Christian martyrs of Rome
Who were the early Roman Christians? Most of them came from the large community of about 50,000 Jewish merchants and slaves who had strong ties to their mother city of Jerusalem. Even before Peter and Paul arrived in Rome, Jewish-Christians, clearly identified as followers of Jesus Christ, were found among the city's Jews. Indeed, these were the founders of the church at Rome; the apostles were among its foundation stones.
By the time of the fire Rome's Jewish-Christians had become alienated from the larger Jewish community and were beginning to separate from it. Where they lived and met was well known. The authorities, following the usual procedure, seized some of them, brought them to the Prefecture and forced them by torture to give the names of others.
"First, Nero had some of the members of this sect arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers were condemned -- not so much for arson, but for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made a farce." (Tacitus)
Instead of executing the Christians immediately at the usual place, Nero executed them publicly in his gardens nearby and in the circus. "Mockery of every sort accompanied their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired." (Tacitus)
Most thought Nero went too far. "There arose in the people a sense of pity. For it was felt that they (the Christians) were being sacrificed for one man's brutality rather than to the public interest." (Tacitus)