[To help mortal men] is the road that Roman leaders have taken, and it is this road that the greatest ruler of all time is treading, at a pace favoured by heaven, along with his offspring, as he brings relief to an exhausted world.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5(7)1
Vespasian: The Challenges of Ruling Rome
Any analysis of Vespasian’s reign is hampered by a tailing-off of the ancient source material. Especially frustrating is the fact that the later books of Tacitus’ Histories are lost, breaking off early in 70. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus found himself in a challenging situation: Rome’s Capitol was in ruins; the Judaean revolt was far from over; there was unrest in other provinces; client kingdoms were rebelling or cutting deals with barbarians who were threatening the frontiers; the victorious armies were undisciplined; renegade soldiers were running amok in the countryside; the Empire’s administration was a shambles, and money was scarce. The situation resembled that which had faced Augustus around one hundred years before, and some kind of post-civil-war restoration of peace and stability was once more paramount.
Factions in the Senate squabbled over precisely who, according to protocol, should deliver their congratulations to Vespasian. Valerius Asiaticus proposed that the delegates be chosen by lot as usual; the ‘stiff-necked republican’2 Stoic philosopher C. Helvidius Priscus, son-in-law of Nero’s victim Thrasea Paetus, wanted the members chosen by magistrates under oath, in the hope that they could exert a pro-Republican/anti-Principate influence. But the majority realized that everything now depended on amicable relations between the Senate and the Princeps, and Priscus was voted down. He made his point by being the only man to greet the Emperor by his private name of Vespasianus.
On his arrival in Rome, Vespasian shored up his position by paying donatives to the troops, installing Titus as Praefectus Praetorio in 72, and securing the title of Princeps Iuventutis (‘Leader of the Youth’) for him and Domitian. Titus dropped the title quite quickly, but Domitian held it throughout Vespasian’s reign in what was a clear dynastic statement: the Flavians were here to stay.
Priscus also clashed with Valerius Asiaticus over whether the Emperor should control the State finances, and again Priscus lost the argument. Vespasian’s challenge was to stimulate growth and to reduce the deficit, which amounted to some four billion sestertii, equivalent to around 500 per cent of the empire’s annual tax receipts.3 Yet despite seeming to have adopted a moderate and commonsensical approach to this, he still received criticism. Suetonius says that the emptiness of both the Treasury (aerarium) and the Privy Purse (fiscus) forced Vespasian into heavy taxation and unethical business dealings, but he does acknowledge that he spent his income effectively, however questionable its sources might have been.4 Vespasian imposed a new tax in Egypt, which led to the Alexandrian mob calling him Cybiosactes after one of their outrageously stingy kings whose name means ‘Dealer-in-square-pieces-of-salt-fish’; his tax on urine (used by fullers) from public latrines, which lead to the receptacles being called vespasiani (they still are in Italy and France), was notorious; and after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 he also levied the fiscus Iudaicus, a new empire-wide tax on all Jews – women, children, the elderly and slaves included – that effectively diverted the half-shekel that they contributed to the Temple of Jerusalem to that of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome.
Other revenue streams included taking over ‘free’ states such as the cities of Achaea liberated by Nero, which allowed Vespasian to acquire the tax receipts that now become due; reducing client kingdoms such as Commagene, which Antiochus IV had held since Caligula’s reign, to provincial status; and assessing the cost-benefit outcome of military conquest and acting accordingly, as was the case in Germany and Britain. There was also a peace dividend as people returned to farm ing, trading and the like, and new coins advertised the fact with the legend ROMA RESURGE(N)S: ‘Rome rising again’.
