Obverse: CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS, laureate head right
Reverse: COS V, She-wolf and twins left, boat below
Domitian Denarius. 76 AD
Obverse: CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS, laureate head right
Reverse: COS IIII, winged Pegasus standing right with
raising left foreleg
BMC 193, RSC 47
Domitian. AR denarius. AD 87
Obverse: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM PM TR P VII, laureate
Reverse: IMP XIIII COS XIII CENS P PP, Minerva standing
left, holding spear.
RIC 521; RSC 222; BMC 114
Domitian (Latin: Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus; 24 October 51
– 18 September 96) was the Emperor of Rome from 81 to 96. He was
the younger brother of Titus and son of Vespasian, his two predecessors
on the throne, and the last member of the Flavian dynasty. During
his reign, his authoritarian rule put him at sharp odds with the senate,
whose powers he drastically curtailed.
After the death of his brother, Domitian was declared emperor by the Praetorian
Guard. His 15-year reign was the longest since that of Tiberius.
As emperor, Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluing the Roman coinage,
expanded the border defenses of the empire, and initiated a massive building
program to restore the damaged city of Rome. Significant wars were
fought in Britain, where his general Agricola attempted to conquer Caledonia
(Scotland), and in Dacia, where Domitian was unable to procure a decisive
victory against king Decebalus. Domitian's government exhibited totalitarian
characteristics; he saw himself as the new Augustus, an enlightened despot
destined to guide the Roman Empire into a new era of brilliance.
Religious, military, and cultural propaganda fostered a cult of personality,
and by nominating himself perpetual censor, he sought to control public
and private morals. As a consequence, Domitian was popular with the
people and army, but considered a tyrant by members of the Roman Senate.
Domitian's reign came to an end in 96 when he was assassinated by court
officials. He was succeeded the same day by his advisor Nerva.
After his death, Domitian's memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman
Senate, while senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and
Suetonius propagated the view of Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant.
Modern revisionists instead, have characterized Domitian as a ruthless,
but efficient autocrat whose cultural, economic and political program provided
the foundation of the peaceful second century.
Family and background:
The Flavian family tree, indicating the descendants
of Titus Flavius Petro and Tertulla.
Domitian was born in Rome on 24 October 51, the youngest son of Titus Flavius
Vespasianus — commonly known as Vespasian — and Flavia Domitilla Major.
He had an older sister, Domitilla the Younger, and brother, also named
Titus Flavius Vespasianus.
Decades of civil war during the 1st century BC had contributed greatly
to the demise of the old aristocracy of Rome, which a new Italian nobility
gradually replaced in prominence during the early part of the 1st century.
One such family, the Flavians, or gens Flavia, rose from relative obscurity
to prominence in just four generations, acquiring wealth and status under
the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Domitian's great-grandfather,
Titus Flavius Petro, had served as a centurion under Pompey during Caesar's
civil war. His military career ended in disgrace when he fled the
battlefield at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC.
Nevertheless, Petro managed to improve his status by marrying the extremely
wealthy Tertulla, whose fortune guaranteed the upwards mobility of Petro's
son Titus Flavius Sabinus I, Domitian's grandfather. Sabinus himself
amassed further wealth and possible equestrian status through his services
as tax collector in Asia and banker in Helvetia (modern Switzerland).
By marrying Vespasia Polla he allied the Flavian family to the more prestigious
gens Vespasia, ensuring the elevation of his sons Titus Flavius Sabinus
II and Vespasian to senatorial rank.
The political career of Vespasian included the offices of quaestor, aedile,
and praetor, and culminated with a consulship in 51, the year of Domitian's
birth. As a military commander, Vespasian gained early renown by
participating in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43. Nevertheless,
ancient sources allege poverty for the Flavian family at the time of Domitian's
upbringing, even claiming Vespasian had fallen into disrepute under the
emperors Caligula (37–41) and Nero (54–68). Modern history has refuted
these claims, suggesting these stories later circulated under Flavian rule
as part of a propaganda campaign to diminish success under the less reputable
Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and to maximize achievements under
Emperor Claudius (41–54) and his son Britannicus.
By all appearances, the Flavians enjoyed high imperial favour throughout
the 40s and 60s. While Titus received a court education in the company
of Britannicus, Vespasian pursued a successful political and military career.
Following a prolonged period of retirement during the 50s, he returned
to public office under Nero, serving as proconsul of the Africa province
in 63, and accompanying the emperor during an official tour of Greece in
The same year the Jews of the Judaea province revolted against the Roman
Empire in what is now known as the First Jewish-Roman War. Vespasian
was assigned to lead the Roman army against the insurgents, with Titus
— who had completed his military education by this time — in charge of
Youth and character:
Of the three Flavian emperors, Domitian would rule the longest, despite
the fact that his youth and early career were largely spent in the shadow
of his older brother. Titus had gained military renown during the
First Jewish–Roman War. After their father Vespasian became emperor
in 69 following the civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors, Titus
held a great many offices, while, Domitian received honours, but no responsibilities.
By the time he was 6 years old, Domitian's mother and sister had long since
died, while his father and brother were continuously active in the Roman
military, commanding armies in Germania and Judaea. For Domitian,
this meant that a significant part of his adolescence was spent in the
absence of his near relatives. During the Jewish-Roman wars, he was
likely taken under the care of his uncle Titus Flavius Sabinus II, at the
time serving as city prefect of Rome; or possibly even Marcus Cocceius
Nerva, a loyal friend of the Flavians and the future successor to Domitian.
He received the education of a young man of the privileged senatorial class,
studying rhetoric and literature. In his biography in the Lives of
the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius attests to Domitian's ability to quote the
important poets and writers such as Homer or Virgil on appropriate occasions,
and describes him as a learned and educated adolescent, with elegant conversation.
Among his first published works were poetry, as well as writings on law
Unlike his brother Titus, Domitian was not educated at court. Whether
he received formal military training is not recorded, but according to
Suetonius, he displayed considerable marksmanship with the bow and arrow.
A detailed description of Domitian's appearance and character is provided
by Suetonius, who devotes a substantial part of his biography to his personality:
"He was tall of stature, with a modest expression and a high colour. 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."
