FLAVIANS (69–96 A.D.)

Vespasian and Titus
The reigns of the emperors Vespasian (r. 69–79 A.D.), Titus (r. 79–81 A.D.), and Domitian (r. 81–96 A.D.) comprised the Flavian dynasty. Vespasian, Titus and Domitian were known as the Flavians. Flavian rule came to an end when Domitian was assassinated. He was succeeded by the longtime Flavian supporter and advisor Marcus Cocceius Nerva.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In 69 A.D., Vespasian emerged as victor from the carnage of the civil wars. He restored confidence and prosperity to the empire by founding the Flavian dynasty and securing a peaceful succession for his two sons, Titus and Domitian. The Flavians, unlike the Julio-Claudians before them, were Italian gentry, not Roman aristocracy. They restored stability to Rome following the reign of Nero (r. 54–68 A.D.) and the civil wars that had wreaked havoc on the empire, and particularly on Italy itself. [Source: Christopher Lightfoot, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The Flavians paid particular attention to the provinces, encouraging the spread of Roman citizenship and bestowing colonial status on cities. Artistic talent and technical skill inherited from Nero's regime were used to aggrandize the military accomplishments of the new imperial dynasty. In the end, however, Domitian incurred the Senate's displeasure with his absolutist tendencies and by elevating equestrian officers to positions of power formerly reserved for senators. Plots and conspiracies, followed by a vicious round of executions, eventually led to his assassination in 96 A.D.” \^/

The period of Roman literature which followed the age of Augustus is sometimes called “the Silver Age.” The despotic rule of the Julian emperors had not been favorable to literature. Only two names of that period stand out with prominence, those of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, and Lucan, who wrote an epic poem describing the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. Under the Flavians occurred a revival of letters, which continued under the subsequent emperors. Among the most noted writers who flourished at this time were Juvenal, the satirist; Tacitus, the historian; Suetonius, the biographer of the “Twelve Caesars”; Martial, the epigrammatist; Quintilian, the rhetorician; and Pliny the Younger, the writer of epistles. Although the writings of the Silver Age do not equal those of the age of Augustus in grace of style, they show quite as much vigor and originality. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Flavian Rulers

Flavian Dynasty (69–96 A.D.)
Vespasian (69–79 A.D.)
Titus (79–81 A.D.)
Domitian (81–96 A.D.)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Vespasian showed great moderation and common sense in his dealings as emperor, but he was also known for his greed. One reason was that he needed to increase taxation in order to restore public finances and refill the imperial treasury. He reformed the Senate, whose authority and numbers had diminished under Nero and during the civil wars. Vespasian also recruited equestrian officers, who brought personal wealth, and Italian and provincial members, who brought local knowledge, to the imperial administration and civil service. Furthermore, he guaranteed a stable succession with his sons Titus and Domitian, both able administrators. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org \^/] “Titus is remembered principally for his destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., but during his reign as emperor, Rome also witnessed a great natural disaster—the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. He was responsible for completing the Amphitheatrum Flavium in 80 A.D., which became known as the Colosseum because it was situated near the site of a colossal statue of Nero. \^/

“Artistic talent and technical skill inherited from Nero's regime were used to aggrandize the Flavians' military accomplishments. Titus' brother and successor, Domitian, was responsible for erecting the Arch of Titus in Rome (82 A.D.) in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem. In the provinces, where there were fewer commemorative monuments, portraiture and coinage persisted as the chief reminders of imperial power. Domitian was also responsible for signing a peace treaty with Decebalus, the Dacian king, in 89 A.D. Although popular with his troops, Domitian incurred the Senate's displeasure with his absolutist tendencies and by elevating equestrian officers to positions of power formerly reserved for the Senate. He eventually succumbed to paranoia and engaged in a vicious round of executions that led to his own assassination in 96 A.D. \^/

A.D. 69: Year of Three Emperors

Nero was forced to commit suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 30. He killed himself by falling on his sword. Nero's death was followed by the Year of the Four Emperors (A.D. 69), in which Rome was lead in succession by Galba, Otho, Vitellisu and Vespasian.


With the death of Nero, the imperial line which traced its descent from Julius Caesar and Augustus became extinct. With all his prudence, Augustus had failed to provide a definite law of succession. In theory the appointment of a successor depended upon the choice of the senate, with which he was supposed to share his power. But in fact it depended quite as much upon the army, upon which his power rested for support. Whether the appointment was made by the senate or by the army, the choice had hitherto always fallen upon some member of the Julian family. But with the extinction of the Julian line, the imperial office was open to anyone. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Under such circumstances we could hardly expect anything else than a contest for the throne. Not only the praetorian guards, but the legions in the field, claimed the right to name the successor. The rival claims of different armies to place their favorite generals on the throne led to a brief period of civil war—the first to break the long peace established by Augustus. \~\

Galba (A.D. 68-69): At the time of Nero’s death, the Spanish legions had already selected their commander, Galba, for the position of emperor. Advancing upon Rome, this general was accepted by the praetorians and approved by the senate. He was a man of high birth, and with a good military record. But his career was a brief one. The legions on the Rhine revolted against him. The praetorians were discontented with his severity and small donations: He soon found a rival in Otho, the husband of the infamous Poppaea Sabina who had disgraced the reign of Nero. Otho enlisted the support of the praetorians, and Galba was murdered to give place to his rival. \~\

Otho (A.D. 69): The brief space of three months, during which Otho was emperor, cannot be called a reign, but only an attempt to reign. On his accession the new aspirant to the throne found his right immediately disputed by the legions of Spain and Gaul, which proclaimed Vitellius. The armies of these two rivals met in northern Italy, and fortune declared in favor of Vitellius. \~\

