Titus Flavius Vespasianus

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Titus Flavius Vespasianus

The Roman general and emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (39-81) was responsible for the conquest of Jerusalem in 70, thus ending the Jewish revolt against Rome.

During the lifetime of Titus, the Roman Empire underwent its first major constitutional crisis in 100 years. The last of the family of the founding emperor (Augustus) died, and a new dynasty (that of Vespasian) had to establish itself by means of civil war. Although it was a period of consolidation within the empire, it also witnessed several major revolts, especially that of the Jews.

Titus was the son of Vespasian, a rising official in the imperial service, and his wife, Domitilla. Titus was handsome, talented, and athletically skilled, and he enjoyed a favored position in the court of the emperor Claudius I (41-54). Vespasian became one of Claudius's leading generals, and Titus was a bosom companion of Britannicus, the son of Claudius. Nero, stepson of Claudius, replaced Claudius as emperor in 54 and murdered his stepbrother Britannicus. Titus's former friendship does not seem to have crippled his career. He served as a junior military officer (military tribune) in Germany and Britain and was moderately active in civic affairs at Rome. He married well. His first wife, Arrecina Tertulla, was the daughter of a former praetorian prefect. After her death he married Marcia Furnilla, also of good family.

Jewish Revolt and Civil War

The turning point in the career of Titus and his family came with the Jewish revolt. The major proportions of the rebellion required Nero to call upon one of his most experienced generals, Vespasian. Titus was placed in command of a legion and sent to Alexandria in Egypt to lead that legion to Judea. He distinguished himself by his courage and leadership in the early fighting, in which the Romans succeeded in bottling up the bulk of the rebels in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, momentous events were happening in Rome and the Western provinces. Revolts broke out against Nero, who committed suicide. In 69, Galba, the governor of Spain, claimed the emperorship but was soon assassinated. The major struggle for succession developed between Vitellius, the commander of the German armies, and Otho, an old friend of Nero. Vitellius conquered, but developments in the East cut short his reign. When word of Galba's becoming emperor reached Vespasian and Titus in Jerusalem, Titus was dispatched to convey congratulations. He had reached Greece when he received the announcement of Galba's murder. Titus hesitated and then turned back. On Cyprus, an oracle of Aphrodite predicted to him that one day he would be emperor.

Vespasian and his supporters meanwhile had decided that, in a period of soldier emperors, Vespasian with his experience and strong army had a good claim to be ruler. They raised the challenge to Vitellius, and Vespasian's partisans won for him in Italy. Titus had traveled with his father to Alexandria, where they were consolidating their position in the Eastern empire. With the Flavian cause secure, Titus was sent back to Jerusalem to finish the conquest of the Jews. The siege of that city was one of the most difficult in Roman military history. After an arduous struggle, the city fell to Titus in September 70.

Reign of Vespasian

By June 71, Titus had returned to Rome, where he assumed the position of his father's main administrator and intended successor. Seven times he was consul with his father and also censor. More important, he was praetorian prefect. This position had generally been entrusted to a high official of the equestrian civil service, but Vespasian, an emperor without strong roots and assured support, obviously felt that he must have a man he could trust absolutely in charge of the imperial guard. Vespasian was very fortunate to have so talented and experienced a son who could support him while he lived and continue his dynasty after his death. Titus did much to ensure that the Flavians became a dynasty rather than short-lived claimants to the throne.

Titus did not establish a good reputation during his father's reign. Part of the unpopularity stemmed from his position as chief assistant to Vespasian, which forced him to conduct much of the unpleasant business of the empire. Also, his style of life was regarded as too sumptuous, and his amorous relationship with Berenice, the daughter of the Jewish ruler Herod Agrippa, caused scandal among the snobbish Romans.

Titus as Emperor

Vespasian died on June 24, 79, and Titus became emperor. People expected the excesses of a second Nero. However, Titus immediately showed that he intended to reign with moderation and tact. Informers were controlled and political exiles recalled. Respect was shown for the Roman Senate. The main events in his reign were disasters. In August 79, Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other sections of Campania. Titus traveled to the area to assist in relief operations. The following year, a major fire destroyed much of the Campus Martius area of Rome. Again Titus was very generous in providing funds for relief and rebuilding. A major plague also struck while he ruled.

Vespasian had introduced a policy of extensive public building to glorify the new dynasty and contrast his sense of public interest with the self-indulgence of Nero. Titus continued this. He completed the amphitheater known today as the Colosseum and erected a massive set of public baths in Rome, as well as many other public works in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. He did not reign long enough to make his own impact on Roman foreign policy. The most spectacular events were the continued conquests of the general Agricola in northern Britain. Titus died of a fever on Sept. 13, 81, in the country villa where his father had died.

Further Reading

The 1st-century work of Josephus, History of the Jewish War, includes important information on Titus's role in Judea. Suetonius, a 2d-century Roman official, wrote a biography of Titus in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars; and Tacitus's 2d-century Histories contains a vivid account of the civil wars that led up to the accession of the Flavian dynasty. Dio's 3d-century History of Rome also contains an abridged section on Titus's reign (book 66). In modern works, an adequate account of Titus and his family is in the Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols., 1923-1939), and a study of him is in Bernard W. Henderson, Five Roman Emperors (1927).

Additional Sources

Jones, Brian W., The Emperor Titus, London: Croom Helm; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984. □