The Emperor Domitian
Historians have described Domitian as crazy and unbalanced. Domitian's full name is
Titus Flavius Domitianus. He was born on 51 AD and died on 96 AD. He was the
second son of Emperor Vespasian and the brother of Emperor Titus. He was isolated as a
child and preferred solitude over the company of people. He supposedly created a new
method of torture by burning the sexual organs of his victims. He had a pleasure in
catching flies, stabbing them with the point of a pen and tearing their wings out.
Domitian was very sensitive about his baldness. His portraits always showed hair on his
head. He wrote and published a book on baldness.
The Flavian Empire
Vespasian became the emperor in late 69. Vespasian had chosen Titus as his successor.
He obviously favored Titus over Domitian. Vespasian gave Domitian important titles
and responsibilities, but no real power. When Vespasian died in 79, Titus became
emperor. Nothing changed when Titus succeeded to the throne. Domitian constantly
insulted him. While Titus was dying on September, 81, Domitian proclaimed himself
emperor. When the senate heard the news of Titus's death, they chose to honor him
before giving Domitian power, a foreshadow that Domitian might have trouble with the
Senate. After waiting a day, Domitian became emperor. Unlike Titus, Domitian was not
educated at the emperor's court, so he didn't have the training for this position that his
father and brother had.
Domitian wanted autocratic power. He appointed himself consul every year for the first
eight years of his reign. Within his lifetime, he held the consulship 17 times, more than
any Roman emperor before him. In 85 he named himself censor for life, who supervised
conduct and morals. This was never done before and it shows Domitian's obsessive
interest in all aspects of Roman life.
His sexual acts
In the late 70 A.D., Domitian married Domitia Longina, daughter of general Gnaeus
Domitius Corbulo, whom Nero had forced to commit suicide in 66 A.D. Their only son
died at infancy. Besides his wife Domitian had several women for his pleasure. When
his wife had an affair with the actor Paris in 83, Domitian divorced and exiled her and
had Paris killed. But later, she would be recalled to the palace, where she lived with
Domitian until his death. A year later Domitian became interested in his niece Julia
Flavia and had her husband executed. She moved into the palace and became Domitian's
mistress. Julia Flavia became pregnant and died in 91 because of an abortion that
Domitian had forced on her.
His religious views
Domitian strongly supported traditional Roman paganism. He encouraged the spread of
Roman paganism by building new temples and restoring old ones. Domitian had three
Vestal Virgins executed in 83 because of immorality and had the Chief Vestal buried
alive in 90. Her supposed lovers were beaten to death with rods. Domitian demanded to
be worshipped as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. Christians and Jews were persecuted
for their refusal to worship him. He had all Jews who claimed to be descendants of King
David tracked down and killed. Domitian's niece, Flavia Domitilla married Domitian's
cousin, Flavius Clemens, a consul. Their sons were Domitian's heirs. In 95 Domitian
accused them of sympathizing with the Christians and Jews. He had his cousin killed and
his niece banished.
The conspiracy against him
Domitian didn't trust anybody and was in constant fear of conspiracies. The pillars of his
palace were made of white reflective marble so that he could see what was going on
behind him. After a revolt in 88, Domitian purged the Senate of all those he suspected to
be disloyal. He turned against the philosophers because they supported the Senate. In 89
he banished them from Rome and, in 95, from Italy.
On September 18, 96, Domitian was in his bedroom with only a few trusted members of
the palace staff. Stephanus, who had injured his arm, which was bandaged in a sling,
presented him with a document that had evidence of a conspiracy. While Domitian was
reading it, Stephanus drew a concealed knife out of the bandage and stabbed him in the
groin. Domitian struggled and those who should have helped him barred the doors and
joined in the attack. The two Prefects of the Praetorian Guard, whose job was to protect
the emperor, were part of the conspiracy, and did nothing. Even his own wife, Domita
Longina, was involved. Domitian died after seven stab wounds. Senator Cocceius
Nerva, the replacement emperor, was ready and waiting, and took office that very day.
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The content of this page was written by Lam Nguyen.