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
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
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.