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2016-17 E&D 8: Domitian - Rise and Fall of a God

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James Corke-Webster

on 9 February 2017

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Transcript of 2016-17 E&D 8: Domitian - Rise and Fall of a God

last emperor before new dynasty
Nerva involved in assassination?
not just any dynasty... the best
and era of our main sources
Tacitus, Suetonius & Pliny
[not independent]

multiple ways of reading their dislike:
reference point for wider concerns?
libertas [senatus]...
cf. Tiberius (his model? change in administration...)
& note that Suetonius milder...
a necessary prerequisite?
new defined re: old

damnatio memoriae
more "objective"...
- think about actors
Senate - public statements of loyalty
also about individuals' loyalty
death of Titus - suspicious circumstances
succession of Domitian - brief & weak [?]
Titus always been groomed for power
Domitian neglected / unsuitable?
difficult reign
plots -
again, classic tyrannical trope? cf. Claudius
or [legitimate] paranoia?
Sept AD 87AD
AD89 - L. Antonius Saturninus (legate Upper Germany)
AD95 - Flavius Clemens & Domitian's heirs
assassinated 18th Sept AD96 [aged 44]
succession concerns?
legacy as the worst emperor...
evidence of a more positive memory as well
& in reality Nerva & Trajan continue policies!

Domitian: Rise and Fall of a God

The Senate was so overjoyed [with his death] that they met in all haste, and in a full assembly reviled his memory in the most bitter terms
; ordering ladders to be brought in, and his shields and images to be pulled down before their eyes and dashed in pieces upon the floor of the Senate house; passing at the same time
a decree to obliterate his titles everywhere, and abolish all memory of him
Life of Domitian
“Among the many things, gentlemen of the pontifical college, that our ancestors created and established under divine inspiration, nothing is more renowned than their decision to entrust the worship of the gods and the highest interest of the state to the same men – so that
the most eminent and illustrious citizens might ensure the maintenance of religion by the proper administration of the state, and the maintenance of the state by the prudent interpretation of religion
On his House
To the Augustan
: the priestly attendants who on 1 August first took up post: Antigonus, the slave of Marcus Iunius Eros, Anteros, the slave of Marcus Plotius Anteros."

EJ 139 = ILS 3612

“I declined to be made
pontifex maximus
in place of a colleague still living [Marcus Lepidus], when the people offered me
that priesthood which my father had held
. But some years later I accepted the priesthood, on the death of that man who had used the opportunity presented by civil war to seize it for himself; this was in the consulship of Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Valgius [12BC] and such crowds poured in from the whole of Italy for my election as are ever recorded at Rome before.”
Res Gestae

“The he [a barbarian] asked if he could have permission to land in security on our bank, and to look at Caesar. Permission was granted, so he beached his canoe and gazed at Caesar for a long time without speaking.
Then he spoke… ‘I Caesar, by your kind permission, have seen the gods of whom I used once only to hear; nor have I ever hoped for or experienced a happier day in my life
Velleius Paterculus,
History of Rome
“He had a lot to say about the greatness of the gods and about how
the honour should not be handed out to every Tom, Dick and Harry
. ‘There was a time’, he said, ‘when it was a great thing to be made a god; but you have turned it into a Bean Farce’.”
Pumpkinification of Claudius
Coin minted by Augustus (c. 19–18 BC); Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS, laureate head right/Reverse: DIVVS IVLIV[S], with comet (star) of eight rays, tail upward.
Domitia AR Denarius. Rome, AD 82-3. DOMITIA AVGVSTA IMP DOMIT, draped bust right, with hair massed in front and in long plait behind / DIVVS CAESAR IMP DOMITIANI F, Domitian's son as naked infant boy seated on a globe surrounded by seven stars. RIC 153. 3.49g, 19mm, 5h.
"This piece of land, which lies so open to all,
And is covered with marble and gold, witnessed the birth of the infant lord of the world
. Happy land, that resounded with the cries of so illustrious an infant, and saw and
felt his little hands spreading over it
! Here stood the venerable mansion, which gave to the earth that which Rhodes, and pious Crete, gave to the starry heaven. The Curetes protected Jupiter by the rattling of their arms, such as Phrygian eunuchs were able to bear. But you, Caesar, the sire of the Immortals protected, and the thunderbolt and aegis were your spear and buckler.”

The civil war [on AD 89] stirred up by Lucius Antonius [Saturninus], governor of Upper Germany, he dispatched, without being personally present at it
, with wonderful good fortune; for, at the very moment of joining battle, the Rhine suddenly thawing, the troops of the barbarians which were ready to join L. Antonius, were prevented from crossing the river."
Life of Domitian

"In the same consulship on 22 September on the Capitol
because of the detection of the crimes of wicked men
, in the mastership of Gaius Julius Silanus, Gaius Venuleius Apronianus sacrificed on the Capitol one ox."

Acts of the Arval Brothers
Temple of Augustus and Livia, Vienne
"So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster. After he had assumed various surnames (for he was called "Pious," "Child of the Camp," "Father of the Armies," and "Greatest and Best of Caesars"), chancing to overhear some kings, who had come to Rome to pay their respects to him, disputing at dinner about the nobility of their descent, he cried: “Let there be one Lord, one King”. And he came near assuming a crown at once and changing the semblance of a principate into the form of a monarchy. But
on being reminded that he had risen above the elevation both of princes and kings, he began from that time on to lay claim to divine majesty...
Life of Caligula
claim to divinity
classic trope of the tyrant? cf. Caligula
Domitian went further than predecessors?
legitimising tactic?
deify Titus... but other family members too
new Temple of Flavian Gens
about his own [loose] claim to authority?
problem is the personal claim
dominus et deus
[debated frequency]

Sources -

Life of Domitian
Cassius Dio,
Roman History

Agricola did not see the senate-house besieged, or the senate hemmed in by armed men
, or so many of Rome’s noblest ladies exiles and fugitives... Even Nero turned his eyes away, and did not gaze upon the atrocities which he ordered; with Domitian it was the chief part of our miseries to see and to be seen, to know that our sighs were being recorded, to have, ever ready to note the pallid looks of so many faces, that savage countenance reddened with the hue with which he defied shame."
"For he even
insisted upon being regarded as a god and took vast pride in being called "master" and "god
." These titles were used not merely in speech but also in written documents."