Domitian was allegedly extremely sensitive regarding his baldness, which
he disguised in later life by wearing wigs. According to Suetonius,
he even wrote a book on the subject of hair care. With regard to
Domitian's personality, however, the account of Suetonius alternates sharply
between portraying Domitian as the emperor-tyrant, a man both physically
and intellectually lazy, and the intelligent, refined personality drawn
Historian Brian Jones concludes in The Emperor Domitian that assessing
the true nature of Domitian's personality is inherently complicated by
the bias of the surviving sources. Common threads nonetheless emerge
from the available evidence. He appears to have lacked the natural
charisma of his brother and father. He was prone to suspicion, displayed
an odd, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humour, and often communicated
in cryptic ways.
This ambiguity of character was further exacerbated by his remoteness,
and as he grew older, he increasingly displayed a preference for solitude,
which may have stemmed from his isolated upbringing. Indeed, by the
age of eighteen nearly all of his closest relatives had died by war or
disease. Having spent the greater part of his early life in the twilight
of Nero's reign, his formative years would have been strongly influenced
by the political turmoil of the 60s, culminating with the civil war of
69, which brought his family to power.
Rise of the Flavian dynasty:
On 9 June 68, amid growing opposition of the Senate and the army, Nero
committed suicide and with him the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to an end.
Chaos ensued, leading to a year of brutal civil war known as the Year of
the Four Emperors, during which the four most influential generals in the
Roman Empire—Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian—successively vied for
News of Nero's death reached Vespasian as he was preparing to besiege the
city of Jerusalem. Almost simultaneously the Senate had declared
Galba, then governor of Hispania Tarraconensis (modern northern Spain),
as Emperor of Rome. Rather than continue his campaign, Vespasian
decided to await further orders and send Titus to greet the new Emperor.
Before reaching Italy, Titus learnt that Galba had been murdered and replaced
by Otho, the governor of Lusitania (modern Portugal). At the same
time Vitellius and his armies in Germania had risen in revolt and prepared
to march on Rome, intent on overthrowing Otho. Not wanting to risk
being taken hostage by one side or the other, Titus abandoned the journey
to Rome and rejoined his father in Judaea.
Otho and Vitellius realized the potential threat posed by the Flavian faction.
With four legions at his disposal, Vespasian commanded a strength of nearly
80,000 soldiers. His position in Judaea further granted him the advantage
of being nearest to the vital province of Egypt, which controlled the grain
supply to Rome. His brother Titus Flavius Sabinus II, as city prefect,
commanded the entire city garrison of Rome. Tensions among the Flavian
troops ran high but so long as either Galba or Otho remained in power,
Vespasian refused to take action.
When Otho was defeated by Vitellius at the First Battle of Bedriacum, the
armies in Judaea and Egypt took matters into their own hands and declared
Vespasian emperor on 1 July 69. Vespasian accepted and entered an
alliance with Gaius Licinius Mucianus, the governor of Syria, against Vitellius.
A strong force drawn from the Judaean and Syrian legions marched on Rome
under the command of Mucianus, while Vespasian travelled to Alexandria,
leaving Titus in charge of ending the Jewish rebellion.
In Rome, Domitian was placed under house arrest by Vitellius, as a safeguard
against Flavian aggression. Support for the old emperor waned as
more legions around the empire pledged their allegiance to Vespasian.
On 24 October 69, the forces of Vitellius and Vespasian met at the Second
Battle of Bedriacum, which ended in a crushing defeat for the armies of
In despair, Vitellius attempted to negotiate a surrender. Terms of peace,
including a voluntary abdication, were agreed upon with Titus Flavius Sabinus
II but the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard—the imperial bodyguard—considered
such a resignation disgraceful and prevented Vitellius from carrying out
the treaty. On the morning of 18 December, the emperor appeared to
deposit the imperial insignia at the Temple of Concord but at the last
minute retraced his steps to the Imperial palace. In the confusion,
the leading men of the state gathered at Sabinus' house, proclaiming Vespasian
as Emperor, but the multitude dispersed when Vitellian cohorts clashed
with the armed escort of Sabinus, who was forced to retreat to the Capitoline
During the night, he was joined by his relatives, including Domitian.
The armies of Mucianus were nearing Rome but the besieged Flavian party
did not hold out for longer than a day. On 19 December, Vitellianists
burst onto the Capitol and in a skirmish, Sabinus was captured and executed.
Domitian managed to escape by disguising himself as a worshipper of Isis
and spent the night in safety with one of his father's supporters, Cornelius
By the afternoon of 20 December, Vitellius was dead, his armies having
been defeated by the Flavian legions. With nothing more to be feared,
Domitian came forward to meet the invading forces; he was universally saluted
by the title of Caesar and the mass of troops conducted him to his father's
house. The following day, 21 December, the Senate proclaimed Vespasian
emperor of the Roman Empire.
Aftermath of the war:
Although the war had officially ended, a state of anarchy and lawlessness
pervaded in the first days following the demise of Vitellius. Order
was properly restored by Mucianus in early 70 but Vespasian did not enter
Rome until September of that year. In the meantime, 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
The ancient historian Tacitus describes Domitian's first speech in the
Senate as brief and measured, at the same time noting his ability to elude
awkward questions. Domitian's authority was merely nominal, however,
foreshadowing what was to be his role for at least ten more years.
By all accounts, Mucianus held the real power in Vespasian's absence and
he was careful to ensure that Domitian, still only eighteen years old,
did not overstep the boundaries of his function. Strict control was
also maintained over the young Caesar's entourage, promoting away Flavian
generals such as Arrius Varus and Antonius Primus and replacing them by
more reliable men such as Arrecinus Clemens.
Equally curtailed by Mucianus were Domitian's military ambitions. The civil
war of 69 had severely destabilized the provinces, leading to several local
uprisings such as the Batavian revolt in Gaul. Batavian auxiliaries
of the Rhine legions, led by Gaius Julius Civilis, had rebelled with the
aid of a faction of Treveri under the command of Julius Classicus.
Seven legions were sent from Rome, led by Vespasian's brother-in-law Quintus
Although the revolt was quickly suppressed, exaggerated reports of disaster
prompted Mucianus to depart the capital with reinforcements of his own.
Domitian eagerly sought the opportunity to attain military glory and joined
the other officers with the intention of commanding a legion of his own.
According to Tacitus, Mucianus was not keen on this prospect but since
he considered Domitian a liability in any capacity that was entrusted to
him, he preferred to keep him close at hand rather than in Rome.
