Titus (Latin: Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus; 30 December 39
AD – 13 September 81 AD) was Roman emperor from 79 to 81. A member
of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death,
thus becoming the first Roman Emperor to come to the throne after his own
Prior to becoming Emperor, Titus gained renown as a military commander,
serving under his father in Judea during the First Jewish–Roman War.
The campaign came to a brief halt with the death of emperor Nero in 68,
launching Vespasian's bid for the imperial power during the Year of the
Four Emperors. When Vespasian was declared Emperor on 1 July 69,
Titus was left in charge of ending the Jewish rebellion. In 70, he
besieged and captured Jerusalem, and destroyed the city and the Second
Temple. For this achievement Titus was awarded a triumph: the
Arch of Titus commemorates his victory to this day.
Under the rule of his father, Titus gained notoriety in Rome serving as
prefect of the Praetorian Guard, and for carrying on a controversial relationship
with the Jewish queen Berenice. Despite concerns over his character,
Titus ruled to great acclaim following the death of Vespasian in 79, and
was considered a good emperor by Suetonius and other contemporary historians.
As emperor, he is best known for completing the Colosseum and for his generosity
in relieving the suffering caused by two disasters, the eruption of Mount
Vesuvius in AD 79 and a fire in Rome in 80. After barely two years
in office, Titus died of a fever on 13 September 81. He was deified
by the Roman Senate and succeeded by his younger brother Domitian.
Titus was born in Rome, probably on 30 December 39 AD, as the eldest son
of Titus Flavius Vespasianus—commonly known as Vespasian—and Domitilla
the Elder. He had one younger sister, Domitilla the Younger (born
45), and one younger brother, Titus Flavius Domitianus (born 51), commonly
referred to as Domitian.
Decades of civil war during the 1st century BC had contributed greatly
to the demise of the old aristocracy of Rome, which was gradually replaced
in prominence by a new provincial nobility during the early part of the
1st century. One such family was the gens Flavia, which rose from
relative obscurity to prominence in just four generations, acquiring wealth
and status under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Titus'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, Titus's grandfather. Sabinus himself
amassed further wealth and possible equestrian status through his services
as tax collector in Asia and banker in Helvetia. By marrying Vespasia
Polla he allied himself to the more prestigious patrician gens Vespasia,
ensuring the elevation of his sons Titus Flavius Sabinus II and Vespasian
to the senatorial rank.
The political career of Vespasian included the offices of quaestor, aedile
and praetor, and culminated with a consulship in 51, the year Domitian
was born. As a military commander, he gained early renown by participating
in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43. What little is known of Titus's
early life has been handed down to us by Suetonius, who records that he
was brought up at the imperial court in the company of Britannicus, the
son of emperor Claudius, who would be murdered by Nero in 55.
The story was even told that Titus was reclining next to Britannicus, the
night he was murdered, and sipped of the poison that was handed to him.
Further details on his education are scarce, but it seems he showed early
promise in the military arts and was a skilled poet and orator both in
Greek and Latin.
From c. 57 to 59 he was a military tribune in Germania. He also served
in Britannia, perhaps arriving c. 60 with reinforcements needed after the
revolt of Boudica. In c. 63 he returned to Rome and married Arrecina
Tertulla, daughter of a former Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. She died
Titus then took a new wife of a much more distinguished family, Marcia
Furnilla. However, Marcia's family was closely linked to the opposition
to Nero. Her uncle Barea Soranus and his daughter Servilia were among
those who perished after the failed Pisonian conspiracy of 65. Some
modern historians theorize that Titus divorced his wife because of her
family's connection to the conspiracy.
Titus never remarried. Titus appears to have had multiple daughters,
at least one of them by Marcia Furnilla. The only one known to have
survived to adulthood was Julia Flavia, perhaps Titus's child by Arrecina,
whose mother was also named Julia. During this period Titus also
practiced law and attained the rank of quaestor.
In 66 the Jews of the Judaea Province revolted against the Roman Empire.
Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, was defeated at the battle of Beth-Horon
and forced to retreat from Jerusalem. The pro-Roman king Agrippa
II and his sister Berenice fled the city to Galilee where they later gave
themselves up to the Romans.
