I presume after fire of Rome Nero persecuted Christians. But it is the form of persecution which interest me since Tacitus writes

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.

What I want to know is it even possible that people can be used as source of light at all? I say this because it really takes a lot of fuel and effort to burn dead people lying down (in cremation) then it can not be the easiest and even effective way to torture, humiliate people and send message to society (who are on tied straight up) which I suppose was the goal of Nero.

  • Considering that Nero was generally regarded as being egotistical, I wouldn't doubt that he would do it merely on the grounds of it not being easy. Also, Tacitus is pretty close to being a primary source, so what sort of evidence are you looking for? Are you calling into question his account because of his bias due to the fact that he was supported by some of Nero's rivals? – called2voyage Apr 10 '14 at 19:46
  • 3
    My interpretation is that the flames provided the lighting, not the burning of the people. Tacitus is clearly resorting to hyperbole here. – andy256 Apr 10 '14 at 23:14
  • 1
    chain a living person to a pole, cover him/her in a layer of straw and tar, and set it afire. Result won't be pretty. Person will get seriously burnt (quite likely succumbing to the burns in a few hours at most), and you'll get a lot of smoke. – jwenting Apr 11 '14 at 9:56
  • 1
    I have flagged this question for migration to Skeptics.SE or Physics.SE. It seems the OP is not questioning the historicity of the account, but rather whether it is physically possible for the human body to actually have been the source of the lighting and not the combustibles used to burn the body. – called2voyage May 13 '14 at 16:57
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic; perhaps Skeptics:SE? – Mark C. Wallace May 13 '14 at 18:24

In the book The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City.' (Da Capo, Cambridge, Mass, 7 September 2010). author Stephen Dando Collins puts forward the theory that the people persecuted by Nero were not Christians, but an Egyptian sect (the priests of Isis).

Part of the reasoning is that Christians were few at the time and relatively unknown, thus providing a poor scapegoat to divert attention away from himself. The Isis followers were more common and not well liked.

Also, the burning and covering with skins at torn by dogs was apparently very unclean to Isis followers (say like wrapping current-day Muslims in pigskins). There's nothing in these punishments that plays on Christian doctrine for sick amusement as opposed to any other Roman.

The theory is that later copyists interpolated Christians back into the text because legends had grown up about Nero's Persecutions.

It is a plausible bit of revisionism in an interesting book.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    sounds plausible indeed. And quite possibly other religious minorities got caught up in it, including Christians (who, because of their rejection of imperial divinity were not very popular to say the least, same reason the Isis cult was persecuted). – jwenting Apr 11 '14 at 9:53
  • @jwenting That is even more plausible to me. I could see Nero saying "Let's burn all religious minorities, because well obviously they're up to no good if they can't even follow the right religion." Later on when Christians are more well known than the sect of Isis, the accounts of persecution refer to the Christians when the persecution may not have been predominantly oriented toward them. – called2voyage Apr 11 '14 at 11:59
  • 2
    @called2voyage Nero (and Romans in general) couldn't care less about your religion, as long as your religion did not reject the Roman Pantheon. Both Christianity and the Isis cults were violently monotheistic, rejecting the Roman Pantheon and with it the divinity of the Emperor (who was positioned as a son of Apollo). That turned them into political enemies, a far worse crime than simply having a different religion. – jwenting Apr 11 '14 at 12:10
  • @jwenting I wasn't saying so much that they cared as they would be an easy scapegoat, though yes, it is a lot more likely that they would go after the more virulent monotheists (at least first). – called2voyage Apr 11 '14 at 12:15
  • 1
    The Romans did care about religion to some extent - not participating in the rites for past emperors was considered seditious, and was the usual excuse for mass Christian Persecution. – Oldcat Apr 11 '14 at 16:57

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.