Annals 15.43 refers to Rome burning 'by the Gauls', & fire; then 15.44 refers to Nero's punishment/persecution of Christians due to the Great Fire of Rome: -
[Note also the references to banquets in both passages; to either chariots or charioteers in both passages; and references to cheating and robbing the people (Nero 16) or criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment (Annals 15.44)]
Authors have variably argued that "We read the lives of the Cæsars: at Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith" in Scorpiace 15 is referring to the passage in Nero 16, the Annals 15.44 passage, or to both passages.
Annals 15.45 is also interesting in this context -
- "Meanwhile Italy was thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money, the provinces were ruined, as also the allied nations and the free states, as they were called. Even the gods fell victims to the plunder; for the temples in Rome were despoiled and the gold carried off, which, for a triumph or a vow, the Roman people in every age had consecrated in their prosperity or their alarm. Throughout Asia and Achaia not only votive gifts, but the images of deities were seized, Acratus and Secundus Carinas having been sent into those provinces. The first was a freedman ready for any wickedness; the latter, as far as speech went, was thoroughly trained in Greek learning, but he had not imbued his heart with sound principles. Seneca, it was said, to avert from himself the obloquy of sacrilege, begged for the seclusion of a remote rural retreat, and, when it was refused, feigning ill health, as though he had a nervous ailment, would not quit his chamber. According to some writers, poison was prepared for him at Nero's command by his own freedman, whose name was Cleonicus. This Seneca avoided through the freedman's disclosure, or his own apprehension, while he used to support life on the very simple diet of wild fruits, with water from a running stream when thirst prompted."
Other passages in Scorpiace refer to fire or persecution -viz. -
We have faith for a defence, if we are not smitten with distrust itself also, in immediately making the sign and adjuring, and besmearing the heel with the beast. Finally, we often aid in this way even the heathen, seeing we have been endowed by God with that power which the apostle first used when he despised the viper's bite [Acts 28:3]. What, then, does this pen of yours offer, if faith is safe by what it has of its own? That it may be safe by what it has of its own also at other times, when it is subjected to scorpions of its own. These, too, have a troublesome littleness, and are of different sorts, and are armed in one manner, and are stirred up at a definite time, and that not another than one of burning heat. This among Christians is a season of persecution. When, therefore, faith is greatly agitated, and the Church burning, as represented by the bush [Exodus 3:2], then the Gnostics break out, then the Valentinians creep forth, then all the opponents of martyrdom bubble up, being themselves also hot to strike, penetrate, kill.
And now the present state of matters is such, that we are in the midst of an intense heat, the very dog-star of persecution —a state originating doubtless with the 'dog-headed one' himself. Of some Christians the fire, of others the sword, of others the beasts, have made trial; others are hungering in prison for the martyrdoms of which they have had a taste in the meantime by being subjected to clubs and claws besides. We ourselves, having been appointed for pursuit, are like hares being hemmed in from a distance; and heretics go about according to their wont. Therefore the state of the times has prompted me to prepare by my pen, in opposition to the little beasts which trouble our sect, our antidote against poison, that I may thereby effect cures. You who read will at the same time drink. Nor is the draught bitter. If the utterances of the Lord are sweeter than honey and the honeycombs, the juices are from that source. If the promise of God flows with milk and honey, Exodus 3:17 the ingredients which go to make that draught have the smack of this.
As says Esaias, See how the righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; and righteous men are taken away, and no one considers it: for from before the face of unrighteousness the righteous man perishes, and he shall have honour at his burial. Here, too, you have both an announcement of martyrdoms, and of the recompense they bring. From the beginning, indeed, righteousness suffers violence. Forthwith, as soon as God has begun to be worshipped, religion has got ill-will for her portion. He who had pleased God is slain, and that by his brother. Beginning with kindred blood, in order that it might the more easily go in quest of that of strangers, ungodliness made the object of its pursuit, finally, that not only of righteous persons, but even of prophets also. David is persecuted; Elias put to flight; Jeremias stoned; Esaias cut asunder; Zacharias butchered between the altar and the temple, imparting to the hard stones lasting marks of his blood [Matthew 14:3]. That person himself, at the close of the law and the prophets, and called not a prophet, but a messenger, is, suffering an ignominious death, beheaded to reward a dancing-girl. And certainly they who were wont to be led by the Spirit of God used to be guided by Himself to martyrdoms; so that they had even already to endure what they had also proclaimed as requiring to be borne. Wherefore the brotherhood of the three also, when the dedication of the royal image was the occasion of the citizens being pressed to offer worship, knew well what faith, which alone in them had not been taken captive, required—namely, that they must resist idolatry to the death [Daniel 3:12].
... "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The following statement, indeed, applies first to all without restriction, then specially to the apostles themselves: "Blessed shall you be when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, since very great is your reward in heaven; for so used their fathers to do even to the prophets. So that He likewise foretold their having to be themselves also slain, after the example of the prophets." Though, even if He had appointed all this persecution in case He were obeyed for those only who were then apostles, assuredly through them along with the entire sacrament, with the shoot of the name, with the layer of the Holy Spirit, the rule about enduring persecution also would have had respect to us too, as to disciples by inheritance, and, (as it were,) bushes from the apostolic seed.
... There will need to be carried on in heaven persecution even, which is the occasion of confession or denial. Why, then, do you refrain, O most presumptuous heretic, from transporting to the world above the whole series of means proper to the intimidation of Christians, and especially to put there the very hatred for the name, where Christ rules at the right hand of the Father? Will you plant there both synagogues of the Jews — fountains of persecution— before which the apostles endured the scourge, and heathen assemblages with their own circus, forsooth, where they readily join in the cry, Death to the third race?
Unerring reason has commanded us to set forth these things in even a playful manner; nor will any one thrust out the bar consisting in this objection (we have offered), so as not to be compelled to transfer the whole array of means proper to persecution, all the powerful instrumentality which has been provided for dealing with this matter, to the place where he has put the court before which confession should be made. Since confession is elicited by persecution, and persecution ended in confession, there cannot but be at the same time, in attendance upon these, the instrumentality which determines both the entrance and the exit, that is, the beginning and the end. But both hatred for the name will be here, persecution breaks out here, betrayal brings men forth here, examination uses force here, torture rages here, and confession or denial completes this whole course of procedure on the earth. Therefore, if the other things are here, confession also is not elsewhere; if confession is elsewhere, the other things also are not here.
In the same manner, therefore, we maintain that the other announcements too refer to the condition of martyrdom. He, says Jesus, who will value his own life also more than me, is not worthy of me, Luke 14:26 — that is, he who will rather live by denying, than die by confessing, me; and he who finds his life shall lose it; but he who loses it for my sake shall find it Matthew 10:39. Therefore indeed he finds it, who, in winning life, denies; but he who thinks that he wins it by denying, will lose it in hell. On the other hand, he who, through confessing, is killed, will lose it for the present, but is also about to find it unto everlasting life ... How would Christ speak, but in accordance with the treatment to which the Christian would be subjected? But when He forbids thinking about what answer to make at a judgment-seat, Matthew 10:19 He is preparing His own servants for what awaited them, He gives the assurance that the Holy Spirit will answer by them; and when He wishes a brother to be visited in prison, Matthew 25:36 He is commanding that those about to confess be the object of solicitude; and He is soothing their sufferings when He asserts that God will avenge His own elect. Luke 18:7 In the parable also of the withering of the word Matthew 13:3 after the green blade had sprung up, He is drawing a picture with reference to the burning heat of persecutions.