Nero appointed Vespasian to put down the rebellion, who was dispatched
to the region at once with the Fifth Legion and Tenth Legion. He
was later joined at Ptolemais by Titus with the Fifteenth Legion.
With a strength of 60,000 professional soldiers, the Romans prepared to
sweep across Galilee and march on Jerusalem.
The history of the war was covered in detail by the Roman-Jewish historian
Josephus in his work The Wars of the Jews. Josephus served
as a commander in the city of Yodfat when the Roman army invaded Galilee
in 67. After an exhausting siege which lasted 47 days, the city fell,
with an estimated 40,000 killed. Titus, however, was not simply set
on ending the war.
Surviving one of several group suicides, Josephus surrendered to Vespasian
and became a prisoner. He later wrote that he provided the Romans
with intelligence on the ongoing revolt. By 68, the entire coast
and the north of Judaea were subjugated by the Roman army, with decisive
victories won at Taricheae and Gamala, where Titus distinguished himself
as a skilled general.
Year of the Four Emperors:
The last and most significant fortified city held by the Jewish resistance
was Jerusalem. The campaign came to a sudden halt when news arrived
of Nero's death. Almost simultaneously, the Roman Senate had declared
Galba, then governor of Hispania, as Emperor of Rome. Vespasian decided
to await further orders, and sent Titus to greet the new princeps.
Before reaching Italy, Titus learnt that Galba had been murdered and replaced
by Otho, governor of Lusitania, and that Vitellius and his armies in Germania
were preparing to march on the capital, intent on overthrowing Otho.
Not wanting to risk being taken hostage by one side or the other, he abandoned
the journey to Rome and rejoined his father in Judaea. Meanwhile,
Otho was defeated in the First Battle of Bedriacum and committed suicide.
When the news reached the armies in Judaea and Ægyptus, they took
matters into their own hands and declared Vespasian emperor on 1 July 69.
Vespasian accepted, and through negotiations by Titus, joined forces with
Gaius Licinius Mucianus, governor of Syria. 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
to end the Jewish rebellion. By the end of 69, the forces of Vitellius
had been beaten, and Vespasian was officially declared emperor by the Senate
on 21 December, thus ending the Year of the Four Emperors.
Siege of Jerusalem:
Meanwhile, the Jews had become embroiled in a civil war of their own, splitting
the resistance in Jerusalem between several factions. The Sicarii
led by Menahem ben Judah could hold on for long; the Zealots led by Eleazar
ben Simon eventually fell under the command of the Galilean leader John
of Gush Halav; and the other northern rebel commander, Simon Bar Giora,
managed to gain leadership over the Idumeans. Titus besieged Jerusalem.
The Roman army was joined by the Twelfth Legion, which was previously defeated
under Cestius Gallus, and from Alexandria Vespasian sent Tiberius Julius
Alexander, governor of Egypt, to act as Titus' second in command.
Titus surrounded the city, with three legions (Vth, XIIth and XVth) on
the western side and one (Xth) on the Mount of Olives to the east.
He put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants by allowing
pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover, and then refusing them
egress. Jewish raids continuously harassed the Roman army, one of
which nearly resulted in Titus being captured.
After attempts by Josephus to negotiate a surrender had failed, the Romans
resumed hostilities and quickly breached the first and second walls of
the city. To intimidate the resistance, Titus ordered deserters from
the Jewish side to be crucified around the city wall.[ By this time
the Jews had been exhausted by famine, and when the weak third wall was
breached, bitter street fighting ensued.
The Romans finally captured the Antonia Fortress and began a frontal assault
on the gates of the Temple. Titus was apparently bent on ending Judaism
as a religion. He sought to slaughter their animals, kill their men,
rape their women, enslave their children, and kill their God. When
he finally did breach the walls, his soldiers set upon everyone - man,
woman, child, those who stayed loyal to Rome, and those who did not.
The city went up in flames. The roar of the inferno mixed with screams
of agony as the Romans swept through the upper and lower city, literally
clambering over dead bodies in pursuit of the rebels, until they reached
the Temple, set it aflame, and reduced it to dust. When the fires
subsided, Titus gave the order to destroy the remainder of the city, seeking
that no one would remember the name Jerusalem. The Temple was demolished,
after which Titus' soldiers proclaimed him imperator in honor of the victory.