When news arrived of Cerialis' victory over Civilis, Mucianus tactfully
dissuaded Domitian from pursuing further military endeavours. Domitian
then wrote to Cerialis personally, suggesting he hand over command of his
army but, once again, he was snubbed. With the return of Vespasian
in late September, his political role was rendered all but obsolete and
Domitian withdrew from government devoting his time to arts and literature.
Where his political and military career had ended in disappointment, Domitian's
private affairs were more successful. In 70 Vespasian attempted to
arrange a dynastic marriage between his youngest son and the daughter of
Titus, Julia Flavia, but Domitian was adamant in his love for Domitia Longina,
going so far as to persuade her husband, Lucius Aelius Lamia, to divorce
her so that Domitian could marry her himself. Despite its initial
recklessness, the alliance was very prestigious for both families.
Domitia Longina was the younger daughter of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, a
respected general and honoured politician who had distinguished himself
for his leadership in Armenia. Following the failed Pisonian conspiracy
against Nero in 65, he had been forced to commit suicide. The new
marriage not only re-established ties to senatorial opposition, but also
served the broader Flavian propaganda of the time, which sought to diminish
Vespasian's political success under Nero. Instead connections to
Claudius and Britannicus were emphasised, and Nero's victims, or those
otherwise disadvantaged by him, rehabilitated.
In 80, Domitia and Domitian's only attested son was born. It is not known
what the boy's name was, but he died in childhood in 83. Shortly
following his accession as Emperor, Domitian bestowed the honorific title
of Augusta upon Domitia, while their son was deified, appearing as such
on the reverse of coin types from this period. Nevertheless, the
marriage appears to have faced a significant crisis in 83. For reasons
unknown, Domitian briefly exiled Domitia, and then soon recalled her, either
out of love or due to rumours that he was carrying on a relationship with
his niece Julia Flavia. Jones argues that most likely he did so for
her failure to produce an heir. By 84, Domitia had returned to the
palace, where she lived for the remainder of Domitian's reign without incident.
Little is known of Domitia's activities as Empress, or how much influence
she wielded in Domitian's government, but it seems her role was limited.
From Suetonius, we know that she at least accompanied the Emperor to the
amphitheatre, while the Jewish writer Josephus speaks of benefits he received
from her. It is not known whether Domitian had other children, but
he did not marry again. Despite allegations by Roman sources of adultery
and divorce, the marriage appears to have been happy.
Ceremonial heir (71–81):
Prior to becoming Emperor, Domitian's role in the Flavian government was
largely ceremonial. In June 71, Titus returned triumphant from the
war in Judaea. Ultimately, the rebellion had claimed the lives of
over 1 million people, a majority of whom were Jewish. The city and
temple of Jerusalem were completely destroyed, its most valuable treasures
carried off by the Roman army, and nearly 100,000 people were captured
For his victory, the Senate awarded Titus a Roman triumph. On the
day of the festivities, the Flavian family rode into the capital, preceded
by a lavish parade that displayed the spoils of the war. The family
procession was headed by Vespasian and Titus, while Domitian, riding a
magnificent white horse, followed with the remaining Flavian relatives.
Leaders of the Jewish resistance were executed in the Forum Romanum, after
which the procession closed with religious sacrifices at the Temple of
Jupiter. A triumphal arch, the Arch of Titus, was erected at the
south-east entrance to the Forum to commemorate the successful end of the
Yet the return of Titus further highlighted the comparative insignificance
of Domitian, both militarily and politically. As the eldest and most
experienced of Vespasian's sons, Titus shared tribunician power with his
father, received seven consulships, the censorship, and was given command
of the Praetorian Guard; powers that left no doubt he was the designated
heir to the Empire. As a second son, Domitian held honorary titles,
such as Caesar or Princeps Iuventutis, and several priesthoods, including
those of augur, pontifex, frater arvalis, magister frater arvalium, and
sacerdos collegiorum omnium, but no office with imperium.
He held six consulships during Vespasian's reign but only one of these,
in 73, was an ordinary consulship. The other five were less prestigious
suffect consulships, which he held in 71, 75, 76, 77 and 79 respectively,
usually replacing his father or brother in mid-January. While ceremonial,
these offices no doubt gained Domitian valuable experience in the Roman
Senate, and may have contributed to his later reservations about its relevance.
Under Vespasian and Titus, non-Flavians were virtually excluded from the
important public offices. Mucianus himself all but disappeared from
historical records during this time, and it is believed he died sometime
between 75 and 77. Real power was unmistakably concentrated in the
hands of the Flavian faction; the weakened Senate only maintained the facade
Because Titus effectively acted as co-emperor with his father, no abrupt
change in Flavian policy occurred when Vespasian died on 23 June 79.
Titus assured Domitian that full partnership in the government would soon
be his, but neither tribunician power nor imperium of any kind was conferred
upon him during Titus' brief reign. The new Emperor was not eager
to alter this arrangement: he was under forty and at the height of his
Two major disasters struck during 79 and 80. On 24 August 79, Mount
Vesuvius erupted, burying the surrounding cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum
under metres of ash and lava; the following year, a fire broke out in Rome
that lasted three days and that destroyed a number of important public
buildings. Consequently, Titus spent much of his reign coordinating
relief efforts and restoring damaged property. On 13 September 81
after barely two years in office, he unexpectedly died of fever during
a trip to the Sabine territories.
Ancient authors have implicated Domitian in the death of his brother, either
by directly accusing him of murder, or implying he left the ailing Titus
for dead, even alleging that during his lifetime, Domitian was openly plotting
against his brother. It is difficult to assess the factual veracity
of these statements given the known bias of the surviving sources.
Brotherly affection was likely at a minimum, but this was hardly surprising,
considering that Domitian had barely seen Titus after the age of seven.
Whatever the nature of their relationship, Domitian seems to have displayed
little sympathy when his brother lay dying, instead making for the Praetorian
camp where he was proclaimed emperor. The following day, 14 September,
the Senate confirmed Domitian's powers, granting tribunician power, the
office of Pontifex Maximus, and the titles of Augustus, and Pater Patriae.
As Emperor, Domitian quickly dispensed with the republican facade his father
and brother had maintained during their reign. By moving the centre
of government (more or less formally) to the imperial court, Domitian openly
rendered the Senate's powers obsolete. In his view, the Roman Empire
was to be governed as a divine monarchy with himself as the benevolent
despot at its head.
In addition to exercising absolute political power, Domitian believed the
emperor's role encompassed every aspect of daily life, guiding the Roman
people as a cultural and moral authority. To usher in the new era,
he embarked on ambitious economic, military and cultural programs with
the intention of restoring the Empire to the splendour it had seen under
the Emperor Augustus.
