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The Emperor Domitian



I. The Flavian Empire

II. His sexual acts

III. His religious views

IV. The conspiracy against him


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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