Rome was one of the most prominent civilizations of ancient history, holding a fascination for many. Historian and author Stephen Dando-Collins examines the history of the Roman Empire in his book The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City. Focusing on the massive fire that destroyed much of the city as a key turning point in history, Dando-Collins paints a vivid portrait of ancient Rome that is sure to fascinate readers and anyone with an interest in history.
The account of the fire comprises only one chapter in the middle of the book. The chapters at the beginning involve set-up, mostly acquainting readers with key players of the time period and various events which are important to understand. The chapters following the details of the fire regard fallout and how the fire shaped several events which followed. The extent of different individuals involved, with such complicated Roman names, may be hard to follow for the average reader. This is necessary, though, as each person talked about is an important figure in the history of events.
Dando-Collins does an excellent job of showing how disastrous the fire is and how such a disaster can reflect on leadership Ė in this case, that of the Emperor Nero Ė whose personage history has regarded primarily as irresponsible, reckless and (in some extreme cases) evil, with all sorts of other negative characteristics that reflect poorly on a leader.
As a good historian should be, Dando-Collins seems interested only in accurately reporting on the truth of the events that happened. He doesnít seem to be on a quest to vindicate Nero or justify the young emperorís actions; instead, he presents a factual account of Romeís history and resolves misconceptions. For instance, Nero did not fiddle while Rome burnt (the fiddle hadnít been invented yet), but the emperor was an aspiring musician with a penchant for the arts. Nero was not there when the fire broke out. While initially allowing his subordinates to handle the problem, when he realized the extent of the conflagration, he sailed for home immediately to attend to his city.
Dando-Collins educates about Emperor Nero with thorough research and a fresh perspective. He doesnít sugarcoat details such as rampant adultery and Neroís arranged murder of his mother, but the historian also credits the good decisions Nero made, especially regarding the rebuilding after the fire. Dando-Collins makes it easy for readers to follow the lineage of the caesars without ever presenting any sort of bias, and Nero emerges as a fascinating and complex individual.
Roman civilization comes to life throughout The Great Fire of Rome. With this skilled writing, Dando-Collins shows a society where murder and betrayal are all commonplace, revealing the dark details that have fascinated even the most casual of history fans and inspired all sorts of pop culture about ancient Rome. Conspiracies were everywhere in the Roman society, adultery was to be expected, and suicide was considered honorable. Dando-Collins shows how the Roman Empire was contradictory - an advanced and enlightened civilization for its time, yet also a viperís nest where no one could be trusted and the pallor of death shadowed over everyday actions.
While itís fascinating to read about such an advanced society with such morally questionable characters, readers will be relieved that they are only learning about this society and not living in it. Dando-Collins delivers a well-researched history of one of the key turning points in the Roman Empire. Just as the fire made its mark on history, Dando-Collins has made his mark in historical research, with a book that has a well-deserved place on historyís bookshelf.