Despite these grand designs Domitian was determined to govern the Empire
conscientiously and scrupulously. He became personally involved in
all branches of the administration: edicts were issued governing the smallest
details of everyday life and law, while taxation and public morals were
rigidly enforced. According to Suetonius, the imperial bureaucracy
never ran more efficiently than under Domitian, whose exacting standards
and suspicious nature maintained historically low corruption among provincial
governors and elected officials.
Although he made no pretence regarding the significance of the Senate under
his absolute rule, those senators he deemed unworthy were expelled from
the Senate, and in the distribution of public offices he rarely favoured
family members; a policy that stood in contrast to the nepotism practiced
by Vespasian and Titus. Above all, however, Domitian valued loyalty
and malleability in those he assigned to strategic posts, qualities he
found more often in men of the equestrian order than in members of the
Senate or his own family, whom he regarded with suspicion, and promptly
removed from office if they disagreed with imperial policy.
The reality of Domitian's autocracy was further highlighted by the fact
that, more than any emperor since Tiberius, he spent significant periods
of time away from the capital. Although the Senate's power had been
in decline since the fall of the Republic, under Domitian the seat of power
was no longer even in Rome, but rather wherever the Emperor was.
Until the completion of the Flavian Palace on the Palatine Hill, the imperial
court was situated at Alba or Circeii, and sometimes even farther afield.
Domitian toured the European provinces extensively, and spent at least
three years of his reign in Germania and Illyricum, conducting military
campaigns on the frontiers of the Empire.
Upon his accession, Domitian revalued the Roman currency by increasing
the silver content of the denarius by 12%. This coin commemorates
the deification of Domitian's son.
Domitian's tendency towards micromanagement was nowhere more evident than
in his financial policy. The question of whether Domitian left the
Roman Empire in debt or with a surplus at the time of his death has been
fiercely debated. The evidence points to a balanced economy for the
greater part of Domitian's reign. Upon his accession he revalued
the Roman currency dramatically. He increased the silver purity of
the denarius from 90% to 98% — the actual silver weight increasing from
2.87 grams to 3.26 grams. A financial crisis in 85 forced a devaluation
of the silver purity and weight to 93.5% and 3.04 grams respectively.
Nevertheless, the new values were still higher than the levels that Vespasian
and Titus had maintained during their reigns. Domitian's rigorous
taxation policy ensured that this standard was sustained for the following
eleven years. Coinage from this era displays a highly consistent
degree of quality including meticulous attention to Domitian's titulature
and refined artwork on the reverse portraits.
Jones estimates Domitian's annual income at more than 1.2 billion sestertii,
of which over one-third would presumably have been spent maintaining the
Roman army. The other major expense was the extensive reconstruction
of Rome. At the time of Domitian's accession the city was still suffering
from the damage caused by the Great Fire of 64, the civil war of 69 and
the fire in 79.
Much more than a renovation project, Domitian's building program was intended
to be the crowning achievement of an Empire-wide cultural renaissance.
Around fifty structures were erected, restored or completed, achievements
second only to those of Augustus. Among the most important new structures
were an odeon, a stadium, and an expansive palace on the Palatine Hill
known as the Flavian Palace, which was designed by Domitian's master architect
The most important building Domitian restored was the Temple of Jupiter
on the Capitoline Hill, said to have been covered with a gilded roof.
Among those completed were the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, the Arch
of Titus and the Colosseum, to which he added a fourth level and finished
the interior seating area.
In order to appease the people of Rome an estimated 135 million sestertii
was spent on donatives, or congiaria, throughout Domitian's reign.
The Emperor also revived the practice of public banquets, which had been
reduced to a simple distribution of food under Nero, while he invested
large sums on entertainment and games. In 86 he founded the Capitoline
Games, a quadrennial contest comprising athletic displays, chariot racing,
and competitions for oratory, music and acting.
Domitian himself supported the travel of competitors from all corners of
the Empire to Rome and distributed the prizes. Innovations were also
introduced into the regular gladiatorial games such as naval contests,
nighttime battles, and female and dwarf gladiator fights. Lastly, he added
two new factions to the chariot races, Gold and Purple, to race against
the existing White, Red, Green and Blue factions.
The military campaigns undertaken during Domitian's reign were generally
defensive in nature, as the Emperor rejected the idea of expansionist warfare.
His most significant military contribution was the development of the Limes
Germanicus, which encompassed a vast network of roads, forts and watchtowers
constructed along the Rhine river to defend the Empire. Nevertheless,
several important wars were fought in Gaul, against the Chatti, and across
the Danube frontier against the Suebi, the Sarmatians, and the Dacians.
The conquest of Britain continued under the command of Gnaeus Julius Agricola,
who expanded the Roman Empire as far as Caledonia, or modern day Scotland.
Domitian also founded a new legion in 82, the Legio I Minervia, to fight
against the Chatti. Domitian is also credited on the easternmost
evidence of Roman presence, the rock inscription near Boyukdash mountain,
in present-day Azerbaijan. As judged by the carved titles of Caesar,
Augustus and Germanicus, the related march took place between 84 and 96
Domitian's administration of the Roman army was characterized by the same
fastidious involvement he exhibited in other branches of the government.
His competence as a military strategist was criticized by his contemporaries
however. Although he claimed several triumphs, these were largely
propaganda manoeuvres. Tacitus derided Domitian's victory against
the Chatti as a "mock triumph", and criticized his decision to retreat
in Britain following the conquests of Agricola.
Nevertheless, Domitian appears to have been very popular among the soldiers,
spending an estimated three years of his reign among the army on campaigns—more
than any emperor since Augustus—and raising their pay by one-third.
While the army command may have disapproved of his tactical and strategic
decisions, the loyalty of the common soldier was unquestioned.
Campaign against the Chatti:
Once Emperor, Domitian immediately sought to attain his long delayed military
glory. As early as 82, or possibly 83, he went to Gaul, ostensibly
to conduct a census, and suddenly ordered an attack on the Chatti.
For this purpose, a new legion was founded, Legio I Minervia, which constructed
some 75 kilometres (46 mi) of roads through Chattan territory to uncover
the enemy's hiding places.
