As disgusting a human being as the Roman emperor Nero became, many in Rome’s lower class mourned his death because “he had been as generous to the poor as he had been recklessly cruel to the great,” as historian Will Durant wrote in Caesar and Christ (1944).
But “generosity to the poor” was just politics. In truth, there was one thing Nero genuinely cared about above all else: Nero.
In fact in 64 AD, Nero proposed a grand idea to the Senate that would improve a very built-out city of Rome. He wanted to tear down structures in a third of the city to build back better with a glorious series of villas, pavilions, and palaces. He suggested that history remember the new city as Neropolis.
The senate said no.
That summer, mysteriously, a fire broke out in the highly combustible shops lining the Circus Maximus near the Caelian and Palatine Hills of Rome. The fire grew to an inferno that raged for six days. It was brought under control, then reignited somehow and burned for three more days, scorching an even wider area. This was the Great Fire of Rome.
Strangely, as terrified residents scrambled from their wooden shacks onto skinny streets