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New Claims the Great Fire of Rome Was Exaggerated And Nero Was A Hero

New Claims the Great Fire of Rome Was Exaggerated And Nero Was A Hero

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History is constantly being rewritten and sometimes the bad guys of ancient times are proven to be better than we were led to believe. In a new book by a British archaeologist and historian, Emperor Nero is shown to be a social hero, and the author claims his successors greatly “exaggerated” the damage caused by the Great Fire of Rome.

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, better known as Nero (37-68 AD), was the fifth Roman emperor. He is associated with the mass-persecution of Christians, decadence, excess, and conspiratorial political murders. Nero’s legendary passion for music was so deep that ancient historical rumors pictured him “fiddling” away during the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, four years before he killed himself.

While Nero is traditionally blamed for Rome’s great fire, a British professor now claims that the blaze “was an accident” and presents an entirely new take on the controversial emperor. And contrary to causing the fire and failing to save the city, Nero actually handled the disaster “relatively quite well.”

How The Fire Ended Nero’s Life And Led To A New Lineage

Professor Anthony A. Barrett of the University of British Colombia recently published “Rome is Burning.” Barrett claims Nero was “not” to blame for Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. The researcher’s conclusions are primarily based on archaeological evidence, which suggests only about “15 - 20 per cent of the city was actually destroyed, much less than the purported 10 of 14 municipal districts.”

The Great Fire of Rome portrayed in an 18th-century painting by a French artist. (Hubert Robert / Public domain)

The Great Fire of Rome portrayed in an 18th-century painting by a French artist. (Hubert Robert / Public domain)

The Great Fire of Rome mostly destroyed the lush Palatine and Esquiline hills where the upper classes lived. While Nero was celebrated as a hero of the lower classes he was equally, if not more so, detested by the Roman elite who had to pay for rebuilding the city after the fire.

On the 9 th of June, 68 AD, at the age of 30, the Emperor Nero became the first Roman ruler to take his own life. After his suicide, Nero’s Flavian successors grossly exaggerated the fire damage “to tarnish his legacy” because the Flavians didn’t have a direct lineage connection with the first emperor Augustus. Nero was Augustus’s great-great grandson.

This ancient drawing shows Nero singing during the Great Fire of Rome. And, based on the newest book about him, he was wrongly blamed for the fire and its overall subsequent financial burden. (Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe Stock)

This ancient drawing shows Nero singing during the Great Fire of Rome. And, based on the newest book about him, he was wrongly blamed for the fire and its overall subsequent financial burden. (Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe Stock)

The Roman Elite Hated Paying For Expensive Social Programs

The most affected areas of Rome in the Great Fire of Rome were also the most affluent areas of the city. And because the fire destroyed many palatial Roman residences the elite all blamed Nero for their misfortune.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Rome’s upper classes became even angrier with Nero when taxes were raised to fund repairs after the fire. However, Professor Barrett’s new book points out that while Nero’s rule allowed the elite to get richer and richer the emperor could do no wrong. But as soon as they had to cough up for the repair project “the mood soured among the rich and powerful of Rome.”

Professor Barrett told The Times that the Great Fire of Rome “triggered a significant anti-Nero movement and created a vast divide between the ruler and his influential subjects,” which culminated in the ruler’s suicide. The propaganda narrative after Nero’s death was that he “initiated the Great Fire of Rome to build his enormous palace.” But speaking out for Nero, Barrett found “very little to fault him with,” and he goes so far as to suggest that Nero’s hands-on response helped to limit the fire’s destruction.

The New Book About Nero Sets The Record Straight

Professor Barrett’s book explains that after the Great Fire of Rome Nero led a committee that decided on a set of updated building regulations aimed at preventing the spread of future fires. This likely also antagonized the Roman elite while they were dipping deep into their savings to pay for the post-fire reconstruction. Moreover, Nero implemented new social welfare systems, providing shelter for the poor who were made homeless and displaced by the fire. All these extra costs had to be paid for by Roman aristocrats, traders and merchants, which ultimately resulted in immense pressure on Nero and his eventual suicide.

While ruling, like in death, Nero is remembered for having destabilized the entire Roman Empire. His low tax regime combined with his lavish spending and slack governmental control sparked an economic recession that constantly alienated the elites of Rome. However, Nero should perhaps be thought of as more a leader for the people, than a ruler of the people. And Barrett’s book makes all this so clear that we are left with admiration and respect for Nero overall.

Top image: After the Great Fire of Rome and Nero’s suicide, the Flavian dynasty took over and went on a building spree in Rome. The Colosseum and the distraction of the “games” was the Rome that followed Nero’s rule, which according to the latest book about him wasn’t at all what history has taught us.            Source: XtravaganT / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



The illustration at the beginning of the article shows the Coliseum. The Colosseum was built by Vespasian and Titus, and completed about 15 years after the fire! This is a fairly common error - people just assume it was there for longer than it was.

There is also a book by Arthur Weigall, written in 1930, that objectively evaluates the reign of Nero, recognizing both his faults and his merits, as the result of coming to power at the age of 17 and accustomed to having his every wish fulfilled and never having to worry about the cost. Nero’s vilification began towards the end of his reign, and increased in severity under the Flavians until it just became the common narrative, in much the same way that the media does in more recent times by reducing eras of history to a few catchphrases.

