[1] Sextō dēmum diē apud īmās Esquiliās fīnis incendiō factus, prōrutīs per immēnsum aedificiīs ut continuae violentiae campus et velut vacuum caelum occurreret. necdum positus metus aut redierat plēbī spēs: rūrsum grassātus ignis patulīs magis urbis locīs; eōque strāgēs hominum minor, dēlūbra deum et porticūs amoenitātī dicātae lātius prōcidere. [2] plūsque īnfāmiae id incendium habuit quia praediīs Tigellīnī Aemiliānīs prōrūperat vidēbāturque Nerō condendae urbis novae et cognōmentō suō appellandae glōriam quaerere. quippe in regiōnēs quattuordecim Rōma dīviditur, quārum quattuor integrae manēbant, trēs solō tenus dēiectae: septem reliquīs pauca tēctōrum vestīgia supererant, lacera et sēmusta.

    Study Questions


    • State and explain the case of aedificiis.
    • Why is violentiae in the dative?
    • Parse hominum.


    • What type of genitive is infamiae?
    • State and explain the case of solo.
    • Parse supererant.

    Stylistic Appreciation:

    Analyse how Tacitus uses language to dramatize the losses in the second fire.

    Discussion Point:

    How do you think Nero’s demolition of buildings to make fire-breaks was received? Considering how Nero was to use the land cleared of houses after the Fire, is it understandable that conspiracy theories arose about his involvement? When have similar theories been popularised in recent times? Is Tacitus right to record this sort of rumour in his Annals?

    40.1 sexto demum die: The fire lasted six days before it was extinguished. demum (‘at last’) suggests both the real length of the fire, and also how long the misery must have seemed.

    apud imas Esquilias: The Esquiline hill was another of Rome’s seven hills to the east of the city (see Map of Rome).

    finis incendio factus, prorutis per immensum aedificiis: The phrase finis incendio factus, with its alliterative paronomasia (finis ~ factus) and its sequence of light and dark vowels, including all five (i, i, i, e, io, a, u), conveys a (premature) sense of closure. Through the demolition of buildings and clearance of the rubble, the fire was deprived of fuel. prorutis ... aedificiis is an ablative absolute. The emphatic adverbial phrase with preposition per immensum (‘over a vast area’) makes clear the enormous scale of the demolitions, which razed large sections of the city to the ground.

    ut continuae violentiae [sc. ignium or incendii] campus et velut vacuum caelum occurreret: continuae violentiae is in the dative singular (with occurreret). The description of the city as a campus (‘plain’) suggests the utter eradication of buildings, as does the self-proclaimed hyperbole velut vacuum caelum, which evokes the desolation of the Roman skyline. (continua violentia recalls and replaces continuaverat, said of endless palace of Nero in 39.1.) Tacitus here mixes c- and v-alliteration (continuae, campus, caelum; violentiae, velut, vacuum), but does so indiscriminately across the two themes of ‘conflagration’ and ‘counter-measures.’ The emphatic position of continuae violentiae also conveys the constant threat of the fire.

    necdum positus [sc. erat] metus aut redierat plebi spes: The text is corrupt here, and based on conjecture. Some editors prefer to read levis instead of plebi. It seems reasonably certain, however, that we are dealing with the expression of the same thought in two opposite ways (‘still fear, no hope’), in each case with the verb coming first. The sentence stresses the despair that prevailed in the populace, with the elusive spes placed emphatically at the end.

    rursum grassatus [sc. est] ignis patulis magis urbis locis: The verb (grassatus), once more placed first, is a very strong and evocative one, again personifying the fire in dramatic fashion: its basic meaning is ‘to press on, march, advance’, but it can also refer to brigands prowling around in the search for victims and carries connotations of lawlessness and violence. An inscription to commemorate the fire says VRBS PER NOVEM DIES ARSIT NERONIANIS TEMPORIBVS (‘the city burned for nine days in Neronian times’).1 If the first fire was six days in duration, this implies the second blaze lasted three days. After finis, prorutis, and aedificiis, we now get five words in a row ending in -is: a striking series of thudding homoioteleuta. patulis ... locis is an ablative of place: this time it is the more open areas rather than the congested parts which burn.

