Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until
the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace
with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from
devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However,
to relieve the people, driven out homeless as they were, he threw
open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa,
and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive
the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia
and the neighbouring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three
sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect,
since a rumour had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when
the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and
sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with
the calamities of antiquity.

At last, after five days, an end was put to the conflagration at the
foot of the Esquiline hill, by the destruction of all buildings on
a vast space, so that the violence of the fire was met by clear ground
and an open sky. But before people had laid aside their fears, the
flames returned, with no less fury this second time, and especially
in the spacious districts of the city. Consequently, though there
was less loss of life, the temples of the gods, and the porticoes
which were devoted to enjoyment, fell in a yet more widespread ruin.
And to this conflagration there attached the greater infamy because
it broke out on the Aemilian property of Tigellinus, and it seemed
that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling
it by his name. Rome, indeed, is divided into fourteen districts,
four of which remained uninjured, three were levelled to the ground,
while in the other seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt
relics of houses.

It would not be easy to enter into a computation of the private mansions,
the blocks of tenements, and of the temples, which were lost. Those
with the oldest ceremonial, as that dedicated by Servius Tullius to
Luna, the great altar and shrine raised by the Arcadian Evander to
the visibly appearing Hercules, the temple of Jupiter the Stayer,
which was vowed by Romulus, Numa’s royal palace, and the sanctuary
of Vesta, with the tutelary deities of the Roman people, were burnt.
So too were the riches acquired by our many victories, various beauties
of Greek art, then again the ancient and genuine historical monuments
of men of genius, and, notwithstanding the striking splendour of the
restored city, old men will remember many things which could not be
replaced. Some persons observed that the beginning of this conflagration
was on the 19th of July, the day on which the Senones captured and
fired Rome. Others have pushed a curious inquiry so far as to reduce
the interval between these two conflagrations into equal numbers of
years, months, and days.

Nero meanwhile availed himself of his country’s desolation, and erected
a mansion in which the jewels and gold, long familiar objects, quite
vulgarised by our extravagance, were not so marvellous as the fields
and lakes, with woods on one side to resemble a wilderness, and, on
the other, open spaces and extensive views. The directors and contrivers
of the work were Severus and Celer, who had the genius and the audacity
to attempt by art even what nature had refused, and to fool away an
emperor’s resources. They had actually undertaken to sink a navigable
canal from the lake Avernus to the mouths of the Tiber along a barren
shore or through the face of hills, where one meets with no moisture
which could supply water, except the Pomptine marshes. The rest of
the country is broken rock and perfectly dry. Even if it could be
cut through, the labour would be intolerable, and there would be no
adequate result. Nero, however, with his love of the impossible, endeavoured
to dig through the nearest hills to Avernus, and there still remain
the traces of his disappointed hope.

Of Rome meanwhile, so much as was left unoccupied by his mansion,
was not built up, as it had been after its burning by the Gauls, without
any regularity or in any fashion, but with rows of streets according
to measurement, with broad thoroughfares, with a restriction on the
height of houses, with open spaces, and the further addition of colonnades,
as a protection to the frontage of the blocks of tenements. These
colonnades Nero promised to erect at his own expense, and to hand
over the open spaces, when cleared of the debris, to the ground landlords.
He also offered rewards proportioned to each person’s position and
property, and prescribed a period within which they were to obtain
them on the completion of so many houses or blocks of building. He
fixed on the marshes of Ostia for the reception of the rubbish, and
arranged that the ships which had brought up corn by the Tiber, should
sail down the river with cargoes of this rubbish. The buildings themselves,
to a certain height, were to be solidly constructed, without wooden
beams, of stone from Gabii or Alba, that material being impervious
to fire. And to provide that the water which individual license had
illegally appropriated, might flow in greater abundance in several
places for the public use, officers were appointed, and everyone was
to have in the open court the means of stopping a fire. Every building,
too, was to be enclosed by its own proper wall, not by one common
to others. These changes which were liked for their utility, also
added beauty to the new city. Some, however, thought that its old
arrangement had been more conducive to health, inasmuch as the narrow
streets with the elevation of the roofs were not equally penetrated
by the sun’s heat, while now the open space, unsheltered by any shade,
was scorched by a fiercer glow.
The Annals by Tacitus