Although little information survives of the battles fought, enough early
victories were apparently achieved for Domitian to be back in Rome by the
end of 83, where he celebrated an elaborate triumph and conferred upon
himself the title of Germanicus. Domitian's supposed victory was
much scorned by ancient authors, who described the campaign as "uncalled
for", and a "mock triumph". The evidence lends some credence to these
claims, as the Chatti would later play a significant role during the revolt
of Saturninus in 89.
Conquest of Britain (77–84):
One of the most detailed reports of military activity under the Flavian
dynasty was written by Tacitus, whose biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus
Julius Agricola largely concerns the conquest of Britain between 77 and
84. Agricola arrived c. 77 as governor of Roman Britain, immediately
launching campaigns into Caledonia (modern Scotland).
In 82 Agricola crossed an unidentified body of water and defeated peoples
unknown to the Romans until then. He fortified the coast facing Ireland,
and Tacitus recalls that his father-in-law often claimed the island could
be conquered with a single legion and a few auxiliaries. He had given
refuge to an exiled Irish king whom he hoped he might use as the excuse
for conquest. This conquest never happened, but some historians believe
that the crossing referred to was in fact a small-scale exploratory or
punitive expedition to Ireland.
Turning his attention from Ireland, the following year Agricola raised
a fleet and pushed beyond the Forth into Caledonia. To aid the advance,
a large legionary fortress was constructed at Inchtuthil. In the
summer of 84, Agricola faced the armies of the Caledonians, led by Calgacus,
at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Although the Romans inflicted heavy
losses on the enemy, two-thirds of the Caledonian army escaped and hid
in the Scottish marshes and Highlands, ultimately preventing Agricola from
bringing the entire British island under his control.
In 85, Agricola was recalled to Rome by Domitian, having served for more
than six years as governor, longer than normal for consular legates during
the Flavian era. Tacitus claims that Domitian ordered his recall
because Agricola's successes outshone the Emperor's own modest victories
in Germania. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is
unclear: on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and
a statue, on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post
in spite of his experience and renown. He was offered the governorship
of the province of Africa but declined it, either due to ill health or,
as Tacitus claims, the machinations of Domitian.
Not long after Agricola's recall from Britain, the Roman Empire entered
into war with the Kingdom of Dacia in the East. Reinforcements were
needed, and in 87 or 88, Domitian ordered a large-scale strategic withdrawal
of troops in the British province. The fortress at Inchtuthil was
dismantled and the Caledonian forts and watchtowers abandoned, moving the
Roman frontier some 120 kilometres (75 mi) further south. The army
command may have resented Domitian's decision to retreat, but to him the
Caledonian territories never represented anything more than a loss to the
Dacian wars (85–88):
The most significant threat the Roman Empire faced during the reign of
Domitian arose from the northern provinces of Illyricum, where the Suebi,
the Sarmatians and the Dacians continuously harassed Roman settlements
along the Danube river. Of these, the Sarmatians and the Dacians
posed the most formidable threat. In approximately 84 or 85 the Dacians,
led by King Decebalus, crossed the Danube into the province of Moesia,
wreaking havoc and killing the Moesian governor Oppius Sabinus.
Domitian quickly launched a counteroffensive, personally travelling to
the region accompanied by a large force commanded by his praetorian prefect
Cornelius Fuscus. Fuscus successfully drove the Dacians back across
the border in mid-85, prompting Domitian to return to Rome and celebrate
his second triumph.
The victory proved short-lived, however: as early in 86 Fuscus embarked
on an ill-fated expedition into Dacia, which resulted in the complete destruction
of the fifth legion, Legio V Alaudae, in the First Battle of Tapae. Fuscus
was killed, and the battle standard of the Praetorian Guard was lost.
The loss of the battle standard, or aquila, was indicative of a crushing
defeat and a serious affront to Roman national pride.
Domitian returned to Moesia in August 86. He divided the province into
Lower Moesia and Upper Moesia, and transferred three additional legions
to the Danube. In 87, the Romans invaded Dacia once more, this time
under the command of Tettius Julianus, and finally defeated Decebalus in
late 88 at the same site where Fuscus had previously perished. An
attack on the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa was forestalled when new troubles
arose on the German frontier in 89.
In order to avert having to conduct a war on two fronts, Domitian agreed
to terms of peace with Decebalus, negotiating free access of Roman troops
through the Dacian region while granting Decebalus an annual subsidy of
8 million sesterces. Contemporary authors severely criticized this
treaty, which was considered shameful to the Romans and left the deaths
of Sabinus and Fuscus unavenged. For the remainder of Domitian's
reign Dacia remained a relatively peaceful client kingdom, but Decebalus
used the Roman money to fortify his defenses.
Domitian probably wanted a new war against the Dacians, and reinforced
Upper Moesia with two more cavalry units brought from Syria and with at
least five cohorts brought from Pannonia. Trajan continued Domitian's
policy and added two more units to the auxiliary forces of Upper Moesia,
and then he used the build up of troops for his Dacian wars. Eventually
the Romans achieved a decisive victory against Decebalus in 106.
Again, the Roman army sustained heavy losses, but Trajan succeeded in capturing
Sarmizegetusa and, importantly, annexed the Dacian gold and silver mines.
Domitian firmly believed in the traditional Roman religion, and personally
saw to it that ancient customs and morals were observed throughout his
reign. In order to justify the divine nature of the Flavian rule,
Domitian emphasized connections with the chief deity Jupiter, perhaps most
significantly through the impressive restoration of the Temple of Jupiter
on the Capitoline Hill. A small chapel dedicated to Jupiter Conservator
was also constructed near the house where Domitian had fled to safety on
20 December 69. Later in his reign, he replaced it with a more expansive
building, dedicated to Jupiter Custos.
The goddess he worshipped the most zealously, however, was Minerva.
Not only did he keep a personal shrine dedicated to her in his bedroom,
she regularly appeared on his coinage—in four different attested reverse
types—and he founded a legion, Legio I Minervia, in her name.
Domitian also revived the practice of the imperial cult, which had fallen
somewhat out of use under Vespasian. Significantly, his first act
as an Emperor was the deification of his brother Titus. Upon their
deaths, his infant son, and niece, Julia Flavia, were likewise enrolled
among the gods. With regards to the emperor himself as a religious
figure, both Suetonius and Cassius Dio allege that Domitian officially
gave himself the title of Dominus et Deus. However, not only did
he reject the title of Dominus during his reign, but since he issued no
official documentation or coinage to this effect, historians such as Brian
Jones contend that such phrases were addressed to Domitian by flatterers
who wished to earn favors from the emperor.
