Daily Life in Ancient Rome
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ANCIENT ROME @ HADRIANS
Titus Flavius Domitianus(A.D. 81-96)
College of William and Mary
Domitian was born in Rome on 24 October A.D. 51, the youngest son of Vespasian,
Roman emperor (A.D. 69-79) and Domitilla I, a treasury clerk's daughter.[]
Despite a literary tradition that associated Domitian with Flavian poverty,
the family's status remained high throughout his early years: Vespasian
was appointed to the prestigious proconsulship of North Africa in A.D.
59, and seven years later was granted a special command in the East by
the emperor Nero (A.D. 54-69) to settle a
revolt in Judaea; Titus, Domitian's older
brother by at least ten years and Vespasian's
eventual successor as emperor, had married well in the 60's and was chosen
as a legionary legate under Vespasian
in the East.[]
Unlike Titus, Domitian was not educated
at the emperor's court, yet he received sound training in Rome in the same
way as any member of the senatorial elite of his day. The imperial biographer
Suetonius records that Domitian gave public recitals of his works, conversed
elegantly, and produced memorable comments; as emperor, he would write
and publish a book on baldness.[] Domitian's
adolescence was also marked by isolation. His mother had long been dead,
he was considerably younger than his brother, and his father was away for
much of his teenage years, first in Africa and then in Judaea.[]
An obvious outcome of all of this was his preference for solitude, a trait
that would contribute significantly to his difficulties with various constituents
Little is known about Domitian in the turbulent 18 months of the three
emperors, but in the aftermath of the downfall of Vitellius
in A.D. 69 he presented himself to the invading Flavian forces, was hailed
as Caesar, and moved into the imperial residence.[]
Guided by Gaius Licinius Mucianus, Vespasian's
chief advisor, Domitian represented the family in the senate and suggested
that other issues be postponed until Vespasian's
arrival from the East. Eager for military glory himself, Domitian soon
led reinforcements to Germany, where the Batavian auxiliaries of the Rhine
legions had revolted. The uprising failed before he could arrive, however,
and the literary accounts of his achievements are not to be trusted.[]
It was also during this period, perhaps in late A.D. 70, that he married Domitia
Longina, daughter of the highly regarded general, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo,
whom Nero had forced to commit suicide in
A.D. 66. For all appearances, it was an excellent choice. The name of Corbulo
was synonymous with military achievement, and the general had left behind
a substantial clientela. Even so, the marriage was troubled. An
only child died young, and Domitia was probably exiled by her husband c.
A.D 83. Later, she would be recalled to the palace, where she lived with
Domitian until his death.[]
Domitian's role in the 70's was determined largely by Vespasian's
choice of Titus as his successor. To him
fell a series of ordinary consulships, the tribunician power, the censorship,
and the praetorian prefecture. Domitian, on the other hand, was named six
times to the less prestigious suffect consulship, retained the title of
Caesar, and held various priesthoods. He was given responsibility, but
no real power. Nothing changed when Titus
acceded to the throne, as Domitian received neither tribunician power nor
imperium of any kind. The brothers were never to become close, and
as Titus lay dying in September 81, Domitian
hastened to the praetorian camp, where he was hailed as emperor. On news
of Titus' death, the senate chose first
to honor the dead emperor before elevating his brother, an early indication
perhaps of Domitian's future troubles with the aristocracy. At any rate,
after waiting an extra day, Domitian received imperium, the title
Augustus, and tribunician power along with the office of pontifex maximus
and the title pater patriae, father of his country.[]
As emperor, Domitian was to become one of Rome's foremost micromanagers,
especially concerning the economy. Shortly after taking office, he raised
the silver content of the denarius by about 12% (to the earlier level of
Augustus), only to devaluate it in A.D. 85, when the imperial income must
have proved insufficient to meet military and public expenses.[]
Confiscations and the rigorous collection of taxes soon became necessary.
On another front, he sought to promote grain production by calling for
empire-wide limitations on viticulture, but the edict met with immediate
opposition and was never implemented.[] On
the other hand, there were notable successes. The great fire of A.D. 64,
the civil wars of A.D 68-69, and another devastating fire in A.D. 80 had
left Rome badly in need of repair. Domitian responded by erecting, restoring,
or completing some 50 structures, including the restored Temple of Jupiter
on the Capitol and a magnificent palace on the Palatine. The building program,
ambitious and spectacular, was matched by hardly any other emperor.[]
He was also able to maintain the debased currency standard of A.D. 85,
which was still higher than the Vespasianic one, until the end of his reign.
The economy, therefore, offered a ready outlet for Domitian's autocratic
tendencies. There were failures, but he also left the treasury with a surplus,
perhaps the best proof of a financially sound administration.
