Burrhus died about the same time, and Seneca alone could not restrain the Emperor from his foolish vanity. He would descend into the arena of the great amphitheatre and sing to the lyre his own compositions; and he showed off his charioteering in the circus before the whole assembled city, letting no one go away till the performance was over. It very much shocked the patricians, but the mob were delighted, and he chiefly cared for their praises. He was building a huge palace, called the Golden House because of its splendid decorations; and, needing money, he caused accusations to be got up against all the richer men that he might have their hoards.
A terrible fire broke out in Rome, which raged for six days, and entirely destroyed fourteen quarters of the city. While it was burning, Nero, full of excitement, stood watching it, and sang to his lyre the description of the burning of Troy. A report therefore arose that he had actually caused the fire for the amusement of watching it; and to put this out of men’s minds he accused the Christians. The Christian faith had begun to be known in Rome during the last reign, and it was to Nero, as Caesar, that St. Paul had appealed. He had spent two years in a hired house of his own at Rome, and thus had been in the guard-room of the Praetorians, but he was released after being tried at “Caesar’s judgment-seat,” and remained at large until this sudden outburst which caused the first persecution. Then he was taken at Nicopolis, and St. Peter at Rome, and they were thrown into the Mamertine dungeon. Rome counts St. Peter as her first bishop. On the 29th of June, A.D. 66, both suffered; St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, being beheaded with the sword; St. Peter crucified, with his head, by his own desire, downwards. Many others suffered at the same time, some being thrown to the beasts, while others were wrapped in cloths covered with pitch, and slowly burnt to light the games in the Emperor’s gardens. At last the people were shocked, and cried out for these horrors to end. And Nero, who cared for the people, turned his hatred and cruelty against men of higher class whose fate they heeded less. So common was it to have a message advising a man to put himself to death rather than be sentenced, that every one had studied easy ways of dying. Nero’s old tutor, Seneca, felt his tyranny unbearable, and had joined in a plot for overthrowing him, but it was found out, and Seneca had to die by his own hand. The way he chose, and his wife too for his sake, was to open their veins, get into a warm bath, and bleed to death.
Nero made a journey to Greece, and showed off at Olympus and the Isthmus, at the same time robbing the Greek cities of numbers of their best statues and reliefs to adorn his Golden House; for the Romans had no original art—they could only imitate the Greeks and employ Greek artists. But danger was closing in on Nero. Such an Emperor could be endured no longer, and the generals of the armies in the provinces began to threaten him, they not being smitten dumb and helpless as every one at Rome seemed to be.