Domitian (51 - 96 AD)
Emperor: 81 - 96 AD
Born in Rome on 24th October AD 51, Titus Flavius Domitianus was the youngest son of Vespasian and Domitilla. He was raised in an era of great family mobility, as Vespasian gained several key appointments under both Claudius and Nero. However, despite these appointments (ie the proconsulship of Africa), Vespasian was under considerable financial hardship (for a man of his position). Though Vespasian was forced into several undesirable financial moves, such as mortgaging his property to his brother, he never lost his seat in the Senate (which required stringent levels of financial means) and reports of Domitian's youth in poverty are quite exaggerated.
Domitian was left in relative isolation from his primary family. Vespasian and oldest son Titus spent much of Domitian's youth abroad in various services to the empire, while Domitian's mother had died at a relatively young age. Though the details of Domitian's youth are largely unknown, it is definite that his education was on par with other Senatorial elite of the time and that the future emperor excelled in such courses as rhetoric, literature and poetry. He was also praised for his skills in oratory, a skill that would surely aid him in his future political endeavors. It is during this time that Domitian supposedly developed a preference for solitude (largely from Suetonius), but this does not necessarily conform to his later career. While he would certainly show issues in relating to members of the Senate and the imperial court, his difficulties seem more to be matters of tyrannical control than withdrawal.
Regardless, Domitian's life, like those of many Romans, took a tremendous shift with the suicide of Nero in AD 68. As civil war raged, with Galba, Otho, Vitellius and others vying to fill the power vacuum, Vespasian began to conspire while suppressing the revolt in Judaea. When Vespasian eventually declared his intentions to grab power for himself in the summer of AD 69, with the support of Syrian governor Gaius Licinius Mucianus, Domitian remained in Rome, likely in the home of his uncle Titus Flavius Sabinus the city prefect. Despite the odd circumstances Sabinus remained in his position throughout Vitellius' rather short reign in Rome and Domitian seems to have been free of any backlash associated with his father's rebellion. Vitellius understandably though, certainly had more pressing matters to attend to, such as Mucianus marching on Rome with 20,000 men from the east, and an uprising of the Danubian legions in favor of Vespasian.
Much to the disappointment of Mucianus, the revolting German legions under Antonius Primus stole the glory and defeated the Vitellian forces at Cremona, paving the way for Vespasian to claim victory. While this was good news to the Flavian cause, it left Rome in a state of panic and turmoil. As Primus continued to march, Vitellius with only the Praetorians between him and the now victorious Flavians, knew his time as emperor was short. Mucianus offered him a deal, in which Domitian's uncle Sabinus acted as mediator, offering Vitellius safe passage if he would simply abdicate in favor of Vespasian. Vitellius agreed, but the Praetorians and other Vitellian supporters were angry (and assuredly fearful of the coming Danubian forces). Sabinus, as the local face of the impending change, was confronted with the brunt of this anger and was killed in the riots that followed. Domitian meanwhile was certainly also in a precarious situation. The exact details of his escape from the Vitellians is in doubt but both Tacitus and Suetonius have him rescued in some capacity by members of the cult of Isis, where he likely remained in hiding until the arrival of his fathers forces.
Shortly thereafter (December of AD 69) Primus arrived and began to turn the tables on the Vitellians with his German Legions. Vitellius was dragged from hiding and butchered while invaders were given a free reign of terror over the city. Fortunately, Mucianus arrived just a few days later and set about restoring order, but it was obviously too late for Sabinus. Domitian however was given a grand opportunity to become a major player on the world's biggest political stage. He presented himself to his fathers supporters and was immediately hailed as Caesar. Acting as the front man (Mucianus certainly held equal authority as Vespasian's primary advisor) for the new regime, Domitian ably administered the Flavian administration. Eager to match his brother and father's military glory, Domitian soon marched to Germania to put down a revolt of the Batavian auxilia, but it died out before anything of note could be accomplished. Shortly thereafter, Domitian was married to Domitia Longina, the daughter of the great general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, who was forced to commit suicide under Nero. Securing the support of the anti-Neronian camp through his son's marriage (not that he likely needed to, but this arrangement certainly helped to cement any alliance), Vespasian soon returned to Rome, and Domitian was relegated to relative obscurity.
