64 — Nero fiddles while Rome burns

It’s an iconic image, symbolising madness, decadence and a corrupt lust for power. But did it actually happen?

In all probability, it didn’t. For a start, the fiddle would not be invented for another thousand years – Nero played the lyre. And according to Tacitus, Nero not only wasn’t in Rome when the fire occurred, but raced back to organise the relief efforts and funded a large portion of the reconstruction of the city from his own purse. Hardly a picture of a depraved monster, is it?

The fire is believed to have started near the Circus Maximus. It burned for seven days and five nights – on the fifth day, it was nearly quelled before flaring up with renewed strength. Of the city’s 14 districts, seven were damaged and three destroyed outright.

Referenced in:

Downfall — Exodus
Procession Commence — This Is Hell
Ain’t That Just Like A Woman — Louis Jordan

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