Titus Flavius Domitianus (Latin: Titus Flavius Domitianus, better known in Roman historiography as Domitian (October 24, 51 – September 18, 96) – the last Roman emperor of the Flavius dynasty, who ruled in 81-96.
His father was the first member of the Flavian dynasty, Emperor Vespasian. Domitian came to the throne after the death of his brother Titus. In 83, Domitian defeated the Germanic tribe of the Hattes and, in order to secure the newly conquered Decumata fields, began the creation of the Limes and founded the provinces of Lower and Upper Germany. In 85-92 the emperor waged hostilities on the Danube against the Dacian king Decebal, as well as against the Marcomanni, Quadian, and Sarmatian tribes. In this connection Domitian was forced to suspend the offensive of his commander Gnaeus Julius Agricola in Britain.
He pursued a policy of strengthening individual power. To this end he systematically limited the influence of the senate and made the horsemen, the army and the provinces his support. For the first time in the history of the principate Domitian ordered himself to be called “lord and god” (lat. dominus et deus) and revived the imperial cult. From ”85 he appropriated to himself the powers of censor. His luxurious buildings (including the Arch of Titus) were a heavy burden on the state treasury.
After the suppression of the revolt of the general Antony Saturninus in ”89, the number of trials for “insult to majesty” and the executions that followed increased. By order of Domitian the persecution of stoic philosophers was begun. Such measures resulted in opposition among the senators. As a result of the conspiracy, Domitian was assassinated and put under the curse of memory by the senate. With his death the Flavian dynasty ceased to exist.
Domitian had worn the victorious title of “German” since ”83.
The future emperor Titus Flavius Domitian was born in Rome on Pomegranate Street, Quirinale Hill, on October 24, 51. He was the youngest son of Titus Flavius Vespasian, better known as Vespasian, and Flavia Domitilla the Elder. In addition, Domitian had an older sister, Flavia Domicilla the Younger, and an older brother, Titus.
The decades-long civil wars of the first century B.C. contributed greatly to the destruction of the old Roman aristocracy, which was soon, in the early first century, gradually displaced from the leading positions by the new Italian nobility. One of these new families was the Flavius family, which rose to prominence from relative obscurity and rose to prominence in just four generations, gaining wealth and status during the reign of the emperors of the Julius-Claudian dynasty. Domitian”s great-grandfather, Titus Flavius Petron (Italian) (Rus.), who came from the Italian city of Reate, served as a centurion (or common soldier) in the legions of Gnaeus Pompeius the Great during the civil war against Caesar. His military career ended in disgrace – he fled the battlefield during the Battle of Farsal in 48 B.C. Nevertheless, Petron managed to increase his fortune through his marriage to Tertulla, whose wealth enabled the eminence of his son and grandfather Domitian, Titus Flavius Sabinus. Sabinus amassed a fortune and may have gained his horsemanship through his service as a tax collector in Asia and his usury activities in the lands of the Gallic Helvetian tribe. By marrying Vespasia Polla, he allied himself with the more noble patrician Vespasian family, which ensured that his sons Flavius Sabinus (German) (Russ.) and Vespasianus were included in the senatorial ranks.
The peak of Vespasian”s political career, which included the posts of quaestor, aedile and praetor, was the consulship he obtained in 51, the year Domitian was born. As a military commander, Vespasian gained fame through his participation in the Roman invasion and subsequent conquest of Britain in 43. However, ancient sources mention the poverty of the Flavian family during Domitian”s childhood, even claiming that Vespasian fell into disfavor during the reigns of the emperors Caligula (37-41) and Nero (54-68). Modern historians (e.g., Brian Jones) have refuted these claims, suggesting that all these accounts were spread later, already in the reign of Flavius, as part of a propaganda campaign – to retouch Vespasian”s career during the reign of the lesser emperors of the Julius-Claudian dynasty and to magnify his successes under Emperor Claudius (41-54) and his son Britannicus.
Apparently Flavius was at the emperors” mercy throughout the 40s and 60s. While Titus was educated at court in company with the imperial son Britannicus, Vespasian had a successful political and military career. After Nero”s accession to the throne and the increasing influence of his mother Agrippina the Younger, Vespasian was gradually alienated from the court and spent the 50s (until Agrippina”s assassination) in retirement. After this event he was returned to the civil service by Nero, appointed proconsul of the province of Africa in 63 and also accompanied the emperor on his tour of Greece in 66. In the same year the inhabitants of the province of Judea rebelled against the power of the Roman Empire, beginning the so-called First Judean War. Vespasian was appointed commander of the Roman army sent against the rebels. One of the three legions that made up this army was led as a legate by his son Titus.
Youth and Character
By the time Domitian was fifteen, he had already lost both his mother and his sister, while his father and brother were constantly on the move, commanding armies in Germany and Judea. This meant that Domitian spent much of his youth in the absence of his immediate family. At the time of the Roman-Judean conflict, he was most likely in the care of his uncle Titus Flavius Sabinus, who was then prefect of Rome, or perhaps even Marcus Cocceius Nerva, a devoted friend of the Flavians and future successor to Domitian.
Unlike Titus, Domitian was not educated at the imperial court, although he did study rhetoric and literature in the capital, which was common for the offspring of a senatorial family. In his biography in The Life of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius testifies to Domitian”s ability to quote many famous poets and writers such as Homer or Virgil when necessary and describes him as a learned and educated man. Among his earliest writings were poetry (Pliny the Elder, in the preface to his Natural History, praises the poetry of Titus and Domitian) and writings on law and government. Although Tacitus says that Domitian covered up his literary pursuits in order to “conceal his true intentions and avoid rivalry with his brother”. It is not known whether Domitian had any elementary military training, but, according to Suetonius, he exhibited such extraordinary skill in archery “that his arrow flew between the fingers of the outstretched hand of a man standing at a distant distance.” A detailed description of Domitian”s appearance and character was left by Suetonius, who devoted a portion of his biography to it:
“He was tall, his face modest, with a bright blush, his eyes large but slightly short-sighted. There was beauty and dignity in his whole body, especially in his younger days, except that his toes were crooked; but afterwards the baldness, the bulging belly, and the skinny legs, gaunt from a long illness, disfigured him. He felt that his modest expression favored him, and once even boasted in the senate, “Up to now at least you have not had to complain about my looks and temper…” But the baldness gave him a lot of grief, and if someone else was mocked or insulted by the baldness, he considered it an insult to himself. He even published a book on the care of his hair, dedicating it to a friend, and to console him and himself he put in it the following reasoning: “You see how I am and myself and beautiful and majestic in appearance? – And yet my hair has suffered the same fate! But I endure, that my curls are destined to grow old in my youth. Believe me, there is nothing more captivating than beauty, but nothing more ephemeral than it.
Pliny the Younger describes Domitian in his later years as “a monster of terrifying appearance:
“Arrogance on the forehead, anger in the eye, effeminate weakness in the body, shamelessness in the face, covered by a thick blush.”
Domitian was very sensitive about his baldness, the effects of which he masked with a wig. As for Domitian”s personality, Suetonius” accounts present the emperor as both a tyrant, a man both physically and intellectually lazy, but nevertheless intelligent and refined. Historian Brian Jones concluded in his Emperor Domitian that the assessment of Domitian”s true character and personality is greatly complicated by the hostility of extant sources to him.
We can only outline the general features, based on the information provided in ancient literature. Domitian apparently lacked the natural charisma of his brother and father. He was prone to suspicion, had a strange, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor, and was sullen and gloomy. This duality of character was exacerbated by his remoteness from people, and as he grew older he increasingly favored solitude, which may have had its roots in an isolated upbringing. Indeed, by the age of eighteen Domitian had lost many of his relatives, and his father and brother were permanently in the provinces. Domitian spent much of his youth at the end of Nero”s reign and was greatly influenced by the political turmoil of the sixties, leading to the civil war of ”69, which ended with his family coming to power.