It was suggested that Domitian dedicated himself to further studies in the arts while Titus gained military glory in Judaea before returning to Rome as a hero primary heir to Vespasian. However, while Domitian clearly took a secondary role to that of Titus, he did serve as Consul 6 times during his father's reign and was not completely removed from imperial politics. After Titus took over from Vespasian in AD 79, there is some speculation that the brothers maintained an unhealthy relationship, but there is really nothing other than rumor and innuendo to support this. Regardless, there is little mention of Domitian's activities in government or elsewhere during the reign of Titus, but he clearly was marked as 'Caesar' or heir (as Titus did not have sons of his own). When Titus died possibly of a brain tumor just two years later (and not without the appropriate level of insinuation that Domitian gave him poison) Domitian eagerly went to the Praetorians and had himself declared the next emperor. Among his first acts was to support his brothers deification and to finish the triumphal arch honoring Titus' victory in Judaea.
Domitian's reign began with certainly as much promise as those of his father and brother before. He proved to be an excellent manager of imperial government and took a hand's on approach to running the system. His Imperial court did consist of important members from the Senatorial body, future emperors Nerva and Trajan included, but relied more so on Equestrians and especially freedmen, virtually replacing all functions of the Senate. This style of rule and his quite public disdain for the Senate as a governing body, along with his rather strict moral ideology would eventually lead to his castration in the historical record by the ancient writers. Additional, mostly unfounded accusations of Christian persecutions, would add to the perception of Domitian as a tyrant, but quite contrary to popular opinion, he was quite capable as leader of the Empire.
Domitian was fortunate enough to follow in the footsteps of his frugal family predecessors. Evidence suggests that Domitian continued along this path maintaining a healthy treasury even in times of war. Initially, he raised the silver content of the Denarius back to its previous level under Augustus (it had been debased due to silver shortages, economic changes, etc.) clearly indicating the financial health of the empire. Just a few years into his reign however, he was forced to lower the silver content once again to meet with new demands. While this may suggest a weakening economy, it also suggests an Emperor who was well tuned in accordance with economic conditions and was proactive in adjusting imperial policy. As part of his financial policy, he heavily taxed the provinces and began a systematic confiscation (essentially to fund the Dacian Wars) that was obviously quite unpopular with the wealthy aristocracy. Another unpopular (though probably quite necessary) was the proposition of a new grain law. This law was designed to alleviate grain shortages and curb excess production of cheap wines. Planting of new vines was to be restricted in Italy, while existing vines in the provinces was to be reduced in half. While this particular law was never truly implemented it had the effect of further alienating the aristocracy.
At about the same time that these financial measures went into effect, Domitian named himself Censor for life, granting him complete authority over moralistic code and law throughout Roman society. While in theory, any Emperor could exhibit control over various societal conditions, Domitian took the position to heart. Styling himself some sort of paragon of virtue (despite his own separation from his wife, and later reconciliation, along with a myriad of rumors alleging sexual affairs), he took it upon himself to impose moralistic law with impunity. While many measures relating to these functions, such as cracking down on provincial corruption, reducing bribery in the courts, reducing public prostitution etc. were beneficial results, the result in the historical record illustrates the Emperor as cruel. In one example, Suetonius points out Domitian's reaction to the infidelity of the Vestal Virgins:
"...and the incest of Vestal Virgins, condoned even by his father (Vespasian) and his brother (Titus), he punished severely in diverse ways, at first by capital punishment, and afterwards in the ancient fashion (buried alive). For while he allowed the sisters Oculata and also Varronilla free choice of the manner of their death (AD 83), and banished their lovers, he later (AD 90) ordered that Cornelia, a chief-vestal who had been acquitted once but after a long interval again arraigned and found guilty, be buried alive; and her lovers were beaten to death with rods."