Domitian's reach extended well beyond the economy. Late in A.D. 85 he
made himself censor perpetuus, censor for life, with a general supervision
of conduct and morals. The move was without precedent and, although largely
symbolic, it nevertheless revealed Domitian's obsessive interest in all
aspects of Roman life. An ardent supporter of traditional Roman religion,
he also closely identified himself with Minerva and Jupiter, publicly linking
the latter divinity to his regime through the Ludi Capitolini, the
Capitoline Games, begun in A.D.86. Held every four years in the early summer,
the Games consisted of chariot races, athletics and gymnastics, and music,
oratory and poetry. Contestants came from many nations, and no expense
was spared; the emperor himself awarded the prizes.[]
In the same manner, Domitian offered frequent and elaborate public shows,
always with an emphasis on the innovative: gladiator contests held at night;
female combatants and dwarves; food showered down upon the public from
ropes stretched across the top of the Amphitheater.[]
Thus did the emperor seek to underscore not only Rome's importance but
also his own and that of the Flavian regime.
Beyond Rome, Domitian taxed provincials rigorously and was not afraid
to impose his will on officials of every rank. Consistent with his concern
for the details of administration, he also made essential changes in the
organization of several provinces and established the office of curator
to investigate financial mismanagement in the cities. Other evidence points
to a concern with civic improvements of all kinds, from road building in
Asia Minor, Sardinia and near the Danube to building and defensive improvements
in North Africa.[] Less easy to gauge is Domitian's
attitude toward Christians and Jews, since reliable evidence for their
persecution is difficult to find. Christians may have been among those
banished or executed from time to time during the 90's, but the testimony
falls short of confirming any organized program of persecution under Domitian's
reign. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that Jews were made to
feel uneasy under Domitian, who scrupulously collected the Jewish tax and
harassed Jewish tax dodgers during much of his rule. As with Christians,
such policies did not amount to persecution, but it does help to explain
the Jewish fears of expulsion present in the sources.[]
On balance, the tradition of Domitian as persecutor has been greatly overstated,
yet given his autocratic tendencies and devotion to Roman pagan religion,
it is easy to see how such stories could have evolved and multiplied.
While the military abilities of Vespasian
and Titus were genuine, those of Domitian
were not. Partly as an attempt to remedy this deficiency, Domitian frequently
became involved in his own military exploits outside of Rome. He claimed
a triumph in A.D. 83 for subduing the Chatti in Gaul, but the conquest
was illusory. Final victory did not really come until A.D. 89. In Britain,
similar propaganda masked the withdrawal of Roman forces from the northern
borders to positions farther south, a clear sign of Domitian's rejection
of expansionist warfare in the province.[]
The greatest threat, however, remained on the Danube. The emperor visited
Moesia in A.D. 85 after Oppius Sabinus, the Moesian governor, had been
killed by invading Dacians. In the First Dacian War, initial success against
the aggressors by Domitian's praetorian prefect, Cornelius Fuscus, allowed
the emperor to celebrate his second triumph at Rome in A.D. 86. Fuscus
was subsequently killed trying to avenge Sabinus' death, however, and Domitian
soon returned to the Danube, where Roman forces, under the newly appointed
governor of Upper Moesia, Tettius Julianus, defeated the Dacians at Tapae
in the Second Dacian War, most likely in A.D. 88. Matters remained far
from settled. In January, A.D. 89, the governor
of Upper Germany, L. Antonius Saturninus, mutinied at Mainz. The revolt
was promptly suppressed and the rebel leaders brutally punished. Later
that same year, Domitian attacked the Suebian Marcomanni and Quadi in the
First Pannonian War, while offering the Dacian king Decebalus a settlement
to avoid conflicts on two fronts. Compelled to return to the Danube three
years later, Domitian fought the combined forces of the Suebi and the Sarmatians
in the Second Pannonian War. Few other details are available beyond the
fact that a Roman legion was destroyed in a campaign that lasted about
eight months. By January, A.D. 93, Domitian was back in Rome, not to accept
a full triumph but the lesser ovatio, a sign perhaps of unfinished
business along the Danube. In fact, during the final years of Domitian's
reign, the buildup of forces on the middle Danube and the appointment and
transfer of key senior officials suggest that a third Pannonian campaign
directed against the Suebi and Sarmatians may have been underway. Even
so, there is no testimony of actual conflicts and the evidence does not
extend beyond A.D. 97.[]
The Emperor's Court and His Relationship with the Aristocracy
Domitian's autocratic tendencies meant that the real seat of power during
his reign resided with his court. The features typically associated with
later courts - a small band of favored courtiers, a keen interest in the
bizarre and the unusual (e.g., wrestlers, jesters, and dwarves),
and a highly mannered, if somewhat artificial atmosphere, characterized
Domitian's palace too, whether at Rome or at his Alban villa, some 20 kilometers
outside of the capital.[] Courtiers included
family members and freedmen, as well as friends (amici), a group
of politicians, generals, and praetorian prefects who offered input on
important matters.[] Reliance upon amici
was not new, yet the arrangement underscored Domitian's mistrust of the
aristocracy, most notably the senate, whose role suffered as Domitian deliberately
concentrated power in the hands of few senators while expanding the duties
of the equestrian class. Senatorial grievances were not without basis:
at least 11 senators of consular rank were executed and many others exiled,
ample attestation of the emperor's contempt for the body and its membership.[]
The senate's enthusiastic support for the damning of Domitian's memory,
therefore, came as no surprise. Nevertheless, the situation must be placed
in its proper context. By comparison, the emperor Claudius(A.D.
