Check out this Laptop Lecture, by Steve Tuck, Professor of Classics, which considers how The Roman Emperor Nero provides a surprising model of a leader’s role in disaster recovery.
The Ancient Origins of Government Disaster Response
Hi, I'm Dr. Steven Tuck, a professor of Classics and History here at Miami University. Much of my current research on the ancient world explores natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and plagues. I focus particularly on the government's role in disaster recovery. As we consider the current crisis of the global pandemic, much of the news covers government crisis response and how it's helping people, businesses, and institutions. And I think it's worth reflecting on the history of disaster response and understanding that it wasn't always expected that government would step in during such times. In fact, the expectation that central government will play a role in recovering from such disasters can be traced back to the Roman emperors of the first century AD. The real model was the Emperor Nero. I know, Nero. It's always a surprise when anything we consider appropriate behavior came from Nero. But disaster response did. In AD 64, when the city of Rome was devastated by a great fire, Nero coordinated the firefighters. Once the fire was out, he opened his private estate to house and feed refugees. He raised money for survivors, arranged for fire debris to be removed from the city, and instituted building codes and fire codes for the first time in the history of the city. The only expected response Nero didn't undertake was to visit to the disaster site. You know, the modern photos we see of presidents usually wearing a windbreaker in a grave expression, personally inspecting the damage or comforting survivors. That tradition was instituted by the Emperor Titus, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. We really were witnessing a remarkable world event, but also, I think, a response founded on historical patterns of behavior.
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