The Year of the Four Emperors
On June 9, 68, amid growing opposition from the Senate and the army, Nero commits suicide, and with his death the era of the Julius-Claudian dynasty ends. Chaos reigns in the empire, leading to the outbreak of a brutal civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors, in which the four most influential military leaders in the Roman Empire – Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian – vied successively for imperial power. The news of Nero”s death reached Vespasian in preparation for the siege of Jerusalem. Almost at the same time the senate proclaimed Galba, viceroy of Tarragon Spain, as emperor. Instead of continuing his campaign, Vespasian decided to wait for further developments and sent Titus to welcome the new emperor. Before his arrival in Italy, however, Titus learned that Galba had been killed and replaced by Othon, viceroy of Lusitania (modern Portugal). At the same time, Vitellius and his army in Germany revolted and began preparations to march on Rome, intending to overthrow Othorius. Unwilling to risk being held hostage by one side or the other, Titus refused to travel to Rome and returned to his father in Judea.
Othon and Vitellius understood the potential threat from Flavius. With three legions at Vespasian”s disposal and many auxiliary units, his army reached about 60,000 soldiers. His location in Judea further gave him the advantage of proximity to the vital province of Egypt, which controlled the grain supply to Rome. His brother Titus Flavius Sabinus, as prefect of the city, had the entire Roman garrison under his command, and in the emperor”s absence he gained almost complete control of the city. Tensions among the Flavian troops gradually increased, but as long as Galba or Othon remained in power, Vespasian refused to take any action. However, when Othon was defeated by Vitellius during the first battle at Bedriac, the legions in Judea and Egypt took matters into their own hands and proclaimed Vespasian emperor on July 1, 69. Vespasian accepted their decision and allied himself against Vitellius with the Syrian governor Gaius Licinius Mucianus. A large force assembled from the Judean and Syrian legions moved on Rome under the command of Mucianus, while Vespasian himself went to Alexandria, leaving Titus as commander of the Roman army in Judea for the final suppression of the rebellion.
Very little is known about Domitian”s life during the year of the four emperors. At the time of his father”s proclamation as emperor, Domitian was in Rome, where by order of Vitellius he was placed under house arrest as a hostage for protection against a future attack by Flavian troops. However, support for the old emperor waned as soon as legions throughout the empire pledged their allegiance to Vespasian. On October 24, 69, the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian (under the command of Mark Antony Primus) came together in battle at Bedriake (where Vitellius had recently defeated Othonus), which ended in a crushing defeat of Vitellius” army. In desperation, the emperor attempted to negotiate a surrender. Terms of peace, including voluntary abdication, were agreed upon with Titus Flavius Sabinus, but the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard – the imperial bodyguards – considered them shameful and prevented Vitellius from agreeing to the treaty.
On the morning of December 18 the emperor went to deposit the imperial insignia in the temple of Concordia, then he wanted to take refuge in his brother”s house, but at the last minute, seeing the support of the people who would not let him pass to the temple, he decided to return back to the imperial palace. In the turmoil, the principal members of the government gathered near Sabinus” house, proclaiming Vespasian as emperor, but were turned to flight when cohorts of Vitellians encountered Sabinus” armed escort, who was forced to retreat to the Capitoline Hill, where he was surrounded by the enemy. At night, taking advantage of the enemy”s poor surveillance of the fortress, Sabinus was able to conduct his children and Domitian to the Capitol. Although Mucian”s army was closing in on Rome, the besieged supporters of Flavius could not hold out for long.
On December 19 the Vitellians stormed the Capitol, and as a result of the ensuing battle Sabinus was captured and executed. Domitian himself escaped: according to Tacitus, first hiding with the guard of the temple and then mingling with a group of Isis priests, he went out unrecognized and made his way to the client of his father, Cornelius Primus, who sheltered him. Subsequently the watchman”s cottage was demolished by order of Domitian, who erected on that site a temple to Jupiter the Guardian, and later, when he became emperor, to Jupiter the Sentinel. Suetonius” version is different: Domitian spent the night at the gatekeeper of the temple, and then, dressed as a priest of Isis, mingled with others and accompanied by one companion, crossed to the other side of the Tiber to the mother of one of his companions. Brian Jones considers Tacitus” version to be more accurate. On the afternoon of December 20, Vitellius was killed and the remnants of his troops were defeated. Learning that he had nothing more to fear from the enemy, Domitian went out to the people to greet Mucian”s army entering the city; he was immediately proclaimed Caesar, and a mass of troops escorted him to Vespasian”s house. The next day, on December 21, the senate declared Vespasian emperor of the Roman Empire.
After the Civil War
Although the civil war officially ended, society was still in a state of anarchy and lawlessness in the first days after Vitellius” death. Order was properly restored by Mucianus in early ”70, but Vespasian did not enter Rome until September of that year. There was discontent among the Praetorians, who had been disbanded by Vitellius and re-formed by Vespasian, who demanded that their privileged position be returned to them; transfer to the Guard had been promised to many common legionaries, and they now insisted that the promise be kept. At the same time, Domitian acted as the representative of the Flavian family in the Roman Senate. He received the title of Caesar and was appointed praetor with consular power. Tacitus describes Domitian”s first speech to the Senate as brief and measured, while noting the speaker”s ability to evade uncomfortable questions. After the speech, Domitian moved to the imperial palace. Domitian”s power was purely nominal and remained so for at least ten more years. Apparently, in Vespasian”s absence, real power was concentrated in the hands of Mucian, and he did his best to ensure that Domitian, who was only eighteen years old, did not overstep the bounds of his authority. At first, immediately after defeating Vitellius, Antony Primus and the prefect of the praetorium, Arrius Varus, had power in the city, but when Mucian entered he removed them from power “and treated them with hatred, which, though without much success, he tried to hide behind external civility. Varus, though he supported Domitian, was replaced by Marcus Arrecinus Clement, a relative and friend of Domitian. In addition, Mucian did not allow Domitian to include Primus in his retinue for fear of his popularity, and he went to Vespasian for support, which, however, he did not receive.
In addition, Mucian sought to limit Domitian”s military ambitions. He had before him the examples of his brother, father, and uncle who had commanded legions, so he sought to gain military glory as well. The Civil War of ”69 seriously destabilized the provinces, leading to several local uprisings, such as the Batavian Revolt in Gaul. The Batavian auxiliary units standing with the legions on the Rhine, led by Gaius Julius Civilius, revolted with the support of the tribe of Travers joined them under the command of Julius Classicus (German. Seven legions were dispatched from Rome, led by Vespasian”s brother-in-law Quintus Petillius Cerialus. Although the revolt was quickly suppressed, exaggerated rumors of the event prompted Mucianus to leave the capital with reinforcements and move north. Domitian pressed for an opportunity to achieve military glory and joined with the other warlords in order to gain command of the legion. According to Tacitus, “Mucian feared that, having gained power over the army, Domitian, under the influence of youth, his own passions, and bad counselors, would make mistakes both in politics and in the art of war.” When news came of Cerial”s victory over Civilis, Mucianus, who was in Lugdun, tactfully dissuaded Domitian from further attempts at military glory. Domitian then sent secret messengers to Cerial to see if he would give him command of the troops if he personally arrived in the army. But in the late summer of ”70 Vespasian returned to the capital, not because he was wary of Domitian”s behavior, but because of the increased influence of Mucianus. Domitian soon withdrew from public affairs, preferring to engage in literature.
Although Domitian”s political and military career ended in failure, his personal life was more successful. Suetonius testifies, “Without going into detail, suffice it to say that he took wives from many. Vespasian tried to arrange a dynastic marriage between his youngest son and Titus” daughter Julia Flavia, after learning of his promiscuous behavior, but Domitian was adamant in his love for Domitia Longina. He met Longina between the fall of Vitellius and his father”s accession to Rome on October 13, 70. His love for her went so far that Domitian managed to persuade her husband Lucius Elia Lamia to divorce her in order to marry her himself. There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of Domitian”s affection for Longinus.
Despite its initial recklessness, this marriage was politically beneficial to Vespasian himself, since Domitia Longina was the younger daughter of the distinguished military commander and respected politician Gnaeus Domitius Corbulon. After Pison”s unsuccessful plot against Nero in 65, Corbulon was forced to commit suicide. The new marriage not only restored ties with the senatorial opposition, but also served to propagandize the Flavians. The new emperor sought to sever any ties with Nero or at least downplay his family”s success in the previous decade (thus Vespasian wanted to present himself not as Nero”s courtier but as an exile) in order to emphasize ties with the more respectable members of the Julian-Claudian dynasty (hence the focus on Titus” childhood friendship with Britannicus) and rehabilitate all victims of the Neroite repression.