Jerusalem was sacked and much of the population killed or dispersed.
Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, of
which a majority were Jewish. 97,000 were captured and enslaved,
including Simon Bar-Giora and John of Jish. Many fled to areas around
the Mediterranean. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of
victory, as he claimed that he had not won the victory on his own, but
had been the vehicle through which their God had manifested his wrath against
The Jewish Diaspora at the time of the Temple’s destruction, according
to Josephus, was in Parthia (Persia), Babylonia (Iraq), Arabia, as well
as some Jews beyond the Euphrates and in Adiabene (Kurdistan).
Heir to Vespasian:
Unable to sail to Italy during the winter, Titus celebrated elaborate games
at Caesarea Maritima and Berytus, then travelled to Zeugma on the Euphrates,
where he was presented with a crown by Vologases I of Parthia. While
visiting Antioch he confirmed the traditional rights of the Jews in that
On his way to Alexandria, he stopped in Memphis to consecrate the sacred
bull Apis. According to Suetonius, this caused consternation: the
ceremony required Titus to wear a diadem, which the Romans associated with
monarchy, and the partisanship of Titus's legions had already led to fears
that he might rebel against his father. Titus returned quickly to
Rome – hoping, says Suetonius, to allay any suspicions about his conduct.
Upon his arrival in Rome in 71, Titus was awarded a triumph. Accompanied
by Vespasian and Domitian he rode into the city, enthusiastically saluted
by the Roman populace and preceded by a lavish parade containing treasures
and captives from the war. Josephus describes a procession with large
amounts of gold and silver carried along the route, followed by elaborate
re-enactments of the war, Jewish prisoners, and finally the treasures taken
from the Temple of Jerusalem, including the Menorah and the Pentateuch.
Simon Bar Giora was executed in the Forum, after which the procession closed
with religious sacrifices at the Temple of Jupiter. The triumphal
Arch of Titus, which stands at one entrance to the Forum, memorializes
the victory of Titus.
With Vespasian declared emperor, Titus and his brother Domitian received
the title of Caesar from the Senate. In addition to sharing tribunician
power with his father, Titus held seven consulships during Vespasian's
reign and acted as his secretary, appearing in the Senate on his behalf.
More crucially, he was appointed Praetorian prefect (commander of the Praetorian
Guard), ensuring their loyalty to the Emperor and further solidifying Vespasian's
position as a legitimate ruler.
In this capacity he achieved considerable notoriety in Rome for his violent
actions, frequently ordering the execution of suspected traitors on the
spot. When in 79, a plot by Aulus Caecina Alienus and Eprius Marcellus
to overthrow Vespasian was uncovered, Titus invited Alienus to dinner and
ordered him to be stabbed before he had even left the room.
During the Jewish wars, Titus had begun a love affair with Berenice, sister
of Agrippa II. The Herodians had collaborated with the Romans during
the rebellion, and Berenice herself had supported Vespasian in his campaign
to become emperor. In 75, she returned to Titus and openly lived
with him in the palace as his promised wife. The Romans were wary
of the eastern queen and disapproved of their relationship. When
the pair was publicly denounced by Cynics in the theatre, Titus caved in
to the pressure and sent her away, but his reputation further suffered.
A Roman denarius depicting Titus, c. 79. The reverse commemorates his triumph
in the Judaean wars, representing a Jewish captive kneeling in front of
a trophy of arms.
Vespasian died of an infection on 23 June 79 AD, and was immediately succeeded
by his son Titus. Because of his many (alleged) vices, many Romans
feared that he would be another Nero. Against these expectations,
however, Titus proved to be an effective Emperor and was well loved by
the population, who praised him highly when they found that he possessed
the greatest virtues instead of vices.
One of his first acts as Emperor was to order a halt to trials based on
treason charges, which had long plagued the principate. The law of
treason, or law of majestas, was originally intended to prosecute those
who had corruptly "impaired the people and majesty of Rome" by any revolutionary
action. Under Augustus, however, this custom had been revived and
applied to cover slander and libel as well. This led to numerous
trials and executions under Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero, and the formation
of networks of informers (Delators), which terrorized Rome's political
system for decades.
