On this day, 1,944 years ago, the Great Fire of Rome began.
The fire was devastating. It burned for six days and seven nights, utterly destroying four of fourteen districts in Rome and severely damaging most of the rest. The palace of Emperor Nero and some prominent pagan temples were destroyed in the blaze.
Some accounts claim Nero "fiddled while Rome burned," but it is more likely that he was not in the city at the time. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, however, in response to rumors that Nero himself started the fire, Nero blamed the Christians in Rome.
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.
It is interesting how this disaster lead to one of the earliest non-Christian accounts of Jesus and the early Christian movement.