n129 Oulu, ­Great Fires of, 5 Ovid, 187, 189 Palatine Hill, 1, 13, 18, 19–20, 50–51, 53, 54, 61, 64, 65–71, 73, 75, 76, 79, 81, 86, 92, 94, 95, 97, 100, 103, 105, 106, 107, 116, 123, 125, 134, 144, 184, 186, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193–196, 197,

210, 215, 221, 234, 235, 240, 250, 260, 264, 267, 269n8, 277nn42 and 52, 278n65, 280n119, 281n140, 293n65, 300n75 Palladio, 213 Pallerini, Antonio, 256 Pantheon of Agrippa, 19, 53, 54, 99, 135 Pantheon of Hadrian, 99, 135, 214, 215 Panzieri, Lorenzo, 255 Paprius Fabianus, 177 Parthia, 159, 182, 230, 244, 275n2, 298n4 Paullus, Basilica of, 135 Paulus, 48 Pausanias, 186, 277, 294n83 Peace, T ­ emple of, 94, 105, 221, 292n40 Penates, 74, 261 Pepys, Samuel, 27 Perennis, 288 Pertinax, 249 Pessinus, 52 Petronius, 50, 59–60, 186, 242, 276n16 Philostratus, 181 Phlegon, 270n34 Phoenix, 134 Phrygia, 52 Piazza Celimontana, 95 Pincian Hill, 19, 187 Piso, Gaius Calpurnius, conspirator, 107, 119, 239–242, 244 Pisonian Conspiracy, 15, 66, 107, 119, 121, 154, 231, 239–244, 255, 290n102, 294n88 Plautius Lateranus, 301n76 Plautus, 39 Pliny the Elder, 12, 57–58, 66, 122–123, 187–189, 199–201 Pliny the Younger, 10, 48, 151, 153–154, 155, 163–164, 165, 166, 167, 169, 171, 181, 287n34, 289n90, 290n106 Plutarch, 38

344 • Index

Po, 22, 30, 41 pomerium, 23 Pompeii, 60, 218, 256, 289n73 Pompeiopolis, 230 Pompeius Trogus, 170 Pompey, 97, 190, 230 Pompey, Theater of, 54, 98, 127, 177, 189, 279n102, 284n49 Pons Aemilius, 280n107 Pons Sublicius, 18 Pontius Pilate, 146, 158–160, 161, 162, 171, 172, 263 Poppaea Sabina, 10, 103, 168, 244, 254, 255, 256, 290n104 portico, 49, 51, 62, 65, 68, 87, 94, 98, 99, 107, 178, 185, 192, 196, 198–199, 202–204, 207–209, 212, 213, 229, 236, 237, 261, 262, 265, 279n103, 295n115, 296n118 Porticus Neptunae, 99 Praeneste, 39 praetor, 42, 43, 110, 159, 243, 272n42, 307, 308, 309 Praetorian guard, 8, 11, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 58, 73, 107, 119, 120, 125, 127, 139, 155, 232, 234, 239, 240, 241, 242, 274n91, 282n15, 288n51, 305, 306, 308, 310 prefect of city, 155, 288nn48 and 49, 308 Priapea, 63 Priscus Helvidius, 273n50 proconsul, 7, 308, 309 Proculus, officer of fleet, 241 procurator, 158–161, 162, 168, 172, 263, 282n15, 288n65, 308, 309 Proserpina, 144, 263 Publius Munatius, 39 Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, 34 Pythagoras, 128 quaestio, 154, 287 quaestor, 121, 305, 307, 309 Quinquatrus, 36 quinqueviri, 272n48

Quintia, 63 Quintilis, 60, 276n14 Quirinal Hill, 19, 33, 108–111, 187, 280n107 Quo Vadis, 256–258 Raetia, 41 Raphael, 218, 219 Ravenna, 41 Regia, 13, 29, 106, 271n10 regionary cata­logues, 92, 95, 104, 105, 237, 269n15, 271n21 regiones, 44–45, 57, 79, 92, 101–103, 105, 106, 111, 161, 254, 261, 269n15, 310 Revelations, 108, 253 Romulus, 29, 105, 237, 261, 278n75, 279n103 Roo­se­velt, F. D., 302n112 Round Pond, Hyde Park, 228 Rubellius Plautus, Gaius, 238, 243 Rubinstein, Anton, 255 Rutilius, 177, 291n11 Sabines, 105 Sacra Via, 29, 39, 74, 75, 105–106, 197, 198, 207–210, 212, 234, 295n114, 296n116 Saepta Julia, 42, 54, 99 Salinae, 272n28 Sallust, 170 Sallust, Gardens of, 187, 221 Salus, ­Temple of, 33 Samnites, 33, 105 San Clemente, Church of, 91 San Pietro in Vincoli, Church of, 100, 218, 236 Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Church of, 105 Sant’Andrea, Church of, 109 Sant’Omobono, Church of, 29, 271n10 Scipio Aemilianus, Publius, 130 Scribonius Proculus, 245 Scribonius Rufus, 245 Sejanus, 48, 125 Seneca the Elder, 74, 298n25