41-54) executed 35 senators and upwards of 300 equestrians, yet he was
still deified by the senate![] Domitian's
mistake was that he made no attempt to mask his feelings about the senate.
Inclined neither by nature nor by conviction to include the body in his
emperorship, he treated the group no differently than any other. Revenge
would come in the form of an aristocratically based literary tradition
that would miss no opportunity to vilify thoroughly both emperor and his
Death and Assessment
On 18 September, A.D. 96, Domitian was assassinated and was succeeded on
the very same day by M. Cocceius Nerva,
a senator and one of his amici. The sources are unanimous in stressing
that this was a palace plot, yet it is difficult to determine the level
of culpability among the various potential conspirators.[]
In many ways, Domitian is still a mystery - a lazy and licentious ruler
by some accounts, an ambitious administrator and keeper of traditional
Roman religion by others.[] As many of his
economic, provincial, and military policies reveal, he was efficient and
practical in much that he undertook, yet he also did nothing to hide the
harsher despotic realities of his rule. This fact, combined with his solitary
personality and frequent absences from Rome, guaranteed a harsh portrayal
of his rule. The ultimate truths of his reign remain difficult to know.
The bibliography on Domitian is too vast for thorough treatment here. The
works listed below are either main accounts of the emperor or pertain directly
to issues raised in the entry above. For a comprehensive listing of sources,
see Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 238-255.
Anderson, J.C."Domitian's Building Program. Forum Julium and Markets
of Trajan." ArchN 10 (1981):41-48.
Atti congresso internazionale di studi Flaviani, 2 vols. Rieti,
Breeze, D. J. The Northern Frontiers of Roman Britain. London,
Carradice, I.A. "Coinage and Finances in the Reign of Domitian, AD 81-96",
BAR International Series, 178, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports,
Coleman, K. M. "The Emperor Domitian and Literature." ANRW II.32.5:
Friedländer, L. Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire
(trans. of Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms in der Zeit von
August bis zum Ausgang der Antonine, 7th ed. by L. A. Magnus), London,
Garnsey, P. and Saller, R. The Early Principate: Augustus to Trajan,[Greece
and Rome New Surveys in the Classics No. 15], Oxford, 1982.
Girard, J-L. "Domitien et Minerve: une prédilection impériale."
ANRW II.17.1: 233-245.
Griffith, J. G. "Juvenal, Statius and the Flavian Establishment." Greece
and Rome 16 (1969): 134-150.
Heintz, Florent. "A Domitianic Fleet Diploma." ZPE 120 (1998):
Jones, B. W. The Emperor Domitian. London, 1992.
Levi, M.A. "I Flavi." ANRW II.2: 177-207.
Levick, B. M. "Domitian and the Provinces." Latomus 41 (1982):
Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G. Continuity and Change in Roman Religion.
McGinn, Thomas A. J. "Feminae Probosae and the Litter" CJ
93 (1998): 241-250.
McCrum, M. and Woodhead, A. G. Select Documents of the Principates
of the Flavian Emperors, Including the Years of Revolution, AD 68-96.
Millar, F. The Emperor in the Roman Word. Ithaca, 1992.
Platner, M. and Ashby, T. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.
Southern, Pat. Domitian: Tragic Tyrant. Indiana University Press,
Syme, R. Tacitus. Oxford, 1958.
________. "Domitian, the Last Years." Chiron 13 (1983): 121-146.
________. The Augustan Aristocracy. Oxford, 1986.
Talbert, R. J. A. The Senate of Imperial Rome. Princeton, 1984.
Vinson, M. "Domitia Longina, Julia Titi, and the Literary Tradition."
38 (1989): 431-450.
Wallace-Hadrill, A. Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars. London,
Waters, K. H. "The Character of Domitian." Phoenix 18 (1964):
[] Ancient sources: Tac. Agr.; Cass. Dio 67;
Plin. Pan.; Statius, Silv.; McCrum, M. and Woodhead, A.G.
Select Documents of the Principates of the Flavian Emperors (Cambridge,
[] Compare, however, Suetonius' claim at Dom.1: "He
is said to have spent a poverty-stricken and rather degraded youth: without
even any silver on the table." The passage is typical of the hostility
directed toward Domitian in the literary sources.