In 73, when Domitian received his second consulship, Domitia bore him a son. The boy”s name is unknown; he died in infancy, in 83. Shortly after his accession to the throne, Domitia was honored as an Augusta, and their son was deified, his portraits being minted on the reverse of coins of the era. In 83, the marriage took a crack. For reasons unknown, Domitian banished Longina from the palace and began living openly with his niece Julia Flavia. Jones suggests that he most likely did so because of her inability to re-birth an heir.
In 84 Domitia Longina returned to the palace, where she lived until the end of Domitian”s reign without incident. Little is known of Domitia”s activities as the emperor”s consort and the influence she wielded in Domitian”s government, but her role seems to have been limited. From Suetonius we know that she at least accompanied the emperor to the amphitheater, while the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius recounts the benefits he received from her. It is not known whether Domitian had other children, but he did not marry a second time. Despite the many accounts of his adultery and divorce, the marriage seems to have been a happy one.
The Road to the Throne
Before Domitian became emperor, his presence in government was largely ceremonial. In June 71 Titus returned victorious from the Judean War. In the end, the rebellion claimed the lives of more than one million people, most of them Jews. The city itself and the Temple of Jerusalem were completely destroyed, its most valuable treasures stolen by the Roman army, and nearly 100,000 people taken captive and turned into slaves. For this victory the senate awarded Titus a triumph. On the day of the triumph, the entire Flavius family entered the capital, preceded by a triumphal procession, during which the spoils captured during the war were carried through. The entrance of the Flavius family was led by Vespasian and Titus, who rode in a chariot, followed by Domitian on a white horse. The leaders of the Jewish resistance were executed in the Roman forum, after which the procession ended with a religious sacrifice in the temple of Jupiter of Capitol. To celebrate the successful end of the war, a triumphal arch, called the Arch of Titus, was erected at the southeastern entrance to the forum.
Nevertheless, the return of Titus further emphasized Domitian”s comparative insignificance both militarily and politically. As the eldest and most experienced of Vespasian”s sons, Titus shared tribunal power with his father, received seven consulships, a censorship, and was given the command of the Praetorian Guard: powers that left no doubt that he had become a full heir to the throne. As second son, Domitian held several honorary titles, such as Caesar or leader of the youth, and several religious offices, including augur, pontiff, Arvalian brother, master of the Arvalian brethren, and “sacerdos collegiorum omnium. He was also mentioned frequently enough on coin inscriptions, but he never received an empire. Domitian served six consulships during Vespasian”s reign, but only one of them, in 73, was ordinal. The other five were the less prestigious posts of consul-supreme, which he held in ”71, ”75, ”76, ”77, and ”79 respectively, usually replacing his father or brother in mid-January. Although the posts were purely ceremonial in nature, Domitian gained valuable experience in the Roman Senate, which may have contributed to his later remarks on its relevance. Under Vespasian and Titus, those who did not belong to the Flavian party were virtually excluded from the most important public institutions. Mucian himself virtually disappeared from the chronological records of the time, and it is thought that he died between about 75 and 77. Real power was clearly concentrated in the hands of the Flavian party, while the weakened senate only retained a semblance of democracy.
For the reason that Titus acted effectively as his father”s co-emperor, no dramatic change occurred in either Flavian policy or in Domitian”s career after Vespasian”s death on June 23, 79: Domitian received neither tribunal power nor the empire for the entire short-lived reign of Titus. It was clear that the new emperor had no intention of changing the status quo, although he granted Domitian some insignia of honor and assured his rights as future successor. Moreover, Domitian trusted rumors that his father had intended to bequeath to him equal rights to the throne with his brother, but Titus, using his skill in forging his father”s handwriting, excluded any mention of this in his will. He suspected that Titus wanted his brother Vespasian”s grandson, Flavius Sabinus, to succeed him, since not long before his death he had been appointed Consul for the year 82. Titus” short reign was marked by the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24, 79, which buried the surrounding cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under ash and lava; the following year a fire broke out in Rome that lasted three days and destroyed several important public buildings. Titus spent much of his reign dealing with the aftermath of these disasters. On September 13, 81, after nearly two years in charge of the empire, he died unexpectedly of fever during a trip to the Sabine lands.
Antique authors speak of Domitian”s complicity in his brother”s death or directly accuse him of murder; they also tell us that even before Titus died Domitian ordered everyone to leave him as if he were dead. Dio Cassius even claims that during his brother”s lifetime Domitian was openly plotting against him. It is difficult to assess the factual reliability of these statements, since the negative attitude of ancient authors to Domitian is known. He had no brotherly love for Titus, but this is not surprising given that Domitian barely saw Titus after the age of seven.
Regardless of the nature of their relationship, Domitian seems to have shown little sympathy when his brother was dying and rushed to the Praetorian camp, where, promising his bodyguards a generous donation, he was proclaimed emperor. At the news of the emperor”s death the senate decided first to honor his memory and then to recognize his brother as his successor: these were the first signs of Domitian”s future animosity with the aristocracy. It was not until the next day, September 14, that the Senate confirmed Domitian”s credentials, granted him tribunal power, the office of pontiff, and proclaimed him Augustus and Father of the Fatherland.
As emperor, Domitian quickly abandoned the republican facade of empire building that his father and brother had maintained during their reign. As the center of power moved (more or less formally) to the imperial court, Domitian openly showed that he considered the powers of the senate obsolete. In his view, the Roman Empire was to be ruled as a divine monarchy headed by a magnanimous despot, by which he meant himself. In addition to the exercise of absolute political power, Domitian believed that the role of the emperor should encompass every aspect of daily life and that he should guide the Roman people according to his cultural and moral authority. To proclaim the beginning of a new era, Domitian embarked on an ambitious economic, military and cultural program to restore the splendor of the empire as it had been under the reign of Emperor Octavian Augustus.
In order to realize these grand designs, Domitian was determined to govern the empire with care and diligence. He became personally involved in all areas of government: orders were issued governing the minutest details of daily life and law, and taxation and public morals were tightly controlled. According to Suetonius, “he kept the magistrates of the capital and the provincial governors so tightly in check that they were never fairer or more honest” – the emperor was able to maintain a low level of corruption among provincial governors and elected officials through exacting measures and a suspicious nature. Although Domitian made no comment on the importance of the Senate under his absolutist rule, those senators whom he considered unworthy were excluded from the Senate, and he rarely nominated his relatives in the allocation of public offices; his policy was in sharp contrast to that of Vespasian and Titus. Above all, Domitian valued the loyalty and versatility of those he appointed to strategic posts, qualities which he found more often in members of the rider class than in members of the Senate or members of his family, whom he regarded with suspicion and who he quickly dismissed from office if they disagreed with imperial policy.
Moreover, Domitian”s autocratic rule was underscored by the fact that, unlike the emperors who ruled after Tiberius, he spent much time away from the capital. Although the power of the senate was in decline after the destruction of the republic, under Domitian the seat of power was not even in Rome, but where the emperor himself was present at one time or another. Prior to the completion of the Flavian palace on Palatine Hill, the imperial court was located in Alba or Circeo, and sometimes in more distant places. Domitian traveled extensively through the European provinces and spent at least three years of his reign in Germany and Illyrica, conducting military campaigns on the frontiers of the empire.
