In A.D. 64, on the night of July 19, a fire began beneath the stands of Rome’s great stadium, the Circus Maximus. The fire would spread over the coming days to engulf much of the city of Rome. From this calamity, one of the ancient world’s most devastating events, legends grew: that Nero had been responsible for the fire, and fiddled while Rome burned, and that Nero blamed the Christians of Rome, burning them alive in punishment, making them the first recorded martyrs to the Christian faith at Rome.
The Great Fire of Rome opens at the beginning of A.D. 64 and follows the events in Rome and nearby as they unfold in the seven months leading up to the great fire. As the year progresses we learn that the infamous young emperor Nero, who was 26 at the time of the fire, is celebrating a decade in power. Yet the palace is far from complacent, and the streets of Rome are simmering with talk of revolt.
Dando-Collins introduces the fascinating cavalcade of historical characters who were in Rome during the first seven months of A.D. 64 and played a part in the great drama. Using ancient sources, as well as modern archaeology, Dando-Collins describes the fire itself, and its aftermath, as Nero personally directed relief efforts and reconstruction.
The Great Fire of Rome is an unforgettable human drama which brings ancient Rome and the momentous events of A.D. 64 to scorching life.
We've sent an email with your order details. Order ID #:
To access this title, visit your library in the app or on the desktop website.
Interesting and stimulating
I have listened to hundreds of audiobooks, many of them excellent, so it is pointless to try to rank this. However, I can say that it definitely belongs to the top half or third, among those I would not want to miss.
I did not like the pace (slow), and because the pronunciation of consonants is not always clear (especially in names), I could not speed it up too much (certain narrators who sound unbearable at reading speed are find when you speed up; some are clearly understandable at 3x and that is a considerable advantage).
Certain negative comments led me to expect less. I am delighted to say that I think most of the objections they express are either invalid or of little weight.
Many who disliked the book seem to be swayed mainly by their indignation at the author's revising the widespread idea that Nero made Christians the scapegoat for the fire: but there is no near-comtemporary Christian writing that mentions this, and our only source is Tacitus, which comes to us in a medieval copy that is in parts unreliable as copyists sometimes made their own additions and revisions (a Wikipedia article says that most authorities consider the passage authentic, but I find the brilliant historian Richard Carrier quite convincing in impugning its authenticity). In 64 A.D., Christians constituted an insignificant fringe sect among the many that flourished and hardly an adequate scapegoat (in the following century the situation would be different). The cult of Isis that Dando-Collins puts in place of Christians seems a far more likely target; not only was it more important by a huge margin, but Nero had himself been a disillusioned initiate.
What the book brings out was the great significance the fire had in the turn Nero took from being a largely good emperor to a monstrous one. The fire played a considerable part in creating an atmosphere of discontent and paranoia that gave the Piso conspiracy momentum and support the following year. Discovering how many supported it apparently led to Nero's increasing paranoia and appalling behavior.
The author presents a coherent and satisfying account that illuminates Nero's transformation and what happened in the earlier and later parts of his reign. Objections that much of the book is not "about" the fire are unjustified: the point is not merely to describe the fire itself but to elucidate its consequences and historical significance. Given the dearth of primary material, writing about ancient history is necessarily an attempt to weigh and make sense of what little we have. Dando-Collins may not be right on all counts, but I find him persuasive and stimulating, and his nuanced portrait of Nero seems more true than the cardboard monster associated with the name (though as in his book on Germanicus he goes a little overboard in his concluding speculations, but these few phrases I can easily overlook). I for one am grateful for a book that I found hard to put down and memorable in the insights it provides.