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Thread: Rome Rewrites History for Nero Makeover

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    Post Rome Rewrites History for Nero Makeover

    ALMOST 2000 years after he was accused of burning down Rome, the emperor Nero is to be rehabilitated in the Eternal City as a sensitive ruler who could not bear even to condemn gladiators to death.
    Nero, who ruled from the age of 16 in AD54 until his suicide aged 30, has been blamed by many historians for starting the week-long Great Fire of Rome that devastated the city in AD64. Suetonius, the contemporary writer, wrote that Nero, whom he described as pretty, blond, blue-eyed and big-bellied, "fiddled while Rome burnt".

    In books and films, including the 1951 Quo Vadis, starring Peter Ustinov, Nero appears as a depraved tyrant who murdered his mother, Agrippina, his first wife, Octavia and his stepbrother, Britannicus. He persecuted early Christians, launching a purge that allegedly led to the slaying of the apostles Peter and Paul.

    An exhibition starting this month will present a contrasting picture. "We want to rehabilitate Nero, to show people the many positive aspects of his rule -- things that we never hear about," said archeologist Marisa Ranieri Panetta.

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    According to Ms Ranieri Panetta, the first to attack Nero were rich senators who turned against him when he tried to impose a wealth tax.

    "It's not true that he started the Great Fire. The fire started at the Circus Maximus, which was just under the Palatine Hill where he lived - he wouldn't have lit a fire under his own home," she said. "It's true that he profited from the fire, in that he got more land . . . but he put up the homeless in his gardens and rebuilt Rome to make it more beautiful, with wider streets to prevent fires."

    Maria Antonietta Tomei, chief curator of the exhibition, described Nero as enlightened in many ways: "In the early part of his reign, he hated war and the sight of blood, he refused to sign death sentences and he always saved the lives of gladiators.

    "Nero was intelligent, well read, sensitive, he wrote poems of good quality, he loved painting and architecture. He kept taxes on ordinary people down, he gave pensions to poor senators. The people loved him; they lay flowers on his tomb for months after he died."

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    Many accounts of Roman emperors might be blackened or enhanced by political partisans. Another famous account is Caligula's planned Germanic invasion in which he supposedly only advanced to the English Channel and gathered some shells. Lately archeologists recovered a battlefield in eastern Germany proving not only that Caligula's Germanic invasion happened but penetrated very far into Germanic territory.

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