Historian Brian Jones estimates Domitian”s annual income at more than 1.2 billion sesterces, of which more than one-third was presumably spent on financing the Roman army. Another major expenditure was the extensive reconstruction of the empire”s capital. At the time of Domitian”s ascent to the throne, the effects of the devastation of Rome, caused by the Great Fire of 64 (10 districts of the city burned out), the civil war of 69 (especially the great damage was caused by Vitellius) and the three-day fire of 80, during which many large buildings were destroyed, such as the Temple of Neptune, the Balba Theatre, the Temple of Isis, etc. Domitian”s grandiose building program was aimed at radically changing the appearance of the capital of the Roman Empire, creating a look that emphasized the world importance of the city. About fifty structures were built, restored or completed. The achievements of the emperor are second only to the building activities of Octavian Augustus. Among the most important of these new constructions were the Odeion, a stadium which seated up to 15,000 people, and the large palace on the Palatine hill, better known as the Flavian palace, whose plan was designed by Domitianus Rabirius. Restored were: the Atrium of Vesta (also enlarged), the Great Circus, the Pantheon, the Octavian Portico, the Temple of Divine Augustus, completely rebuilt after the fire of ”80, the Temple of Jupiter the Greatest, whose roof was covered with gold, the Baths of Agrippa. Among the buildings completed during Domitian”s reign: the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, the Arch of Titus, and the Colosseum, to which he added a fourth level and completed the interior decoration of the building. Apparently the most money was spent on the Palatine, the Champ de Mars, the Roman Forum area, the Quirinal, the Colosseum Valley, and the Esquiline.
In order to attract the Roman population to himself, Domitian spent an estimated 135 million sestercii throughout his reign in the distribution of monetary gifts, or congiariums. In fifteen years Domitian made distributions three times, in ”83, ”89, and ”93. The emperor also revived the practice of state dinner parties, which had been reduced to a simple distribution of food under Nero, while he invested large sums in entertainment and games. In 86, Domitian resumed the Capitoline Games, based apparently on the Neroian games held under Nero, which were competitions in athletics, chariot races, and competitions in oratory and music, held every four years. Domitian personally supported the convention of representatives from the corners of the empire to Rome for the games and allocated prizes for them. There were also innovations in the regularly scheduled gladiatorial games, such as naval battles, night fights, and women and dwarf fights. Finally, he added two new parties in chariot races, “purple” and “gold,” to the already existing “blue,” “green,” “red,” and “white.
The military campaigns carried out by the Romans under Domitian were generally defensive in nature, as the emperor abandoned the idea of waging an expansionist war. His most significant military contribution was the formation of the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, which included an extensive network of roads, forts, and watchtowers erected along the Rhine to protect the empire. Nevertheless, a number of important wars were fought in Gaul against the Hutts and along the Danube border against the Sveves, Sarmatians and Dacians.
The conquest of Britain continued under the command of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who extended the borders of the Roman Empire as far as Caledonia (present-day Scotland). Domitian also created in ”82 a new legion, the I Legion of Minerva, for his campaign against the Hutts. In addition, the emperor apparently increased Roman influence in Armenia and Iberia – there is a well-known inscription on a stone near Beyukdash Mountain in the Gobustan reserve near Baku in modern Azerbaijan, testifying to the presence there of units of the XII Lightning Legion under the command of Centurion Lucius Julius Maximus. Judging by the fact that Domitian is called Germanic in it, the inscription refers to the period after ”83, presumably, to ”92.
Domitian”s administration of the Roman army was characterized by the same meticulousness as in the other branches of government. However, his abilities as a military strategist were criticized by his contemporaries. Although he claimed several triumphs, these actions were largely propaganda. Tacitus ridiculed Domitian”s victories over the Hattians, calling them a “false triumph,” and criticized his order to Agricola to leave the areas he had conquered in Britain. This is how Dio Cassius characterizes the principles of Domitian”s military leadership:
“Being defeated, he blamed it on his military leaders. The fact is that although he claimed victories for himself, none of them were won by himself, yet he blamed others for the defeats, even though they were the consequence of orders given to him. Thus he hated those who were victorious and blamed those who were defeated.
Nevertheless, Domitian appears to have enjoyed great popularity among the legionnaires, devoting some three years of his reign to the army during the campaigns, more than any emperor since Octavian Augustus, and the emperor also raised soldiers” pay by a third. While the army commanders may not always have approved of his tactical and strategic decisions, the loyalty of the common soldier to him is unquestioned.
After his ascension to the throne, Domitian”s main foreign policy objective was to achieve military glory. The emperor began his military activity with a campaign against the Hattites. The state of the sources, which contain references to this event, in the words of the historian Viktor Nikolaevich Parfyonov, “can safely be called deplorable. As Suetonius tells us, of all Domitian”s campaigns, the war with the Hattians was the only one undertaken on his own initiative. There was a long debate about the date of the beginning of the war, but the traditional view was that of the spring of ”83.
Local clashes with the Hattians also occurred before the reign of Domitian – in 41, 50 and 70. According to Sextus Julius Frontinus, in order to conceal his intentions, the emperor arrived in Gaul under the pretext of conducting a census and unexpectedly attacked the Hutts. In so doing, the historian admits that the Romans were the party that unleashed the war, although he specifies that the Hattians themselves were preparing to attack the Roman provinces, and therefore the Roman strike was preemptive in nature. For the campaign, Domitian created a new legion, the I Minerva Legion, which built a road in the Hattian lands to facilitate the movement of Roman legionnaires. The approximate number of soldiers involved in the campaign reached 50,000.
At the end of the same year, apparently having achieved success, the emperor returned to Rome, where he celebrated his victory by assuming the victorious title of “Germanic,” leaving the leadership of the military operations to his legates. Domitian is credited with the fraud that he allegedly bought slaves and passed them off as German prisoners, but this “is clearly a fabrication of his ”sworn friends” among the high aristocracy of the capital”. The war started by Domitian apparently ended in ”85. It resulted in the conquest of the Tavn mountain range and the extension of the borders to the Lahn and Main Rivers. That the Hutts were not defeated to the end is indicated by their agreement to participate in the rebellion of the Viceroy of Upper Germany, Antony Saturninus, in 89, and only the ice drift on the Rhine prevented this plan.
One of the most detailed accounts of the military activities of the Flavian dynasty is that of Tacitus, whose biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola largely concerns the conquest of Britain between ”77 and ”84. Agricola was appointed governor of Roman Britain around ”77, under Vespasian, and upon his arrival in the province immediately began a campaign in Caledonia (present-day Scotland). The chronology of his campaigns is still a matter of debate, some opinions leaning in favor of the period from ”77 to ”84, and others from ”78 to ”85.
In 82, Agricola”s troops crossed an unknown body of water and defeated nations that had been unknown to the Romans until then. The viceroy fortified the British shores opposite Ireland, and Tacitus later recalled that his father-in-law often said that the island could be conquered with only one legion and a small number of auxiliary troops. He “harbored one of the kings who had ruled her people, who had been banished to a foreign land by a domestic coup, and under the pretext of friendly engagement kept him with him just in case.” This conquest did not take place, but some historians believe that the Romans visited Ireland on a small exploratory or punitive expedition.
Agricola shifts his attention from Ireland; the following year, with the help of his fleet, he crosses the Caledonian River Fort and advances inland. A large legion fortress was built at Inchuitil to strengthen the position of the Roman army. In the summer of ”84 Agricola met with the Caledonian army led by Calgacus at the Battle of the Graupian Mountains. Although the Romans inflicted a heavy defeat on the enemy, two-thirds of the Caledonian army fled and took refuge in the swamps of the North Scotch Highlands, ultimately preventing Agricola”s further and final conquest of the island.
In 85 Agricola was recalled to Rome by order of Domitian, by then holding the position of viceroy longer than any other legates of the Flavian era. Tacitus states that the emperor was wary of his legate”s achievements because Agricola”s successes overshadowed the emperor”s own modest victories in Germany – “the name of his subordinate is placed above his name, that of the princeps.” The relationship between Domitian and Agricola remains a mystery: on the one hand Agricola was honored with triumphal decorations and statues, on the other, Agricola has never held a civil or military post again since, despite his experience and fame. He was offered the post of governor of the province of Africa, but Agricola declined it either because of ill health or, according to Tacitus, because of obstruction by Domitian.
Shortly after Agricola resigned as legate of Britain, the Roman Empire entered a war with Dacia. Reinforcements were needed, and in 87 or 88 Domitian began a large-scale strategic withdrawal from the conquered territory. The legion fortress at Inchuitil, and with it a number of Caledonian forts and watchtowers, was completely destroyed; the Roman frontier was then pushed southward by about 120 kilometers. The Roman commanders may have resented Domitian”s decision to withdraw from the conquered lands, but he saw the Caledonian territories as nothing more than a loss to the Roman treasury.