Cassius Dio,
Roman History
"Nothing remarkable followed, except perhaps the fact that
I was not brought to trial, as I should have been if Domitian [under whom all this happened] had lived longer.
For among the papers in his desk was found information laid against me by Carus..."

"Away then, with the expressions formerly prompted by fear: I will have none of them.
The sufferings of the past are over: let us have done with the words that belong to them.
An open tribute to our Emperor demands a new form, now that the wording of our private talk has changed."
"To conclude, his last victim was
Flavius Clemens, his german-cousin, who is thought by some to have been a convert to the Christian religion
, a man most contemptible for his slothfulness and negligence, w
hose sons, then of a very tender age, he had openly avowed would be his successors; and, discarding their former names, had ordered one to be called Vespasianus, and the other Domitianus
. Nevertheless, he suddenly killed him, upon a very slender suspicion (of Jewish manners), when he was scarcely out of his consulship."
Life of Domitian

The common report is that he was put out of the way by his brother, for Domitian had previously plotted against him; but some writers state that he died a natural death.
The tradition is that, while he was still breathing and possibly had a chance of recovery, Domitian, in order to hasten his end, placed him in a chest packed with a quantity of snow, pretending that the disease required, perhaps, that a chill be administered. At any rate, he rode off to Rome while Titus was still alive, entered the camp, and received the title and authority of emperor, after giving the soldiers all that his brother had given them. Titus, as he expired, said: “I have made but one mistake”.
Cassius Dio,
Roman History
"After Jerusalem had been captured Titus returned to Italy and
both he and his father celebrated a triumph
, riding in a chariot. Domitian, who was consul, also took part in the celebration, mounted upon a charger."
Dio Cassius 65.12.1a

"He [i.e. Nerva] received the proper honours from you [i.e. Trajan], first the tears which every son should shed, then the temples you raised to him. Others have done the same, but with different intent;
Tiberius deified Augustus, but his purpose was to introduce the charge of high treason
; Nero had done the same for Claudius in a spirit of mockery;
Titus had similarly honoured Vespasian, and Domitian Titus, but only for one to be thought the son and the other the brother of a god
. You gave your father his place among the stars with no thought of terrorizing your subjects, of bringing the gods into disrepute, or of gaining reflected glory, but simply because you thought he was a god."
RIC 190: denarius of Domitian (AD 95). Obverse: bust of Domitian (IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P XV). Reverse: Minerva (IMP XXII COS XVII CENS P P P)
"For he [Nerva] was at once of the
noblest birth and of a most amiable nature
, and
he had furthermore been in peril of his life
as the result of being denounced by astrologers who declared that he should be sovereign. It was this last circumstance that made it easier for them to persuade him to accept the imperial power."
Cassius Dio 67.15.5
"Because of the hatred felt for Domitian,
his images, many of which were of silver and many of god, were melted down
; and from this source large amounts of money were obtained.
The arches, too, of which a very great number were being erected to this one man, were torn down
Cassius Dio 68.1.1
'Then shall two other chief men, cherishing
The memory of their father, great king, rule,
And in contending warriors glory much.
(one) of these shall be a noble man
And lordly, whose name shall three hundred hold;
Yet he shall also fall by treachery,
Not in the warring companies stretched out,
But struck in Rome's plain by the two-edged brass.'

Sibylline Oracles
"At the beginning of his rule he neglected liberal studies, although he provided for having the libraries, which were destroyed by fire, renewed at very great expense, seeking everywhere for copies of the lost works, and sending scribes to Alexandria to transcribe and correct them. Yet he never took any pains to become acquainted with history or poetry, or even to acquiring an ordinarily good style.
He read nothing except the memoirs and transactions of Tiberius Caesar; for his letters, speeches and proclamations he relied on others' talents.
Yet his conversation was not inelegant, and some of his sayings were even noteworthy."

Life of Domitian
"He used to say that the lot of princes was most unhappy, since when they discovered a conspiracy,
no one believed them unless they had been killed

Life of Domitian
"Accordingly they hastened the plot which they already were forming; yet
they did not proceed to carry it out until they had determined who was to succeed
to the imperial office. They discussed the matter with various men, and when none of them would accept it (for all were afraid of them, believing that they were testing their loyalty),
they betook themselves to Nerva

Cassius Dio 67.15.4-5
"The question you raise of free persons who were exposed at birth, but then brought up in slavery by those who rescued them, has often been discussed, but I can find nothing in the records of my predecessors which could have applied to all provinces.
There are, it is true, the letters from Domitian to Avidius Nigrinus and Armenius Brocchus, which ought possibly to give us guidance
, but Bithyniais not one of the provinces covered by his ruling. I am therefore of the opinion that those who wish to claim emancipation on this ground should not be prevented from making a public declaration of their right to freedom, nor should they have to purchase their freedom by refunding the cost of their maintenance."

10.66 [reply of Trajan]
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