Despite this, Domitian proved to be far more popular with the general public. Tying his reign to that of the gods Jupiter and Minerva, Domitian celebrated his divine connection by instituting the Capitoline Games (so named for the restored Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol). These games, begun in AD 86 and occurring every 4 years included the typical chariot races, gymnastics, music and literary arts with contestants from all over the empire. Domitian spared no expense in these endeavors providing public entertainment on a grand scale. In addition to his own form of the 'Olympics' in which prizes were presented by the emperor himself, gladiatorial contests included new displays to capture his audiences. Female gladiators, contestants between dwarves, nighttime games and food dropped upon the audiences by ropes suspended across the top of the Colosseum were common occurrences.
Beyond this, Domitian was also an ambitious builder. The fire from AD 80 (during the reign of Titus) as well as damage still left over from the great fire of AD 64 (Nero), left Rome with plenty of opportunity for improvement. He added the fourth level to the Colosseum and finished the temple of Vespasian and Titus as well as the Arch of Titus. The Forum Transitorium (including the Temple of Minerva) which was later renamed the Forum Nervae to erase Domitian's memory, numerous arches, the Equus Domitiani statue which was later destroyed, the Odeum for musical performances, a Stadium for his games, the Temple of Fortuna Redux, the Templum Gentis Flavie, the Domus Augustana and Domus Flavia were all erected under Domitian's reign. Along with the works of his father and brother, Domitian left a distinctly Flavian impression upon the eternal city.
Domitian and the Legions
When Domitian came to power he did so with a great family pedigree of military success. Vespasian had proven himself in Britain, Germania and the east while Titus experienced similar conditions and continued his father's work in Judaea.
Much like the reign of Claudius, who needed the conquest of Britain to legitimize himself, Domitian felt the need to prove his own military prowess. While his initial attempts to accomplish that are scoffed at by Suetonius, Tacitus and Dio Cassius (in reference to the later Dacian Wars, Dio indicates that Domitian spent his campaign time indulging in riotous living far from the front) they served the purpose of glorifying his own young reign and uniting the legions behind him.
Domitian's first opportunity to realize military success came as the result of a ruse. Moving to Gaul in AD 82 under the pretense of conducting a census, Domitian instead recruited a new legion, Legio I Minervia, and moved with it and others into the Agri Decumates (the upper Danube and Rhine area) to conduct a campaign against the Chatti. While this initial attack had the intention of completing the conquests begun by his father, Domitian's efforts largely consisted of road building, fortification and the like. Domitian returned to Rome in AD 83 to celebrate a triumph, claiming the title Germanicus in the process. Despite his apparent victory, the Chatti were far from defeated and would continue to resist for another 6 years, lasting into AD 89 when the Romans eventually pushed the Empire's frontiers to the rivers Lahn and Main. While Domitian's triumph was largely an effort to boost the emperor's popularity (accompanied by a 1/3 pay raise for the legions), its effect was not wasted and would serve the emperor well into the future.
Meanwhile in Britain, the efforts of Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola were not going unnoticed in Rome. Having been appointed to the command of the frontier province under Vespasian (AD 78), his tenure included the subjugation of several resisting tribes in a methodical drive to the north. By AD 81 Agricola had pushed into Caledonia (modern Scotland) and was allowed to keep his position as Domitian came into power. According to Agricola's son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, Agricola reportedly even considered an invasion of Ireland that he claimed could be accomplished with just one legion. (It's important to note here, that some hostility from Tacitus towards Domitian can be accredited to Domitian's later treatment of Agricola and perhaps did have an impact on Tactitus' overall portrayal of him as the Emperor.)
In AD 83, Agricola won a smashing victory over Caledonian resistance, led by Calgacus, at the battle of Mons Graupius opening the way to Roman dominance of the entire island province. Fortifying his position at such places as Chester and Caerleon, Agricola's fleet explored the Orkney Islands and coastal borders, proving that Rome's northernmost province was indeed an island. The following campaign year would likely bring further incursions into the Caledonian highlands, however, Domitian recalled his successful general in AD 84. Accused of jealousy in the wake of Agricola's success, in light of his own trumped up triumph regarding the Chatti expedition, arguments have been made the Agricola may have completed the conquest of all of Britain. While Agricola was offered triumphal rewards, his relegation into obscurity and lack of further posts fueled speculation that Domitian was either jealous or mistrustful.
