The Great Fire of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins

One of the most famous stories to come out of ancient Rome is the one that tells of Emperor Nero playing his fiddle and singing while Rome burned.  Was this true?  Did Nero start the fire in order to rebuild Rome in a more magnificent display of his power?  These and other questions have been debated by historians.  Stephen Dando-Collins adds his interpretation of the fire and the four years of Nero’s reign (his last years) following the fire in his book The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City.

Dando-Collins begins his book with New year’s Day of the year of the fire (AD 64) and takes the reader through the events leading up to the fire and those that followed – leading to Nero’s downfall.  Dando-Collins pins the start of Nero’s troubles with the fire.  Nero was immensely popular (as far as dictators go) before the fire, but his popularity quickly plummeted when rumors began to swirl that he had the fire started.  Dando-Collins does a superb job of describing the various plots to overthrow Nero and how he reacted to each threat – becoming more paranoid with each threat that was revealed.

The book is a fascinating look at ancient Rome and the power politics of the last days of the Caesar dynasty.  Dando-Collins captures the scheming and back-stabbing among the power elite – either to find favor with Nero or to lead the overthrow of his reign.  We think that politics is dirty today – the Romans took dirty politics to a higher (or more like lower) level.  It was not uncommon to poison political rivals or spread false rumors with the Emperor in order to get ahead – Dando-Collins points out several instances of this to show how the men who influenced Nero came and went.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the politics of Rome.

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