To foster the worship of the imperial family, he erected a dynastic mausoleum
on the site of Vespasian's former house on the Quirinal, and completed
the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, a shrine dedicated to the worship of
his deified father and brother. To memorialize the military triumphs
of the Flavian family, he ordered the construction of the Templum Divorum
and the Templum Fortuna Redux, and completed the Arch of Titus.
Construction projects such as these constituted only the most visible part
of Domitian's religious policy, which also concerned itself with the fulfilment
of religious law and public morals. In 85, he nominated himself perpetual
censor, the office that held the task of supervising Roman morals and conduct.
Once again, Domitian acquitted himself of this task dutifully, and with
care. He renewed the Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis, under which
adultery was punishable by exile. From the list of jurors he struck
an equestrian who had divorced his wife and taken her back, while an ex-quaestor
was expelled from the Senate for acting and dancing.
Domitian also heavily prosecuted corruption among public officials, removing
jurors if they accepted bribes and rescinding legislation when a conflict
of interest was suspected. He ensured that libellous writings, especially
those directed against himself, were punishable by exile or death.
Actors were likewise regarded with suspicion, as their performances provided
an opportunity for satire at the expense of the government. Consequently,
he forbade mimes from appearing on stage in public.
In 87, Vestal Virgins were found to have broken their sacred vows of lifelong
public chastity. As the Vestals were regarded as daughters of the community,
this offense essentially constituted incest. Accordingly, those found
guilty of any such transgression were condemned to death, either by a manner
of their choosing, or according to the ancient fashion, which dictated
that Vestals should be buried alive.
Foreign religions were tolerated insofar as they did not interfere with
public order, or could be assimilated with the traditional Roman religion.
The worship of Egyptian deities in particular flourished under the Flavian
dynasty, to an extent not seen again until the reign of Commodus.
Veneration of Serapis and Isis, who were identified with Jupiter and Minerva
respectively, was especially prominent.
4th century writings by Eusebius of Caesarea maintain that Jews and Christians
were heavily persecuted toward the end of Domitian's reign. The Book
of Revelation is thought by some to have been written during this period.
Although Jews were heavily taxed, no contemporary authors mention trials
or executions based on religious offenses other than those within the Roman
Revolt of Governor Saturninus (89):
On 1 January 89, the governor of Germania Superior, Lucius Antonius Saturninus,
and his two legions at Mainz, Legio XIV Gemina and Legio XXI Rapax, revolted
against the Roman Empire with the aid of the Germanic Chatti people.
The precise cause for the rebellion is uncertain, although it appears to
have been planned well in advance. The Senatorial officers may have
disapproved of Domitian's military strategies, such as his decision to
fortify the German frontier rather than attack, as well as his recent retreat
from Britain, and finally the disgraceful policy of appeasement towards
At any rate, the uprising was strictly confined to Saturninus' province,
and quickly detected once the rumour spread across the neighbouring provinces.
The governor of Germania Inferior, Aulus Bucius Lappius Maximus, moved
to the region at once, assisted by the procurator of Rhaetia, Titus Flavius
Norbanus. From Spain, Trajan was summoned, while Domitian himself
came from Rome with the Praetorian Guard.
By a stroke of luck, a thaw prevented the Chatti from crossing the Rhine
and coming to Saturninus' aid. Within twenty-four days the rebellion
was crushed, and its leaders at Mainz savagely punished. The mutinous
legions were sent to the front in Illyricum, while those who had assisted
in their defeat were duly rewarded.
Lappius Maximus received the governorship of the province of Syria, a second
consulship in May 95, and finally a priesthood, which he still held in
102. Titus Flavius Norbanus may have been appointed to the prefecture
of Egypt, but almost certainly became prefect of the Praetorian Guard by
94, with Titus Petronius Secundus as his colleague. Domitian opened
the year following the revolt by sharing the consulship with Marcus Cocceius
Nerva, suggesting the latter had played a part in uncovering the conspiracy,
perhaps in a fashion similar to the one he played during the Pisonian conspiracy
Although little is known about the life and career of Nerva before his
accession as Emperor in 96, he appears to have been a highly adaptable
diplomat, surviving multiple regime changes and emerging as one of the
Flavians' most trusted advisors. His consulship may therefore have
been intended to emphasize the stability and status quo of the regime.
The revolt had been suppressed and the Empire returned to order.
Relationship with the Senate:
Since the fall of the Republic, the authority of the Roman Senate had largely
eroded under the quasi-monarchical system of government established by
Augustus, known as the Principate. The Principate allowed the existence
of a de facto dictatorial regime, while maintaining the formal framework
of the Roman Republic. Most Emperors upheld the public facade of
democracy, and in return the Senate implicitly acknowledged the Emperor's
status as a de facto monarch.
Some rulers handled this arrangement with less subtlety than others.
Domitian was not so subtle. From the outset of his reign, he stressed
the reality of his autocracy. He disliked aristocrats and had no
fear of showing it, withdrawing every decision-making power from the Senate,
and instead relying on a small set of friends and equestrians to control
the important offices of state.
The dislike was mutual. After Domitian's assassination, the senators of
Rome rushed to the Senate house, where they immediately passed a motion
condemning his memory to oblivion. Under the rulers of the Nervan-Antonian
dynasty, senatorial authors published histories that elaborated on the
view of Domitian as a tyrant.
Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that Domitian did make concessions
toward senatorial opinion. Whereas his father and brother had concentrated
consular power largely in the hands of the Flavian family, Domitian admitted
a surprisingly large number of provincials and potential opponents to the
consulship, allowing them to head the official calendar by opening the
year as an ordinary consul. Whether this was a genuine attempt to
reconcile with hostile factions in the Senate cannot be ascertained. By
offering the consulship to potential opponents, Domitian may have wanted
to compromise these senators in the eyes of their supporters. When
their conduct proved unsatisfactory, they were almost invariably brought
to trial and exiled or executed, and their property was confiscated.
Both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of escalating persecutions toward the
end of Domitian's reign, identifying a point of sharp increase around 93,
or sometime after the failed revolt of Saturninus in 89. At least
twenty senatorial opponents were executed, including Domitia Longina's
former husband Lucius Aelius Lamia and three of Domitian's own family members,
Titus Flavius Sabinus, Titus Flavius Clemens and Marcus Arrecinus Clemens.
