-“Nero’s torches” or “Chandeliers of Christianity”, 1876, oil on canvas, Henryk Siemiradzki (Polish 1843-1902) 94 x 174.5 cm. (37 x 68 3/4 in.), please click on the image for greater detail; a favorite painting of mine.
The historical record recounts Christians were present in Rome a mere twelve years after the Resurrection. The painting of “Nero’s Torches” by Siemiradzki depicts an event following the Great Fire of Rome in the summer of A.D. 64. In nine days, the fire destroyed a third of the city’s busiest and most residential quarters and Nero’s involvement with the initial spark was widely rumored. Indeed, the time coincided with the construction of Nero’s famed Domus Aurea, the Golden House , for which urban space was required to satisfy the Emperor’s architectural desires. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Nero now sought to divert the public from the general suspicion of his involvement in the deed: To suppress this rumor, Nero fabricated scapegoats and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called).
First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned not so much for incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies. The official crime, according to Roman Imperial law, was “crimes against humanity”, since they would not sacrifice to the gods, nor indulge in Roman vices, nor worship openly nor publicly. They wouldn’t “go along, to get along”. 😉
Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle . Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being sacrificed to one man’s brutality rather than to the national interest. [Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, London: Penguin Classics, 1996 edition, Book XV, chapter 14, pp.365-366]
The Great Empires: Rome, Communism, Ottomans, Byzantines, Mongols, kingdoms galore, great earthly powers; where are they now? Praise Him. Praise Him.