As the situation along the Danube with the Dacians began to worsen in the mid 80's, the conquests in Caledonia became an afterthought. Despite the security provided by holding the 'Scottish Lowlands', Domitian began the systematic withdrawal of Agricola's fortifications in AD 86 and 87. The defeat of Cornelius Fuscus and 2 legions to the Dacians precipitated the transfer of troops to the Danube and Caledonia, a territory with minor strategic priority and lacking any financial reward for the Empire, became dispensable. Though Tacitus complained of betrayal and surrender, the deed was done, and no Roman would ever hold as much territory in Caledonia, despite several later efforts, as did Agricola. While Agricola was left to fade into obscurity (his death in AD 93 was rumored to be at Domitian's bequest), Domitian was forced to focus attention on the restless Danube.
Decebalus and the War on the Danube
After the recall of Agricola from Britain, accusations of jealousy plagued Domitian. Coupled with renewed fears of a tyrannical rule (his appointment as perpetual censor granting him complete dominion over the assemblies in AD 85 as an example), Domitian still needed a major military victory and/or a distraction.
The Danube provided opportunities for both. Since the civil war of AD 69 that followed Nero's suicide and ended with the accession of Domitian's family the various Danube area tribes, Sarmatians, Marcomanni, Quadi, Dacians, etc., began to take advantage of Rome's pre-occupation. Raids were commonplace into frontier provinces such as Moesia and Roman efforts to stop it had little effect. As early as AD 70, the governor of Moesia, Fonteius Agrippa, was killed fighting these incursions and Vespasian, only recently gaining imperial power, did little but to strengthen various fortifications.
By the late 80's AD, the situation had become considerably more dangerous. The Dacians, a collection of small states and various tribes since the death of King Burebista in 44 BC, would be re-unified under what would become one of Rome's great adversaries, Decebalus (Diurpaneus). Translated from 'Strong as Ten Men' in Latin, the name itself seems to have been an honorary title among the Dacians and was much earned as he proved to be a formidable opponent to Rome for over 20 years.
In AD 85, the Dacians led a raid into Roman Moesia, again defeating and killing the governor Oppius Sabinus along with 2 legions. Domitian, along with his Praetorian Prefect Cornelius Fuscus, gathered their forces and traveled to the region to take command in person. The Dacians, despite proposals for peace, were pushed back across the Danube with some difficulty, but without any serious debilitating engagements. Domitian, likely viewing himself as the hero of the moment left the situation in the hand of Fuscus, while he returned to Rome to celebrate a terribly premature triumph in AD 86.
Later that same year Fuscus took matters into his own hands carrying out a planned punitive campaign across the river. This expedition, made up of as many as 6 legions was set the stage for the emergence of Decebalus. He met Fuscus at Tapae, within the extremely narrow mountain passed called 'Transylvania's Iron Gates' ambushed and repulsed the advance sending the Romans retreating back across the Danube. An entire legion was possibly obliterated as at least one standard was reportedly captured. Fuscus too paid the ultimate price giving his life in the fighting while Decebalus, by virtue of his great victory, went on to be named King of all the Dacians.
Domitian, understanding the severity of the situation returned to take direct command, but did so only within the safety of the Roman provinces. Moesia was reorganized into two separate provinces allowing for the presence of more legions under separate commands and two generals, Cornelius Nigrinus and L. Funisulanus Vettonianus arrived to conduct further military operations. The situation was stabilized and more legions were brought into the region, a major factor in the withdrawal from gains in Caledonia (Scotland) under Agricola, but the matter of the Dacians formidable presence on the border was yet to be settled.
Under Tettius Julianus the Romans regained some level of military dignity. In AD 88 he advanced along the same path as Fuscus and again met the Dacians at Tapae. This time the Romans were successful and drove the Dacians to retreat. However, the advance would be short-lived. Rumblings of revolt among the Rhine legions along with new attacks from Germanic tribes in Pannonia would prevent an all out Roman victory. While plans for further campaigns would continue to be made, Domitian was forced to accept an embarrassing treaty, paying off Decebalus and sending him skilled artisans to help with various infrastructure projects. Though the Romans did annex some land as a condition of the treaty, it was quite clear that Decebalus still held considerable sway, while Domitian faced continuing challenges in other areas.