Vitellius (A.D. 69): No sooner had Vitellius begun to revel in the luxuries of the palace, than the standard of revolt was again raised, this time by the legions of the East in favor of their able and popular commander, Vespasian. The events of the previous contest were now repeated; and on the same battlefield in northern Italy where Otho’s army had been defeated by that of Vitellius, the forces of Vitellius were now defeated by those of Vespasian. Afterward a severe and bloody contest took place in the streets of Rome, and Vespasian made his position secure. \~\ The only significance of these three so-called reigns, and the civil wars which attended them, is the fact that they showed the great danger to which the empire was exposed by having no regular law of succession. \~\

Rise and Accomplishments of the Flavians

After the rule of the two "mad" emperors, Caligula and Nero, the Roman military had had enough and took power into its own hands and established a tradition in which the ablest and fittest military strongman became the emperor not "weak and tyrannical family successors." After a year of internal conflict following Nero's death, Vespasian outmaneuvered three rivals in the Senate and became Emperor.

The Flavians initiated economical and cultural reforms. Under Vespasian, lowered taxes were devised to restore the Empire's finances, while Domitian revalued the Roman coinage by increasing its silver content. A massive building programme was enacted to celebrate the ascent of the Flavian dynasty, leaving multiple enduring landmarks in the city of Rome, the most spectacular of which was the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum. [Source: Wikipedia]

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Destruction of Temple by Nicolas Poussin

The accession of Vespasian was the beginning of a new era for Rome. Indeed, the next century may be regarded as the most prosperous in her whole history. The ideals of Julius Caesar and Augustus seemed to be realized. The hundred and eleven years which elapsed from the beginning of Vespasian’s reign to the death of Marcus Aurelius, have been called the happiest in the history of mankind. The new emperor belonged to the Flavian family, which furnished three rulers, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Vespasian was an able and efficient prince. He rescued Rome from the bankrupt condition into which it had been plunged by his predecessors. He retrenched the expenses of the court and set the example of moderation. He appointed good governors for the provinces, and extended the Latin right, that is, the commercium, to the people of Spain. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Family Background of the Flavians

Suetonius wrote: “The empire, which for a long time had been unsettled and, as it were, drifting, through the usurpation and violent death of three emperors, was at last taken in hand and given stability by the Flavian family. This house was, it is true, obscure and without family portraits, yet it was one of which our country had no reason whatever to be ashamed, even though it is the general opinion that the penalty which Domitian paid for his avarice and cruelty was fully merited. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

The patriarch of the Flavians was “Titus Flavius Petro, a citizen of Reate and during the civil war a centurion or a volunteer veteran on Pompeius Magnus' side, fled from the field of Pharsalos and went home, where after at last obtaining pardon and an honorable discharge, he carried on the business of a collector of moneys. His son, surnamed Sabinus (although some say that he was a centurion of the first grade, and others that while still in command of a cohort he was retired because of ill health) took no part in military life, but farmed the public tax of a twentieth [A tax of five per cent on the value of every slave who was set free, paid by the slave himself or by his master] in Asia. And there existed for some time statues erected in his honor by the cities of Asia, inscribed "To an honest tax-gatherer."

“Later, he carried on a money-lending business in Helvetia and there he died, survived by his wife, Vespasia Polla, and by two of her children, of whom the elder, Sabinus, rose to the rank of Prefect of Rome, and the younger, Vespasian, even to that of emperor. Polla, who was born of an honorable family at Nursia, had for father Vespasius Pollio, thrice tribune of the soldiers and prefect of the camp [A position held by tried and skillful officers, especially centurions of the first grade (primipili)] while her brother became a senator with the rank of praetor. There is, moreover, on the top of a mountain, near the sixth milestone on the road from Nursia to Spoletium, a place called Vespasiae, where many monuments of the Vespasii are to be seen, affording strong proof of the renown and antiquity of the house. I ought to add that some have bandied about the report, that Petro's father came from the region beyond the Po and was a contractor for the day-laborers who come regularly every year from Umbria to the Sabine district, to till the fields; but that he settled in the town of Reate and there married. Personally, I have found no evidence whatever of this, in spite of rather careful investigation.”

Titus (A.D. 79-81)

Titus (ruled from A.D. 79-81) was Vespasian's son. He oversaw the rebuilding of Pompeii and inaugurated the Colosseum which was begun before his rule by Vespasian. Titus was known for his extravagant games. One bloody circus during Titus's rule lasted for 123 straight days and between 5,000 people and 11,000 were killed.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Titus is remembered principally for his destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., but during his reign as emperor, Rome also witnessed a great natural disaster—the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. He was responsible for completing the Amphitheatrum Flavium in 80 A.D., which became known as the Colosseum because it was situated near the site of a colossal statue of Nero.” [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org ]

Vespasian had prepared for his death by associating with the government his son, Titus; so the change to the new reign was attended by no war of succession or other disturbance. The great aim of Titus was to make himself loved by the people. He was lavish in the giving of public shows. He dedicated the great amphitheater built by his father with a magnificent naval spectacle. He ruled with so much kindness and moderation that he became the most popular of the emperors, and was called the “Delight of Mankind.” It is related that one evening he remembered that he had bestowed no gift upon any one, and in regret exclaimed to his friends, “I have lost a day.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Titus’s Life and Character

Suetonius wrote:“Titus, of the same surname as his father, was the delight and darling of the human race; such ability had he, by nature, art, or good fortune, to win the affections of all men, and that, too, which is no easy task, while he was emperor; for as a private citizen, and even during his father's rule, he did not escape hatred, much less public criticism. He was born on the third day before the Kalends of January [December 30, 41 A.D.], in the year memorable for the death of Gaius [Arkenberg: Caligula], in a mean house near the Septizonium [Some building of seven stories; the famous Septizonium on the Palatine was the work of Septimius Severus] and in a very small dark room besides; for it still remains and is on exhibition. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Titus,” (“Life of Titus”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.321-339]


“He was brought up at court in company with Britannicus and taught the same subjects by the same masters. At that time, so they say, a physiognomist was brought in by Narcissus, the freedman of Claudius, to examine Britannicus, and declared most positively that he would never become emperor; but that Titus, who was standing near by at the time, would surely rule. The boys were so intimate too, that it is believed that when Britannicus drained the fatal draught, Titus, who was reclining at his side, also tasted of the potion and for a long time suffered from an obstinate disorder. Titus did not forget all this, but later set up a golden statue of his friend in the Palace, and dedicated another equestrian statue of ivory and attended it in the processions in the Circus, where it is still carried to this day.