index • 345

Seneca the Younger, 9, 49, 74, 103, 121, 122, 135, 186, 189, 223, 227, 228, 242, 274n85, 278n73, 284n53, 299n46 Seneca–­St. Paul correspondence, 103–104 Senones, 30, 58, 107, 261 Septimius Severus, 48, 91, 187, 248, 249, 302n107 Serpentine, Hyde Park, 228 Servian Walls, 35 Servius, grammarian, 105 Servius Tullius, 29, 35, 54, 104, 206, 261, 271n9, 280n120 sestertius, 306, 309 Setia, 39 Severan Marble Plan, 49, 176, 269n15 Severus Alexander, 15 Sextilis, 58, 60, 276n15 Sextus Calvinus, 230 Sextus Pompeius, 97, 99, 190 Sibylline books, 36, 107, 144, 263 Sienkiewicz, Henryk, 256 Sirocco, 64 Sixtus IV, 218 Skellow, 302n100 Slough, 136 Sol, 200, 294nn88 and 89 Spain, 11, 121, 190 Spes, ­Temple of, 35, 272n30, 276n30 Statilius Taurus, 97 Statilius Taurus, amphitheater of, 97–98, 103, 268 Statius, 54, 122–124, 134 Statonia, 57 St. Augustine, 160, 253 Stilicho, 144 St. Jerome, 160, 165, 166, 253, 287n28 Stoics, 106, 242–243 St. Paul, 103, 135, 150, 161, 165, 166, 167, 287n28, 289n88 St. Peter, 165, 166, 167, 287n28, 288n54, 289n88 St. Peter, Basilica of, 108 St. Petersburg, 255 Strabo, 40, 42, 98, 177, 279n102

Stranglers, 258 Subiaco, 191 Subrius Dexter, 282n15 Subrius Flavus, 51, 73, 119–121, 278n62, 282n15 Suburra, 92–94, 235 Suetonius, 14–15, 58–59, 125–126, 133–137, 149–150, 197–198, 227–228, 264–266 Sulla, 36, 37 Sulpicius Severus, 158, 163, 164, 166, 167, 170, 171 Symmachus, 32 Tabularium, 31 Tacitus, 12–13, 57–71, 99–102, 104–106, 126–135, 144–147, 150–153, 156–160, 166–171, 225–226, 259–264 Tacitus, Emperor, 169 Tarquinius Priscus, 61, 144, 269n16 Tarquinius Superbus, 29, 61, 269n16 Terentius Maximus, 298n4 Terme di Elagabalo, 84 Tertullian, 148, 149, 153, 160, 165, 166, 169, 170, 289n89, 290n93 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, 299n37 Theognis, Bishop of Neronias, 299n37 Thrasea Paetus, 106, 243–245, 273n50 Tiber, 17–19, 30, 32, 35, 53, 98, 99, 103, 127, 151, 179, 180, 191, 262, 272n48, 280n107 Tiberius, 8, 12, 32, 41, 42, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 63, 68, 69, 82, 96, 124–125, 127, 139, 146, 148, 153, 159, 162, 169, 172, 177, 190, 230, 238, 263, 274n76, 276n32, 299n44, 300n49 Tiberius Gemellus, 125 Tibur. See Tivoli Tiburtine stone, 40 Tigellinus, 13, 58, 60, 99, 116, 128, 131–132, 155, 234, 236–237,

346 • Index

242, 261, 269n104, 280n119, 288n52, 300n55 Timagenes, 134–135 Tiridates, 189, 224, 232 Titus, 11, 54, 55, 112, 191, 192, 200, 210, 211, 213, 221, 226, 227, 228, 249, 296n135, 299n30 Titus, Arch of, 75, 84, 198 Tivoli, 40, 177, 185, 215 Trajan, 10, 13, 14, 42, 48, 64, 100, 153–154, 165, 166, 171, 178, 181, 187, 210, 218, 249, 276n34, 291n14, 293n49 Trajan, baths of, 100, 135, 210, 218, 235, 292n49 Trastevere district, 32, 151 tresviri capitales, nocturni, 38–40, 43, 272n48 Trimalchio, 50, 59–60, 186 triumph, 97, 227, 264, 310 triumviri. See tresviri capitales Twelve ­Tables, Law of, 28 Ulpian, 46 Urban Cohorts, 45–46, 47, 232, 273n68, 305, 308 Ustinov, Peter, 257, 258 Valerius Ponticus, 288n48 Varro, 187, 280 Vatican, 109, 109, 110, 180, 182, 187, 219 Vedius Pollio, 187 Veianus, tribune, 300 Veiento, 154 Veii, 30, 187, 227 Velia, 18, 20, 74, 75, 76, 92, 94, 184, 191, 192, 193, 197, 208, 210, 295n113 Velleius Paterculus, 42 Vergil, 105, 121 Verulamium, 16

Vespasian, 11, 20, 46, 51, 54, 86, 94, 127, 155, 181, 189, 191, 192, 196, 197, 200, 201, 204, 221, 227, 228, 229, 245, 249, 274n94, 292nn29 and 40, 294nn84 and 85 Vesta, ­Temple of, 13, 29, 32, 36, 51, 106, 261 Vestinus Atticus, 65, 240 Vesuvius, 12, 54–55 Vetus Latina, 160–161 Via Claudia, 196 Via dei Fori Imperiali, 20, 76, 197 Via del Corso, 180 Via della Polveriera, 236 Via del Monte Oppio, 236 Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, 87 Via Labicana, 87, 91 Via Lata, 90, 180 vicomagistri, 44, 273n65 Victory, T ­ emple of, 65 Vigiles, 47–50, 129, 136, 139, 155, 267, 273n68, 274nn72, 74, 76, 79, and 87, 285n89, 288n53, 305, 308, 310 Vigna Barberini, 66, 193, 277n47 Viollet-­le-­Duc, Eugene, 284n75 Vipsania, Portico of, 99 Visigoths, 272n34 Vitellius, 11, 54, 127, 188, 221, 225, 249, 282n17, 288n50 Vitruvius, 34, 40–41, 190 Volcanalia, 110, 143 Vulcan, 35, 108, 110, 113, 124, 143, 144, 263 wattle and daub, 40 wood in construction, 1, 34, 35, 40, 41, 61, 62, 64, 75, 83, 90, 95, 98, 115, 177, 178, 181, 262 Zecca, Fredinand, 256

index • 347