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Roman Emperors Pt. 4

Updated on December 14, 2009


Reigned:  1 July 69 – 24 June 79

Born Titus Flavius Vespasianus,  Vespasian founded the short-lived Flavian dynasty, which ruled Rome from 69 to 96 after being succeeded by his sons, Titus and Domitian.

While Vespasian himself was in Egypt securing Rome’s grain supply, his troops had entered Rome and, in hand to hand fighting through the streets, defeated Vitellius’ army and killed him.  When he received news of Vitellius’ death, Vespasian quickly began sending the urgently needed grain to Rome and assured Rome he would entirely reverse the laws of Nero.

While little is known about his government of Rome, he is remembered for his financial reforms, the successful campaign against Judea and construction projects such as the Coliseum.  Possessing no reputation for genius, Vespasian was known for his firm will and practical intelligence and came to power from humble beginnings.  When he discovered a conspiracy against him, unlike his predecessors, he forgave them, declaring they were fools in not appreciating  the burdens rulers endured.   (Caesar and Christ, p. 286, Will Durant)

He may have been the first of the Roman Emperors who intentionally sought to control the public’s perception of his rule.  He approved histories written under his reign, assuring histories favorable to him.  He also financially rewarded certain writers.  Several historians of his period are viewed suspiciously in their praise of Vespasian and condemnation of emperors that came before him.  The writer Tacitus admitted his status rose because of Vespasian and Josephus admitted he was his patron and savior.  

To get fresh blood into the Senate, Vespasian brought thousands of distinguished families through Italy and the western provinces.  After his son Domitian’s reign, these families produced rules who gave Rome good government for a century.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 287, Will Durant)  He established state education, paying teachers from public funds.  Rome and its provinces prospered as never before.  

AS I felt his death coming on, he struggled to his feet, saying “An emperor should die standing,” and died. (Caesar and Christ, p. 287, Will Durant)


Born Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Titus , commonly known as Titus (December 30, 39 – September 13, 81), was a Roman Emperor who briefly reigned from 79 until his death in 81. Titus succeeded his father, Vespasian, to become the second emperor of the Flavian dynasty. 

Under his father’s rule, Titus had distinguished himself as a ruthless soldier, having been charged with ending the Jewish rebellion, which he did by besieging and destroying Jerusalem and its Temple.  But he tarnished his reputation with carrying on a controversial relationship with the Jewish queen Berenice.  But as he mounted the throne, he reformed his reputation and made his government a model of wisdom and honor.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 289, Will Durant)

There were no executions during his brief reign.  Perhaps weary of war, he declared he would rather be killed than kill. When two noble’s conspiracy to depose him came to light, Titus contented himself with warning them and dispatched a courier to relive the anxiety of one conspirators mother by telling her that her son was safe.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 289, Will Durant) 

Titus was also known for his generosity during the suffering caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and another fire in Rome.  After two years as Emperor, Titus died of fever and was succeeded by his young brother Domitian.  Domintian had little use for his brother and may even have hastened his death by packing him in snow, though he may have done so to help Titus fight his fever. 


Reigned:  14 September 81 – 18 September 96

Born Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus, Titus ruled for 15 years.  Historians consider an objective portrayal of Domitian to be even more difficult than an objective understanding of Nero. Tacitus and the younger Pliny belonged to the senatorial group that engaged in a conflict of near mutual extermination.  Their hostile witnessing are set against Statitus and Martial who praised him to the skies.  But perhaps all four were right, “for the last of the Flavians, like many of the Julio-Claudians, began like Gabriel and ended like Lucifer,”  (Caesar and Christ, p. 289, Will Durant)  While tall and handsome in his youth, he grew bald and large-bellied and may have become increasingly bitter.

His youth had been spent in his brother Titus’ shadow who military prowess was legend.  While Titus ruled as co-emperor with his father Vespasian, Titus was given no responsibilities..  What they were remain hidden in time but Domitian’s machinations against Titus required Titus to beg their father for Titus’ forgiveness.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 290, Will Durant) 

His policies in the first decade were puritan but competent. “Having made himself censor life, he stopped the publications of scurrilous lampoon, enforced the Julian laws against adultery, tried to end child prostitution, forbade the performance of pantomimes because of their indecency, ordered the execution of a Vestal Virgin convicted of incest or adultery,” and put an end to the practice of castrating male slaves, which had spread as the prices of eunuch slaves rose. He was a strict but impartial judge. (Caesar and Christ, p. 290, Will Durant)

As emperor, Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluing the Roman coinage, expanded the border defenses of the Empire, and initiated a massive building programme to restore the damaged city of Rome. His reign is known as one of he great ages of Roman building. He also did his best to encourage arts and letters, including creating contests in literature and music. (Caesar and Christ, p. 290-91, Will Durant)

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Over time, he suffered military defeats that probably increased his dour outlook.  “the revolt of Saturninus was the turning point in Domitian’s reign, the dividing line between his better and worse selves.  He had always been coldly severe; now he slipped into cruelty.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 290-91, Will Durant) 

In 89, Saturninus, the governor of Germania Superior, and two legions revolted against Rome, the planning for which had occurred long in advance.  Due to a stroke of luck in the weather (which melted the ice of the Rhine and prevented an ally of Saturninus from coming to his aid), the revolt was quickly crushed and its leaders were savagely punished.

Domitian was popular with the people and the army but despised by members of the Roman Senate as a tyrant.

In the final year of his reign, his fear of conspiracy bordered on madness.  He lined walls of the porticoes where he walked with shining stones that mirrored what was occurring behind him.  Anyone even suspected of involvement in the revolt of Saturninus were tortured horribly.  His great mistake was in frightening his own household. (Caesar and Christ, p. 292, Will Durant

When he ordered the death of his secretary because, “twenty-seven years before, he had helped Nero to commit suicide.” Feeling threatened themselves, the imperial household, including Domitian’s wife Domitia, resolved to kill Domitian. (Caesar and Christ, p. 292-3, Will Durant) 

His murder was carried out by Stephanus, a steward of Domitian’s niece.  While the Praetorian Guard was, no doubt, aware of the plot, their involvement is unclear. Stephanus feigned an injury days in advance of his attack on Domitian, enabling him to conceal a dagger beneath his bandages.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 292-3, Will Durant) 

Pretending to come before Domitian to betray a conspiracy, Stephanus stabbed Domitian.  As Domitian fought back, others in the household rushed forward to stab him to death.

His reign ended on 18 September 96 and he was immediately succeeded by Nerva, his friend and advisor, who founded the long-lived Nerva-Antonine dynasty.

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