Fiddler on the Roof

When fire destroyed great parts of Rome in AD 64, many citizens suspected Nero as the arsonist, since the emperor used much of the newly available space to build a lavish palace. Rumours floated that the notorious ruler had watched the flames with great delight from the roof of his palace, singing the “Capture of Troy” in his lyre-player’s costume to celebrate the occasion. The scene was immortalized by Peter Ustinov in the Hollywood blockbuster Quo Vadis (1951). Nowadays, the notion of “Nero fiddling while Rome burnt” is regularly referenced in political cartoons, even though the authenticity of the story is highly questionable and fiddles had not even been invented yet in Roman times.


• Christian Hülsen, ‘The burning of Rome under Nero’, American Journal of Archaeology 13 (1909) 45-48
• Maria Wyke, ‘Make like Nero! The appeal of a cinematic emperor’, in: Jaś Elsner & Jamie Masters (eds.), Reflections of Nero: Culture, History, & Representation (London 1994) 11-28
• Edward Champlin, Nero (Cambridge, MA 2003)
• Paul Murgatroyd, ‘Tacitus on the Great Fire of Rome’, Eranos 103 (2005) 48-54

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