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THE CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED
AT first, Nero was rather frightened at his own crimes.
The Romans, however, did not resent the murder of
Agrippina, but gave public thanks because the emperor's
life had been spared; and when Nero heard of this he
was quite reassured. Shortly afterwards, the gentle
Octavia died too, and then Nero launched forth into a
career of extravagance as wild as that of Caligula.
Always fond of gladiatorial combats and games of all
kinds, Nero himself took part in the public chariot
races. Then, too, although he had a very poor voice,
he liked to go on the stage and perform and sing before
his courtiers, who told him that he was a great actor
and a very fine singer.
Encouraged by these flatterers, Nero grew more
conceited and more wild. To win his favor, many great
people followed his example; and noble ladies soon
appeared on the stage, where they sought the applause
of the worst class in Rome.
 The poor people were admitted free of charge at these
games, provided that they loudly applauded Nero and his
favorites. As they could not attend to their work,
owing to the many festivities, the emperor ordered that
they should be fed at the expense of the state; and he
made lavish gifts of grain.
A comet having appeared at this time, some of the
superstitious Romans ventured to suggest that it was a
sign of a new reign. These words were repeated to
Nero, and displeased him greatly; so he ordered that
all the people who spoke of it should be put to death,
and that their property should be confiscated for his
Some of these unfortunate Romans took their own lives
in order to escape the tortures which awaited them.
There were others whom the emperor did not dare to
arrest openly, lest the people should rise up against
him; and these received secret orders to open their
veins in a bath of hot water, and thus bleed to death.
For the sake of the excitement, Nero used to put on a
disguise and go out on the highways to rob and murder
travelers. On one occasion he attacked a senator, who,
failing to recognize him, struck him a hard blow. The
very next day the senator found out who the robber was,
and, hoping to disarm Nero's rage, went up to the
palace and humbly begged his pardon for striking him.
Nero listened to the apologies in haughty silence, and
then exclaimed; "What, wretch, you have struck Nero,
and are still alive?" And, although he did not kill
the senator then and there, he nevertheless gave the
man strict orders to kill himself; and the poor senator
did not dare to disobey.
 Nero had received a very good education, and so he was
familiar with the great poem of Homer which tells about
the war of Troy. He wished to enjoy the sight of a
fire, such as Homer describes when the Greeks became
masters of that city. He therefore, it is said, gave
orders that Rome should be set afire, and sat up on his
palace tower, watching the destruction, and singing the
verses about the fall of Troy, while he accompanied
himself on his lyre.
A great part of the city was thus destroyed, many lives
were lost, and countless people were made poor; but
the sufferings of others did not trouble the monster
Nero, who delighted in seeing misery of every kind.
Ever since the crucifixion of our Lord, during the
reign of Tiberius, the apostles had been busy preaching
the gospel. Peter and Paul had even visited Rome, and
talked to so many people that there were by this time a
large number of Roman Christians.
The Christians, who had been taught to love one
another, and to be good, could not of course approve of
the wicked Nero's conduct. They boldly reproved him
for his vices, and Nero soon took his revenge by
accusing them of having set fire to Rome, and by having
them seized and tortured in many ways.
Some of the Christians were beheaded, some were exposed
to the wild beasts of the circus, and some were wrapped
up in materials which would easily catch fire, set upon
poles, and used as living torches for the emperor's
games. Others were plunged in kettles of boiling oil
or water, or hunted like wild beasts.
All of them, however, died with great courage, boldly
confessing their faith in Christ; and because they
suf-  fered death for their religion, they have ever since
been known as Martyrs. During this first Roman
persecution, St. Paul was beheaded, and St. Peter was
crucified. St. Peter was placed on the cross head
downward, at his own request, because he did not
consider himself worthy to die as his beloved Master