64 A.D.: The Great Fire Of Rome Starts Burning Under Emperor Nero

By Roger Goode | May 31, 2024

No Ordinary Fire

In the heart of a sweltering Roman summer, the year 64 A.D. ignited a blaze that would be etched into history forever. The Great Fire of Rome, a catastrophic inferno, erupted under the reign of the infamous Emperor Nero, engulfing the city in a sea of flames and chaos. As the fire raged through the narrow streets and ancient buildings, rumors and legends sparked as fiercely as the flames themselves. Was it an accident, or did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? Join us as we delve into the dramatic and fiery saga of one of history's most notorious disasters.

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(Carl Theodor von Piloty/Wikimedia Commons)

On July 18, 64 A.D., the Great Fire of Rome burned nearly two-thirds of the city to the ground. This was no ordinary fire: It burned for nearly a week before it was put out and then started again, and no one is quite sure how. The fire is probably most famous for being the one Emperor Nero fiddled through—or did he? The Great Fire of Rome may be shrouded in mystery, but there are some things we know for sure.

Emperor Nero

Nero was only 16 years old when he inherited Rome in 54 A.D., and teenage leaders are generally bad news, whether at a drive-thru or on the throne. Nero was an exceptionally exemplary case: His cabinet managed to rein in his ruthless whims for a while, but by the time he had his mother killed at the behest of his mistress, Nero was impossible to control. Many believe the Great Fire of Rome was, in fact, simply one of these whims, but even if he had no direct hand in its inception, he certainly created an environment rife with unrest and paranoia.

Wind And Retail

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(Galerie moderního umění v Hradci Králové/Wikimedia Commons)

We don't know a whole lot about the Great Fire of Rome because apparently, nobody really looked into it too hard at the time. If they did, they didn't write it down. Much of the research concerning the Great Fire of Rome comes from Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman senator who was only about eight years old when the fire broke out. In his work from 116 A.D., The Annals, Tacitus wrote that the fires began near the Circus Maximus, an area surrounded by shops and storage areas, but the windy evening pushed the fire through the narrow passageways into the surrounding neighborhoods, picking up steam from the many flammable goods around the Circus along the way.