Titus put an end to this practice, against himself
or anyone else, declaring: "It is impossible for me to
be insulted or abused in any way. For I do naught that deserves censure,
and I care not for what is reported falsely. As for the emperors who are
dead and gone, they will avenge themselves in case anyone does them a wrong,
if in very truth they are demigods and possess any power."
Consequently, no senators were put to death during his reign; he thus kept
to his promise that he would assume the office of Pontifex Maximus "for
the purpose of keeping his hands unstained". The informants were
publicly punished and banished from the city. Titus further prevented
abuses by making it unlawful for a person to be tried under different laws
for the same offense. Finally, when Berenice returned to Rome, he
sent her away.
As Emperor he became known for his generosity, and Suetonius states that
upon realising he had brought no benefit to anyone during a whole day he
remarked, "Friends, I have lost a day."
Although his administration was marked by a relative absence of major military
or political conflicts, Titus faced a number of major disasters during
his brief reign. On 24 August 79, two months after his accession,
Mount Vesuvius erupted. The eruption almost completely destroyed
the cities and resort communities around the Bay of Naples. The cities
of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under metres of stone and lava,
killing thousands. Titus appointed two ex-consuls to organise and
coordinate the relief effort, while personally donating large amounts of
money from the imperial treasury to aid the victims of the volcano.
Additionally, he visited Pompeii once after the eruption and again the
During the second visit, in spring of AD 80, a fire broke out in Rome,
burning large parts of the city for three days and three nights.
Although the extent of the damage was not as disastrous as during the Great
Fire of 64 — crucially sparing the many districts of insulae — Cassius
Dio records a long list of important public buildings that were destroyed,
including Agrippa's Pantheon, the Temple of Jupiter, the Diribitorium,
parts of the Theatre of Pompey, and the Saepta Julia among others.
Once again, Titus personally compensated for the damaged regions.
According to Suetonius, a Plague also broke out during the fire.
The nature of the disease, however, or the death toll are unknown.
Meanwhile, war had resumed in Britannia, where Gnaeus Julius Agricola pushed
further into Caledonia and managed to establish several forts there.
As a result of his actions, Titus received the title of Imperator for the
His reign also saw the rebellion led by Terentius Maximus, one of several
false Neros who appeared throughout the 70s. Although Nero was primarily
known as a universally hated tyrant, there is evidence that for much of
his reign, he remained highly popular in the eastern provinces. Reports
that Nero had in fact survived his overthrow were fueled by the confusing
circumstances of his death and several prophecies foretelling his return.
According to Cassius Dio, Terentius Maximus resembled Nero in voice and
appearance and, like him, sang to the lyre. Terentius established
a following in Asia minor but was soon forced to flee beyond the Euphrates,
taking refuge with the Parthians. In addition, sources state that
Titus discovered that his brother Domitian was plotting against him but
refused to have him killed or banished.
The Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, was completed
after 10 years construction during the reign of Titus and inaugurated with
spectacular games that lasted for 100 days. See Inaugural games of
the Flavian Amphitheatre.
Construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, presently better known as the
Colosseum, was begun in 70 under Vespasian and finally completed in 80
under Titus. In addition to providing spectacular entertainments
to the Roman populace, the building was also conceived as a gigantic triumphal
monument to commemorate the military achievements of the Flavians during
the Jewish wars.
The inaugural games lasted for a hundred days and were said to be extremely
elaborate, including gladiatorial combat, fights between wild animals (elephants
and cranes), mock naval battles for which the theatre was flooded, horse
races and chariot races. During the games, wooden balls were dropped
into the audience, inscribed with various prizes (clothing, gold, or even
slaves), which could then be traded for the designated item.
Adjacent to the amphitheatre, within the precinct of Nero's Golden House,
Titus had also ordered the construction of a new public bath-house, the
Baths of Titus. Construction of this building was hastily finished
to coincide with the completion of the Flavian Amphitheatre.
Practice of the imperial cult was revived by Titus, though apparently it
met with some difficulty as Vespasian was not deified until six months
after his death. To further honor and glorify the Flavian dynasty,
foundations were laid for what would later become the Temple of Vespasian
and Titus, which was finished by Domitian.
