Domitian, Roman Emperor
DOMITIAN, ROMAN EMPEROR
Reigned 81 to 96; b. Titus Flavius Domitianus, Oct. 24, 51; d. Sept. 18, 96. As the son of the Emperor Vespasian, Domitian was named caesar by the praetorians upon the death of his father's rival, Vitellius. In 73 and 80 he held ordinary consulships, but no power under Vespasian or Titus. He succeeded the latter as emperor in 81. Like Augustus, Domitian attempted a renewal of religion and of public morality despite the sensuality of his private life. He built a number of imposing temples. In 83 three Vestal Virgins were executed for having failed to preserve their chastity, and in 90 the Vestalis Maxima Cornelia was buried alive on a similar charge. He checked
theatrical license, prohibited castration, and revived the Lex Scantinia against unnatural vice. Though he took the title of imperator more than 20 times, his military achievements were not significant. Domitian chose good administrators and checked abuses in the administration of justice and the collection of taxes. Until the rebellion of L. Antonius Saturninus in 88 or 89 he ruled with a strong but equitable hand. Afterward, a victim of suspicion, he was ruthless in suppressing opposition. Among the many nobles he sentenced to death were his cousin Flavius Clemens, consul in 95, and M. Acilius Glabrio, consul in 91, on a charge of "atheism," an accusation employed against "many other citizens who had adopted Jewish [probably to be understood as Christian] ways" (Dio Cassius 67.14). Domitian is cited by Christians in antiquity as the author of the second persecution. His insistence upon the cult of the emperors and his title "Lord and God" were bound to bring him into conflict with the Church. St. john mentions martyrdoms in Pergamum and Smyrna (Rv 1.9; 2.9–13), and Pope clement i seems to have died for the faith at this time. In 96, Domitia, the emperor's wife, joined a conspiracy that ended with the emperor's death at the hands of Stephanus, a freedman of Clemens. Domitian's reign marks a definite advance toward the absolutism of the emperors of succeeding centuries.
Bibliography: r. weynard, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 6.2 (Stuttgart 1909) 2541–96. s. gsell, Essai sur le règne de l'empereur Domitien (Paris 1893). m. p. charlesworth, The Cambridge Ancient History (London and New York 1923–39) 11:22–45.
[m. j. costelloe]