Modern statue representing Tacitus
outside the Austrian Parliament Building
By Spencer D Gear
Secular historian, Tacitus (ca. AD 56-120), wrote his Annals and included details of the Neronian persecution in AD 64. This writing was ‘perhaps fifty years after the event, and therefore not to be accepted without question’ (Latourette 1975:85). Tacitus wrote:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).
How many Christians were martyred in the city of Rome during the Neronian persecution of AD 64? It was an ‘immense multitude’, according to a secular historian, Tacitus.
Latourette, K S 1975. A history of Christianity: To A.D. 1500, vol 1, rev ed. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
 Lifespan date from N S Gill, ‘Tacitus’, Ancient/Classical History, available at: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/historianstacitus/a/Tacitus.htm (Accessed 18 January 2014).
 Latourette wrote that ‘the most famous of the early persecutions [of Christians] was that in Rome in A.D. 64…. Tradition, probably reliable, reports that both Peter and Paul suffered death at Rome under Nero, although not necessarily at this time. Peter’s remains are supposed now to lie under the high altar in the cathedral which bears his name in what were once the gardens of Nero. It may have been that the persecution of Nero spread to the provinces’ (Latourette 1975:85).
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.