1 The Neronian Persecution

The Neronian persecution took place A. D. 64. The occasion was the great

fire which destroyed a large part of the city of Rome. To turn public

suspicion from himself as responsible for the fire, Nero attempted to make

the Christians appear as the incendiaries. Many were put to death in

horrible and fantastic ways. It was not, however, a persecution directed

against Christianity as an unlawful religion. It was probably confined to
Rome and at most the immediate vicinity, and there is no evidence that it

was a general persecution.

Additional source material: Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, ch. 2

(ANF, VII); Sulpicius Severus, Chronicon, II. 28 (PNF, ser. II, vol. XI).

(a) Tacitus, Annales, XV, 44. Preuschen, Analecta, I, § 3:1. Mirbt,

n. 3.

Tacitus (c. 52-c. 117), although not an eye-witness of the

persecution, had exceptionally good opportunities for obtaining

accurate information, and his account is entirely trustworthy. He

is the principal source for the persecution.

Neither by works of benevolence nor the gifts of the prince nor means of

appeasing the gods did the shameful suspicion cease, so that it was not

believed that the fire had been caused by his command. Therefore, to

overcome this rumor, Nero put in his own place as culprits, and punished

with most ingenious cruelty, men whom the common people hated for their

shameful crimes and called Christians. Christ, from whom the name was

derived, had been put to death in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator

Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition, having been checked for a while,

began to break out again, not only throughout Judea, where this mischief

first arose, but also at Rome, where from all sides all things scandalous

and shameful meet and become fashionable. Therefore, at the beginning,

some were seized who made confessions; then, on their information, a vast

multitude was convicted, not so much of arson as of hatred of the human

race. And they were not only put to death, but subjected to insults, in

that they were either dressed up in the skins of wild beasts and perished

by the cruel mangling of dogs, or else put on crosses to be set on fire,

and, as day declined, to be burned, being used as lights by night. Nero

had thrown open his gardens for that spectacle, and gave a circus play,

mingling with the people dressed in a charioteer's costume or driving in a

chariot. From this arose, however, toward men who were, indeed, criminals

and deserving extreme penalties, sympathy, on the ground that they were

destroyed not for the public good, but to satisfy the cruelty of an


(b) Clement of Rome, Ep. ad Corinthios, I, 5, 6. Funk, Patres

Apostolici, 1901. (MSG, 1:218.) Preuschen, Analecta, I, § 3:5.

The work known as the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians

was written in the name of the Roman Church about 100. The

occasion was the rise of contentions in the Corinthian Church. The

name of Clement does not appear in the body of the epistle, but

there is no good ground for questioning the traditional ascription

to Clement, since before the end of the second century it was

quoted under his name by several writers. This Clement was

probably the third or fourth bishop of Rome. The epistle was

written soon after the Domitian persecution (A. D. 95), and refers

not only to that but also to an earlier persecution, which was

very probably that under Nero. As the reference is only by way of

illustration, the author gives little detail. The passage

translated is of interest as containing the earliest reference to

the death of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the language used

regarding Paul has been thought to imply that he labored in parts

beyond Rome.

Ch. 5. But to leave the ancient examples, let us come to the champions who

lived nearest our times; let us take the noble examples of our generation.

On account of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of

the Church were persecuted, and contended even unto death. Let us set

before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who on account of unrighteous

jealousy endured not one nor two, but many sufferings, and so, having

borne his testimony, went to his deserved place of glory. On account of

jealousy and strife Paul pointed out the prize of endurance. After he had

been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned,

had been a preacher in the East and in the West, he received the noble

reward of his faith; having taught righteousness unto the whole world, and

having come to the farthest bounds of the West, and having borne witness

before rulers, he thus departed from the world and went unto the holy

place, having become a notable pattern of patient endurance.

Ch. 6. Unto these men who lived lives of holiness was gathered a vast

multitude of the elect, who by many indignities and tortures, being the

victims of jealousy, set the finest examples among us. On account of

jealousy women, when they had been persecuted as Danaids and Dircae, and

had suffered cruel and unholy insults, safely reached the goal in the race

of faith and received a noble reward, feeble though they were in body.