Ancient Rome by Hal Marcovitz

By Hal Marcovitz

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He decided to persecute a small and obscure religious cult that had recently settled in Rome: the Christians. Accusing the Christians of setting the fire, he ordered them arrested and had hundreds tortured and killed for sport in the arena. Nero’s lavish spending and disregard for the rights of his citizens continued. Finally, in AD 68 even the ordinarily impotent Senate could endure his antics no more. Mustering courage it had not found in many decades, the Senate declared Nero a public enemy and ordered his arrest and execution.

But on August 24 in AD 79, the citizens of Pompeii suddenly saw black smoke rising from Mount Vesuvius. The destruction was swift. Lava poured down the mountainside. The volcano also sent dust and rock high into the air, and these rained down on Pompeii. Some of the rock was on fire as it crashed through the roofs of people’s homes and shops. Many panicked citizens who ran through the streets choked to death on the thick dust falling from the sky. Meanwhile, a heavy rain started falling. Rather than extinguish the fires, the rain only added to people’s misery—it caused a heavy torrent of mud and stone to cascade down the mountain and crash into people’s homes.

Shop owners may have lived above their places of business. Craftspeople and other moderately successful plebeians may have been able to afford some luxuries, such as running water, but most were poor and could afford few amenities. Entire families, including grandparents, parents, and children, were usually crammed into one-room flats. Water had to be hauled in from outdoors. Public latrines were available outside. Fire was often a hazard because cooking was done indoors on open fires. As for the typical plebeian meal, it was of far less quality and quantity than what could be found on the patrician dinner table.

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