“Even in boyhood his bodily and mental gifts were conspicuous and they became more and more so as he advanced in years. He had a handsome person, in which there was no less dignity than grace, and was uncommonly strong, although he was not tall of stature and had a rather protruding belly. His memory was extraordinary, and he had an aptitude for almost all the arts, both of war and of peace. Skillful in arms and horsemanship, he made speeches and wrote verses in Latin and Greek with ease and readiness, and even off-hand.He was besides not unacquainted with music, but sang and played the harp agreeably and skillfully. I have heard from many sources that he used also to write shorthand with great speed and would amuse himself by playful contests with his secretaries; also that he could imitate any handwriting that he had ever seen and often declared that he might have been the prince of forgers.

“He was most kindly by nature, and whereas in accordance with a custom established by Tiberius, all the Caesars who followed him refused to regard favors granted by previous emperors as valid, unless they had themselves conferred the same ones on the same individuals, Titus was the first to ratify them all in a single edict, without allowing himself to be asked. Moreover, in the case of other requests made of him, it was his fixed rule not to let anyone go away without hope. Even when his household officials warned him that he was promising more than he could perform, he said that it was not right for anyone to go away sorrowful from an interview with his emperor.

“On another occasion, remembering at dinner that he had done nothing for anybody all that day, he gave utterance to that memorable and praiseworthy remark: "Friends, I have lost a day." The whole body of the people in particular he treated with such indulgence on all occasions, that once, at a gladiatorial show, he declared that he would give it, "not after his own inclinations, but ;hose of the spectators"; and what is more, he kept his word. For he refused nothing which anyone asked, and even urged them to ask for what they wished. Furthermore, he openly displayed his partiality for Thracian gladiators and bantered the people about it by words and gestures [By humorously pretending to wrangle with those who favored other gladiators than the Thracians], always, however, preserving his dignity, as well as observing justice. Not to omit any act of condescension, he sometimes bathed in the baths which he had built, in company with the common people.”

Jewish Wars and Destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70)

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Triumph of Titus by Alma-Tadema
The most unfortunate event in the reign of Vespasian was the revolt of the Jews, which finally resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. There had been many changes in the government of Judea since its first conquest by Pompey. Some of these changes had been made to reconcile the Jews to the Roman sway. But there had been many things to awaken the opposition of the people; for example, the unreasonable prejudice against them at Rome, the insane attempt of Caligula to place his statue in their temple, as well as the harsh government of Nero. At last the Jews were provoked into a general rebellion. Vespasian was conducting the war against them when he was proclaimed emperor by his legions. The war was then left in the hands of his son Titus, who, in spite of desperate resistance, captured and destroyed the sacred city. The Jews were left without a national home; and Judea became a separate province of the empire. The representation of the golden candlestick cut upon the arch of Titus is a striking memorial of this unfortunate war. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

There were many uprisings by the Jews during the period of Roman rule. In the A.D. 1st century there were conflicts between the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Hellinized priests that ruled the Temple. Messianic fervor led to several uprisings that eventually forced the Romans to put down two major Jewish revolts, in A.D. 70 and A.D. 125, the destroy the Jewish Temple and disperse the Hebrew population. It has been suggested that if the Jews hadn't revolted there would have been no Jewish diaspora and history would have been very different.

In A.D. 64, Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Jews. Shortly afterwards there was a Jewish revolt that lasted from A.D. 66 to 73. Six Roman legions (35,000 men), Rome's most modern weaponry and siegecraft, and the leadership of two future Roman emperors to put down. In A.D. 66, there was a Jewish revolt at Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. At that time bandit-guerrillas were at the height of their power and they were everywhere. A leader named Manahem took control of the temple area by driving out the Roman troops and executing the high priests. The same year there was also a major revolt in Caesara that led to the death of 20,000 people, nearly all of the Jews that lived in the city.

Nero dispatched Vespasian and a large Roman force to Judea (Israel) to put down the rebellion. Halfway through the war Nero was overthrown and Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the Roman army. Nero died in A.D. 68, when the Jewish revolt had escalated. Vespasian didn't last long. He was succeeded by his son Titus.

Triumph for Vespasian and Titus after the Jewish War

In “The Jewish War”, Book VII Josephus describe the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war: “So Titus took the journey he intended into Egypt, and passed over the desert very suddenly, and came to Alexandria, and took up a resolution to go to Rome by sea. And as he was accompanied by two legions, he sent each of them again to the places whence they had before come; the fifth he sent to Mysia, and the fifteenth to Pannonia: as for the leaders of the captives, Simon and John, with the other seven hundred men, whom he had selected out of the rest as being eminently tall and handsome of body, he gave order that they should be soon carried to Italy, as resolving to produce them in his triumph. So when he had had a prosperous voyage to his mind, the city of Rome behaved itself in his reception, and their meeting him at a distance, as it did in the case of his father. But what made the most splendid appearance in Titus's opinion was, when his father met him, and received him; but still the multitude of the citizens conceived the greatest joy when they saw them all three together, (i.e. Vespasian, and his sons Titus and Domitian) as they did at this time; nor were many days overpast when they determined to have but one triumph, that should be common to both of them, on account of the glorious exploits they had performed, although the senate had decreed each of them a separate triumph by himself. So when notice had been given beforehand of the day appointed for this pompous solemnity to be made, on account of their victories, not one of the immense multitude was left in the city, but every body went out so far as to gain only a station where they might stand, and left only such a passage as was necessary for those that were to be seen to go along it. [Source: Flavius Josephus: (A.D. 37- after 93), “An Imperial Triumph”, “The Jewish War”, Book VII. 3-7 A.D. 71), translated by William Whiston]