In the winter of 8485 the Dacians under the leadership of, presumably, Diurpaneus crossed the Danube and, attacking the Romans, killed the Meusean governor Gaius Oppius Sabinus, causing considerable damage to the province – according to some reports, the V Legion of Larks was then destroyed. However, Suetonius does not mention the defeat of the V Legion, but tells of the destruction by the Sarmatians of the legion together with the legate (it was probably the XXI Legion of the Larks). The dead Sabinus was succeeded by a local legate, Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus. Domitian, accompanied by the prefect of praetorium Cornelius Fusca, set out for the Danube, making Naissus his bet. The Dacians were forced to retreat back beyond the Danube, but it became more difficult to contain them because of the emergence of a new leader among them, Decebalus. Earlier it was believed that one of Domitian”s defensive measures against the Dacians was the construction of a huge earth rampart in Dobrudja, but it is now known that it was erected only in the IX century. Immediately after the defeat of Oppius Sabinus, Domitian refused to make peace with the Dacians and sent Cornelius Fusca to the province. His initial successes forced the emperor to return to Rome, where he celebrated them with a salute in his honor.
Throughout the first half of ”86, Domitian remained in the capital. In the summer he took part in the celebration of the Capitoline games. At this time Cornelius Fusk made an attempt to avenge the Dacians for their defeat of Sabinus and invaded Dacia itself. The commander swiftly crossed the Danube using a pontoon bridge, penetrated deep into Dacia, where he died. The Dacians carried out a brilliant operation which resulted in the Roman army being trapped in the mountainous Dacian gullets and defeated. The Dacians captured and plundered the Roman camp; weapons, military equipment, and also the fighting machines of the Roman army fell into their hands. The result was Domitian”s second trip to the Danubian frontier. The emperor arrived there about August 86. He immediately divided Moesia into two provinces, Upper (in the west) and Lower (in the east), leaving Cornelius Nigrinus in Lower Moesia, and summoned Lucius Funisulanus Vettonianus from Pannonia to Upper Moesia. Domitian needed experienced military commanders: Vettonian had ruled Dalmatia and then Pannonia since ”79. Apparently, Nigrinus and Vettonianus achieved some success in the war against the Dacians (they made a punitive campaign and crossed the Danube) judging by the fact that the emperor received the thirteenth and fourteenth salutations at the end of the year. The result was the disintegration of the Dacian alliance under Diurpaneus, and the command passed to Decebalus. Before returning to Rome at the end of ”86, Domitian probably ordered three additional legions to the Danube, viz: IV Lucky Flavius Legion was transferred from Dalmatia to perhaps Upper Meuse, I Auxiliary Legion from Germany to Brigetion or Sirmium, and II Auxiliary Legion from Britain to Sirmium and then to Aquincum.
After a year of inactivity (87), Domitian was ready to avenge Fusca. A new viceroy was appointed in Upper Moesia. The long reign of Vettonian in the Balkans (Dalmatia, Pannonia and Upper Moesia in succession from 7980 to 8788) ended, and he was replaced by his relative Tettius Julian, who also had military experience on the Danubian frontier. As legate of the VII Claudius legion in 69 he had defeated the Roxolans when they attempted to invade Meuzia, and he also had a reputation as a strict military commander. From Viminacium he led his army through the Banat and Iron Gate and headed for Sarmizegetusa, the capital of Decebalus, and defeated the Dacians in the bloody battle of Tapas, presumably in late ”88. At Rome, Domitian celebrated the Secular Games (in which the historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus took part as priest-queen), probably mid-year, and was honored with the sixteenth and seventeenth salutations; he assumed that the next trip to the Danube would end with the personal surrender of Decebalus. The revolt in Germany, however, changed his plans. It was at this time that he introduced a number of benefits for retired soldiers. This was done in order to strengthen the emperor”s authority in the army in view of the recent appearance of False Nero, the revolt of Antony Saturninus, and conflicts with the Marcomanni and Quads. But the success of Tettius Julian strengthened Domitian”s image as a warrior emperor.
Soon, Decebalus sent his brother, Diegides, to Domitian, who had arrived at the Danubian border from Germany. In confirmation of Decebalus” friendly intentions, Diagidus returned to the Romans the trophies and prisoners taken by the Dacians after the defeat of Fusca, but not all of them. The ruler of the Dacians himself did not dare to meet the Roman emperor in person, probably not wishing to risk his own safety. The terms of the peace treaty were as follows: Decebal recognized his dependence on the Roman Empire and received royal insignia from Domitian. Due to the absence of Decebalus himself, Domitian crowned his brother with a diadem. In addition, the Dacian ruler was given civil and military specialists in various directions. The emperor sent Decebal a large sum of money, and also undertook to pay him regular subsidies. In assessing Domitian”s activities on the Danubian frontier, historian H. Bengston concludes that the emperor “selflessly and deliberately served the power in its hour of need. If the imperial defenses on the Danube did not collapse, it is mainly the personal merit of Domitian.
Domitian was probably still in Mogontiac when he learned of the hostile activities of the Quads and Marcomanni, and since the hostilities against the Dacians were not yet complete, he was faced with the prospect of war on two fronts. Details of the conflict with the Marcomanni and Quads remain unclear. According to Dion Cassius, Domitian unleashed the war himself by attacking both nations because of his failure to help him against the Dacians, then he rejected two attempts by the Marcomannians and Quads to make peace and even executed members of a second embassy. When the Marcomanni defeated the Roman armies, the emperor came to an agreement with the Dacian ruler Decebalus. According to the chronology of Dion Cassius, this conflict took place in 89.
At the beginning of May 92, Domitian left Rome to take part in another expedition to the Danube, where the Sarmatians, together with the Sveves, opposed the Roman offer of military aid to the Lugia. Thanks to the treaty with Decebalus, the Roman expeditionary corps, consisting of nine legions, led by Velius Rufus, passed through Dacia and attacked the Sarmatian tribe of Gentiles. But the Sarmatians destroyed one of the Roman legions, apparently this legion was XXI the Rapid. Very little is known about this campaign, perhaps the future emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan, who ruled Pannonia in 93, played a significant role in it. The campaign lasted eight months, and in January 93 the emperor returned to Rome, where he celebrated an ovation but not a triumph. Domitian deliberately refused a triumph: perhaps he was not fully satisfied with what had happened and wanted to achieve a complete victory in the end. There is speculation, based on data from several military diplomas, that at the end of his reign Domitian was planning another major campaign against the Sarmatians, the concentration of troops in the province of Upper Mezia having increased since ”93. According to some reports, there was a conflict with the Gentiles near Singidun in ”95 or ”96. Apparently, Domitian had intended first to defeat the Sarmatians and then the Svevians, but because of his death he did not have time to carry out these intentions.
In Africa during Domitian”s reign there were also military campaigns and border fortifications. Claudius Ptolemy mentions several campaigns to Ethiopia through Garamanite territory led by Julius Maternus and Septimius Flaccus, which apparently took place during the Flavian dynasty. At that time friendly relations were established between Rome and the Garamanites. But the Romans had clashes with the Nassamonians, a tribe that lived to the northeast of the Haramans and southeast of Leptis Magna. Dion Cassius mentions a conflict between the Roman authorities in Africa and the Nassamonians. In 86 AD, when Gnaeus Suellius Flaccus was appointed legate of the III Augustus legion stationed in Numidia, many of the desert tribes of Proconsular Africa, including the Nassamones (Dion Cassius calls them by name only), rebelled because of the imposed taxes on them, killed collectors and defeated the Roman detachments sent out to subdue the rebels. They even plundered the Roman camp, but finding wine there, they feasted and eventually fell asleep. When Flaccus learned of this, he attacked them and destroyed them all. Domitian, who was delighted with this success, announced to the senate, “I have forbidden the Nassamonians to exist.
To the west of Proconsular Africa were Numidia and Mauretania. Because of the lack of any information about Domitian”s activities in this region it is difficult to form an opinion about it. But Trajan”s activities – the construction of forts, the founding of colonies (e.g., Timgad in 100), and the final capture of the Ores Mountains – suggest the preparatory work of Domitian. In addition, the III Augustus legion was originally located at Ameder, then at Tebestos and only in 80 or already in the reign of Trajan was it redeployed to Lambesis. This move was important because in Amedera and Tebesta the legion was, so to speak, facing Proconsular Africa, while in Lambesis it was much closer to Muretania and occupied a strategically more important position. Moreover, this action serves as proof of the advance of the Romans toward the Ores Mountains. The merit of Domitian in this matter is difficult to assess.
