While Nero was frequently visiting the show, even amid his pleasures
there was no cessation to his crimes. For during the very same period
Torquatus Silanus was forced to die, because over and above his illustrious
rank as one of the Junian family he claimed to be the great-grandson
of Augustus. Accusers were ordered to charge him with prodigality
in lavishing gifts, and with having no hope but in revolution. They
said further that he had nobles about him for his letters, books,
and accounts, titles all and rehearsals of supreme power. Then the
most intimate of his freedmen were put in chains and torn from him,
till, knowing the doom which impended, Torquatus divided the arteries
in his arms. A speech from Nero followed, as usual, which stated that
though he was guilty and with good reason distrusted his defence,
he would yet have lived, had he awaited the clemency of the judge.

Soon afterwards, giving up Achaia for the present (his reasons were
not certainly known), he returned to Rome, there dwelling in his secret
imaginations on the provinces of the east, especially Egypt. Then
having declared in a public proclamation that his absence would not
be long and that all things in the State would remain unchanged and
prosperous, he visited the temple of the Capitol for advice about
his departure. There he adored the gods; then he entered also the
temple of Vesta, and there feeling a sudden trembling throughout his
limbs, either from terror inspired by the deity or because, from the
remembrance of his crimes, he was never free from fear, he relinquished
his purpose, repeatedly saying that all his plans were of less account
than his love of his country. “He had seen the sad countenances of
the citizens, he heard their secret complainings at the prospect of
his entering on so long a journey, when they could not bear so much
as his brief excursions, accustomed as they were to cheer themselves
under mischances by the sight of the emperor. Hence, as in private
relationships the closest ties were the strongest, so the people of
Rome had the most powerful claims and must be obeyed in their wish
to retain him.”

These and the like sentiments suited the people, who craved amusement,
and feared, always their chief anxiety, scarcity of corn, should he
be absent. The Senate and leading citizens were in doubt whether to
regard him as more terrible at a distance or among them. After a while,
as is the way with great terrors, they thought what happened the worst

Nero, to win credit for himself of enjoying nothing so much as the
capital, prepared banquets in the public places, and used the whole
city, so to say, as his private house. Of these entertainments the
most famous for their notorious profligacy were those furnished by
Tigellinus, which I will describe as an illustration, that I may not
have again and again to narrate similar extravagance. He had a raft
constructed on Agrippa’s lake, put the guests on board and set it
in motion by other vessels towing it. These vessels glittered with
gold and ivory; the crews were arranged according to age and experience
in vice. Birds and beasts had been procured from remote countries,
and sea monsters from the ocean. On the margin of the lake were set
up brothels crowded with noble ladies, and on the opposite bank were
seen naked prostitutes with obscene gestures and movements. As darkness
approached, all the adjacent grove and surrounding buildings resounded
with song, and shone brilliantly with lights. Nero, who polluted himself
by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination
which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he
stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras,
with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over
the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding
dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was
plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides.

A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived
by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts,
worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened
to this city by the violence of fire. It had its beginning in that
part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where,
amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both
broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind
that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here
there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded
by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay. The blaze in its
fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising
to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it
outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and
so completely at its mercy the city, with those narrow winding passages
and irregular streets, which characterised old Rome. Added to this
were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age,
the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save
themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them,
and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating
the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted
by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge
close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that,
even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in
the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither
betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down
in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very
daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they
had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them.
And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces
from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames,
because again others openly hurled brands, and kept shouting that
there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more
freely, or obeying orders.
The Annals by Tacitus