Vespasian’s expenditure included subsidizing Senators who lacked the necessary property qualifications, restoring numerous cities throughout the empire, and giving state salaries for teachers of Latin and Greek rhetoric. He also built a new stage for the Theatre of Marcellus, hosted opulent state banquets to the benefit of the food industry, and embarked on various largescale building projects in Rome that provided much-needed employment for what he dubbed ‘my little plebs’.5
The first priority was to restore the Capitol. To Helvidius Priscus’ proposal that the work be undertaken at public expense, but that Vespasian should help, the Emperor’s response was to carry the first load of debris away ‘on his own neck’.6 Work also commenced on a Temple to the Deified Claudius, a temple of Pax (Peace), and the iconic (Flavian) Amphitheatre or ‘Hunting Theatre’, known since medieval times as the Colosseum (or Coliseum). In a wonderful stroke of populism on Vespasian’s part, this was constructed on the site of the artificial lake of Nero’s Golden House. According to a specialist in reconstructing ‘ghost’ inscriptions from the pin holes that once held bronze letters, the original building inscription of the amphitheatre read:
Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus ordered this new amphitheatre erected from the spoils of war.7
The war in question was the Jewish war, whose successful conclusion yielded immense amounts of booty.8
If the fabric of Rome needed some tender loving care, so did its ruling elite. So Vespasian
reformed the Senatorial and Equestrian orders, now weakened by frequent murders and continuous neglect, replacing undesirable members with the most eligible Italian and provincial candidates available.9
This moved the ‘provincialization’ of Rome’s elite orders on at quite a pace, and at the same time the Equites assumed a much more significant role in the administration of the Empire at the expense of freedmen. Vespasian still needed the Senate’s administrative skills, but it came to exercise less and less initiative.
The Senate had its champions, of course, notably Helvidius Priscus. But he lost pretty well every confrontation he sought, and was ultimately exiled, possibly because he was advocating Senatorial input into the decision-making about the succession. Vespasian is said once to have rushed tearfully out of the Senate shouting, ‘Either my son will succeed me or nobody else will!’10 Clearly the issue was non-negotiable, and in the end Priscus was killed, albeit possibly contrary to Vespasian’s wishes. The prime suspect was Marcellus Eprius, the prosecutor of Thrasea Paetus and a bitter enemy of Priscus, although in 79 he himself was condemned for treason by Titus and committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. Another victim of this alleged conspiracy was Vitellius’ treacherous ex-general Caecina, killed as he left a banquet attended by Titus, who discovered ‘proof’ of the plot in the form of a speech in Caecina’s handwriting, supposedly to be delivered to the Praetorian Guard. Most likely Titus regarded these men as old, expendable and in the way.
The Challenges of Ruling the Empire
It was not just at Rome that Vespasian faced opposition. From the outset he had to cope with trouble caused by Julius Civilis, a Batavian chieftain who had served in the auxilia and now had Roman citizenship:
He was unusually intelligent for a native, and passed himself off as a second Sertorius or Hannibal, whose facial disfigurement he shared.11
During the Year of the Four Emperors, Civilis had engaged in some vigorous trouble-making, ostensibly on Vespasian’s behalf, using eight Batavian cohorts that had once fought for Vitellius, plus fighters from his own tribe and from others on both banks of the lower Rhine. When the Flavian forces won the Second Battle of Bedriacum, the legionaries who were left in Germany swore allegiance to Vespasian, but Civilis just carried on fighting, but against Roman authority rather than for Vespasian. Some other tribes, notably the Treveri and Lingones, joined his Imperium Galliarum(Empire of the Gauls), and the native auxiliary regiments deserted en masse. Together these insurgents overran all but two of the legionary camps along the Rhine, but that was as far as it went. Gaul was not a nation, and inter tribal rivalries were strong: the Sequani defeated the Lingones; the Mediomatrici, on the borders of the Treveri, stayed loyal; the Remi condemned the rebels; and once Vespasian was confident of his position at Rome, the Roman army surged into the Rhineland. Vespasian’s close relative Petillius Cerialis put a stop to the rebellion, and Tacitus’ Histories break off in mid-sentence with Civilis suing for peace. We do not know what happened to him.