The situation in Muretania was somewhat more serious. During Vespasian”s reign, the two horsemen”s procurators of Muretania of Tingitania and Muretania of Caesarea were replaced by one imperial legate. The reason for this decision is unknown, but the war in Muretania was knowingly a long and difficult one. Between 85 and 87 the tribune of the thirteenth city cohort in Carthage, Velius Rufus, was appointed “commander of the armies of Africa and Mauritania to crush the tribes in Mauritania.” That there had been hostilities in this region for some time is evidenced by several military diplomas from Muretania Tingitana, dated between ”88 and ”109. It is possible that the conflicts mentioned are identical. However, no action taken by Domitian to end the war is known.
Domitian”s policy in the east was not much different from that of his father, who continued the peace agreement with the Parthian kingdom concluded in 63, as a result of which the brother of the Parthian king became the Armenian king, but as a vassal of Rome, and had to go to Rome to receive the royal tiara from the hands of Nero who was then ruling. Domitian”s main goal was to prevent the expansion of the borders of Parthia either by annexing the neighboring territories or by creating client states; in addition, the eastern defenses were strengthened by his order. Thus, Commagene and Armenia Minor were annexed to the Roman Empire, thereby expanding its territory by 291,000 square kilometers. Two legions were stationed there: XII Lightning at Melitene and XVI Flavius Firma at Satale, and numerous roads were built.
Of the neighboring tribes, the Iberians, Hyrcanians and Albanians appear to have been the most important Roman allies. Living in the vicinity of modern Tbilisi, the Iberians controlled the vitally important Daryal Gorge. Regardless of Iberia”s previous relationship with Rome, it now became a client kingdom and the Iberian ruler Mithridates was declared “philocaesar kai philoromaios” (“loving Caesar and loving the Romans”), according to the following inscription found in Harmozic:
“Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, the great pontiff, and Emperor Titus Caesar, son of Augustus and Domitian Caesar strengthened these fortifications for Mithridates, king of the Iberians, son of King Farasman and Yamaspas, friend of Caesar and friend of the Romans, and for the Iberian people.
The fact that the Romans were building military fortifications in Iberia is sufficient proof of the success of Vespasian policy. The details of the relationship between the Romans and the Hyrcans are not precisely known. At the beginning of Vespasian”s reign they allowed the Alans to pass through their territory to attack Parthia and Armenia, and Vespasian”s request for Parthian intervention was refused. Thus, there was no reason for enmity between the Romans and Hyrcans. Equally important are the relations with the Albanians. As their territory bordered on Greater Armenia and Iberia, on the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to the north and east, they controlled the Derbent Passage and were a bulwark against the movement from the Caucasus. That the Albanians became Roman allies is an achievement of Domitian. Individual units of the XII Lightning Legion stood in Albania, guarding the approaches to the Derbent Passage. Also near the town of Fizuli, there was once an inscription (now lost, not even completely rewritten) which also mentioned the XII Legion of Lightning. Thus, Roman influence was extended throughout the state, and Domitian completed the encirclement of his client kingdoms by the Parthians.
The reign of Domitian was marked by the appearance of a third False Nero, who had the support of the Parthians. This occurred around 88, as indicated by the reinforcement of the Syrian troops with additional units. However, the impostor was soon betrayed by the Parthians. There are hints in the poet of Domitian”s era of Statius of the emperor”s desire for a major military campaign in the East, but it seems to have been the poet”s own wish.
Domitian adhered firmly to the customs of traditional Roman religion and throughout his reign he personally ensured that customs and mores were observed. In order to justify the divine nature of Flavius rule and to emphasize continuity with the previous ruling Julian-Claudian family, Domitian particularly focused on the connection with the major Roman deity Jupiter, perhaps through the most significant and impressive restoration of the Temple of Jupiter on Capitol Hill. A small temple to Jupiter the Guardian was also erected on the site of the temple keeper”s house, where Domitian took refuge on December 20, 69. Later, when he had already ascended the throne, this temple was rebuilt and enlarged to become a temple dedicated to Jupiter the Guardian.
In addition, the emperor was particularly zealous in his worship of the goddess Minerva. Not only did he keep a statue of this goddess in his bedroom, her image regularly appeared on his coins in four different versions. In honor of Minerva, Domitian named one of the legions he founded.
Domitian also revived the practice of the imperial cult, which had been somewhat forgotten during Vespasian”s reign. It is noteworthy that Domitian”s first act as emperor was to order the deification of his predecessor and brother Titus. After the death of his infant son and niece Julia Flavia, they were also deified. As for the emperor himself as a religious figure, Suetonius and Dio Cassius state that Domitian officially appropriated the title “Dominus Deus” (“Lord and God”). However, not only did he refuse the title “Dominus” during his reign, but no official documents or coins mentioning the title have survived, from which some historians, such as Brian Jones, argue that all these nicknames Domitian was bestowed by court flatterers who wanted privileges from the emperor.
In order to promote the worship of the imperial family, the emperor built a temple of the Flavian family, in which he was later buried with his nurse, Phyllida. The temple stood on the site of Vespasian”s former home on Quirinal Hill and was lavishly decorated. No traces of the temple have ever been found. In addition, Domitian completed the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, which was intended for the worship of his deified father and brother. In order to commemorate the military triumphs of the Flavian dynasty, the emperor ordered the construction of the Temple of the Gods (in its place Titus and Vespasian began their triumph in honor of the successful end of the Judean War), the Temple of Returned Fortune, built in 93 after Domitian”s triumphal entry into Rome to celebrate his victory over the Sarmatians. Titus” Arch of Triumph was also completed under Domitian.
The construction of such facilities constitutes only the most visible part of Domitian”s religious policy, which also included the supervision of religious laws and public morals. In April 85, Domitian committed the unprecedented act of appointing himself censor for life (lat. censor perpetuus), whose main task was to supervise Roman manners and conduct, as well as being allowed to accompany twenty-four lictors and wear a triumphal gown in the Senate. In this office Domitian acquitted himself by exercising his powers conscientiously and with great care. The emperor declared his main task to be “correctio morum” (“correction of morals”). In general this step showed the emperor”s interest in all aspects of Roman life. He renewed Julius” law on adultery, under which adultery was punishable by expulsion. Here is what Suetonius tells us more about Domitian”s activities as censor:
“Having taken upon himself the care of manners, he put an end to arbitrariness in the theaters, where the spectators indiscriminately occupied the horsemen”s seats; he destroyed the writings that went about with denigrating attacks on eminent men and women, and punished the composers with infamy; He expelled a former quaestor from the senate for his passion for the spectacle and dance; he forbade bad women to use stretchers and to receive gifts and legacies in their wills; he expelled a Roman horseman from the judges for having banished his wife for adultery and remarried her<… >”
Several people were convicted under the law of Scancinius on seduction of minors. Domitian also prosecuted corruption among civil servants, removing jurors if they took bribes. By his order, slander, especially against himself, was punishable by expulsion or death. Actors were also regarded with suspicion because their public appearances provided an opportunity to speak satirically about the state. As one example, he forbade mimes from appearing on stage in public places. The emperor also renamed the months of September and October according to his name and title as Germanicus and Domitian, since he was born in one of these months and became emperor in the other, but this ruling was reversed after his death.