Rebellion and Pannonia
Shortly after negotiating what would turn out to be a temporary peace arrangement with Decebalus and the Dacians, Domitian's armies in Germania Superior at Mogontiacum (Mainz) rebelled. Under L. Antoninus Saturninus, two legions (XIV Gemina and XXI Rapax) revolted for reasons that are largely obscured and lost to history (thanks to the later destruction of Saturninus personal documents), but the assumption has long stood that it was merely a local military revolt and not a wide spread conspiracy against the emperor.
It's quite plausible that the officers involved were rebelling against Domitian's rather strict moral policies which led to speculation that perhaps Saturninus and other officers were homosexuals being victimized by these strict codes (Dio and Pliny). Regardless, the rebelling officers took care to arrange peaceful terms with the neighboring Chatti (among the tribes whom the legions were charged with monitoring, who also took full advantage by destroying several area fortifications) likely to prepare a march.
Whatever goal Saturninus had is completely unknown and there seems to have been little indication of a plan. Neighboring legions, including Domitian's own I Minerva stationed in nearby Bonna remained loyal, and Domitian prepared a Praetorian expedition to meet the threat. Along with future emperor Trajan, who arrived from Hispania with VII Gemina in support of the emperor, Domitian moved against the rebels. Prior to his arrival, however, Aulus Buccus Lappius the governor of Germania Inferior, beat him to the punch and put down the revolt before it seemingly even began. Domitian took care to reduce the amount of coinage that soldiers could deposit within camp treasuries (these funds were apparently used to finance the revolt) and the rebellious legions were transferred east. With the short-lived and localized rebellion quickly behind him, terms were quickly reached with the Chatti as the emperor's attention was needed back in Pannonia and Dacia.
By the summer of AD 89 Domitian moved backed to the Danube to counter the Suebi tribes, Quadi and Marcomanni. These tribes had refused to aid the Romans in their war against the Dacians and Domitian needed to settle the empire's northern border. Two embassies were sent to negotiate peaceful settlements, but neither was successful. Speculation was that the Germanics had already negotiated a deal with the Dacians so it fell upon Domitian to remedy that hasty settlement negotiated in their previous encounters. Dio suggests that Domitian lost at least one encounter with the Marcomanni further weakening his position and giving Decebalus that much more room for negotiation. By the end of AD 89, an agreement was eventually reached, granting client status to the Dacians while leaving Decebalus entirely intact, with the Germanic issue temporarily being settled in the process. While Domitian would return to Rome and celebrate a double triumph (his supposed victory over the Chatti and the Dacians) and be honored with the presentation of his famous equestrian statue, Decebalus would remain a persistent threat to the Roman frontier.
Just 3 years later, in AD 92, Domitian's true lack of success the first time forced a return to the region. The same Marcomanni and Quadi Suebi tribes had joined forces with Sarmatians and had taken to raiding Roman territory. These raids, an indication of an ever worsening border situation, resulted in the destruction of Legio XXI Rapax (which was never reconstituted) and forced a serious response. This 'Second Pannonian War' resulted in yet again another temporary cessation of hostilities. Following Decebalus making good on his treaty, by allowing the Romans to cross Dacia to attack the Sarmatian rear, the Sarmatians withdrew from Roman territory and Domitian returned home after an 8 month campaign. The emperor received an ovation for this 'victory' rather than an additional triumph (clearly indicating his own dissatisfaction with the end result), but the situation was far from settled. Additional forces were continually sent to the Danube region over the next 3 years and there were some indications that Domitian planned yet another expedition. Perhaps had Domitian truly demonstrated the military skill of his father and brother, as was his initial goal after coming to power, he may have helped permanently settle the Danube border. Instead the Dacians were left to be dealt with by Trajan just a few years later, and the Germanics by Marcus Aurelius nearly a full century after Domitian's rather non climactic expeditions.
