wind, the conflagration destroyed three entire quarters ofthe city. Thousands were made homeless. The reaction was similar to that experienced when Rome confronted the Bacchanal conspiracy in 186 bce, recorded in detail by Livy.5 The guardian gods of the city had been violated. Expiation must be severe. But suspicion fell on Nero himself, well known for his grandiose schemes which it was believed included the replanning of Rome on a scale he considered fitting for an imperial city. Then, to quote Tacitus (writing, however, fifty years after the event, in 115), 'Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations called Christians.'6 As with Livy's account of the suppression of the Bacchanals, 'an immense number' were arrested, and those 'who confessed' (to being Christians?) were condemned and put to death, probably in Nero's amphitheatre near what is now the Vatican. Some were crucified, others done to death in a crude parody of the fate of Actaeon, torn to pieces by dogs, or, in the case of the women, impersonatingthe Dirce, fastened to the horns ofbulls, orthe Danaids, exposed in the arena to attacks by wild beasts.7 This purge was to appease the gods by the extreme method of human sacrifice.
The public pitied the victims and did not exonerate Nero. 'It was not as it seemed for the public good but to glut one man's cruelty that they were being destroyed.'8 Tacitus' contemporary, Suetonius, does not mention Christians in connection with the fire, but a list of miscellaneous acts of Nero, not necessarily unreliable, states that 'punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new (i.e. novel or revolutionary) and wicked superstition.' The word used, maleficus, has the connotation of 'magic' or 'black magic'.9 Henceforth, therefore, the Christians were associated with arson and revolutionary aims pursued through the agency of black magic. They were 'hostile to society' and had no right to exist.10 The events of 64 and actions taken in response to them, summed up by Tertullian in 197 in the words institutum neronianum, were to be long remembered.11
Such was the genesis of the persecutions. Curiously, the disaster of 64 was not followed by similar actions elsewhere, especially in the provinces of Asia
7 The reference to Danaids and Dirce is given in 1 Clem. 6.2. See also Coleman, 'Fatal charades', 44-7; cf. 65.
9 Suet. Nero 16.2. He blames Nero for starting the fire (38.2). For Jesus himself, regarded as a magician in the second century, see Celsus as cited by Or. C. Cels. 1.6.
10 Odium generis humani (Tac. Ann. 15.44.6), a charge also levelled against the Jews (see Tac. Hist. 5.5.1).
11 Tert. Nat. 1.7.9 (cf.Apol. 5.3). The institutum was not a law, but what was customary.
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