In ”87 it was found that three of the six vestal virgins (the Sisters of Oculata and Barronilla) had violated the sacred vows of chastity they had taken. Domitian, as supreme pontiff, was personally involved in the investigation of the case. The emperor invited the Vestalcules to choose their own death, and their lovers were exiled. The elder vestaless Cornelia, who had previously been acquitted and tried again, was ordered by Domitian to be buried alive, and her lovers, including the horseman Caesar, to be flogged to death, but one, the praetor and orator Valerius Licinianus, was sent into exile when he confessed his guilt. Foreign religions were tolerated by the Romans insofar as they did not interfere with the public order or were partly assimilated to the traditional Roman religion. During the Flavian dynasty the worship of Egyptian deities flourished, especially Serapis and Isis, who were identified with Jupiter and Minerva respectively. In 95 Domitian”s cousin Titus Flavius Clement and former consul Acilius Glabrion were executed on charges of atheism, and “many other people who adopted Jewish customs” were exiled. Clement was executed in spite of the fact that his sons had been adopted by the emperor and called his heirs. To them he gave the new names Domitian (Bulgarian) (Rus. (Domitian was apparently proclaimed Caesar) and Vespasian (Bulgarian), and he appointed the rhetorician Quintilian as their teacher, but apparently they were executed with their father as well.
Domitian also organized persecutions of philosophers. Thus Helvidius Priscus the Younger, the author of the eulogy of the Stoics of Trasea Peta Gerennius Senecius, the praetor and friend of Trasea Peta Junius Arulenius Rusticus were executed, and soon the Senate issued an order to expel all philosophers and astrologers.
The Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea states that Jews and Christians were heavily persecuted toward the end of Domitian”s reign. The Revelation of John the Evangelist is believed by some to have been written during this period. There is no evidence that Domitian had an organized program of persecution of Christians. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that the Jews did not feel at ease during the reign of Domitian, who meticulously collected the Jewish tax and persecuted the evaders during most of his reign. Overall, Domitian”s reputation as a persecutor was exaggerated.
On January 1, 89, the legate propretor of Upper Germany, Lucius Antonius Saturninus, at the head of two legions, the XIV Partial and the XXI Sturgeon, revolted against the emperor Domitian at Mogontiac. The rebel was supported a few years earlier by the Germanic tribe of the Hattians, who had been defeated by the Romans. This was a very critical time for Domitian, as he faced problems on two other fronts, on the eastern front with the appearance of the false Nero, and on the Danube front the conflict continued.
In any case, the revolt was strictly confined to the province entrusted to Saturninus, and word of the revolt rapidly penetrated into neighboring provinces. The legate propretor of Lower Germany, Avlus Butius Lappius Maximus, assisted by the procurator of Rhaetia, Titus Flavius Norbanus, reacted instantly to this incident, starting a movement in the direction of the insurrectionists. Trajan was summoned from Spain with the VII Partial Legion, while Domitian himself emerged from Rome at the head of the Praetorian Guard.
As luck would have it, the Hutts, who wanted to come to Saturnin”s aid, were unable to cross the Rhine because of the early thaw. Within twenty-four days the revolt was crushed, and its leaders severely punished at Mogontiac. After the victory, the Viceroy of Lower Germany destroyed all the documents of Saturninus in order to avoid unnecessary cruel measures on the part of the emperor. Of the mutinous legions XXI the Swift was sent to the Danubian frontier, where he was soon killed in battle with the Sarmatians, XIV the Pair was never punished for an unknown reason, and those legions which had assisted in suppressing the mutiny were duly rewarded.
The exact cause of the rebellion is uncertain, although it appears to have been pre-planned. There are several versions of the cause: a response to the emperor”s ill-treatment of the senatorial class; a revolt by the legionaries, who forced Saturninus to become their leader (but the soldiers could have no particular reason to revolt, since Domitian had raised their salaries, created certain privileges for veterans, etc. etc.); a reflection of officers” dissatisfaction with Domitian”s military policy (lack of attention to the Germanic frontier and soft treatment of the frontier tribes, retreat from South Scotland, including the dismantling of the large fortress of Inchuitil, failures on the Danube).
As a reward for suppressing the rebellion, Lappius Maximus received the post of viceroy of the province of Syria, consul-supreme from May to August 95, and finally the post of pontiff, which he still held in 102. Titus Flavius Norban may have been appointed prefect of Egypt; in 94 he became prefect of the praetorium with Titus Petronius Secundus. A definite role in uncovering the Saturninus plot and suppressing the rebellion may have been played by the future emperor Nerva, whom the next year the emperor took as a fellow consul. In addition, Domitian forbade the joining of two legions in one camp, and the legion treasury to accept for safekeeping from each legionary a sum greater than a thousand sesterces.
After the fall of the Republic, the power of the Roman Senate was largely limited in the new system of government established by Octavian Augustus and known as the principate. The principate in fact represented a particular form of dictatorial regime, but it maintained the formal structure of the Roman Republic. Most of the emperors retained the external facade of the former democratic regime, and in return the senate implicitly recognized the emperor”s status as de facto monarch.
Some emperors did not always follow this unspoken agreement exactly. Domitian was one of them. From the beginning of his reign he emphasized the reality of his autocracy. He disliked the aristocrats and was not afraid to show his feelings to them by taking away from the senate the right to make any important decisions, and instead relied on a small group of friends and descendants of the rider class to control all the important state institutions.
The dislike was mutual. After the assassination of Domitian, the Roman senators went to the senate building, where they immediately decided to put the late emperor under a curse of remembrance. During the Antoninus dynasty, Senate historians presented Domitian in their writings as a tyrant.
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that Domitian sometimes made concessions to senatorial opinion. Given that his father and brother had concentrated consular power largely in the hands of the Flavian dynasty, Domitian allowed a surprisingly large number of provincials and potential opponents to the office of consul, allowing them to “start the year and open the phases. Whether these actions were a genuine attempt to regularize relations with hostile factions in the Senate or an attempt to win their support is unknown. In offering the position of consul to his potential opponents, Domitian may have wanted to compromise these senators in the eyes of their supporters. When their behavior toward the emperor did not satisfy the latter, they were almost all prosecuted and, as a result, exiled or executed and their property confiscated.
Both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of an increase in repression towards the end of Domitian”s reign, the peak of this repression dating back to ”93 or approximately the time after Saturninus” failed rebellion in ”89. Prior to that there had been several waves of repression against members of the Roman aristocracy: in 83 (on September 22, 87, the Arval brothers performed a sacrifice on the Capitol “in honor of exposing the wickedness of the impious” (in 88, a series of expulsions and executions followed. During the last waves, in ”88 and ”93, at least twenty opponents of Domitian in the senatorial ranks were executed, including Domitia Longina”s former husband Lucius Elius Lamia, three members of the Flavian dynasty: Titus Flavius Sabinus, Titus Flavius Clement and Marcus Arrecinus Clementus (Arrecinus may not have been executed but exiled), Viceroy of Britain Sallustius Lucullus, etc. However, some of these men were executed as late as 83 or 85, which makes it impossible to fully trust the testimony of Tacitus, who reported on the reign of terror at the end of Domitian”s reign. According to Suetonius, some of them were convicted of corruption, treason, or other charges which Domitian justified by his suspicions:
“Rulers, he said, have the worst life: when they discover conspiracies, they are not believed until they are killed.
Brian Jones compares Domitian”s executions to similar events under Emperor Claudius (41-55), noting that 35 senators and over 300 (or 221) horsemen were executed on Claudius” orders, and despite this, he was deified by the Senate and is seen as one of the good emperors in Roman history. Domitian was clearly unable to gain support among the aristocracy, despite attempts to appease hostile factions with appointments to the consulship. His autocratic style of government emphasized the loss of power of the senate, while his policy of viewing patricians and even members of his family as equal to all other Romans earned him their contempt.
Domitian was assassinated on September 18, 96 in the palace as a result of a conspiracy organized by his courtiers. Suetonius gives a very detailed account of the conspiracy and the assassination in his biography of Domitian, which states that Parthenius, the sleeper of the emperor, was the organizer of the plot, and the main motive is the execution of Epaphroditus, Domitian”s advisor, whom Domitian suspected of helping the abandoned Nero to commit suicide. The murder itself was carried out by a freedman named Maximus, Parthenius, and Stephen, Domitian”s steward.
Apparently, the two then prefects of the praetorium played a role in this conspiracy. At the time, the Praetorian Guard was under the command of Titus Flavius Norban and Titus Petronius Secundus, who were almost certainly aware of the plot. Norban and Secundus joined the conspiracy, apparently fearing for their lives: for they had been placed in place of the prefects recently dismissed personally by the emperor, and, moreover, complaints had been made against them to the emperor. Dio Cassius wrote almost a century after the assassination that he included the Emperor”s wife Domitia Longina among the conspirators, but given her devotion to Domitian”s memory even years after her husband”s death, this claim seems unlikely.
