This Day in History ( July 18, 0064 )

Robert, Hubert - Incendie à Rome

The Great Fire of Rome is started, ultimately destroying two-thirds of the city. 

The Great Fire of Rome broke out on 18 July AD 64 in the merchant district of the city, near the Circus Maximus, Rome's huge chariot stadium. Because of the strong summer winds, the fire quickly spread. It burned for six days and seven nights, then reignited and burned for another three days. In that time, the fire destroyed two-thirds of the city, including the 800-year-old Temple of Jupiter Stator and the Atrium Vestae, the hearth of the Vestal Virgins.

Bust of Nero
Musei Capitolini, Rome
The Emperor Nero was blamed for his inaction, and there were even suggestions that he may have started it himself in order to bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Evidence to support this theory includes the fact that the Domus Aurea, Nero's majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire. To diffuse the blame, Nero targeted the Christians. There were Christians who confessed to the crime, but it became known that the Christians were forced to confess by means of torture, and it is unclear as to what the Christians confessed to — being arsonists or Christians. Thus began the earliest persecutions of Christians in Rome, actions which included feeding them to the lions. The city was rebuilt after the fire, greater and more spectacular than before.

Sketch of Ancient graffiti portrait of
Nero found at the Domus Tiberiana.
Note: 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 or 40.5 to 121.4 hectares). To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes (taxes) were imposed on the provinces of the empire.