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UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.

by her was persuaded to have Agrippina assassinated. This atrocity was

immediately followed up by the divorce of Octavia and the murder of Burrus.

The government was turned over to his ministers, Tergellinus and Petronius,

and Nero abandoned himself to excesses and dissipations. Poppaea became his

mistress and was publicly recognized by the Imperial household. Even her

husband assented to the shame, and was rewarded with the govenorship of the

province. The mistress became the Empress, and Octavia, now in exile, was

put to death.

Such high-handed profligacy as the Caesar and his consort now exhibited had

never before been witnessed even in Rome. Poppaea had for herself a bath of

milk, which was supplied by five hundred she-asses kept on the Palatine.

Her mules were ordered to be shod with gold, and the trappings of her couch

to be trimmed with pearls. After becoming the mother of one child she died

from the effects of a royal kick which her noble husband deigned to give

her in a fit of passion.

The administration became an administration of blood. The nobles were

proscribed, banished, murdered for the crime of being rich. Their estates

were confiscated and consumed on the impossible luxuries and caprices of

the royal banquet. All the restraints of education, custom, and common

decency were flung away by the inflamed despot of Rome. He fancied himself

a musician, a scholar, a connoisseur of art, a philosopher. To dispute his

claim or criticize his performance was worth the life of him who did it.

His pleasures became the scum of dissipation, the very dregs of license and

vulgarity. He went into the arena and contended for the prize in music. It

was not likely that the judges would withhold from him the palm of victory.

In the race-courses of his own gardens, then in the hippodrome of Campania,

and finally in the Circus Maximus, he engaged in contests with the most

famous equestrians for the prize in horsemanship; and a multitude numbering

two hundred thousand people screamed with delight on beholding the ruler of

the nation in the character of a driver covered with dust and sweat.

In the year A. D. 64 the city was visited with a conflagration such as had

never before been witnessed in Italy, perhaps in the world. For six days

Rome was an ocean of flame. Six of the fourteen wards were utterly swept

with the blaze, and four of the remaining districts were partly devastated.

Hundreds and thousands of the venerable structures of Rome-temples,

museums, theaters, and basilicas-were wrapped in the vortex, and reduced to

ashes. The great edifices of the Palatine, Capitoline, and perhaps of the

other hills, were for the most part spared from the conflagration.

The people of the city were at first panic stricken, then gloomy, and then

suspicious. It was believed that the fire-which had broken out in several

places-was the work of incendiaries acting under the orders of Nero.

Ruffians had been seen setting fire to buildings; and it was presently

noised abroad that, during the progress of the conflagration, the Emperor

had taken his station on the turret of the villa of Maecenas, and amused

himself with enacting a drama entitled the Sack of Troy, composed by

himself. The fire had been devised as a realistic aid to the royal

imagination!

The spread of this well-founded rumor created a sullen rage among the

sufferers, and the throne was shaken by the surging of the masses. But Nero

now pretended the greatest sympathy. He traversed the devastated districts

and distributed money freely to those who were in need. With a view to

transferring the odium to others, he exhibited great zeal in discovering

the perpetrators of the crime. In his hunt for malefactors he fell upon the

hated Jews, and these were chosen as the factitious criminals. More

particularly was the new sect of Christians selected as the objects of

vengeance. These people had already gained the intense dislike of Rome. The

austerity of their manners, the severe tenets of their faith so opposed to

the license of paganism, their customs and laws so antagonistic to the

usages of the state, all combined to render them odious to the

commonwealth.

The situation was such as to furnish Nero an excellent opportunity to turn

the anger of the people against the hated followers of the Christ.