A great fire broke out in the capital city of Rome at midnight of July 18 or 19 in 64 BC. The fire raged on for many days and nights. About 40,000 blocks of apartments and 132 villas were consumed by the fire. All these properties belonged to the Nobles of the Roman Emperor. Emperors palace as well as some shrines and temples were also destroyed by the fire. It has been recorded that when the fire broke out Nero was not in town but on his return he took many emergency measures such as building temporary shelters for the homeless people, supplying food and supply of wheat, etc. The Romans were frightened by this catastrophic fire and arranged for various ceremonies to appease their Gods.
There is a great mystery surrounding the real cause of fire. Some experts feel the fire occurred due to inefficient town planning. Proper plans were not implemented in the expansion of seven hill city which had expanded further beyond the hill. Poor construction methods adopted by the Romans also added to the rapid spread of fire. Over population of the metropolis was also a contributing factor to the fire. Between 470-427 BC speculations of real estate and high rents had created the problem of overcrowding in the capital city. It is also reported that fires used to break out frequently and spread quickly as most houses were very close to each other. Families used to cook in open fire and pans filled with charcoal were used for heating. Both these increased the risks of fire. Some of the properties affected by the fire had wooden beams to support the roofs.
But some researchers also point fingers at the Roman emperor Nero for this catastrophic fire. He is infamously known as a the Roman Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned”. His unbalanced personality and his fame as a tyrant and eccentric king add spice to their claims. He had a long list of evil deeds including murders of his mother and wife. There is also a rumour that Nero who had a great passion for theatre wanted to sing a poem about burning of Troy. It is also a truth that the fire cleaned the land which was needed to build a Golden palace for the Emperor.
Soon after the incident Nero blamed the Christians for the fire. Christians were an easy target as they were very small in number, poor and were considered as foreigners by the Romans. Christianity was banned in Rome soon after but Christianity continued to be practiced secretly in many parts of Rome. This fire also provided Nero an opportunity to execute the Christians and divert peoples opinion in his favour. The Christians were killed cruelly. At times they were thrown into the arena to be torn apart by the wild animals or nailed to the crosses. At times they were also set on fire alive to provide lights to Emperors gardens at night.
Not only was people’s property damaged in this fire but a portion of Nero’s palace was badly damaged. The symbol of Imperial power “The Circus Maximus” had been reduced into a rubble. Later Roman emperors paid more attention to urban planning to avoid such incidences in future.
Though there are certain benefits which Nero enjoyed due to the fire but there is no proof suggesting the Roman emperor was indeed directly responsible for the fire.