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Tacitus: The Great Fire of Rome and the Pisonian Conspiracy (Annals 15)

5. The Great Fire of Rome (Annals 15.33-47)

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About this Lecture


In this module, Ed talks about the short middle section of the 15th Book of Tacitus' Annals, which deals with the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. There were important events both before and after the fire itself, which Ed also discusses: first, we have Nero's first appearance on the stage, an act which was nothing less than a complete travesty of Roman social norms; second, there is the construction of the Domus Aurea, or Golden House, a magnificent pleasure palace that Nero built in the area cleared by the fire; and finally, there is the question of who was to blame for the fire. Nero appears to have been out of the city the time, but that didn't stop the rumours that he had started the fire deliberately. Nero for his part decided to blame members of a new religious sect in Rome - the followers of a recently-executed Jewish prophet known as 'Christus'


In this course, Dr Ed Bispham (University of Oxford) explores Book 15 of Tacitus' Annals. We begin by considering Tacitus as a historian. How does he construct his history, and how much can we trust him? We then give a general overview of Nero's life and times, from his accession to the throne in the mid-50s AD to his death in 68 AD. Finally, we look at the three main episodes of Book 15 of the Annals: the conflict with the Parthians in Armenia, the Great Fire of Rome, and the Pisonian Conspiracy.


Ed is interested in all areas of antiquity, the classical world and its interlocutors. At Oxford, he teaches most ancient history papers. For the past decade and a bit more he has been thinking about how historians should and can use archaeological data, and vice versa. He has been very lucky to be able to go to the mountains in central Italy and think about this while other people shovel large amounts of soil around. Currently he is chairman of the Sub-Faculty of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology: his present project involves trying to find out what this means in practice.

His research interests fall broadly into three categories at the moment: the history, archaeology and epigraphy of Italy, especially the impact of the Roman conquest; the political and cultural history of the Roman Republic; early Roman historiography. He is Co-Director of the Sangro Valley Project (Phase II), with Prof. Susan Kane, of Oberlin College, Ohio.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Bispham, E. (2018, August 15). Tacitus: The Great Fire of Rome and the Pisonian Conspiracy (Annals 15) - The Great Fire of Rome (Annals 15.33-47) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Bispham, E. "Tacitus: The Great Fire of Rome and the Pisonian Conspiracy (Annals 15) – The Great Fire of Rome (Annals 15.33-47)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,