Some of these men were executed as early as 83 or 85 however, lending little
credit to Tacitus' notion of a "reign of terror" late in Domitian's reign.
According to Suetonius, some were convicted for corruption or treason,
others on trivial charges, which Domitian justified through his suspicion:
"He used to say that the lot of Emperors was most unfortunate, since when
they discovered a conspiracy, no one believed them unless they had been
Jones compares the executions of Domitian to those under Emperor Claudius
(41–55), noting that Claudius executed around 35 senators and 300 equestrians,
and yet was still deified by the Senate and regarded as one of the good
Emperors of history. Domitian was apparently unable to gain support
among the aristocracy, despite attempts to appease hostile factions with
consular appointments. His autocratic style of government accentuated
the Senate's loss of power, while his policy of treating patricians and
even family members as equals to all Romans earned him their contempt.
Death and succession
According to Suetonius, Domitian worshipped Minerva as his protector goddess
with superstitious veneration. In a dream, she is said to have abandoned
the emperor prior to the assassination.
Domitian was assassinated on 18 September 96, in a palace conspiracy organized
by court officials. A highly detailed account of the plot and the
assassination is provided by Suetonius, who alleges that Domitian's chamberlain
Parthenius was the chief instigator behind the conspiracy, citing the recent
execution of Domitian's secretary Epaphroditus as the primary motive.
The murder itself was carried out by a freedman of Parthenius named Maximus,
and a steward of Domitian's niece Flavia Domitilla, named Stephanus.
The precise involvement of the Praetorian Guard is less clear. At
the time the Guard was commanded by Domitian's relative Titus Flavius Norbanus,
former governor of the province of Raetia, and Titus Petronius Secundus
and the latter was almost certainly aware of the plot. Cassius Dio,
writing nearly a hundred years after the assassination, includes Domitia
Longina among the conspirators, but in light of her attested devotion to
Domitian—even years after her husband had died—her involvement in the plot
seems highly unlikely.
Dio further suggests that the assassination was improvised, while Suetonius
implies a well-organized conspiracy. For some days before the attack
took place, Stephanus feigned an injury so as to be able to conceal a dagger
beneath his bandages. On the day of the assassination the doors to
the servants' quarters were locked while Domitian's personal weapon of
last resort, a sword he concealed beneath his pillow, had been removed
In accordance with an astrological prediction the Emperor believed that
he would die around noon, and was therefore restless during this time of
the day. On his last day, Domitian was feeling disturbed and asked
a servant several times what time it was. The boy, included in the
plot, lied, saying that it was much later than noon. More at ease,
the Emperor went to his desk to sign some decrees, where, according to
Suetonius, he was suddenly approached by Stephanus: "Then pretending
to betray a conspiracy and for that reason being given an audience, [Stephanus]
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 prince attempted
to resist, he was slain with seven wounds by Clodianus, a subaltern, Maximus,
a freedman of Parthenius, Satur, decurion of the chamberlains, and a gladiator
from the imperial school."
Domitian and Stephanus wrestled on the ground for some time, until the
Emperor was finally overpowered and fatally stabbed by the conspirators;
Stephanus was stabbed by Domitian during the struggle and died shortly
afterward. Around noon Domitian, just one month short of his 45th
birthday, was dead. His body was carried away on a common bier, and
unceremoniously cremated by his nurse Phyllis, who later mingled the ashes
with those of his niece Julia, at the Flavian temple.
According to Suetonius, a number of omens had foretold Domitian's death.
Several days prior to the assassination, Minerva had appeared to him in
a dream, announcing she had been disarmed by Jupiter and would no longer
be able to protect him.
Succession and aftermath:
The Fasti Ostienses, the Ostian Calendar, records that the same day the
Senate proclaimed Marcus Cocceius Nerva emperor. Despite his political
experience, this was a remarkable choice. Nerva was old and childless,
and had spent much of his career out of the public light, prompting both
ancient and modern authors to speculate on his involvement in Domitian's
According to Cassius Dio, the conspirators approached Nerva as a potential
successor prior to the assassination, suggesting that he was at least aware
of the plot. He does not appear in Suetonius' version of the events,
but this may be understandable, since his works were published under Nerva's
direct descendants Trajan and Hadrian. To suggest the dynasty owed
its accession to murder would have been less than sensitive.
On the other hand, Nerva lacked widespread support in the Empire, and as
a known Flavian loyalist, his track record would not have recommended him
to the conspirators. The precise facts have been obscured by history,
but modern historians believe Nerva was proclaimed Emperor solely on the
initiative of the Senate, within hours after the news of the assassination
broke. The decision may have been hasty so as to avoid civil war,
but neither appears to have been involved in the conspiracy.
The Senate nonetheless rejoiced at the death of Domitian, and immediately
following Nerva's accession as Emperor, passed damnatio memoriae on his
memory: his coins and statues were melted, his arches were torn down and
his name was erased from all public records. Domitian and, over a
century later, Publius Septimius Geta were the only emperors known to have
officially received a damnatio memoriae, though others may have received
de facto ones. In many instances, existing portraits of Domitian,
such as those found on the Cancelleria Reliefs, were simply recarved to
fit the likeness of Nerva, which allowed quick production of new images
and recycling of previous material. Yet the order of the Senate was
only partially executed in Rome, and wholly disregarded in most of the
provinces outside Italy.
According to Suetonius, the people of Rome met the news of Domitian's death
with indifference, but the army was much grieved, calling for his deification
immediately after the assassination, and in several provinces rioting.
As a compensation measure, the Praetorian Guard demanded the execution
of Domitian's assassins, which Nerva refused. Instead he merely dismissed
Titus Petronius Secundus, and replaced him with a former commander, Casperius
Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs continued to loom over Nerva's
reign, and ultimately erupted into a crisis in October 97, when members
of the Praetorian Guard, led by Casperius Aelianus, laid siege to the Imperial
Palace and took Nerva hostage. He was forced to submit to their demands,
agreeing to hand over those responsible for Domitian's death and even giving
a speech thanking the rebellious Praetorians. Titus Petronius Secundus
and Parthenius were sought out and killed. Nerva was unharmed in this assault,
but his authority was damaged beyond repair. Shortly thereafter he
announced the adoption of Trajan as his successor, and with this decision
all but abdicated.
