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The Two Republics, or Rome and the United States of America

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    NERO,

    in A. D. 64, although it was only the horrid cruelty inflicted that made his punishment of the Christians conspicuous above that of many others upon whom the rage of that tyrant fell. For, “Except that his murders were commonly prompted by need or fear, and therefore fell oftenest on the rich and powerful, it can hardly be said that one class suffered from them more terribly than another. His family, his friends, the senators, the knights, philosophers and Christians, Romans and provincials, were all decimated by them.”—Merivale. 2[Page 113] “Romans Under the Empire,” chap. iv, par. 6.TTR 112.3

    July 19, A. D. 64, the tenth year of Nero’s reign, a fire broke out in the city of Rome, which raged unchecked for six days. The stricken people had barely begun to collect their thoughts after the fire had subsided, when flames burst out a second time, in another quarter of the city, and raged for three days. Taken together, the two conflagrations destroyed nearly the whole of the city. Of the fourteen districts into which the city was divided, only four remained uninjured. Nero was universally hated for his desperate tyranny. A rumor was soon spread and readily believed, that while the city was burning, he stood watching it, and chanting the “Sack of Troy” to an accompaniment which he played upon his lyre. From this the rumor grew into a report, and it was also believed, that Nero himself had ordered the fires to be kindled. It was further insinuated that his object in burning the city was to build it anew upon a much more magnificent scale, and bestow upon it his own name.TTR 113.1

    Whether any of these rumors or suspicions were certainly true, cannot be positively stated; but whether true or not, they were certainly believed, and the hatred of the people was intensified to such fierceness that Nero soon discovered that the ruin of the city was universally laid to his charge. He endeavored to allay the rising storm: he provided shelter, and supplied other urgent necessaries for the multitude. Vows and great numbers of burnt offerings to the gods were made, but all to no purpose. The signs of public dissatisfaction only became more significant. It became essential that the emperor should turn their suspicion from him, or forfeit the throne and his life. The crisis was a desperate one, and desperately did he meet it. There was a little band of Christians known in the city. They were already hated by the populace. These were accused, condemned, and tortured as the destroyers of the city. Tacitus tells of the fate of those to whom he says “the vulgar gave the name of Christians“:—TTR 113.2

    “He [Nero] inflicted the most exquisite tortures on those men who, under the vulgar appellation of Christians, were already branded with deserved infamy. They derived their name and origin from Christ, who in the reign of Tiberius had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator, Pontius Pilate. For awhile this dire superstition was checked; but it again burst forth; and not only spread itself over Judea, the first seat of this mischievous sect, but was even introduced into Rome, the common asylum which receives and protects whatever is impure, whatever is atrocious. The confessions of those who were seized, discovered a great multitude of their accomplices, and they were all convicted, not so much for the crime of setting fire to the city, as for their hatred of human kind. They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses; others sewn in the skins of wild beasts, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied with a horse race, and honored with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer. The guilt of the Christians deserved indeed the most exemplary punishment, but the public abhorrence was changed into commiseration, from the opinion that those unhappy wretches were sacrificed, not so much to the public welfare as to the cruelty of a jealous tyrant.”—Tacitus. 3[Page 114] “Annals,” book xv, chap. xiiv. I adopt Gibbon’s Translation. See “Decline and Fall,” chap. xvi, par. 14.TTR 114.1

    This cruel subterfuge accomplished the purpose intended by the emperor, to deliver him from the angry suspicion of the populace. This persecution, however, as directed by Nero, did not extend beyond the city, and ceased with that one effort. And from that time, for the space of nearly two hundred years—till the reign of Decius, A. D. 249-251—there was no imperial persecution in the city of Rome. “During that period, the Christians were in general as free and secure as other inhabitants of Rome. Their assemblies were no more disturbed than the synagogues of the Jews, or the rights of other foreign religions.”—Milman. 4[Page 114] “History of Christianity,” book iv, chap. ii, par. 17, note.TTR 114.2

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