Between the years 60 and 62, Emperor Nero (r. 54-68) dedicated a gymnasium that he had constructed in Rome. According to ancient sources such as Cassius Dio, Philostratus and Tacitus, it was a beautiful building that was decorated with great statues, including a bronze piece modeled after Nero, himself. The great gymnasium, however, did not last long—unfortunately, it burned in a dramatic fire.
Tacitus recorded the building’s destruction in his work, The Annals of Imperial Rome. According to his account, it seemed as if the sky-god, Jupiter, had a personal grudge against Nero and the gymnasium. In the year 62 or 63, the building was apparently struck by a powerful bolt of lightning, igniting a fire that destroyed the gymnasium. Tacitus paid particular attention to the statue of Nero that held a prominent position in the structure. According to the historian, all that was left of the emperor’s bronze statue was a melted puddle of shapeless metal. In the eyes of the superstitious, this was considered an ill omen for the emperor’s future.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (1st century bust of Emperor Nero, housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona, on top of Illustration of ancient Rome by Edgar S. Shumway, published in the 1880s, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.