The classic view of Domitian is usually negative, since most of the antique
sources were related to the Senatorial or aristocratic class, with which
Domitian had notoriously difficult relations. Furthermore, contemporary
historians such as Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius all wrote down
the information on his reign after it had ended, and his memory had been
condemned to oblivion. The work of Domitian's court poets Martial
and Statius constitutes virtually the only literary evidence concurrent
with his reign. Perhaps as unsurprising as the attitude of post-Domitianic
historians, the poems of Martial and Statius are highly adulatory, praising
Domitian's achievements as equalling those of the gods.
The most extensive account of the life of Domitian to survive was written
by the historian Suetonius, who was born during the reign of Vespasian,
and published his works under Emperor Hadrian (117–138). His De Vita
Caesarum is the source of much of what is known of Domitian. Although
his text is predominantly negative, it neither exclusively condemns nor
praises Domitian, and asserts that his rule started well, but gradually
declined into terror. The biography is problematic however, in that
it appears to contradict itself with regards to Domitian's rule and personality,
at the same time presenting him as a conscientious, moderate man, and as
a decadent libertine.
According to Suetonius, Domitian wholly feigned his interest in arts and
literature, and never bothered to acquaint himself with classic authors.
Other passages, alluding to Domitian's love of epigrammatic expression,
suggest that he was in fact familiar with classic writers, while he also
patronized poets and architects, founded artistic Olympics, and personally
restored the library of Rome at great expense after it had burned down.
De Vita Caesarum is also the source of several outrageous stories regarding
Domitian's marriage life. According to Suetonius, Domitia Longina was exiled
in 83 because of an affair with a famous actor named Paris. When
Domitian found out, he allegedly murdered Paris in the street and promptly
divorced his wife, with Suetonius further adding that once Domitia was
exiled, Domitian took Julia as his mistress, who later died during a failed
Modern historians consider this highly implausible however, noting that
malicious rumours such as those concerning Domitia's alleged infidelity
were eagerly repeated by post-Domitianic authors, and used to highlight
the hypocrisy of a ruler publicly preaching a return to Augustan morals,
while privately indulging in excesses and presiding over a corrupt court.
Nevertheless, the account of Suetonius has dominated imperial historiography
Although Tacitus is usually considered to be the most reliable author of
this era, his views on Domitian are complicated by the fact that his father-in-law,
Gnaeus Julius Agricola, may have been a personal enemy of the Emperor.
In his biographical work Agricola, Tacitus maintains that Agricola was
forced into retirement because his triumph over the Caledonians highlighted
Domitian's own inadequacy as a military commander. Several modern
authors such as Dorey have argued the opposite: that Agricola was in fact
a close friend of Domitian, and that Tacitus merely sought to distance
his family from the fallen dynasty once Nerva was in power.
Tacitus' major historical works, including The Histories and Agricola's
biography, were all written and published under Domitian's successors Nerva
(96–98) and Trajan (98–117). Unfortunately, the part of Tacitus'
Histories dealing with the reign of the Flavian dynasty is almost entirely
lost. His views on Domitian survive through brief comments in its
first five books, and the short but highly negative characterization in
Agricola in which he severely criticizes Domitian's military endeavours.
Nevertheless, Tacitus admits his debt to the Flavians with regard to his
own public career.
Other influential 2nd century authors include Juvenal and Pliny the Younger,
the latter of whom was a friend of Tacitus and in 100 delivered his famous
Panegyricus Traiani before Trajan and the Roman Senate, exalting the new
era of restored freedom while condemning Domitian as a tyrant. Juvenal
savagely satirized the Domitianic court in his Satires, depicting the Emperor
and his entourage as corrupt, violent and unjust. As a consequence,
the anti-Domitianic tradition was already well established by the end of
the 2nd century, and by the 3rd century, even expanded upon by early Church
historians, who identified Domitian as an early persecutor of Christians,
such as in the Acts of John.
Hostile views of Domitian were propagated until well into the early 20th
century, before archeological and numismatic advances brought renewed attention
to his reign, and necessitated a revision of the literary tradition established
by Tacitus and Pliny. In 1930, Ronald Syme argued a complete reassessment
of Domitian's financial policy, which had until then been largely viewed
as a disaster, opening his paper with the following introduction:
"The work of the spade and the use of common sense have done much to mitigate
the influence of Tacitus and Pliny and redeem the memory of Domitian from
infamy or oblivion. But much remains to be done."
Over the course of the 20th century, Domitian's military, administrative
and economic policies were re-evaluated. New book length studies
were not published until the 1990s however, nearly a hundred years after
Stéphane Gsell's Essai sur le règne de l'empereur Domitien
(1894). The most important of these was The Emperor Domitian, by
Brian W. Jones. In his monograph, Jones concludes that Domitian was
a ruthless, but efficient autocrat. For the majority of his reign,
there was no widespread dissatisfaction with the emperor or his rule.
His harshness was felt by only a small, but highly vocal minority, who
later exaggerated his despotism in favour of the well-regarded Nervan-Antonian
dynasty that followed.
Domitian's foreign policy was realistic, rejecting expansionist warfare
and negotiating peace at a time when Roman military tradition dictated
aggressive conquest. His economic program, which was rigorously efficient,
maintained the Roman currency at a standard it would never again achieve.
Persecution of religious minorities, such as Jews and Christians, was non-existent.
Domitian's government nonetheless exhibited totalitarian characteristics.
As Emperor, he saw himself as the new Augustus, an enlightened despot destined
to guide the Roman Empire into a new era of Flavian renaissance.
Religious, military and cultural propaganda fostered a cult of personality.
He deified three of his family members and erected massive structures to
commemorate the Flavian achievements. Elaborate triumphs were celebrated
in order to boost his image as a warrior-emperor, but many of these were
either unearned or premature. By nominating himself perpetual censor,
he sought to control public and private morals.
He became personally involved in all branches of the government and successfully
prosecuted corruption among public officials. The dark side of his
censorial power involved a restriction in freedom of speech, and an increasingly
oppressive attitude toward the Roman Senate. He punished libel with
exile or death and, due to his suspicious nature, increasingly accepted
information from informers to bring false charges of treason if necessary.
Although contemporary historians vilified Domitian after his death, his
administration provided the foundation for the Principate of the peaceful
2nd century. His successors Nerva and Trajan were less restrictive,
but in reality their policies differed little from Domitian's. Much
more than a "gloomy coda to the...1st century" the Roman Empire prospered
between 81 and 96, in a reign that Theodor Mommsen described as the sombre
but intelligent despotism of Domitian.
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