After the disaster with Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, Titus reacted quickly, visiting the area in person and confiscating properties of heirless victims for distribution to the disenfranchised. Survivors were relocated and a special Senatorial commission was arranged to provide whatever assistance they could. But, despite Titus' relatively short reign, this was not to be the only disaster he faced. While still in Campania a destructive fire broke out in Rome, devastating the poorer quarters for 3 days. Again Titus responded quickly, dipping deep into the treasury to provide relief and assistance to the victims. Certainly, considering the amount of money that was spent on relief efforts and on public works (such as the Colosseum and the accompanying 100 days of games), Titus very well may have dipped into his personal fortune to ensure a solid financial footing for the empire. Despite these expenditures, Titus (according to Dio Cassius) proved to be fiscally sound, "In money matters, Titus was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditure," and left the treasury in much the same state as he found it, with a healthy surplus.
In addition to these two natural disasters, the empire also faced a devastating plague at about the same time. According to Suetonius, "For curing the plague and diminishing the force of the epidemic there was no aid, human or divine, which he (Titus) did not employ, searching for every kind of sacrifice and all kinds of medicines." While one might think that the superstitious Romans would view the reign of Titus as a cursed abomination facing the punishment of the gods, his swift responses and deliberate actions seem to have endeared him to the people. Perhaps people simply lamented the reign of Domitian and wished for a return of Titus, sparking a nostalgic memory of him, or his reign was just too short to develop any particular negative attributes, but regardless he was remembered with a sincere admiration.
Whatever reasons for Titus' seemingly popular status among the masses (the Colosseum and disaster relief) and the ancient historians (a far better alternative to Domitian), his reign was cut tragically short. While it was the charisma of Vespasian that ended the civil war following Nero's death, it was Titus who continued the policies that strengthened the legions and the provinces, while legitimizing an alternative rulling order in a post Julio-Claudian Roman world. Additionally the reign of Titus, and his untimely early death, followed by the unpopular reign of his brother, led the Emperors that followed into a path of chosen selective and adoptive succession, rather than dynastic rule. The so-called '5 Good Emperors' must certainly be given credit for their own actions, but understanding the contributions of the transitional period of Vespasian and Titus is vital to understanding the development of the following period.
Unfortunately for those who suffered under Domitian, but fortunately for the resulting reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius, the reign of Titus lasted only a short 26 months. During this time he fought varying illnesses, and according to the descriptions of Suetonius, faced several bouts of depression. Considering the pressures of the positions, coupled with the disasters that accompanied it, his health concerns are not surprising. In the end repeated treatments of cold baths (alleviation of fever) indicate the possibility that it was simple influenza or even a brain tumor (which may cause related symptoms) that ended his life prematurely. At the age of 41, on September 13 AD 81, Titus passed (without a child heir) and left the mantle of government to his brother Domitian.
Despite rumors of Domitian's actual involvement in Titus' death (poisoned fish according to Suetonius), logical observation does not support foul play. Although it is quite possible that reports of the brother's dislike of one another is entirely true, Domitian did have his brother promptly deified and finished the yet uncompleted Arch of Titus in his honor.
Did you know...?
Terentius Maximus was a Roman also known as the False Nero who rebelled during the reign of Titus, but was suppressed. He resembled Nero in appearance and in action, as he was known to perform singing with the accompaniment of the lyre.