Saturday, November 30, 2002

I saw a program on PBS Nova's Secrets of The Dead about the Great Fire of Rome. I was quite intrigued by the scholars who think Nero may have been given a bad rap by Tacitus. An ancient Egyptian prophesy embraced by Christians at the time foretold the destruction of the "whore of cities" on the day that the dog star, Sirius, rises. In 64 A.D. it rose on July 19, the day of the great fire. German scholar, Professor Gerhard Baudy of the University of Konstanz in Germany, thinks militant Christians ", maltreated and embittered, may have started the fire -- or perhaps lit additional fires, adding fuel to the larger conflagration -- in hopes of realizing their prophesies." Nero's response, burning Christians alive, was the prescribed penalty in Rome for arson.

Tacitus had maintained that it was unnatural that the fire spread from the cheaply built insulae to the stone houses of the Senators around the Forum but the program included a recreation of the fire with the assistance of Peter Townsend, a London fire investigator, that clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the upscale Roman villas. Further evidence of a firestorm has been unearthed by archeologist Clementina Panella who discovered the remains of nails that had fallen off roofs and melted. She also found a charred gate and part of its surrounding masonry that had collapsed from the force of the fire.

To read more about this program: