Emperor Nero is one of the most famous rulers of Rome throughout its lengthy history, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Renowned for his cruelty, many believe he was slightly insane. Some of his more famous acts include capturing Christians and burning them in his garden at night to provide him light for his activities, ordering the philosopher Seneca’s death, and having his own mother assassinated!
Yet for all of these acts, he is perhaps most well known for something that is just not true. Legend has it that Nero started the fire and simply played the fiddle as he watched it burn, but in fact the complete opposite is true. On the 18th of July in the year 64, Rome erupted in flames and burned for over five days. Nero couldn’t have played the violin for one because it wasn’t invented yet and according to Roman historian Tacitus, Nero rushed back to Rome, being away when the fire erupted, and began to organize a relief effort, which he largely paid for out of his own pocket.
Nero opened his own palaces to give shelter to the homeless and even arranged for food to be delivered to survivors. While Nero is certainly not exonerated from his crimes, many modern historians believe his acts of cruelty were grossly exaggerated because his unpopularity with the upper classes of Rome.