Nero at the burning of Rome, from an illustration by Howard Pyle for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Codex.

On this day in 64, Rome burned. The heroic emperor Nero, in an attempt to calm the panicked crowds, played a medley of popular song hits on his lyre; but curiously his performance had the opposite effect. The lingering unease in the Roman population made it necessary to torture a large number of Christians to death. Nero thus deserves credit for discovering the principle that torturing Christians has a sedative effect on angry mobs.