Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18, AD 64 – Fire Successfully Contained

As recorded by the Roman poet Tacitus, a fire broke out in the merchant district of the city of Rome, consumed a warehouse, and was defeated by brave workers dragging sand and water from the Tiber. Nero praised the men’s actions even though some of them were of the Christian cult, a band of Jews who had begun accepting Gentiles after worshiping the Son of a God. One of them, Paul of Tarsus, had been brought on an appeal to Caesar after being accused of treason, of which Nero would later find him innocent.

After the fire, Nero would continue his campaign to lower taxes on the poor, keep foreign diplomacy afloat (he had already maintained conquest of Britain after the rebellion of Boudicca as well as defeated Parthia in the east), and improve culture throughout the empire. Later, in 66, a revolt in Judaea would arise, and Nero would dispatch his great general Vespasian to put it down. Distrust of the Christians would mix with the fervor of the revolt, and a great divide would split the cult between the Gentiles and those who still held to the Jewish Law, the latter being removed from Rome and facing legal segregation. Gradually, the religion would blend with other Roman beliefs, such as had been done with the Egyptian Isis and the Persian Mithras.

In 65, a conspiracy by the statesman Piso to overthrow Nero and return the Republic was discovered and destroyed. The senators complained that they had lost all power despite Nero’s promise in 54 to return their influence to levels under the Republic. Nero liked the power in his own hands and refused to give up any of it, using his sway to launch his massive construction projects. While Italia and the provinces struggled economically, taxes were never levied enough to cause rebellion. The successful end of the Jewish rebellion and looking of Jerusalem and their temple in AD 70 was enough to alleviate many of Nero’s empty coffers.

As Nero grew older, he began to slow down his pace and draw more to distraction with his own arts. Meanwhile, Nero’s son Antonius grew in military strength under the tutelage of the Governor Agricola of Britain during his conquest of Caledonia. Antonius would spearhead the conquest of Hibernia before returning to Rome after the death of Nero. More concerned with expansion than rule, Antonius would finally begin the return of Roman government back to the Senate, so long as it maintained funds for his expeditions into Germania. After the bloody conquest of the Germans, Rome would grow stagnant and corrupt, eventually falling in the north to the predatory Vikings of the 900s and the south to renewed Arab and Parthian attack.

In reality, the fire raged for five and a half days, destroying nearly half the city. The emperor Nero did much to aid the victims, but nothing could squelch their smoldering discontent (there were even rumors of singing while his city burned, though Tacitus recorded him being in Antium at the time). To redirect public ill sentiment, Nero blamed the grown Christian population of the city. Several Christians even admitted to the conspiracy (though this was proven to be under torture). Christians were thusly thrown to dogs, crucified, and even dipped in oil and burned alive as streetlights, beginning centuries of persecution throughout the empire. Despite the torment, Christianity would survive and even thrive to the Edict of Milan 250 years later when tolerance was declared by the Emperor Constantine.

Meanwhile, Nero used the newly cleared space in Rome to build his Domus Aurea, a palace for which he paid by levying tribute from every province of the empire. It would be another dark badge on the bad emperor’s toga. Later taxation policies on the provinces would cause Governor Vindex of Gallia Lugdunensis to rebel, the first link in a chain that would bring about the rise of Galba, who would declare himself emperor and drive Nero to suicide.

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