This month on the History Cafe, we are talking about the notorious emperor Nero. Perhaps most famous for “fiddling while Rome burned,” (and to be fair, when everything was pretty much burned down, Nero built one of the largest palaces ever constructed in Rome, complete with gardens, courtyards, and all the gold one might imagine necessary to such an enterprise), Nero’s actual legacy was cemented by successors who often wanted to portray a more negative image of their predecessors. Within Nero’s life, there is some evidence that he took reasonable steps as emperor, returning to Rome to help fight the fire, supporting the rights of some of the provinces (he might have been particularly popular in the Eastern provinces), and generally working to consolidate power as any of his more famous predecessors (Julius Caesar, Claudius, and others) would have done equally. Our guest is Will Guast who served as classics fellow at Marlboro from 2010-2012. He is now back in England teaching Latin and Greece.
Somehow, I imagine Nero as a big pastrami sandwich on rye…I really have absolutely no reason for this. Of course the Romans did have both beef and rye flour, and they certainly pickled their fair share of things (Garum – a sauce actually made of pickled fish – was extremely popular…it was probably something like the Thai fish sauce that is fairly well known today). So theoretically, all the ingredients existed for Rome to make a pastrami sandwich…but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. Despite the image of debauched banquets amongst Roman leaders, epicurean and stoic philosophy (both popular in Nero’s time) both espoused dietary restrictions, sometimes including vegetarianism, but at least moderation. Not what I think of when I think of pastrami on rye. Anyway, I like my pastrami sandwiches with coleslaw on top and lots of mustard and pickles on the side.
Griffin, Miriam T. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. Routledge, 2000.
Roller, Matthew. Constructing Autocracy: Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome. Princeton University Press, 2001.
Bauman, Richard. Women and Politics in Rome. Routledge, 2002.