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Triumph of Titus and Vespasian

“Now all the soldiery marched out beforehand by companies, and in their several ranks, under their several commanders, in the night time, and were about the gates, not of the upper palaces, but those near the temple of Isis; for there it was that the emperors had rested the foregoing night. And as soon as ever it was day, Vespasian and Titus came out crowned with laurel, and clothed in those ancient purple habits which were proper to their family, and then went as far as Octavian's Walks; for there it was that the senate, and the principal rulers, and those that had been recorded as of the equestrian order, waited for them. Now a tribunal had been erected before the cloisters, and ivory chairs had been set upon it, when they came and sat down upon them. Whereupon the soldiery made an acclamation of joy to them immediately, and all gave them attestations of their valor; while they were themselves without their arms, and only in their silken garments, and crowned with laurel: then Vespasian accepted of these shouts of theirs; but while they were still disposed to go on in such acclamations, he gave them a signal of silence. And when every body entirely held their peace, he stood up, and covering the greatest part of his head with his cloak, he put up the accustomed solemn prayers; the like prayers did Titus put up also; after which prayers Vespasian made a short speech to all the people, and then sent away the soldiers to a dinner prepared for them by the emperors. Then did he retire to that gate which was called the Gate of the Pomp, because pompous shows do always go through that gate; there it was that they tasted some food, and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

“Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; such indeed as a man could not easily think of as performed, either by the labor of workmen, or the variety of riches, or the rarities of nature; for almost all such curiosities as the most happy men ever get by piece-meal were here one heaped on another, and those both admirable and costly in their nature; and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, contrived into all sorts of things, and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. Some parts were composed of the rarest purple hangings, and so carried along; and others accurately represented to the life what was embroidered by the arts of the Babylonians. There were also precious stones that were transparent, some set in crowns of gold, and some in other ouches, as the workmen pleased; and of these such a vast number were brought, that we could not but thence learn how vainly we imagined any of them to be rarities. The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made very artificially, and with great skill of the workmen; nor were any of these images of any other than very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought, every one in their own natural ornaments.

“The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; those that were chosen for carrying these pompous shows having also about them such magnificent ornaments as were both extraordinary and surprising. Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: rivers also, after they came out of a large and melancholy desert, ran down, not into a land cultivated, nor as drink for men, or for cattle, but through a land still on fire upon every side; for the Jews related that such a thing they had undergone during this war.

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Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken. Moreover, there followed those pageants a great number of ships; and for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; and the last of all the spoils, was carried the Law of the Jews. After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. After which Vespasian marched in the first place, and Titus followed him; Domitian also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration.

“Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans' ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there. Accordingly, when it was related that there was an end of him, and all the people had set up a shout for joy, they then began to offer those sacrifices which they had consecrated, in the prayers used in such solemnities; which when they had finished, they went away to the palace. And as for some of the spectators, the emperors entertained them at their own feast; and for all the rest there were noble preparations made for feasting at home; for this was a festival day to the city of Rome, as celebrated for the victory obtained by their army over their enemies, for the end that was now put to their civil miseries, and for the commencement of their hopes of future prosperity and happiness.”

Titus as Emperor

Suetonius wrote: “Having declared that he would accept the office of pontifex maximus for the purpose of keeping his hands unstained, he was true to his promise; for after that he neither caused nor connived at the death of any man, although he sometimes had no lack of reasons for taking vengeance; but he swore that he would rather be killed than kill. When two men of patrician family were found guilty of aspiring to the throne, he satisfied himself with warning them to abandon their attempt, saying that imperial power was the gift of fate, and promising that if there was anything else they desired, he himself would bestow it. Then he sent his couriers with all speed to the mother of one of them, for she was some distance off, to relieve her anxiety by reporting that her son was safe; and he not only invited the men themselves to dinner among his friends, but on the following day at a gladiatorial show he purposely placed them near him, and when the swords of the contestants were offered him [The weapons of gladiators were regularly examined by the "editor", or giver of the games, to see if they were sharp enough; cf., Dio, 68.3, who tells a similar story of the Emperor Nerva], handed them over for their inspection. It is even said that inquiring into the horoscope of each of them, he declared that danger threatened them both, but at some future time and from another, as turned out to be the case. Although his brother never ceased plotting against him, but almost openly stirred up the armies to revolt and meditated flight to them, he had not the heart to put him to death or banish him from the court, or even to hold him in less honor than before. On the contrary, as he had done from the very first day of his rule, he continued to declare that he was his partner and successor, and sometimes he privately begged him with tears and prayers to be willing at least to return his affection. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Titus,” (“Life of Titus”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.321-339]

“In the meantime he was cut off by death, to the loss of mankind rather than to his own. After finishing the public games, at the close of which he wept bitterly in the presence of the people, he went to the Sabine territory somewhat cast down because a victim had escaped as he was sacrificing and because it had thundered from a clear sky. Then at the very first stopping place he was seized with a fever, and as he was being carried on from there in a litter, it is said that he pushed back the curtains, looked up to heaven, and lamented bitterly that his life was being taken from him contrary to his deserts; for he said that there was no act of his life of which he had cause to repent, save one only. What this was he did not himself disclose at the time, nor could anyone easily divine. Some think that he recalled the intimacy which he had with his brother's wife; but Domitia swore most solemnly that this did not exist, although she would not have denied it if it had been in the least true, but on the contrary would have boasted of it, as she was most ready to do of all her scandalous actions.

