Nero and the Christians
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Nero Claudius Caesar, who was a Roman emperor from 54 to 68, is nowadays notoriously famous for been among the first cruelest persecutor of Christians. The latter were the followers of Christos who was supposed to come on Earth one day and create a new kingdom of God, thus spreading panic among the authorities, so Christos had been executed by Pontius Pilatus. Christians were seen as a threat to Roman Empire and Nero wanted to eliminate them. Generally speaking, all Roman emperors possessed some negative character traits, and they all are known to be driven by blood-lust. However, Nero managed to distinguish oneself first by killing his mother, aunt, teacher and friends, and then by burning Christians to ashes.
In his work “Annals”, one of the Roman historians, Tacitus, explains what happened to Christians at that time. According to him, it all started in the summer of 64 with a fierce fire which had been destroying Rome for six days and seven nights. Tacitus said that from fourteen districts of Rome “four were undamaged, three were utterly destroyed and in the other seven there remained only a few mangled and half-burnt traces of houses” (qtd in Jackson). The rumor had it, the fire had been set by the emperor himself as a part of one of his mindless entertainments. Some people said he was watching the fire from the top of Maecenas tower and singing songs. Whether it was true or not, Romans became very suspicious.
Wishing to avoid distrust, Nero blamed Christians for causing the fire. Christians began to be called sectarians and were to be punished. That is when the first period of Christian persecution started. It is now difficult to say why exactly the emperor blamed Christians. The reason might be that they lived in Circus Maximus, not far from the place where the burning started. As mentioned in the article of Lendering, Nero could also accuse Jews inhabiting Capena Gate, since their territory did not catch fire. However, there were thousands of Jews in Rome, and the number of Christians was much lower. He arrested some representatives of the religious group and tortured them until they made a “confession” that they were responsible for that evil deed. So, these people were found and executed in the most horrific manner. Strangely enough, this was done for public amusement, and although some felt sympathy towards victims, many believed the punishment was justified.
At first, there appeared to be little doubt that Christians deserved execution, since there were many people who did not share their beliefs and thought that they harbored genuine hatred towards mankind. It might also be that one of the reasons why many Romans wanted Christians dead was that the process of their execution was to be organized as entertainment. Nero imported wild animals, such as crocodiles, hippopotamuses, lions, wolves, bears and others specially for killing these people. Being eager to watch the spectacle, Romans helped look for and catch Christians. This was not a problem, since the followers of Jesus were brave enough to demonstrate their beliefs and never hid from public view.
When a day of “performance” came, the crowd gathered at the venue. Nero had a habit to watch every execution himself. The animals were not fed for two days, so that their appetite would grow stronger. According to Tacitus, the victims
“…were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot.” (qtd in Lendering)
Finally, people started to feel sorry for the martyrs, since it became obvious that this was an act of extreme cruelty rather than a punishment for breaking the law.
However, there appeared to be so many Christians, that all the prisons were overcrowded. So Nero decided that since they were blamed for setting the city on fire, it would be appropriate to do the same to them. So, he organized another amusement for Romans, this time it took place in his gardens. The emperor tied nearly thousand martyrs to posts and burned them all at the same time.
The early Christian legends suggest that it was also Nero who beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Some argue that there were a number of events which led to their death, but Nero did not give the direct order to do so. Despite the fact that there is no reason to doubt this story, there are also some sources suggesting Paul was killed in Hispania.
Such brutality of the Roman emperor turned him into the first Anti-Christ in the eyes of Christians. After his suicide, some presumed that he would rise from the dead and gain control over people. Indeed, there appeared at least three persons claiming they were Nero “resurrected”, but each time the truth about them was revealed.
In conclusion, Christians underwent multiple persecutions which started with the reign of Nero. They were perceived as a potentially dangerous sect, so the emperor ordered to kill them. Given the dangers that Christians faced, they had to meet secretly. The followers were usually representatives of poor social stratum, and the number of Christians continued to grow. As it is known from history, AD 313 the religion was finally made legal which means that Christians won the fight against their oppressors.
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