Civilis’ revolt undoubtedly revealed weaknesses along the Rhine frontier. Between the Rhine, Upper Danube and Main Rivers there is a re-entrant angle that made the provinces vulnerable to attack, so Vespasian entrusted the task of annexing this area, called theAgri Decumates (broadly the Black Forest area – see Map 4), to Cn. Pinarius Clemens, who did so in two years of efficient campaigning. The town of Aquae Flaviae (modern Wiesbaden) was founded to function as an administrative centre. All the unrest of the Long Year 69 had also denuded the Danube frontier of troops, and this was exploited by Sarmatian raiders. Their attacks were repelled relatively easily, but Vespasian still moved to consolidate his hold on the region by building roads and reinforcing Rome’s military presence in the Danube provinces.
On Rome’s Eastern frontier, reorganization rather than expansion was the order of the day. Vespasian amalgamated Cappadocia, Lesser Armenia and Galatia into one ‘super-province’; the whole area was provided with a network of military roads; Judaea was converted into an ‘armed’ province by the posting of legionary troops once the bloody war there had been brought to an end;12 and the client kingdoms of Commagene and Transjordan were annexed and assimilated into the province of Syria. Tacitus implies that some of these clients’ only real worth was monetary, but the wealth of the deposed Tiberius Claudius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus of Com magene was deployed in an effective way: he is honoured on his grandson’s funerary monument, which is still a famous feature of the Athenian skyline. Legionary bases were established at the principal crossings of the River Euphrates in a display of military might that kept the peace between Rome and Parthia for quite a while.
On the empire’s southern border, C. Calpetanus Rantius Quirinalis Valerius Festus, legatus of Legio III Augusta, had L. Calpurnius Piso, the Proconsul of Africa, murdered in 70, allegedly to prove his loyalty to Vespasian (he was himself connected by marriage to Vitellius). He then found himself obliged to put down a local conflict in his province between Oea (modern Tripoli), which had called in the Garamantes from the Sahara desert, and Lepcis Magna. Festus expelled the Garamantes and was duly awarded theornamenta triumphalia. Legio III Augusta moved forward to a base at Theveste (modern Tebessa, just west of the modern Tunisian–Algerian border).
Agricola in Britain
In Britain, Vespasian set out to expand Roman-held territory. Since he had campaigned there under Claudius, Roman control had advanced to a line running north-east from Isca (Exeter) to Lindum (Lincoln), along the Fosse Way (see Map 2), and by 67 Nero had felt that the province was secure enough to withdraw Legio XIV Gemina. South of the Fosse Way, Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus (or Togidubnus), a dependent ruler who seems to have supported Roman rule from the very beginning and who was possibly in residence at Fishbourne, evidently worked on Vespasian’s behalf. In 69 Vitellius had appointed Vettius Bolanus as governor, replacing M. Trebellius Maximus. The latter had achieved some much-needed post-Boudiccan consolidation, but had become embroiled in mutinies among the troops and was conducting a running feud with M. Roscius Coelius, commander of Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Anti-Roman elements among the Brigantes took advantage of this:
The leader in this was Venutius, a man of barbarous spirit who hated the Roman power. In addition he had motives of personal hostility against Queen Cartimandua [. . .] Her power had grown when she captured king Caratacus by treachery and handed him over to embellish the triumph of the Emperor Claudius [. . .] Venutius had been her husband. Spurning him, she made his armour-bearer Vellocatus her husband, and her partner in government [. . .] The people of the tribe declared for Venutius [who] summoned his supporters. The Brigantes rallied to him, reducing Cartimandua to the last extremity. She besought Roman protection. Our alae and cohorts fought indecisive battles, but at length rescued the queen from danger. The kingdom went to Venutius; we were left with a war to fight.13
When Vespasian acceded to the purple, he decided to rectify the situation by reducing the whole of Roman Britain to regular Roman rule.