    eoque strages hominum minor [sc. erat]: The -que links grassatus [est] and [erat]. eo is an ablative of the measure of difference (‘to the extent to which’) that helps to coordinate the two comparatives minor and latius. The more open areas enabled people to avoid the flames better. The strong word strages (‘slaughter’, ‘carnage’) reminds us of the damage done by the first conflagration; and given the number of casualties then, the fact that the second fire cost fewer lives is only a qualified relief.

    delubra deum et porticus amoenitati dicatae latius procidere: Buildings remained vulnerable, and here Tacitus stresses the importance and beauty of those that fell victim to the flames in the second conflagration. The asyndetic juxtaposition of minor [erat] and latius procidere ensures that the bad news abruptly overpowers the good news, conveying the sense that the lower death-toll among the human population was amply compensated for by large-scale architectural damage (an impression reinforced by the length of the respective clauses). The alliterative delubra deum emphasises the ominous destruction of holy places, and is an epic (Ennian) phrase used in the awe-ful tableau of the last hours of Virgil’s Troy (Aeneid 2.248), in a passage strongly intertwined with Livy’s account of the fall of Veii (5.21.5, alluding to the same ­– Ennian – forerunner); and the description of the colonnades as amoenitati dicatae, with attention-drawing assonance, makes clear the beauty of the incinerated buildings. Note also the comparative adverb latius, presenting the destruction here as even worse than the one caused by the first fire. Finally, the verb procidere (an historic infinitive) once again evokes the power of the fire, and keeps the music going through to the final collapse (por- … dic- ~ pro-cid- …).

    40.2 plusque infamiae id incendium habuit: As Tacitus told us in Chapter 39, Nero attracted opprobrium because of the suspicion of arson in the first fire. Now he says there was more scandal. The comparative adverb plus, like latius before, conveys the escalation in destruction, both of the city and of Nero’s reputation.

    plusque infamiae: infamiae is a partitive genitive dependent on plus.

    quia praediis Tigellini Aemilianis proruperat: praedium (‘estate’, ‘land’) is not to be confused with the more common/ familiar praeda (‘booty’). praediis ... Aemilianis is an ablative of origin: apparently the second fire broke out at an estate that belonged to Tigellinus, the very same Praetorian Prefect who just stage-managed Nero’s all-aboard floating orgy. The estate was probably located somewhere between the Campus Martius and the Capitol Hill, in the vicinity of what would become the Forum of Trajan.

    videbaturque Nero condendae urbis novae et cognomento suo appellandae gloriam quaerere: The position of the verb videbatur straight after proruperat underscores how immediately the people leapt to conclusions and set the rumour mill spinning. Possibly, Nero or Tigellinus were responsible for the second fire, wanting to clear space for full-scale rebuilding. But it is equally possible that embers from a six-day blaze flared up again, and people acted without evidence on their desire to attribute blame, coming up with the rumour that all this was the emperor’s doing. The chiastic arrangement of condendae urbis novae et cognomento suo appellandae, with the gerundives emphatic on the outside, exaggerates the shocking aims Nero was rumoured to have had. Suetonius, Nero 50, tells us that Nero intended to call the new city he wished to build Neropolis: a Greek name, and therefore yet another suggestion of Nero’s Greek obsession. (Tacitus is careful not to mention the name, nor to report this as anything more than a rumour.)

    gloriam quaerere: The implications of gloria are insidious: it is a quality that derives first and foremost from military conquest, and thus feeds into the latent characterization of the fire as a hostile army sacking Rome – with Nero as mastermind and general. Perversely, gloria here derives not from the triumph over a foreign enemy and the return to Rome with the spoils of victory, but death and destruction of his own capital. There is also unmistakable irony in Tacitus’ use of gloria here: Nero desires glory for a re-foundation of the capital in his name, but what he acquires is notoriety for arson and hubris.

    quippe in regiones quattuordecim Romam dividitur: The little word quippe introduces the final reckoning of the fire which Tacitus now gives, starting with a summary statement about the city: Augustus had divided Rome into fourteen administrative regions (see Map of Rome). Tacitus’ readers would of course not have needed a reminder about Rome’s administrative grid, especially since he already mentioned it at 14.12.2. And therefore many editors and commentators see this sentence as a marginal gloss by copyists that accidentally entered into the main text in the process of transmission. But one could turn this around if one reads 14.12.2 as an anticipation of the fire: there Tacitus reports that in AD 59 there were several eclipses of the sun and all fourteen administrative districts of Rome were hit by lightning (iam sol repente obscuratus et tactae de caelo quattuordecim urbis regiones). Since no disaster happened immediately Tacitus goes on to dismiss the idea that this striking coincidence was a genuine prodigy (i.e. a meaningful sign of advanced warning of pending disaster sent by the gods): quae adeo sine cura deum eveniebant, ut multos post ea annos Nero imperium et scelera continuaverit. By taking an oblique look back to 14.12.2 here, by means of repeating basic information about the administrative layout of the city, Tacitus almost asks his readers to re-assess his own earlier (already ironic, in view of the upcoming, if somewhat belated, fire?) evaluation of divine efficaciousness.

