Thursday, October 09, 2003

Nero and The Great Fire of 64 CE

Last night I watched a "Secrets of the Dead" presentation on PBS about the great fire of Rome. I think I've seen it before but I couldn't remember. Anyway, it sounds as if Art historian Eric Varner seem to think that Nero really didn't have anything to do with it. It was just an unfortunate event that he eventually was blamed for. The narrator said that one of the reasons that archaeologists think it was not set by Nero was that it began in the poor district over by the Circus Maximus. Nero's primary support base was the poor. It was the senators that didn't support him. The program also mentioned that Nero rushed back to Rome and provided food and shelter for the thousands that were left homeless following the disaster. This does not sound like someone who would have intentionally set the fire. The program also demonstrated how the contents of the rich marble and stone villas would have provided ample fuel for the spread of the fire in the wealthier districts, especially after the fire had reached the level of a firestorm in the highly inflammable tenements of the suburra.

Archeologist Andrea Carandini disagrees. "Everything was destroyed," he says, "there was not one single house standing." Specifically, Carandini explains that fire destroyed the portion of the Forum where the senators lived and worked. "All these houses were destroyed, so the aristocracy didn't have a proper place to live," he says. The open mall in the middle of the Forum remained, but it became a sort of shopping mall, a commercial center "built on the top of aristocratic Rome ... so it's the end, in a way, of the power of the aristocracy in Rome."
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