The swashbuckling Petillius Cerialis, the conqueror of Civilis and legatus of Legio IX Hispana during Boudicca’s revolt, was made the new governor of Britain in 71. Bringing Legio II Adiutrix with him, and supported by Tacitus’ father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who replaced Coelius as commander of XX Valeria Victrix, he advanced northwards, established IX Hispana at Eboracum (York), smashed the power of the Brigantes and was rewarded with a consulship in 74. His capable successor, Sextus Julius Frontinus, turned his attention to Wales, overrunning the south and preparing for the invasion of the north by establishing a legionary base at Deva (Chester). Towards the end of Vespasian’s reign, Agricola subdued north Wales and completed the conquest of the island of Mona, before pushing beyond the Brigantes into Scotland. As Tacitus put it:
But when Vespasian [. . .] restored stable government to Britain, there came a succession of great generals and splendid armies, and the hopes of our enemies dwindled.14
Vespasian’s Death and Deification
Vespasian appears to have stayed in Rome from July 70 onwards, and to have died rather unexpectedly on the night of 23–4 June 79 at the age of sixty-nine. He started to suffer some intestinal problems, and in the spa of Aquae Cutiliae near to Reate he suffered a particularly virulent bout of diarrhoea. With the famous last words, ‘An emperor ought to die standing’, he did so as he struggled to his feet.15 His other near-death quip, ‘Oh no! I think I’m becoming a god,’16 had an element of truth to it, since he was indeed hailed as divus. Titus may have delayed this a little, but as Pliny the Younger remarked,17 it was the interests of the heir that motivated the deification: the Flavians were plebeian, and so needed prestige from whatever source they could get it. In fact, numerous parties benefited from ruler cult: the Emperor who was offered the tribute; the initiator(s) of the cult, who could advertise their homage; the individual who proposed and perhaps paid for the buildings, ceremonies and games that made up the cult; and the people who benefited from new facilities. To that end, construction began of a Corinthian temple in Vespasian’s honour, which still stands ruined in the Roman Forum.
Vespasian himself was interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus, with whom he can be justifiably compared: he had ended the civil wars that had brought him to power; he had ruled moderately and conscientiously; he was sensitive to the soldiers’ interests; he had surrounded himself with (mostly) able advisers; and had ultimately brought peace to a rebuilt Empire. Everything was back to normal:
Think, by way of illustration, on the times of Vespasian, and thou shalt see all these things: mankind marrying, rearing children, sickening, dying, warring, making holiday, trafficking, tilling, flattering others, vaunting themselves, scheming, praying for the death of others, murmuring at their own lot, hoarding, coveting a consulate, coveting a kingdom.18
Titus’ Back-Story: The First Jewish Revolt (‘The Great Revolt’)
There was never any doubt that Titus’ transition to power would be seamless. Rather like Tiberius had been towards the end of Augustus’ life, Titus was Vespasian’s ‘partner in the Empire’, and he was acknowledged as Princeps by the Senate, assuming the titles of Augustus, and, by September, Pater Patriae. On his accession he was in his late thirties, highly experienced in military and administrative matters, and had two ex-wives. Arrecina Tertulla had died soon after their wedding, and his union with Marcia Fur nilla had been dissolved when her family got on the wrong side of Nero. Titus had a daughter named Flavia Julia, but from which marriage it is not clear.
From 66 to 70 Titus had been at the sharp end of the revolt in Judaea, where the whole situation had exposed a number of problems with Rome’s imperialism for both rulers and subjects. The Jews accommodated the divine Roman Emperor by sacrificing twice a day to both him and the Roman people, and back in Tiberius’ reign Jesus had advocated consensus by telling the Pharisees to ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’,19 effectively acknowledg ing that taxes paid both to Rome and to the Jewish Temple could exist side by side. On the other side, John the Baptist told Roman soldiers, ‘Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.’20 However, it was not simply a case of Romans versus Jews: many tax-gatherers in Judaea came from a Jewish elite that did very well out of the Roman Empire, making taxation a real bone of contention within Jewish society.
