Posts Tagged ‘Nero’

Where There’s Smoke….

Posted in General on July 18th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

July 18

On this day in A.D. 64, Rome would have made a great music video for “Light My Fire.” This is not to compare Nero with James Morrison, although I am not sure who would suffer more by the comparison. If you believe “Quo Vadis”, then Nero started the fire if only to give himself a topic for an epic poem. But then you would also have to believe that Deborah Kerr would really prefer a frigid corpse like Robert Taylor to the adorable Peter Ustinov.

Historians believe that the Great Fire was just a natural calamity, the unfortunate flammable nature of Rome’s crowded wooden tenements. Yet, the Imperial government found a scapegoat for the conflagration: a small cult of Jewish schismatics. The cult’s numbers would not have totalled enough for an interesting persecution, and the group was so obscure that it should have escaped notice. Only the other Jews were somewhat familiar with it, and they didn’t like it much. However, the Romans barely tolerated any Jews. Nero took a particular pleasure in baiting them, sending increasingly more rapacious and cruel governors to ravage Judea. (The province finally revolted in 66.) So, given their general unpopularity in the Hellenized world, Jews would have made a much easier scapegoat for the Great Fire.

Why did the Imperial government overlook the easier target, and sift through all the Jewish sects to persecute one particular group? As we know from this cult’s earliest writings, the group was apocalyptic and awaiting the imminent end of the world. Its Rome congregation, witnessing the imperial city in flames, must have seen this as proof of the end times. With that impression, they would have celebrated the conflagration as their theological fulfillment. So, although they had not started the Great Fire, they were probably cheering it on; and their pagan neighbors would have resented that. The subsequent complaints led to the cult’s arrest and prosecution. The Roman government really thought that these pyrophiles were guilty, in thought if not deed.

As it turned out, the world did not end. Neither did that cult; it simply rescheduled its promised Apocalypse to an unspecified time.

Roman Nostalgia

Posted in On This Day on January 15th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Nero was the last of the Caesars; kicking to death a pregnant wife is not good for a dynasty. His uncle Caligula had merely thought himself a God; Nero was less modest and insisted on a career in show business. The entire Empire was a captive audience to this aspiring Homer. In fact, he did put on a good–and free–show with lavish spectacles that the audience enjoyed. Nero may have terrorized the patrician class and some obscure Jewish sect, but the public generally liked him.

However, the Emperor was not an elective position, and the pudgy, melodramatic Nero did not command the respect or loyalty of the generals, each of whom fancied himself a more suitable emperor. Rebellion was inevitable, and Nero’s response was to kill himself. He was succeeded by Galba, a man everyone respected but no one really liked. The cheap and charmless bureaucrat quickly inspired a wave of nostalgia for Nero. A playboy patrician named Otho exploited this popularity as well as the Praetorian guards’ susceptibility to bribes. In less than a year, Galba was dead and Otho was emperor, a reign beginning on this day in A.D. 69.

Unfortunately, Otho was less impressive than Nero. People tended to remember Otho for his wig, so he was not likely to have a long reign. Within a few months, he was overthrown by a Roman general named Vitellius. People tended to remember Vitellius for his gluttony; he didn’t last long either. Within a few months, he was overthrown by a Roman named Vespasian. (The year A.D. 69 would have an exhausting time for whomever was supposed to update the emperor’s portrait on the coinage.) People tended to remember Vespasian for his ability; he lasted ten years and had the originality to die of natural causes.

Born of more modest origins than a Caesar and conscious of his blood-stained inauguration, Vespasian sought to ingratiate himself with the Roman populace. His gift to the city is still standing: the Colosseum.