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Domitiānus, Titus Flavius

The second son of Vespasian, born at Rome A.D. 51. Vespasian, well aware of his natural disposition, reposed no confidence in him during his whole reign. Domitian, however, accompanied his father and his brother Titus in their triumph at the close of the Jewish War. Upon the death of Vespasian he endeavoured to foment troubles in the Empire and share the succession with Titus. The latter, however, forgave him, treated him with great kindness, and made him his colleague in the consulship, always declaring to him that he intended him for his successor. Domitian is accused of hastening the death of Titus by poison—a charge, however, not warranted by the circumstances of Titus's death. The beginning of his reign was marked by moderation and a display of justice bordering upon severity. His affected great zeal for the reformation of public morals, and punished with death several persons guilty of adultery as well as some vestals who had broken their vows. He completed several splendid buildings begun by Titus—among others an odeum, or theatre for musical performances. The most important event of his reign was the conquest of Britain by Agricola, but Domitian grew jealous of that great commander's reputation and recalled him to Rome. His suspicious temper and his pusillanimity made him afraid of every man who was distinguished either by birth and connections or by merit and popularity, and he mercilessly sacrificed many to his fears, while his avarice led him to put to death a number of wealthy persons for the sake of their property. The usual pretext for these murders was the charge of conspiracy or treason, and thus a numerous race of informers was created and maintained by this system of spoliation. His cruelty was united to a deep dissimulation, and in this particular he resembled Tiberius rather than Caligula or Nero. He either put to death or drove away from Rome the philosophers and men of letters; Epictetus was one of the exiled. He found, however, some flatterers among the poets, such as Martial, Silius Italicus, and Statius. The latter dedicated to him his Thebaïs and Achilleïs and commemorated the events of his reign in his Silvae. But, in reality, the reign of Domitian was other than favourable to the Roman arms, except in Britain. In Moesia and Dacia, in Germany and Pannonia, his armies were defeated and whole provinces lost (Agric.

Domitian. (Cameo in Paris.)

41). Domitian himself went twice into Moesia to oppose the Dacians, but, after several defeats, concluded a disgraceful peace with their king Decebalus, whom he acknowledged as sovereign, and to whom he agreed to pay tribute, which was afterwards discontinued by Trajan. Yet Domitian made a pompous report of his victories to the Senate and assumed the honours of a triumph. In the same manner he triumphed over the Cotti and the Sarmatians, which made Pliny the Younger say that the triumphs of Domitian were always evidence of some advantages gained by the enemies of Rome. In A.D. 95, Domitian assumed the consulship for the seventeenth time, together with Flavius Clemens, who had married Domitilla, a relative of the emperor. In that year a persecution of the Christians is recorded in the history of the Church, but it seems that it was not directed particularly against them, but against the Jews, with whom the Christians were often confounded by the Romans. Flavius Clemens and his wife were among the victims. In the following year, A.D. 96, a conspiracy was formed against Domitian among the officers of his guards and several of his intimate friends, and his wife, the infamous Domitilla, herself is said to have participated in it. The immediate cause of it was his increasing suspicion, which threatened the life of every one around him, and which is said to have been stimulated by the predictions of astrologers and soothsayers, whom he was very ready to consult. He was killed in his apartments by several of the conspirators, after struggling with them for some time, in his forty-fifth year and in the fifteenth of his reign. On the news of his death the Senate assembled and elected M. Cocceius Nerva emperor.

The character of Domitian is represented by all ancient historians in the darkest colours, as being a compound of timidity and cruelty, of dissimulation and arrogance, of self-indulgence and stern severity towards others. He gave himself up to every excess and plunged into the most degrading vices. Conceiving at last the idea of arrogating divine honours to himself, he assumed the titles of Lord and God and claimed to be a son of Minerva. Soon after he had succeeded to the government he indulged in that love of solitude which pride and fear combined to render in a very short time the most confirmed of all his habits. In the beginning of his reign, says his biographer, he accustomed himself to spend several hours every day in the strictest privacy, employed frequently in nothing else than in catching flies and piercing them with a sharp instrument. Hence the well-known remark made by Vibius Crispus, who, when asked whether there was any one with the emperor, replied, “No, not even a fly.” Domitian took a delight in inspiring others with terror, and Dio Cassius tells of a singular banquet, to which he invited the principal members of the Senate and equestrian order, where everything wore the appearance of an intended execution. He once even convened the Senate to determine in what way a large turbot should be cooked, whether whole or divided (Juv. iv.). The Senate, after his death, issued a decree that his name should be struck out of the Roman annals and obliterated from every public monument. His career is sketched in detail by Imhoff (1857).

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