Domitian's Reign of Terror
On the surface Domitian's reign consisted of no more 'terrorizing' acts than the emperors that preceded him, but his relationship with the senate and aristocracy helped to foster a tarnished image. Additionally his strict moral policies, including religious censorship in the form of Jewish (which in Domitian's view included Christians) taxation, helped establish an appearance of persecution that some later writers mistakenly focused on. His father, Vespasian, had already established a Jewish tax (fiscus ludaicus) as a form of punishment to the Judaeans for their disloyalty. The proceeds humiliated the Jews by funding the pagan Temple of Jupiter, but the payments did allow them to continue in their own faith without recourse from Rome. Domitian sought to expand the tax to anyone who appeared to live a Jewish lifestyle avoiding the imperial and traditional pagan cults.
This concept included the fledgling Christian community who shared a great deal of traditional customs and ideology with the Jews. Domitian viewed such monotheistic faiths as a form of atheism, since these people denied the true Roman pantheon. While such an attitude later developed claims of a great Christian persecution (beginning largely with Christian writers Eusebius and Tertullian), Domitian's policy remained one of taxing those who refused the Roman pantheon, not singling out religious deviants for execution or other physical punishments. While Domitian has been described by many as having a streak of cruelty, there is little evidence to suggest this cruelty was applied specifically or any more so to Christians as opposed to just about anyone who might appear a threat to the throne or imperial stability.
One example of a story altered to fit into the persecution ideal was that of Flavius Clemens, his wife Domitilla and Acilius Glabrio. Domitilla was exiled and the two men executed for reasons which aren't entirely clear, but the three were later adopted as early Christian martyrs. A lesser charge of 'atheism' was referenced in the account of Dio Cassius (leading to the assumption of Christian leanings), but Suetonius makes no mention of religious charges at all. Whatever the reasons for their punishment, it should be noted that it certainly wasn't because of Christianity. The early Christians in the late 1st century avoided public life entirely and shunned the lifestyle that an aristocratic Roman family would have had, and Jews of the same era would have had similar dispositions. While the three may have been sympathetic to Jews because of taxes or other various concerns, the true reasons for their punishments are completely unknown to history.
While Christian and Jewish relations would haunt Domitian in the centuries after his death, his main opposition was based mainly in aristocratic Rome. The people, largely immune to the daily treachery of imperial politics, seem to have had little problem with Domitian and likely adored the man who readily held large games and offered public donation. Additionally, while sometimes the term 'Stoic Opposition' is applied to Domitian, this slight rift from the philosophic community was largely a continuation of displeasure based on Vespasian establishing a hereditary monarchy rather than anything specific regarding Domitian. Of course, one must take into consideration the fact that Dio Cassius (one of Rome's great historians) was exiled during Domitian's reign for political discourse and his later historical accounts regarding Domitian's reign can be viewed with a particular bias. Despite this rather obvious problem to what would become his historical record it was the enmity with the aristocrats that would leave Domitian with a horrible legacy. His open contempt of the Senate as a contributing and governing body for the empire was not tempered in any way by conciliatory gestures. Domitian rarely consulted them, as opposed to Vespasian and Titus, who sat before the senate on regular intervals. Also unlike his brother and father, Domitian adopted an autocratic style coupled with what might be regarded as egomaniacal behavior. Having himself referred to as Dominus et Dues (master and god), renaming the month of September to Germanicus to commemorate his supposed military victories, and renaming October to Domitianus was a constant reminder to the rest of Rome that the eternal city was not a veiled Republic but truly was an empire at the whims of a single man.
The most revered of political offices, that of the consulship was long abandoned as truly elected office and Domitian takes blame for having restricted this office to himself and his family members. However, Domitian was actually less strict than his father in appointing Consuls and other office holders, while Vespasian's rule was openly praised. While Domitian personally held the consulship in all but 4 years of his reign, 12 of 16 ordinary consulships between 89 and 96 went to non family members, clearly demonstrating his openness to political reward. Additionally, Domitian was also quite aware of Senatorial and familiar tradition allowing several men of pro-consular families to re-assume that position during his reign. Domitian understood the need to placate the Senate with political appointment but his treatment of them as a governing body seems to have carried more weight.
