Emperor Domitian

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Emperor Domitian
Emperor Domitian

Domitian, the Roman Emperor between 81 and 96, was remembered for peace and stability, but was also under the influence of fear and serious paranoia. Some historians even claim that Emperor Domitian was the most brutal leader of the Roman Empire.

Domitian Becomes Emperor of the Roman Empire

Domitian became the Roman Emperor in the year 81 when Titus died “of natural causes”. Later, rumors began to appear that Titus was poisoned by Domitian who was his younger brother.

Denarius of Domitian

At the beginning of his reign, Domitian, despite all his unpreparedness, exhibited a very good administration, regained Rome’s power which decreased prior to the rise of the Flavian household. As an emperor known to have personal and moral troubles, he forbade men to be castrated, let gay senators into the high ranks, protected Vestal virgins. During this period, he was depicted by those around him as a generous and just ruler who knew how to dominate and cared about those around him.

Emperor Domitian Becomes Paranoid

In the book of Twelve Caesars, Suetonius stated that Domitian was not an evil emperor at first, but became cruel over time, out of greed and fear of assassination.

Temple of Domitian in Ephesus

Emperor Domitian saw himself as an absolute ruler, so that during his reign he changed names of two months into his name and nickname. Germanicus for September and Domitianus for October. Domitian reduced the power of the senate as much as possible during his reign.

His paranoia has forced him to push for extraordinary solutions to this situation. For example by having his walk on a road made of a bright moonstone he could see who was behind him. One thing that needs to be mentioned at this point is that Domitian may have valid reasons for being so paranoid. He once executed 87 senators who were conspiring against him.

Death of Emperor Domitian

Giant Bust of Emperor Domitian
in Ephesus Archeological Museum

After learning that their names are on the emperor’s “list of traitors.”, several consuls started to argue about whether to kill the emperor in the bathroom or while eating. One of the members of the conspirators Stephanus (accused by Domitian of stealing) agreed to cooperate with these nobles. Stephanus acted like his arm was broken and it was under bandage. He actually hid a knife underneath the bandage. Stephanus stabbed Domitian with his hidden knife.

Hearing the news of Domitian’s death, the senate welcomed this news. According to historian Suetonius, the senators ordered the stairs to be brought to the senate after their cries of joy, reaching the portraits of Domitian on the wall and throwing them to the ground. Although almost everyone was happy with Domitian’s death, the Praetor Guards did not take the emperor’s assassination lightly, capturing and murdering almost everyone involved in this assassination act.

Damnatio Memoriae of Domitian

Damnatio Memoriae is the Roman sanction against memory. Any person’s name and legacy was erased from history when they were declared as Damnatio Memoriae.

A Damaged Coin of Domitian After the Damnatio Memoriae of Domitian

Domitian was one of the few people who were given Damnatio Memoriae title. Emperor Domitian was despised in Ephesus as much as he was despised in Rome city.

Ephesus was given a ‘neokoros’ city title by Emperor Domitian which means Ephesus was given the chance to host an emperor temple. Having an emperor temple gave some tax reductions to Ephesians. When Ephesians heard the news they started to erase the name of Domitian out of public buildings, melted the coins with his name and destroyed arches with his name like in all the cities of Roman Empire.

Hasan Gülday

Hasan Gülday. Professional licensed tour guide working in Turkey.

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