The Christians of Rome were very much a minority. However, they were very vocal one. One of the major attractions of Christianity was the fact that the believers were promised a place in heaven when they died. Under the majority of the other religions of Rome the only people who were entitled to eternal life with those who were rich and/or powerful enough to be able to be initiated into one of the mystery religions such as that of Demeter. There are of course very many more poor people than rich and powerful ones, and so the message that 'a camel would more easily pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man could enter the kingdom of heaven' was an extremely persuasive message to offer people to whom religion was a very important and ever present part of their lives. The majority of people fear death above everything else; a religious belief that death is only the beginning of existence, and not the end, persuaded a large number of those who felt that their lives were otherwise meaningless that Christianity was a route to eternal life that would be denied to those in authority above them.
The Romans were very tolerant of most religions, of which there were many during the early days of the Empire. The Christians unfortunately were not so tolerant. They were taught that there was one God and one God only, and all others were abominations. Whilst this was enough to set them aside from the majority of Roman people, they also had a belief which set them apart from the ruling classes, too; they refuse to accept that any emperor of Rome could be a deity. Since temples were being erected for the worship of emperors, both living and dead, the Christians consider these to be idolatrous and they refused point-blank to worship them. This threatened the cohesion of the state and it was not long before toleration of Christianity turned to persecution.
We have all heard of the way in which Christians were persecuted in Rome, partly in the arena where they were put to death in various glory ways! The majority of them however went to their deaths bravely and calmly. This is because they were convinced that once they died, they would enter the kingdom of heaven and have life eternal. This was quite unsettling for the ruling classes since they looked upon Christianity as a dangerous sect which needed to be eradicated; by showing such bravery in the face of their execution there was a danger that the beliefs of the Christians would be taken up by the mass of the people of Rome. This danger was real; and an acceptance of the teachings of Christ was beginning to permeate even into the upper extra loans of Roman society.
There are some who believe that the Emperor Nero had a bad press. He was an artist and musician at a time when Romans felt that the only ones who deserved their respect were men of valour and action. It would take a very brave man of course to openly criticise a Roman emperor whilst he was alive; but once he was dead it was open season! The great Fire of Rome gave an excuse to a number of writers to pour their literary bile on Nero. It was alleged by a number of such scribes, who wrote about these events long after they had happened, that Nero actually colluded in starting the fire so that he could clear the way large areas of mainly slum buildings in order to have space to direct his own palaces.The fact is that when the great Fire of Rome broke out, Nero hurried back to Rome in order to help keep the conflagration under control, and he in fact spent a great deal of his own money on firefighters. It is important to realise that there was no effective state system existing at the time to eradicate large-scale fires of this kind, and organising a defence against it at such short notice was extremely difficult. It is indeed possible that whilst the great Fire was raging, Nero did take some solace in his fiddle, but to suggest that he was completely nonchalant about what was occurring is a historical inaccuracy.
The followers of Christ were indeed blamed by Nero for causing the great Fire. Persecution, which had been at a fairly low level up until then, reached new heights and it is even alleged that hundreds of Christians were burned alive. However, are we so sure that they were innocent?
They believe that there was one God and one God only. As a direct consequence of this, they viewed temples to all the other deities as being an abomination. Disapproving of the temple is one thing; the problem is that some of them took their disapproval a stage further and actually began to burn temples to the ground. Historically, of course, it is often very difficult to find out the truth about what has happened in the world only a short while ago, even in these days of instant communication and the widespread use of mobile telephones. How much more difficult is it to be sure about what happened around 2000 years ago. However there are numerous allegations in the ancient writings that the fire was caused by Christians; whilst we cannot prove this it is entirely possible that their incendiary activities could have kicked off the general conflagration which occurred.
After the fire, of course, Nero had vast areas of burnt out land cleared, and redeveloped to his own taste. Perhaps this is the main reason why so many people are prepared to believe that he, and not the Christians, were responsible for the conflagration.
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