Dio Cassius also believes that the murder was not carefully planned, while Suetonius” account suggests that there was a well-organized conspiracy. A few days before the murder Stephen had pretended to be sore on his left arm and for several days in a row had covered it with bandages, and on the day of Domitian”s murder he had hidden a dagger in them. On the day of the murder the doors to the servants” rooms were locked and the dagger, which the emperor usually kept under his pillow, had been stolen in advance by Stephen.
According to the astrological prognosis given to him, Domitian believed he would die around noon, and so he was usually anxious at this time of day. On his last day, Domitian became very anxious and asked a servant what time it was. The servant, who was apparently involved in the conspiracy, replied that it was the sixth (Domitian was afraid of the fifth). The relieved emperor decided to go to the baths, but he was interrupted by Parthenius, who reported that some man wanted to tell the emperor something very important. Domitian went alone to the bedroom, where Stephen was let in, who handed him a note informing him of the conspiracy:
“…and while he read his note in bewilderment, he stabbed him in the groin. The wounded man tried to resist, but the cornicularian Clodianus, the freedman Parthenius Maximus, the decurion of the sleepers Saturnus and some of the gladiators pounced on him and finished him off with seven blows.
Domitian and Stephen fought on the floor for some time until the emperor was finally finished off, but Stephen himself was mortally wounded. Around noon the emperor, who had not lived one month to his forty-fifth birthday, was dead. His body was carried out on a cheap stretcher. Domitian”s nurse, Phyllida, had his ashes burned at her manor house on the Latin road, and his remains secretly transferred to the temple of the Flavius family and mixed with those of his niece Julia. The assassination of the emperor took place without the participation of the Praetorian Guard, because one of the conspirators, the Praetorian Prefect Titus Petronius Secundus, held the soldiers back.
According to Suetonius, a number of omens foretold Domitian”s death. A few days before his murder, his patroness Minerva appeared to him in a dream, announcing that she was disarmed by Jupiter and would no longer be able to protect him.
Election of a Successor and Further Developments
According to the Ostian fascias, on the day Domitian was assassinated, the senate proclaimed Marcus Cocceius Nerva as emperor. Despite his little political experience, his candidacy seemed an excellent choice. Nerva was old, childless, and had spent most of his career at the court of Flavius, which gives cause for both ancient and modern authors to speak of his participation in the assassination of Domitian.
Based on Dion Cassius” report that the conspirators had seen Nerva as a potential candidate for the throne even before the assassination, we can assume that he was at least notified of the conspiracy. Nerva does not appear in Suetonius” account of Domitian”s assassination, but this can be understood, since his works were published during the reign of Nerva”s heirs Trajan and Hadrian, so as to remove the news that the ruling dynasty owed its ascendancy to the murder.
On the other hand, Nerva lacked wide support in the empire and was loyal to Flavius, his record not obliging him to join the conspirators. The details of those days are not known, but modern historians believe that Nerva was proclaimed emperor solely on the initiative of the Senate, within hours of the news of the assassination. The senate decision may have been hasty, but it was made to avoid a civil war, and it does not appear that any of the senators were involved in the conspiracy.
The Senate nevertheless rejoiced at Domitian”s death and, immediately after Nerva ascended the throne, placed the dead emperor under a curse of memory: his coins and statues were melted down, his arches were demolished, and his name was erased from all public records. Domitian and Geta, who ruled a century after him, were the only emperors who were officially put under the curse of memory. In many cases, existing portraits of Domitian, such as those found on the reliefs of the Palazzo Cancelleria, were simply re-carved to achieve a resemblance to Nerva, which allowed for quick portraits of the new emperor and the disposal of images of the old one. However, the Senate decree was only partially implemented in Rome and completely ignored in most provinces outside Italy.
Classical attitudes toward Domitian are generally negative, since most of the antique sources who wrote about him were associated with the senatorial or aristocratic classes, with whom Domitian was in difficult relations. In addition, contemporary historians such as Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and Suetonius wrote about him after his death, when the emperor was cursed to memory. The works of the court poets Domitianus Marcialus and Statius are virtually the only literary sources written during his lifetime. The poems of Martial, who after Domitian”s death stops writing praises about him, and of Statius, quite flattering, glorify Domitian”s achievements and present him as equal to the gods.
The most extensive surviving account of Domitian”s life is by the historian Suetonius, born under Vespasian and published under Hadrian (117-138). His Life of the Twelve Caesars is the source of much of what is known about Domitian. Although his text is predominantly negative toward the emperor, it neither condemns nor praises Domitian and argues that his reign began well but gradually turned to terror. The biography is problematic because it contradicts itself with regard to Domitian”s rule and personality, at the same time presenting him as a conscientious, moderate man and an egregious lecher.
According to Suetonius, Domitian feigned an interest in art and literature, but never bothered to familiarize himself with classical authors. Other passages hinting at Domitian”s fondness for various aphorisms suggest that he was in fact familiar with classical writers, patronized poets and architects, founded artistic Olympiads and, having spent considerable personal funds, rebuilt the libraries of Rome after they had been burned in a fire.
“The Life of the Twelve Caesars is also the source of many outrageous stories regarding Domitian”s marriage. According to Suetonius, Domitia Longinus was exiled in 83 because of an affair with a famous actor named Paris. When Domitian learned of the affair, he allegedly killed Paris in the street and immediately divorced his wife, and after Longinus” exile, Domitian made his mistress Julia Flavia, his niece, who later died in a botched abortion.
Tacitus”s major historical works, including the History and Livestory of Julius Agricola, were written and published during the reign of Domitian Nerva (96-98) and Trajan (98-117)”s successors. Unfortunately, the part of Tacitus” Histories that tells of the Flavian dynasty”s reign is almost completely lost. His impressions of Domitian consist of brief mentions in the first five books and a short but extremely negative characterization in the Life of Julius Agricola, in which he harshly criticizes Domitian”s military activities. Nevertheless, Tacitus acknowledges that the bulk of his career was spent with the assistance of Flavius.
Other influential authors of the second century are Juvenal and Pliny the Younger, the latter of whom was a friend of Tacitus and delivered his famous “Panegyric to Trajan” before the Roman Senate in 100, where he clearly contrasts the “best princeps” Trajan with the “worst” Domitian, without even naming the latter. In some of Pliny”s letters, there are reviews of Domitian”s contemporaries about him:
Juvenal ridiculed Domitian”s court in his Satires, depicting the emperor and his entourage as bribe-takers and describing violence and injustice. He remembers in particular: “…when the last Flavius was tormenting the half-dead world, and Rome was groveling before the bald Nero. In the writings of Christian historians such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Hieronymus of Stridon, Domitian is presented as a persecutor of the church.
“Spade and common sense have done much to soften the influence of Tacitus and Pliny and to rid the memory of Domitian of disgrace and oblivion. But much remains to be done.”
During the twentieth century, the emperor”s military, administrative, and economic policies were revised. However, new studies were not published until the 1990s, almost a century after Stéphane Gsell had published his Essai sur le règne de l”empereur Domitien (1894). The most important of these works was Brian Jones”s The Emperor Domitian. In his monograph Jones finds that Domitian was a ruthless but effective autocrat. There was no widespread dissatisfaction with the emperor or his rule during much of his reign. His severity was felt only by a small, though very active minority, who later exaggerated his despotism in favor of the well-received Antoninus dynasty that followed Flavius.
“The latter Flavius saw further than many of his contemporaries: he was the first to appreciate both the limited resources of the empire compared with the barbarian world, and the terrible danger that threatened it from the north. The balance of power was literally shifting before his eyes, not in Rome”s favor. The merit of Domitian was that he correctly assessed the degree of danger on each part of the Roman borders and was able to work out the best solution of the problem in each case. Hence his rejection of an aggressive policy, the days of which he rightly believed were over.
Although the emperor”s contemporary historians reviled him after his death, his administration laid the foundation for a peaceful second-century principate. His successors Nerva and Trajan were less strict, though in reality their policies were not much different from those of Domitian. Theodore Mommsen called Domitian”s rule a grim but intellectual despotism.