When Roman forces moved into Judaea in 67, they laid siege to Jotapata (Yodfat) in Galilee. It was brutal. Vespasian himself was wounded, and horrendous injuries were inflicted on the defenders by the Roman catapults. One man’s
head was knocked clean off by a stone, and his skull was thrown for over half a kilometre. In the day time as well, a pregnant woman who had just come out of her house had her stomach struck so violently that the foetus was ripped out to about a hundred metres away. Such was the power of the stone-thrower.21
As Titus led the final assault, the Jewish commander, Joseph ben Mattathias, hid in a cave with forty other rebels. They made a suicide pact. On Joseph’s suggestion they drew lots for each man to kill the one next to him. Joseph made it through to the final two, persuaded his companion to surrender and prophesied Vespasian’s elevation to the purple. Having been spared, he defected to Rome and was henceforth known as Flavius Josephus.22
Titus was bearing down on Jerusalem when the news broke that Nero had committed suicide. Military activity in Judaea was suspended, and Vespasian sent Titus to greet the new Emperor Galba. Events conspired to prevent him making it to Rome, though, and while the Year of the Four Emperors took its course, Titus returned to Judaea to assume the supreme command there and in Syria. Jerusalem became the focus of operations once again.
The siege of Jerusalem began in the spring of 70 and took 140 days. With two pro -Roman Jews, Vespasian’s early backer Ti. Julius Alexander, and Flavius Josephus on Titus’ staff, the Romans followed their best military practice and deployed Legiones VMacedonica, XII Fulminata, XVApollinaris and X Fretensis to make terraces, ramps, towers and battering rams and smash through the city’s fortifications. Titus breached the walls of the New City, completed the circumvallation of the Inner City, inflicted starvation on the defenders, and stormed the outer Temple court. Amidst utter carnage, the Temple was burned to the ground – something that friendly sources like Josephus assert that Titus tried to avoid, and more hostile ones see as a deliberate policy decision.23
Overall, it had been ‘job done’ with typical Roman efficiency. Coinage celebrated IUDAEA CAPTA and the Temple’s treasures were displayed in the triumph that Titus and Vespasian celebrated in 71. The golden menorah, silver trumpets and the table for the showbread are still visible carved in relief on the Arch of Titus at Rome. The last remnants of the resistance were mopped up in spring of 74 when the new governor of Judaea, L. Flavius Silva, with Legio X Fretensis and assorted auxiliaries, took the seemingly impregnable fortress of Masada, held by Eleazar ben Yair and a group of extremists often called Zealots but better termed Sicarii after their characteristic curved flickknives. Silva enclosed Masada’s steep-sided rocky hill with a line of circumvallation and constructed a quite astonishing siege ramp up which a tower with a massive battering ram was deployed. Josephus records that the Sicarii killed their families and then themselves rather than surrender. Of the 960 defenders the only survivors were two women and five children.
Following the war in Judaea, Titus enjoyed an illicit romantic interlude in the already complex love life of the Jewish princess Berenice of Cilicia, the sister and, some said, lover of M. Julius Agrippa II, great-grandson of Herod the Great and client king of Chalcis, north-east of Judaea. In Juvenal’s Satires, a lady called Bibula goes on a shopping spree that includes
a famous diamond ring – once flaunted
by Berenice, which adds to its price: a gift from her brother,
that barbarous prince Agrippa, a token of their incest,
in the land where monarchs observe the Sabbath barefoot,
and tradition leaves pigs to attain ripe old age.24
But to the Romans Berenice looked rather too much like another Cleopatra VII, and although she went to Rome in 75, her relationship with Titus had to end (with mutual sorrow) when he became Emperor.
