Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was
to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the
Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to
Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons,
first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence
water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess.
And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married
women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor,
and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief
that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to
get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most
exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called
Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin,
suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands
of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous
superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only
in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all
things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their
centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of
all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude
was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of
hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.
Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished,
or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt,
to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show
in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a
charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who
deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of
compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but
to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

Meanwhile Italy was thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money,
the provinces were ruined, as also the allied nations and the free
states, as they were called. Even the gods fell victims to the plunder;
for the temples in Rome were despoiled and the gold carried off, which,
for a triumph or a vow, the Roman people in every age had consecrated
in their prosperity or their alarm. Throughout Asia and Achaia not
only votive gifts, but the images of deities were seized, Acratus
and Secundus Carinas having been sent into those provinces. The first
was a freedman ready for any wickedness; the latter, as far as speech
went, was thoroughly trained in Greek learning, but he had not imbued
his heart with sound principles. Seneca, it was said, to avert from
himself the obloquy of sacrilege, begged for the seclusion of a remote
rural retreat, and, when it was refused, feigning ill health, as though
he had a nervous ailment, would not quit his chamber. According to
some writers, poison was prepared for him at Nero’s command by his
own freedman, whose name was Cleonicus. This Seneca avoided through
the freedman’s disclosure, or his own apprehension, while he used
to support life on the very simple diet of wild fruits, with water
from a running stream when thirst prompted.

During the same time some gladiators in the town of Praeneste, who
attempted to break loose, were put down by a military guard stationed
on the spot to watch them, and the people, ever desirous and yet fearful
of change, began at once to talk of Spartacus, and of bygone calamities.
Soon afterwards, tidings of a naval disaster was received, but not
from war, for never had there been so profound a peace. Nero, however,
had ordered the fleet to return to Campania on a fixed day, without
making any allowance for the dangers of the sea. Consequently the
pilots, in spite of the fury of the waves, started from Formiae, and
while they were struggling to double the promontory of Misenum, they
were dashed by a violent south-west wind on the shores of Cumae, and
lost, in all directions, a number of their triremes with some smaller

At the close of the year people talked much about prodigies, presaging
impending evils. Never were lightning flashes more frequent, and a
comet too appeared, for which Nero always made propitiation with noble
blood. Human and other births with two heads were exposed to public
view, or were discovered in those sacrifices in which it is usual
to immolate victims in a pregnant condition. And in the district of
Placentia, close to the road, a calf was born with its head attached
to its leg. Then followed an explanation of the diviners, that another
head was preparing for the world, which however would be neither mighty
nor hidden, as its growth had been checked in the womb, and it had
been born by the wayside.

Silius Nerva and Atticus Vestinus then entered on the consulship,
and now a conspiracy was planned, and at once became formidable, for
which senators, knights, soldiers, even women, had given their names
with eager rivalry, out of hatred of Nero as well as a liking for
Caius Piso. A descendant of the Calpurnian house, and embracing in
his connections through his father’s noble rank many illustrious families,
Piso had a splendid reputation with the people from his virtue or
semblance of virtue. His eloquence he exercised in the defence of
fellow-citizens, his generosity towards friends, while even for strangers
he had a courteous address and demeanour. He had, too, the fortuitous
advantages of tall stature and a handsome face. But solidity of character
and moderation in pleasure were wholly alien to him. He indulged in
laxity, in display, and occasionally in excess. This suited the taste
of that numerous class who, when the attractions of vice are so powerful,
do not wish for strictness or special severity on the throne.
The Annals by Tacitus