On this day in 64 AD, the Great Fire of Rome started. At the time, many people said that Emperor Nero started it — singing and playing his lyre while the city burned. This is where the phrase “fiddled while Rome burned” comes from. Nero blamed the Christians for it. Sadly, neither of these stories is likely correct. Most likely, it was just an accident — or that same damned cow from Chicago!
It isn’t surprising that a lot of people at the time would have blamed Nero. He seems to have been well liked by the little people. But the power elite did not like him. And they were the ones in a position to have nasty things written down about him. Still, there was speculation that he burned part of the city to make way for a villa he wanted to build. In that case, he wouldn’t have intended to burn half the city. And we have to remember that Nero was, in fact, an emperor. And thus he was totally insane.
The case for some Christian group doing it is much stronger. Remember, Christianity is an apocalyptic cult. Even today, they are all excited about the end times when the rest of us will be killed (and then tortured for all eternity). So during these early days of Christianity, there were certainly people who wanted to get the promised apocalypse going. So the idea that they would torch Rome isn’t at all unreasonable.
But I think the simplest explanation is usually the best. And in this case, there was a fire. Fires happen. They are terrible. But there you go.