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Introduction & Map

Rome Burns

A.D. 64

Tradition and some historical accounts contend that Roman Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Tradition and some historical accounts contend that Roman Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Photograph by Bettman/Corbis

Historians aren't sure if the emperor Nero really fiddled while Rome burned, but they do know that in A.D. 64 a conflagration destroyed about two-thirds of the city. The blaze broke out near the Circus Maximus stadium and raged for six days before it was extinguished. Once doused, the fire reignited and burned for three more days. Nero used the destruction as a reason to claim more than 200 acres (80 hectares) of the city center for the construction of an enormous palace and other projects satisfying to his own architectural tastes. Resentful citizens gossiped that Nero himself had sparked the fire.

The emperor identified a different scapegoat—Christians. Members of the young faith soon felt the wrath of Nero's reprisals. They would experience similar persecutions sporadically over the next several centuries.