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§Roman Empire

July 18 — Great fire of Rome: A fire begins in the merchant area of Rome and soon burns completely out of control, while Emperor Nero allegedly plays his lyre and sings as he watches the blaze from a safe distance. There is no hard evidence to support this claim: fires were very common in Rome at the time. The fire destroys close to one-half of the city and it is allegedly blamed on the Christians, but people of this belief wouldn't be known as Christians for another 40 or 50 years. Nero is accused of being the arsonist by popular rumor.

In Rome, it's believed that the persecution of early Christians begins under Roman Emperor Nero. This popular belief is refuted by modern researchers, as is the deaths of Peter and Paul under Nero. Modern research believes they were killed because of infighting among the various sects of Jews that followed Jesus.

Nero proposes a new urban planning program based the creation of buildings decorated with ornate porticos, the widening of the streets and the use of open spaces. This plan will not be applied until after his death.

Lyon sends a large sum of money to Rome to aid in the reconstruction. However, during the winter of 64–65, Lyon suffers a catastrophic fire itself, and Nero reciprocates by sending money to Lyon.

Phoenicia becomes part of Syria.

Martyrdom of Saint Peter This is one year that Peter may have died. Some say he was martyred by being crucified upside down. Other possible years are 67 CE and 44 CE in Jerusalem.

The Great Fire of Rome According to the historian Tacitus, the Great Fire of Rome started on the night of 18 July, among the shops clustered around the Circus Maximus. As many Romans lived in wooden houses without masonry, the fire spread quickly through these areas. The fire was almost contained after five days before regaining strength. Suetonius claims the fire burned for six days and seven nights in total. The fire completely destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven. Also destroyed were Nero's palace, the Temple of Jupiter Stator and the hearth in the Temple of Vesta.

The actual size of the fire is the subject of some debate. According to Tacitus, who was nine years old at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burnt for five days. It completely destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven. The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder who wrote about it in passing. Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and Epictetus) make no mention of it. The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause". This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 apartment blocks.

It was said by Suetonius and Cassius Dio that Nero sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume while the city burned. However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire. Tacitus said that Nero playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only rumor. Popular legend remembers Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the instrument had not yet been invented, and would not be for over 1,000 years.

According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds. After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors. In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads. Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire. The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres). To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.

It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire— whether accident or arson. According to Tacitus, some in the population held Nero responsible. To diffuse blame, Nero targeted the Christians. Christians confessed to the crime, but it is unknown if these were false confessions induced by torture. Also, the passage is unclear what the Christians confessed to— whether arson or being Christians. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist with an insane desire to destroy the city as his motive. However, major accidentally started fires were common in ancient Rome.

Nero ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified or burned to serve as lights.

Tacitus described the event:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

§Middle East

When Albinus, Procurator of Judea, learned that he was to be succeeded by Gessius Florus, he emptied the prisons by executing prisoners charged with more serious offenses and allowing the remaining prison population to pay for their release.

Gessius Florus became the Roman procurator of Judea. Born in Clazomenae, Florus was appointed to replace Lucceius Albinus as procurator by the Emperor Nero due to his wife's friendship with Nero's wife Poppaea. He was noted for his public greed and injustice to the Jewish population, and is credited by Josephus as being the primary cause of the Great Jewish Revolt.

Upon taking office in Caesarea, Florus began a practice of favoring the local Greek population of the city over the Jewish population. The local Greek population noticed Florus' policies and took advantage of the circumstances to denigrate the local Jewish population. One notable instance of provocation occurred while the Jews were worshiping at their local synagogue and a Hellenist sacrificed several birds on top of an earthenware container at the entrance of the synagogue, an act that rendered the building ritually unclean. In response to this action, the Jews sent a group of men to petition Florus for redress. Despite accepting a payment of eight talents to hear the case, Florus refused to listen to the complaints and instead had the petitioners imprisoned.

Florus further angered the Jewish population of his province by having seventeen talents removed from the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem, claiming the money was for the Emperor. In response to this action, the city fell into unrest and some of the Jewish population began to openly mock Florus by passing a basket around to collect money as if Florus was poor. Florus reacted to the unrest by sending soldiers into Jerusalem the next day to raid the city and arrest a number of the city leaders. The arrested individuals were whipped and crucified despite many of them being Roman citizens.

Jesus ben Ananias actively preaching in Jerusalem at this time.


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