“He died in the same farmhouse as his father [The old homestead at Cutilae, near Rheate; see Vesp. xxiv. That this continued to be a villa rustica is implied in Vesp. ii.1], on the Ides of September, two years, two months and twenty days after succeeding Vespasian, in the forty-second year of his age [September 13, 81 A.D.]. When his death was made known, the whole populace mourned as they would for a loss in their own families, the Senate hastened to the Curia before it was summoned by proclamation, and with the doors still shut, and then with them open, rendered such thanks to him and heaped such praise on him after death as they had never done even when he was alive and present.”

Titus, Pompeii and the Great Roman Fire of A.D. 79

The reign of Titus, was marked by two great calamities, both in A.D. 79. One was a great fire which consumed the new temple of the Capitoline Jupiter, which his father had just erected; and which also injured the Pantheon, the baths of Agrippa, and the theaters of Pompey and Marcellus. But the greatest calamity of this reign was due to the terrible eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed the two cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii; situated on the Bay of Naples. The Romans had never suspected that this mountain was a volcano, although a few years before it had been shaken by an earthquake. The scenes which attended this eruption are described by the younger Pliny, whose uncle, the elder Pliny, lost his life while investigating the causes of the eruption. The buried city of Pompeii has been exhumed, and its relics reveal in a vivid way the private life and customs of the Roman people. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Vesuvius eruption

Suetonius wrote: “There were some dreadful disasters during his reign, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Campania, a fire at Rome which continued three days and as many nights, and a plague the like of which had hardly ever been known before [80 A.D.]. In these many great calamities he showed not merely the concern of an emperor, but even a father's surpassing love, now offering consolation in edicts, and now lending aid so far as his means allowed. He chose commissioners by lot from among the ex-consuls for the relief of Campania; and the property of those who lost their lives by Vesuvius and had no heirs left alive he applied to the rebuilding of the buried cities. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Titus,” (“Life of Titus”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.321-339]

“During the fire in Rome he made no remark except "I am ruined" [Implying that it was his personal loss, which he would make good], and he set aside all the ornaments of his villas for the public buildings and temples, and put several men of the equestrian order in charge of the work, that everything might be done with the greater dispatch. For curing the plague and diminishing the force of the epidemic there was no aid, human or divine, which he did not employ, searching for every kind of sacrifice, and all kinds of medicines. Among the evils of the times were the informers and their instigators, who had enjoyed a long standing licence. After these had been soundly beaten in the Forum with scourges and cudgels, and finally led in procession across the arena of the amphitheatre, he had some of them put up and sold, and others deported to the wildest of the islands. To further discourage for all time any who might think of venturing on similar practices, among other precautions he made it unlawful for anyone to be tried under several laws for the same offence, or for any inquiry to be made as to the legal status of any deceased person after a stated number of years.”

Domitian (A.D. 81-96)

The relatively happy and prsperous period begun by Vespasian and Titus was interrupted by the exceptional tyranny of Domitian (ruled A.D 81 to 96), the younger brother of Titus. Domitian seemed to take for his models Tiberius and Nero. He ignored the senate and the forms of the constitution. He revived the practice of delation, and was guilty of confiscations and extortions. He teased and irritated all classes, He persecuted the Jews and the Christians. Like Tiberius, he was suspicious, and lived in perpetual fear of assassination. His fears were realized; a conspiracy was organized against him. Flavian rule came to an end when Domitian was assassinated. He was murdered by a freedman of the palace. He was succeeded by the longtime Flavian supporter and advisor Marcus Cocceius Nerva. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]


According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “ Titus' brother and successor, Domitian, was responsible for erecting the Arch of Titus in Rome (82 A.D.) in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem. In the provinces, where there were fewer commemorative monuments, portraiture and coinage persisted as the chief reminders of imperial power. Domitian was also responsible for signing a peace treaty with Decebalus, the Dacian king, in 89 A.D. Although popular with his troops, Domitian incurred the Senate's displeasure with his absolutist tendencies and by elevating equestrian officers to positions of power formerly reserved for the Senate. He eventually succumbed to paranoia and engaged in a vicious round of executions that led to his own assassination in 96 A.D.” [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org ]

The chief event of importance in the reign of Domitian was the extension of the Roman power in Britain. Agricola had already been appointed governor of Britain by Vespasian; but it was not until this time that his arms were crowned with marked success. The limits of the province were now pushed to the north, and a new field was opened for the advance of civilization. Britain became dotted with Roman cities, united by great military roads. As in Gaul, the Roman law and customs found a home, although they did not obtain so enduring an influence as in the continental provinces. \~\

Domitian’s Early Life, Character and Lustfulness

Suetonius wrote: “Domitian was born on the ninth day before the Kalends of November of the year when his father was Consul-elect and was about to enter on the office in the following month [October 24, 51 A.D.], in a street of the sixth region called "the Pomegranate," in a house which he afterwards converted into a temple of the Flavian family. He is said to have passed the period of his boyhood and his early youth in great poverty and infamy. For he did not possess a single piece of plate and it is a well known fact that Claudius Pollio, a man of praetorian rank, against whom Nero's poem entitled "The One-eyed Man" is directed, preserved a letter in Domitian's handwriting and sometimes exhibited it, in which the future emperor promised him an assignation; and there have not been wanting those who declared that Domitian was also debauched by Nerva, who succeeded him. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]


“In the war with Vitellius he took refuge in the Capitol with his paternal uncle Sabinus and a part of the forces under him. When the enemy forced an entrance and the temple was fired, he hid during the night with the guardian of the shrine, and in the morning, disguised in the garb of a follower of Isis and mingling with the priests of that fickle superstition, he went across the Tiber with a single companion to the mother of one of his school-fellows. There he was so effectually concealed, that though he was closely followed, he could not be found, in spite of a thorough search. It was only after the victory that he ventured forth and after being hailed as Caesar, he assumed the office of city praetor with consular powers, but only in name, turning over all the judicial business to his next colleague. But he exercised all the tyranny of his high position so lawlessly, that it was even then apparent what sort of a man he was going to be. Not to mention all details, after making free with the wives of many men, he went so far as to marry Domitia Longina, who was the wife of Aelius Lamia, and in a single day he assigned more than twenty positions in the city and abroad, which led Vespasian to say more than once that he was surprised that he did not appoint the emperor's successor with the rest.