Domitian also angered the Senate by his self appointment as perpetual censor. With that power he had complete privilege and authority to alter the Senate roles as he saw fit. He used that power to appoint several (up to 24) eastern new-men who as non Italians were clearly not welcome additions by their Senatorial brothers. The equestrian order also received preference from Domitian in various appointments such as provincial governorships. As opposed to major military commands being selected from the Senatorial elite under previous emperors, Domitian chose equestrians for command of the Praetorian Guard and the top status in the Dacian campaign. Aside from these apparent slights the so-called 'Reign of Terror' really came down to a short-lived series of treason trials near the end of his Domitian's reign. As many as 11 former consuls were executed while many other senators were exiled during this period and Dio suggests far more, though names are not given. These executions, often compared to the reign of Claudius in which at least 35 senators and hundreds of equestrians were executed, hardly seem to be reminiscent of terror in contrast to Claudius' later deification. However, Claudius' deification was a political move intended to tie Nero and even the Flavians closer to the Julio-Claudians where Domitian was politically built up as a 'storm before the calm' to help solidify the good qualities of successors such as Trajan.
Domitian, while assuredly not deserving of praise as a great misunderstood leader by any stretch, has been victimized by the scourge of political jealousy. While he made blunders in military affairs (including possibly the withdrawal of Agricola from Britain) and held poor relations with the rest of aristocracy, the provinces were largely well governed and his reign was bereft of any terrible crisis. Aside from the rather uneventful attempt by Saturninus to rebel, the army remained loyal for all of Domitian's 15 year reign. Even members of the opposition seem to have obtained positions of importance. Tacitus, clearly opposed to the emperor because of the treatment shown to his father-in-law Agricola, was largely prosperous in the time period. Pliny the younger too, another member of the 'opposition', advanced greatly under Domitian. The true nature of Domitian's legacy seems to be related to his contemptuous attitude towards the Senate, and reliance upon freedmen as imperial administrators, apparently more than anything else.
Ironically, it's the very freedmen who served him who would end up putting an end to his life. As Domitian's reign lengthened he did grow increasingly more paranoid. The 'terror' it seems was not necessarily entirely because of his deeds, but because of the threat. The execution of household secretary Epaphroditus seems to have initiated the idea of a plot. The growing unpredictability and paranoia of the empire made everyone within the household seemingly in a position of danger. While the aristocracy seems to have been largely left out of any role in the plot, the calmness of events following Domitian's death would tend to suggest otherwise. On September 18, AD 96 a conspiracy of household freemen and slaves was put into motion and Domitian was brutally stabbed to death. Nobody else in the household was injured or killed and there was no retaliation by praetorians. The Senate, upon 'hearing the news' calmly nominated the aged aristocratic veteran M. Cocceius Nerva to replace him. The importance of this nomination was that Nerva did not have any children and would be incapable of establishing a dynasty of heredity. This gesture helped to placate such powerful generals as Trajan who understood that they might yet have a chance to reign if they only bided their time. In order to settle matters completely, Nerva wisely adopted Trajan as his heir and the precedent was set for the '5 Good or Adoptive' Emperors. The relative ease with which the transition took place leaves the impression that the plot was much larger than being motivated by simple household fear. Dio suggests Nerva was directly involved and that Domitian's wife, Domitia, was as well, but if she was as a matter of personal necessity, she maintained a front of loyalty for all her remaining years. Even 25 years later she still referred to herself as 'Domitian's wife'.
Did you know...
Domitian's greatest passions were the arts and the games. He finished the Colosseum, started by his father, and implemented the Capitoline Games in 86. Like the Olympic Games, they were to be held every four years and included athletic displays, chariot races, but also oratory, music and acting competitions.
Did you know...
Decebalus' real name was Diurpaneus, but after the victorious wars of 84-85 AD against the Romans, he was named "Decebalus", meaning "strong as ten men".
Did you know...
The inhabitants of Pannonia were described by Roman writers as brave and warlike, but cruel and treacherous. Polybius even suggested that the Scordisci used human skulls as drinking cups.