All history is like this; the winners write history.

It should also be noted that not only did Nero tax aristocrats and freedmen (freed slaves who were often very wealthy and influential), he paid large sums from his personal fortune for the relief of ordinary citizens and the rebuilding of the city. 



Zuccini, the place for sermons is elsewhere. Nominally incorporating Nero into the sermon is not helpful.


You know it's interesting whenever I'm doing Biblical Study on various subjects and topics every time I come to Ancient Origins, I find an article covering very poignant moments in Biblical History and World History.

Perhaps it was all and exaggeration where Nero is concerned as particularly Cruel and wicked, but, I doubt that very much.

As apart of my Church family often we read Inspirational Books written by our Churches Founders in S.D. Adventist History.

I've been reading A Series of Five Books that are identified As The Conflict of The Ages.

This article about the Jekyll and Hyde personality of Nero and whether are not Nero deserves this infamous brand in history reminded me of what I'm learning through the 4th Book;
The Acts of The Apostles.

Acts of The Apostles itself covers the Lives of Christ Former Disciples now turned Apostles after Jesus Ascended in to Heaven and the History of the early Church.

So this how Nero is described in Acts of The Apostles:

Nero was debased in morals translation lacking a moral lifestyle.

Remember how The Bible teaches about the idea of Sin?

How sin separates people from the Creator hence the reason Christ came to deliver Us from the plight of Sin through the Cross which Christ gave his life we can be reconnected with The Creator only if one says Yes to Jesus then by turn teaches others about The Good news with The Saviour.

Nero was over the top with his behavior and he was very much capable committing atrocities possibly before any other Ruler (King Henry VIII beat Nero out He boiled people accused of crimes alive in vats of oil) as example He murdered his young Step-brother by way of poisoning; the True Ruler, to the throne.

Nero engaged in vice after vice subsequently, murdering his own mother the same mother who murdered Nero's Stepfather the Emperor Claudius so He would be King.
Nero had his first wife killed.

I guess He married someone else in her place.

There was nothing Nero would not do No act he would not engage in the immoral behavior practiced at length over in infamous Corinth and Pompeii.

Even so Nero was considered such which was an common thing a god those crimes Nero partook of would not sway his subjects in Rome that had allegiance to Him.

Acts of The Apostles does touch on the opposition against Him by the ruling class but that was because of his behavior that put them off.

Yet, it was Apostle Paul who appealed too Caesar to fight the false charges spread against him by his fellow Countrymen for teaching what was widely believed by his brethern The Gospel of the Imposter The Nazarene.

Since this is an Inspirational Book written by a Christian then it's no surprise to learn that what happened next was in God's Hands and that was Nero found Paul to be Guiltless of the Crimes against Rome that He was accused.

Paul was allowed to be a Free Man for a good two year's and continue on missionary trips, preaching The New Gospel of Jesus. improving The Early Greek and Eastern Churches to be Christ Centered Houses of Worship by the People.

As this was happening another turn of events takes place in Rome and Nero was at the Helm.

Paul's preaching of the Risen Savior stirred the hearts of The Romans and particularly Nero's own household which set him on edge and around that time; The Great Fire of Rome took place a majority of people felt that Nero started the Fire.

Nero in order to alleviate the suspicion under guise of humanity assisted the Homeless and Downtrodden this didn't remove the stain of suspicion on Nero regarding that Fire.

Harboring contempt for the fledgling Christian Faith Nero accused the Christian Class of the Crime with The Fire.

As a consequence thousands of followers of Christ were then put to death Men, Women, and Children for starting the Fire in Rome.

Most believers including myself no matter how many times one reads The Bible totally misses that Paul underwent two Trials in Rome.

The first Trial Paul was acquitted the second Trial oversaw by Nero He was denied an acquittal.

The reason why Apostle Paul had been beheaded instead of crucified like that of Apostle Peter is because of his Roman Citizenship.

He was Born in to Roman Citizenship and that's the punishment Roman Citizens received when accused of High Crimes against Rome they were beheaded.

Unnerved Nero that his own household were beginning to accept Christianity this is one of the reasons as to why Nero sought and end to these New Teachings of a Risen Savior Christ the Lord.

Justice against Nero I believe was God Inspired for his crimes against 1000 and 1000 of innocence whose lives were ended by Nero's approval.

A Spirit of discontent from the People towards Nero and the system of government; so followed an insurrection.

Nero lacking the faith and peace that Apostle Paul displayed when He stood before Him Nero sought suicide as and only option as opposed to suffer torture by the hands of the Insurrection Army.

As this Army pursued Him; Nero took from an slave a weapon where He mortally wounded himself and so the tyrant King was then over.

The interesting part in History is that the out of control moral behavior began too taper off slightly while Rome's Power; then began eroding after all, these events took place with Nero and the murder of hundreds and thousands of innocents.

Since I believe Revelation of which the last living Disciple of Jesus; John testifies to being a prisoner on the Island of Patmos for the testifying of The Lord Jesus Christ, Nero put him there.

Well I guess that's all I have for right now until next time about Nero an The Roman Empire.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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