“He was tall of stature, with a modest expression and a high color. His eyes were large, but his sight was somewhat dim. He was handsome and graceful too, especially when a young man, and indeed in his whole body with the exception of his feet, the toes of which were somewhat cramped. In later life he had the further disfigurement of baldness, a protruding belly, and spindling legs, though the latter had become thin from a long illness. He was so conscious that the modesty of his expression was in his favor, that he once made this boast in the Senate: "So far, at any rate, you have approved my heart and my countenance." He was so sensitive about his baldness, that he regarded it as a personal insult if anyone else was twitted with that defect in jest or in earnest; though in a book "On the Care of the Hair," which he published and dedicated to a friend, he wrote the following by way of consolation to the man and himself: "Do you not see that I too am tall and comely to look on? And yet the same fate awaits my hair, and I bear with resignation the ageing of my locks in youth. Be assured that nothing is more pleasing than beauty, but nothing shorter-lived."

“He was incapable of exertion and seldom went about the city on foot, while on his campaigns and journeys he rarely rode on horseback, but was regularly carried in a litter. He took no interest in arms, but was particularly devoted to archery. There are many who have more than once seen him slay a hundred wild beasts of different kinds on his Alban estate, and purposely kill some of them with two successive shots in such a way that the arrows gave the effect of horns. Sometimes he would have a slave stand at a distance and hold out the palm of his right hand for a mark, with the fingers spread; then he directed his arrows with such accuracy that they passed harmlessly between the fingers.

“He was excessively lustful. His constant sexual intercourse he called bed-wrestling, as if it were a kind of exercise. It was reported that he depilated his concubines with his own hand and swam with common prostitutes. After persistently refusing his niece, who was offered him in marriage when she was still a maid, because he was entangled in an intrigue with Domitia, he seduced her shortly afterwards when she became the wife of another, and that too during the lifetime of Titus. Later, when she was bereft of father and husband, he loved her ardently and without disguise, and even became the cause of her death by compelling her to get rid of a child of his by abortions.

Domitian as Emperor

Domitian coin with his Triumph for a victory against the Germans

Suetonius wrote: “At the beginning of his reign he used to spend hours in seclusion every day, doing nothing but catch flies and stab them with a keenly-sharpened stylus. Consequently, when someone once asked whether anyone was in there with Caesar, Vibius Crispus made the witty reply: "Not even a fly." Then he saluted his wife Domitia as Augusta. He had had a son by her in his second consulship, whom he lost the next year; but he divorced her because of her infatuation for the actor Paris, though he could not bear the separation from her and took her back, alleging that the people demanded it. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]

“In his administration of the government he for some time showed himself inconsistent, with about an equal number of virtues and vices, but finally he turned the virtues also into vices; for so far as one may guess, it was contrary to his natural disposition that he was made rapacious through need and cruel through fear.

“He restored many splendid buildings which had been destroyed by fire [82 A.D.], among them the Capitolium, which had again been burned [In 80 A.D.; it had previously been destroyed by fire in 69; see Vit. xv.3], but in all cases with the inscription of his own name only, and with no mention of the original builder. Furthermore, he built a new temple on the Capitoline hill in honor of Jupiter Custos and the forum which now bears the name of Nerva; likewise a temple to the Flavian family, a stadium, an Odeum, and a pool for sea-fights. From the stone used in this last the Circus Maximus was afterwards rebuilt, when both sides of it had been destroyed by fire.

rhino on a Domitian coin

“His campaigns he undertook partly without provocation and partly of necessity. That against the Chatti was uncalled for [84 A.D.], while the one against the Sarmatians was justified by the destruction of a legion with its commander. He made two against the Dacians, the first when Oppius Sabinus, an ex-consul, was defeated, and the second on the overthrow of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of the war [86 A.D.]. After several battles of varying success, he celebrated a double triumph over the Chatti and the Dacians. His victories over the Sarmatians he commemorated merely by the offering of a laurel crown to Jupiter of the Capitol. A civil war which was set on foot by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germania, was put down in the emperor's absence by a remarkable stroke of good fortune; for at the very hour of the battle the Rhine suddenly thawed and prevented his barbarian allies from crossing over to Antonius. Domitian learned of this victory through omens before he actually had news of it, for on the very day when the decisive battle was fought, a magnificent eagle enfolded his statue at Rome with its wings, uttering exultant shrieks; and soon afterwards the report of Antonius' death became so current, that several went so far as to assert positively that they had seen his head brought to Rome.

