Anthony A. Barrett

Dec 7, 2020

Rome Is Burning

Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty

Princeton University Press 2020

Ancient Rome had experienced many fires before 64 CE, yet none of the previous blazes proved as significant as the conflagration that swept through the city that year. In Rome Is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty  (Princeton University Press, 2020), Anthony A. Barrett sorts through the historical and archaeological record to provide an account of an event that shaped the destiny of an empire. Many of the key misconceptions about the fire are tied to the legend of the emperor Nero, who was subsequently blamed for indifference towards the destruction or even active involvement in starting the fire. Though Nero himself was not even in Rome when the fire burned through the heart of the imperial capital, his ambitious reconstruction plans soon engendered hostility among the Roman elite, many of whose destroyed villas were due to be replaced by an expensive new project of the emperor’s inspiration. As Barrett demonstrates, these plans and the higher levels of taxation required to finance them fueled the discontent that led to both rebellion and Nero’s murder in 68 CE, ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty and cementing an image of a failed emperor that has persisted down to the present day.

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