[] Suet. Dom. 18, 20; in praise of his literary
talents, see also: Plin. NH Praef 5; Statius, Achil. 1.15;
Silius Italicus, Pun.3.621. But there were just as many hostile
accounts of his literary prowess: Tac. Hist. 4.86; Suet. Dom.
2.2. Since none of this evidence survives, there is no way to judge the
validity of these conflicting assessments. That the controversy even exists,
however, helps to confirm that Domitian was well educated.
[] Domitian was likely left in the care of his uncle,
Sabinus II. See Tac. Hist. 3.75. Whether he resided in Rome with
his uncle during this period is less clear.
[] Domitian's preference for solitude finds particularly
cruel expression in Suetonius, who portrays him as spending hours alone
every day catching flies and stabbing them with a needle-sharp pen while
emperor. See Dom.3. Dio (66.9.5) also cites Domitian's predilection
for his own company.
[] Tac. Hist. 4.86; 4.2.
[] Poetic embellishment of Domitian's military achievements:
Statius, Theb. 1.21; Martial, 9.101.13; 9.10.15-16; Jos. BJ 7.85;
Silius Italicus, Pun.3.608.
[] Long after Domitian's memory had been damned,
Domitia still referred to herself as the emperor's wife, perhaps an indication
that she maintained at least some degree of affection for her husband.
The evidence is preserved on brick stamps datable to A.D. 123; CIL
[] On honoring of Titus: Suet. Tit. 11.
[] On the raising of the currency standard: Walker,
D.R. , "The Metrology of the Roman Silver Coinage. Part I; From Augustus
to Domitian," BAR Supplementary Series 5, Oxford: British Archaeological
Reports, 120, 115; Carradice, I.A. "Coinage and Finances in the Reign
of Domitian, AD 81-96," BAR International Series 178, Oxford: British
Archaeological Reports, 9-56.
[] Suet. Dom. 7.2; 14.2.
[] For an excellent discussion of Domitian's building
program, see Jones, B. W. The Emperor Domitian London, 1992, 79-98.
[] Capitoline Games: Censorinus, De Die Natali
18.5. In A.D. 93, Domitian also established the Ludi Saeculares
(Secular Games), a celebration under the supervision of the quindecimviri
sacris faciundis, an aristocratic priestly college. See Suet. Dom.
4.3; Stat. Silv. 1.4.17; 4.1.37; Martial, 4.1.7; 10.63.3.
[] Night time shows and unusual combatants: Dio
67.8.4; Amphitheater celebration: Stat. Silv. 1.6.75-78.
[] On improvements in the different provinces:
Garzetti, A. From Tiberius to the Antonines: A History of the Roman
Empire, 14-192 (London, 1974),278, 652; Leglay, M. "Les Flaviens et
l'Afrique," MEFR 80 (1968):221-22, 230-232.
[] For a careful and balanced treatment of difficult
evidence: Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 114-119.
[] That the Chatti were not subdued in A.D. 83
is revealed by their role in Saturninus' revolt (Suet. Dom. 6.2)
and by their interference with the Cherusci (Dio 67.5.1). On the Roman
withdrawal to the south in Britain, see Hobley, A.S. "The Numismatic Evidence
for the Post-Agricolan Abandonment of the Roman Frontier in Northern Scotland,"
Britannia 20 (1989): 69-74. Numismatic evidence (ibid., 73)
indicates that the arch at Richborough was erected at this same time. It
is difficult to resist the conclusion that the monument served to mask
the Roman retreat.
[] The presence of five Roman legions in Pannonia,
for example, is unusual and points to genuine Roman concern with the region.
See Dusanic, S. and Vasic, M. R. "An Upper Moesian Diploma of AD 96," Chiron
7 (1977): 291-304; Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 153-155.
[] Domitian did not hesitate to conduct a variety
of imperial duties outside of the domus Flavia in Rome. For some
of his activities at Alba: Plin. Ep. 4.11.6; Suet. Dom 4.4;
Dio 67.1.2; Juv. 4.99. Tacitus (Agr. 45) and Juvenal (4.145) refer
to it as the arx Albana, "the Alban fortress," implying the residence
of a despot.
[] On the emperor's amici, Jones, The
Emperor Domitian, 50-71.
[] On the execution of ex-consuls: Suet. Dom.10
and Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 182-188; exiles: ibid.,
[] Claudius and executions: Suet. Claud.
29.2; Apocol. 13.
[] For a collection of the ancient sources stressing
a palace plot: Gephardt, R. F. C. "C. Suetonii Tranquilli Vita Domitiani:
Suetonius' Life of Domitian with Notes and Parallel Passages," dissertation,
University of Pennsylvania, 1922, 89. For the most complete account: Suet.
[] Domitian as lazy and lustful: Suet. Dom.
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