Domitian’s Games and Extravagances

Suetonius wrote: “He constantly gave grand and costly entertainments, both in the amphitheatre [The Colosseum], and in the Circus, where in addition to the usual races between two-horse and four-horse chariots, he also exhibited two battles, one between forces of infantry and the other by horsemen; and he even gave a naval battle in the amphitheatre. Besides, he gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well. He was always present, too, at the games given by the quaestors, which he revived after they had been abandoned for some time, and invariably granted the people the privilege of calling for two pairs of gladiators from his own school, and brought them in last in all the splendor of the court. During the whole of every gladiatorial show there always stood at his feet a small boy clad in scarlet, with an abnormally small head, with whom he used to talk a great deal, and sometimes seriously. At any rate, he was overheard to ask him if he knew why he had decided at the last appointment day to make Mettius Rufus prefect of Egypt. He often gave sea-fights almost with regular fleets, having dug a pool near the Tiber and surrounded it with seats; and he continued to witness the contests amid heavy rains. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]

“He also celebrated Secular games, reckoning the time, not according to the year when Claudius had last given them, but by the previous calculation of Augustus. In the course of these, to make it possible to finish a hundred races on the day of the contests in the Circus, he diminished the number of laps from seven to five. He also established a quinquennial contest in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays. For there were competitions in prose declamations both in Greek and in Latin; and in addition to those of the lyre-players, between choruses of such players and in the lyre alone, without singing; while in the stadium there were races even between maidens. He presided at the competitions in half-boots clad in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales [Established for the worship of the deified Flavian emperors, after the manner of the Augustales], similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well.

“He celebrated the Quinquatria too every year in honor of Minerva at his Alban villa, and established for her a college of priests, from which men were chosen by lot to act as officers and give splendid shows of wild beasts and stage plays, besides holding contests in oratory and poetry. He made a present to the people of three hundred sesterces each on three occasions, and in the course of one of his shows in celebration of the feast of the Seven Hills gave plentiful banquets, distributing large baskets of victuals to the Senate and equites, and smaller ones to the plebeians, and he himself was the first to begin to eat. On the following day, he scattered gifts of all sorts of things to be scrambled for, and since the greater part of these fell where the people sat, he had five hundred tickets thrown into each section occupied by the senatorial and equestrian orders.

mock sea battle staged in the Colosseum by Domitian

“Reduced to financial straits by the cost of his buildings and shows, as well as by the additions which he had made to the pay of the soldiers, he tried to lighten the military expenses by diminishing the number of his troops; but perceiving that in this way he exposed himself to the attacks of the barbarians, and nevertheless had difficulty in easing his burdens, he had no hesitation in resorting to every sort of robbery. The property of the living and the dead was seized everywhere on any charge brought by any accuser. It was enough to allege any action or word derogatory to the majesty of the princeps. Estates of those in no way connected with him were confiscated, if but one man came forward to declare that he had heard from the deceased during his lifetime that Caesar was his heir. Besides other taxes, that on the Jews [A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Titus in return for free permission to practice their religion; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.6.6] was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people [These may have been Christians, whom the Romans commonly assumed were Jews]. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised. From his youth he was far from being of an affable disposition, but was on the contrary presumptuous and unbridled both in act and in word. When his father's concubine Caenis returned from Histria and offered to kiss him as usual, he held out his hand to her. He was vexed that his brother's son-in-law had attendants clad in white, as well as he, and uttered the words "Not good is a number of rulers" [Iliad, 2.204].

Domitian’s Cruelty

Suetonius wrote: “But he did not continue this course of mercy or integrity, although he turned to cruelty somewhat more speedily than to avarice. He put to death a pupil of the pantomimic actor Paris, who was still a beardless boy and ill at the time, because in his skill and his appearance he seemed not unlike his master; also Hermogenes of Tarsus because of some allusions in his History, besides crucifying even the slaves who had written it out. A householder who said that a Thracian gladiator was a match for the murmillo, but not for the giver of the games, he caused to be dragged from his seat and thrown into the arena to dogs, with this placard: "A favorer of the Thracians who spoke impiously." [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]

“He put to death many senators, among them several ex-consuls, including Civica Cerealis, at the very time when he was proconsul in Asia; Salvidienus Orfitus; Acilius Glabrio, while he was in exile---these on the ground of plotting revolution, the rest on any charge, however trivial. He slew Aelius Lamia for joking remarks, which were reflections on him, it is true, but made long before and harmless. For when Domitian had taken away Lamia's wife, the latter replied to someone who praised his voice: "I practice continence"; and when Titus urged him to marry again, he replied: "Are you too looking for a wife?" He put to death Salvius Cocceianus, because he had kept the birthday of the emperor Otho, his paternal uncle; Mettius Pompusianus, because it was commonly reported that he had an imperial nativity and carried about a map of the world on parchment and speeches of the kings and generals from Titus Livius, besides giving two of his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, governor of Britannia, for allowing some lances of a new pattern to be called "Lucullean," after his own name; Junius Rusticus, because he had published eulogies of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus and called them the most upright of men; and on the occasion of this charge he banished all the philosophers from the city and from Italia. He also executed the younger Helvidius, alleging that in a farce composed for the stage he had under the characters of Paris and Oenone censured Domitian's divorce from his wife; Flavinus Sabinus too, one of his cousins, because on the day of the consular elections the crier had inadvertently announced him to the people as emperor-elect, instead of consul. After his victory in the civil war he became even more cruel, and to discover any conspirators who were in hiding, tortured many of the opposite party by a new form of inquisition, inserting fire in their privates; and he cut off the hands of some of them. It is certain that of the more conspicuous only two were pardoned, a tribune of senatorial rank and a centurion, who the more clearly to prove their freedom from guilt, showed that they were of shameless unchastity and voted therefore have had no influence with the general or with the soldiers.

