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What the Roman Emperor Nero Did For You

This article was published in October, 2006 under the following title:

Offer Thanks to Nero

Why, one might ask, would modern civilization owe a debt of gratitude to the unpopular, infamous Roman emperor Nero, dead two thousand years now by his own hand? For those folks not tuned in to their own historical roots, Nero is an important part of your culture, not just a computer software tool for burning compact disks. Nero gathered a magnificent collection of classical Greek sculpture from all over the Roman Empire, and much of that collection was lost following his downfall. However, that is not the end of the story.

You may have heard the tale of how Nero fiddled while Rome burned in 64 A.D. First, let us lay that story to rest. Despite the hatred he engendered in the Roman populace for his many atrocities, there is no evidence to support this rumor. In fact, he appears to have been rather helpful to a devastated Rome during that period. No, we cannot give him credit for the burning of Rome, but Nero had many other sins for which to account--using Christians as human torches comes to mind first.

One of Nero's chief failings was vanity. Nero considered himself to be enormously talented in all things: art, drama, athletics, and, of course, music, a fiddler extraordinaire he claimed. Perhaps he was. We are told that he won every single competition he ever entered, whether artistic or athletic. We are further told that the reason he always won was because really unpleasant things happened to anyone who bested him. Nero made good use of the wide-spread destruction of Rome. The emperor's own house, the Domus Transitoria, was destroyed in the fire, but free space was now available in the burned out city. Nero took advantage of that space to build a pleasure palace, his Domus Aurea, or Golden House.

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