Annals 15.39 Essay


After his protestations of devotion to the city in chapter 36, it is not to Nero’s credit that he is not in Rome at the time of the fire but staying in his luxury villa at Antium. As we saw earlier (15.23), Antium was the town of Nero’s birth. While it does perhaps support the idea that Nero was not responsible for the fire, his nonchalance contrasts sharply with the efforts of his predecessors. Apart from the passages cited above, see also Suetonius, Claudius 18.1: Cum Aemiliana pertinacius arderent, in diribitorio duabus noctibus mansit ac deficiente militum ac familiarum turba auxilio plebem per magistratus ex omnibus vicis convocavit ac positis ante se cum pecunia fiscis ad subveniendum hortatus est, repraesentans pro opera dignam cuique mercedem (‘On the occasion of a stubborn fire in the Aemiliana he remained in the Diribitorium for two nights, and when a body of soldiers and of his own slaves could not give sufficient help, he summoned the commons from all parts of the city through the magistrates, and placing bags full of money before them, urged them to the rescue, paying each man on the spot a suitable reward for his services’). Nor does it do Nero credit, especially after his great claims of patriotism, that he only returned when his own property (domui eius) was threatened. The emphatic position of non ante stresses that this was the only thing that motivated his return, and the delayed subject ignis propinquaret suggests he waited for the last possible minute.