Domitian's Palace in Rome

“His savage cruelty was not only excessive, but also cunning and sudden. He invited one of his stewards to his bed-chamber the day before crucifying him, made him sit beside him on his couch, and dismissed him in a secure and gay frame of mind, even deigning to send him a share of his dinner. When he was on the point of condemning the ex-consul Arrecinius Clemens, one of his intimates and tools, he treated him with as great favor as before, if not greater, and finally, as he was taking a drive with him, catching sight of his accuser, he said: "Pray, shall we hear this base slave tomorrow?" To abuse men's patience the more insolently, he never pronounced an unusually dreadful sentence without a preliminary declaration of clemency, so that there came to be no more certain indication of a cruel death than the leniency of his preamble. He had brought some men charged with treason into the Senate, and when he had introduced the matter by saying that he would find out that day how dear he was to the members, he had no difficulty in causing them to be condemned to suffer the ancient method of punishments. Then, appalled at the cruelty of the penalty, he interposed a veto, to lessen the odium, in these words (for it will be of interest to know his exact language): "Allow me, Fathers of the Senate, to prevail on you by your love for me to grant a favor which I know I shall obtain with difficulty, namely that you grant the condemned free choice of the manner of their death; for thus you will spare your own eyes and all men will know that I was present at the meeting of the Senate."

Domitian’s Assassination

Suetonius wrote: “In this way he became an object of terror and hatred to all, but he was overthrown at last by a conspiracy of his friends and favorite freedmen, to which his wife was also privy. He had long since had a premonition of the last year and day of his life, and even of the very hour and manner of his death. In his youth astrologers had predicted all this to him, and his father once even openly ridiculed him at dinner for refusing mushrooms, saying that he showed himself unaware of his destiny in not rather fearing the sword. Therefore he was at all times timorous and worried, and was disquieted beyond measure by even the slightest suspicions. It is thought that nothing had more effect in inducing him to ignore his proclamation about cutting down the vineyards than the circulation of notes containing the following lines: "Gnaw at my root, an you will; even then shall I have juice in plenty To pour upon thee, O goat, when at the altar you stand" [Cf., Ovid, Fasti, 1.357]. It was because of this same timorousness that although he was most eager for all such honors, he refused a new one which the Senate had devised and offered to him, a decree, namely, that whenever he held the consulship, Roman equites selected by lot should precede him among his lictors and attendants, clad in the trabea and bearing lances. As the time when he anticipated danger drew near, becoming still more anxious every day, he lined the walls of the colonnades in which he used to walk with phengite stone [According to Pliny, Nat. Hist., a hard, white, translucent stone discovered in Cappadocia in the reign of Nero. Pliny also mentions similar mirrors of black obsidian; see Nat. Hist. xl.2], to be able to see in its brilliant surface the reflection of all that went on behind his back. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]

“The day before he was killed he gave orders to have some apples which were offered him kept until the following day, and added: "If only I am spared to eat them"; then turning to his companions, he declared that on the following day the moon would be stained with blood in Aquarius, and that a deed would be done of which men would talk all over the world. At about midnight he was so terrified that he leaped from his bed. The next morning he conducted the trial of a soothsayer sent from Germania, who when consulted about the lightning strokes had foretold a change of rulers, and condemned him to death. While he was vigorously scratching a festered wart on his forehead, and had drawn blood, he said: "May this be all." Then he asked the time, and by pre-arrangement the sixth hour was announced to him, instead of the fifth, which he feared. Filled with joy at this, and believing all danger now past, he was hastening to the bath, when his chamberlain Parthenius changed his purpose by announcing that someone had called about a matter of great moment and would not be put off. Then he dismissed all his attendants and went to his bedroom, where he was slain.

Odeum of Domitan

“Concerning the nature of the plot and the manner of his death, this is about all that became known. As the conspirators were deliberating when and how to attack him, whether at the bath or at dinner, Stephanus, Domitilla's a steward, at the time under accusation for embezzlement, offered his aid and counsel. To avoid suspicion, he wrapped up his left arm in woollen bandages for some days, pretending that he had injured it, and concealed in them a dagger. Then pretending to betray a conspiracy and for that reason being given an audience, he stabbed the emperor in the groin as he was reading a paper which the assassin handed him, and stood in a state of amazement. As the wounded princeps attempted to resist, he was slain with seven wounds by Clodianus, a servant, Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius, Satur, decurion of the chamberlains, and a gladiator from the imperial school. A boy who was engaged in his usual duty of attending to the Lares in the bedroom, and so was a witness of the murder, gave this additional information. He was bidden by Domitian, immediately after he was dealt the first blow, to hand him the dagger hidden under his pillow and to call the servants; but he found nothing at the head of the bed save the hilt, and besides all the doors were closed. Meanwhile the emperor grappled with Stephanus and bore him to the ground, where they struggled for a long time, Domitian trying now to wrest the dagger from his assailant's hands and now to gouge out his eyes with his lacerated fingers. He was slain on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of October in the forty-fifth year of his age and the fifteenth of his reign [September 18, 96 A.D.]. His corpse was carried out on a common bier by those who bury the poor, and his nurse Phyllis cremated it at her suburban estate on the Via Patina; but his ashes she secretly carried to the temple of the Flavian family and mingled them with those of Julia, daughter of Titus, whom she had also reared.

“The people received the news of his death with indifference, but the soldiers were greatly grieved and at once attempted to call him the Deified Domitian; while they were prepared also to avenge him, had they not lacked leaders. This, however, they did accomplish a little later by most insistently demanding the execution of his murderers. The senators, on the contrary, were so overjoyed that they raced to fill the Curia, where they did not refrain from assailing the dead emperor with the most insulting and stinging kind of outcries. They even had ladders brought and his shields and images torn down before their eyes and dashed upon the ground; finally they passed a decree that his inscriptions should everywhere be erased, and all record of him obliterated. A few months before he was killed, a raven perched on the Capitolium and cried "All will be well," an omen which some interpreted as follows: "High on the gable Tarpeian a raven but lately alighting, Could not say 'It is well,' only declared 'It will be.'" Domitian himself, it is said, dreamed that a golden hump grew out on his back, and he regarded this as an infallible sign that the condition of the empire would be happier and more prosperous after his time; and this was shortly shown to be true through the uprightness and moderate rule of the succeeding emperors.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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