Tacitus was a fierce critic of Nero, and modern scholars have
questioned the reliability of his account of this notorious Roman
Emperor; but the following passage from his Annals is famous
because it is one of the first mentions in a non-Christian source
of Christianity. In 64 CE Rome underwent a catastrophic fire,
which some believed had been set at the orders of the emperor
himself. Tacitus claims that Nero tried to shift the blame to
the unpopular Christians, though other sources indicate that their
persecution may have been unconnected to the fire. It is not clear
exactly why many Romans so detested the new believers, though
Christians were often confused with Jews, who were accused of
being rebellious (with some reason, since the Jews of Judaea more
than once created insurrections against the Roman provincial government)
and lazy (since they rested on the Sabbath). Scandalous rumors
about obscene Christian rituals circulated at an early date, and
we know that they were accused of disloyalty because of their
refusal to perform the token ritual acknowledging the divine status
of the Emperor, viewed by most citizens as little different from
a modern flag salute. If Tacitus shows sympathy for them, it is
because he detests Nero more. Whatever their exact cause this
early persecution and later ones made a profound impact on the
Christian Church, and bequeathed a legacy of colorful tales of
martyred saints who were celebrated in story, song, and art for
the next two millenia, long after the Church had triumphed over
What were the main accusations brought against the Christians?
Translated by Richard Hooker
This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.
The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:
Department of English
Washington State University
This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. If, after examining the table of contents of the complete volume, you are interested in considering it for use at your own campus, please contact Paul Brians.
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