Death (81 A.D.):
At the closing of the games, Titus officially dedicated the amphitheatre
and the baths, which was to be his final recorded act as Emperor.
He set out for the Sabine territories but fell ill at the first posting
station where he died of a fever, reportedly in the same farm-house as
his father. Allegedly, the last words he uttered before passing away
were: "I have made but one mistake".
Titus had ruled the Roman Empire for just over two years, from the death
of his father in 79 to his own on 13 September 81. He was succeeded
by Domitian, whose first act as emperor was to deify his brother.
Historians have speculated on the exact nature of his death, and to which
mistake Titus alluded in his final words. Philostratus writes that
he was poisoned by Domitian with a sea hare (Aplysia depilans), and that
his death had been foretold to him by Apollonius of Tyana. Suetonius
and Cassius Dio maintain he died of natural causes, but both accuse Domitian
of having left the ailing Titus for dead. Consequently, Dio believes
Titus's mistake refers to his failure to have his brother executed when
he was found to be openly plotting against him.
The Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 56b) attributes Titus's death to an insect
that flew into his nose and picked at his brain for seven years, in a repetition
of another legend referring to biblical King Nimrod.
Titus's record among ancient historians stands as one of the most exemplary
of any emperor. All the surviving accounts from this period, many
of them written by his own contemporaries, present a highly favorable view
towards Titus. His character has especially prospered in comparison
with that of his brother Domitian.
The Wars of the Jews offers a first-hand, eye-witness account of the Jewish
rebellion and the character of Titus. The neutrality of Josephus'
writings has come into question however, as he was heavily indebted to
the Flavians. In 71, he arrived in Rome in the entourage of Titus,
became a Roman citizen and took on the Roman nomen Flavius and praenomen
Titus from his patrons. He received an annual pension and lived in
It was while in Rome, and under Flavian patronage, that Josephus wrote
all of his known works. The War of the Jews is heavily slanted against
the leaders of the revolt, portraying the rebellion as weak and unorganized,
and even blaming the Jews for causing the war. The credibility of
Josephus as a historian has subsequently come under fire.
Another contemporary of Titus was Publius Cornelius Tacitus, who started
his public career in 80 or 81 and credits the Flavian dynasty with his
elevation. The Histories—his account of this period—was published
during the reign of Trajan. Unfortunately only the first five books
from this work have survived until the present day, with the text on Titus's
and Domitian's reign entirely lost.
Suetonius Tranquilius gives a short but highly favourable account on Titus's
reign in The Lives of Twelve Caesars, emphasizing his military achievements
and his generosity as Emperor, in short describing him as follows:
"Titus, of the same surname as his father, was the delight and darling
of the human race; such surpassing ability had he, by nature, art, or good
fortune, to win the affections of all men, and that, too, which is no easy
task, while he was emperor."
Finally, Cassius Dio wrote his Roman History over a hundred years after
the death of Titus. He shares a similar outlook as Suetonius, possibly
even using the latter as a source, but is more reserved, noting:
"His satisfactory record may also have been due to the fact that he survived
his accession but a very short time, for he was thus given no opportunity
for wrongdoing. For he lived after this only two years, two months and
twenty days—in addition to the thirty-nine years, five months and twenty-five
days he had already lived at that time. In this respect, indeed, he is
regarded as having equalled the long reign of Augustus, since it is maintained
that Augustus would never have been loved had he lived a shorter time,
nor Titus had he lived longer. For Augustus, though at the outset he showed
himself rather harsh because of the wars and the factional strife, was
later able, in the course of time, to achieve a brilliant reputation for
his kindly deeds; Titus, on the other hand, ruled with mildness and died
at the height of his glory, whereas, if he had lived a long time, it might
have been shown that he owes his present fame more to good fortune than
Pliny the Elder, who later died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius,
dedicated his Naturalis Historia to Titus.
In contrast to the ideal portrayal of Titus in Roman histories, in Jewish
memory "Titus the Wicked" is remembered as an evil oppressor and destroyer
of the Temple. For example, one legend in the Babylonian Talmud describes
Titus as having had sex with a whore on a Torah scroll inside the Temple
during its destruction.
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