    quattuor [sc. regiones] integrae manebant: It is not entirely certain which four districts are meant. Here is Miller: ‘these would be the districts farthest from the centre of the city and the fire, and would certainly include XIV (Transtiberina): as the fire stopped apud imas Esquilinas §1, V (Esquiliae) may have been another: the other possibilities are I (Porta Capena), VI (Alta Semita) and VII (Via Lata).’2 Koestermann agrees on regio XIV Transtiberina, but disregards V Esquiliae and considers I Porta Capena, VI Alta Semita, and VII Via Lata as the other most likely candidates.3

    tres [sc. regiones] solo tenus deiectae [sc. erant]: tenus is a preposition that takes, and follows, the ablative (solo). Again, the districts in question are in dispute: ‘Of the three wholly destroyed, two must have been the 11th and 10th (Circus and Palatium), and the other is thought to have been the 3rd (Isis et Serapis, the Subura).’4 Koestermann opts for regio XI Circus Maximus, X Palatium and IV Templum Pacis.5

    septem reliquis [sc. regionibus] pauca tectorum vestigia supererant, lacera et semusta: The systematic account of the destruction continues: the dramatic description of pauca vestigia being left paints the picture of the unrecognizable wreckage of buildings. The adjective lacer, -era, -erum, which means ‘mutilated’ or ‘mangled’ tends to be used of corpses and once more evokes the image of the city as a living being that fell victim to violent assault. Commentators draw attention to the fact that Tacitus here exaggerates. As he himself concedes later, the buildings on the Capitol remained intact and the Forum, too, was largely unaffected. See Annals 15.44.1 and 16.27. Even in the Campus Martius, buildings such as the Augustan portico of the Pantheon remained standing and, as Furneaux points out, ‘the theatre of Pompeius was used for the Neronia [in AD 65] immediately after the conspiracy.’6

    1 See Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI.1, 826.

    2 Miller (1973) 91.

    3 Koestermann (1968) 242.

    4 Furneaux (1907) 367.

    5 Koestermann (1968) 242.

    6 Furneaux (1907) 367, with reference to Annals 16.4.2.

    demum: at last

    imus, -a, -um: foot of

    Esquiliae, -arum, f.pl.: Esquiline Hill

    proruo, -ere, -rui, -rutum: I demolish

    per immensum: ‘over a vast area’

    continuus, -a, -um: relentless

    violentia, -ae, f.: violence

    velut: as it were

    occurro, -ere, -curri, -cursum (+ dat.): I block, resist

    necdum: not yet

    pono, -ere, posui, positum: (here) I lay aside

    grassor, -ari, -atus sum: I run riot

    patulus, -a, -um spacious, open

    strages, -is, f.: slaughter, destruction

    delubrum, -i, n.: temple

    porticus, -us, f.: colonnade

    amoenitas, -atis, f.: enjoyment

    dicatus, -a, -um (+ dat.): dedicated to

    procido, -ere, -cidi, -cisum: I fall, am destroyed

    infamia, -ae, f.: scandal

    praedium, -ii, n.: estate

    Aemilianus, -a, -um: Aemilian

    prorumpo, -ere, -rupi, -ruptum: I break out

    condo, -ere, -didi, -ditum: I found (a city)

    cognomentum, -i, n.: name

    quippe: indeed

    regio, -onis, f.: district

    integer, -ra, -rum: undamaged

    solum, -i, n.: ground

    tenus (+ abl.): as far as, down to

    vestigium, -ii, n.: trace

    lacer, -era, -erum: mangled

    semustus, -a, -um: half-burnt

    article Nav

    Suggested Citation

    Mathew Owen and Ingo Gildenhard, Tacitus, Annals, 15.20–23, 33–45. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-78374-003-1. DCC edition, 2016. https://dcc.dickinson.edu/tacitus-annals/15-40