Titus’ love life, along with the supposed servile origin of his mother, his alleged heavy-handedness as Praefectus Praetorio, lurid rumours of late-night revels, male prostitutes and eunuchs, and even a story mentioned by the Emperor Hadrian that he poisoned his father, made people fear that Titus might turn out to be Nero II. But he seems to have been sensitive to these worries, and he managed to transform himself into ‘the delight and darling of the human race’,25 the man who once bemoaned the fact that he had not done anyone a favour since the previous evening with the words, ‘My friends, I have wasted a day.’26
Titus’ new persona was put to the test by a huge humanitarian disaster that struck only months into his reign:
Mount Vesuvius burst open at its summit, and so much fire spurted forth that it consumed the surrounding countryside together with the towns.27
The towns in question were Pompeii and Herculaneum, along with a number of other settlements and some seaside villas owned by affluent Romans. The circumstances of their destruction and subsequent preservation now provide us with invaluable information about Roman social, economic, religious and political life: bakeries still contain loaves of bread in their ovens; fulleries (processing and cleaning plants for wool) shed light on one of the area’s key industries; factories for garum (fish sauce – which even has a kosher variety) were equally pungent and lucrative; wine and take-away food shops sustained the workforce; we hear of bankers and bath attendants, chickenkeepers and cloak-sellers, felt-workers and furnace stokers; cesspits and their contents allow us to get ‘up close and personal’ with the Roman world; a brothel displays explicitly adventurous erotic frescoes; the enormous virtuoso ‘Alexander mosaic’ shows Alexander the Great charging into the fray to defeat Darius III;28 on the frieze from the Villa of the Mysteries a series of stupendously rendered life-size figures (megalographia is the technical term for this) perform enigmatic rituals that involve a ‘female Pan’ suckling a goat, a kneeling woman unveiling a phallus, and a half-naked winged female demon in high boots flagellating a young woman while a naked woman dances on tiptoes with castanets;29 the opulent Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum had an extraordinary collection of over 1 000 rolls of carbonized papyrus, which, with great ingenuity, are currently being deciphered, edited and translated; and a recent TV programme claims that ‘the skeletons of a pair of twins show what were almost certainly30 the signs of congenital syphilis’, supposedly putting paid to the idea that the disease was brought to Europe from the New World by Christopher Columbus, although we might object that there is no peer-reviewed publication to explain how related bacteria were ruled out, and that it’s extremely difficult to differentiate between syphilis and closely related non-venereal diseases like yaws, which is found all around the Mediterranean and is common in children.
The archaeology of the cities of Vesuvius is noisy. Inscriptions harangue us from public buildings:
Gaius Quinctius Valgus, son of Gaius, and Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, quinquennial duumviri, for the honour of the colony, saw to the construc tion of the amphitheatre at their own expense and gave the area to the colonists in perpetuity.31
Programmata, ‘posters’ painted on walls, tell you whom to vote for and why:
I beg you to elect Gaius Julius Polybius aedilis. He brings good bread.32
All the after-hours drinkers ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedilis. Florus and Fructus wrote this.33
There is scurrilous filth above the beds in the brothel:
Scordopordonicus (= ‘Mr. Garlic-farter’) fucked whoever he wanted here in good style.34
I came, I fucked, I went home.35
A witty fuller parodies Virgil:
Fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque
I sing of fullers and an owl, not of arms and the man.36
There are announcements for shows:
At the dedication *Poly(bius?)* of the games of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius [. . .] There will be a hunt, athletes, sprinklings, awnings. Good fortune to Maius, leader of the colony.37
‘Stats’ from gladiatorial combats show us who won, when, how often, and what happened to the losers:
Games [. . .] on the 12, 13, 14, 15 May
Thracian versus murmillo:
Won.Pugnax, Neronian, fought 3.
Killed.Murranus, Neronian, fought 3.
Heavily armed fighter versus Thracian:
Won.Cycnus, Julian, fought 9.
Reprieved. Atticus, Julian, fought 14.38
A celebrity Thracian gladiator called Celadus boasts of his big female fan-base:
He makes the girls sigh.39
Glory of the girls.40
Teachers give their ‘learning outcomes’:
Whoever has paid me the fee for teaching, let him have what he seeks from the gods.41
People insult one another:
Equitias’ slave Cosimus is a big queer and a cocksucker with his legs wide open.42
Market days are listed:
In the consulship of Nero Caesar Augustus and Cossus Lentulus, son of Cossus [i.e., 60], 8 days before the Ides of February [i.e., 6 February], Sunday, 16 (day of the new) moon, market at Cumae, 5 (days before the Ides of February), market at Pompeii.43
Traders advertise themselves:
Marcus Vecilius Verecundus, draper.44
Amorous invitations are made:
My life, my delight, let us play this game for a while: this bed be a field and I your steed.45
Some verses urge a drunken mule driver to
Take me to Pompeii, where my sweet love lives.46
And Gaius Pumpidius Dipilus woz ’ere:
Gaius Pumpidius Dipilus was here, five days before the nones of October when Marcus Lepidus and Quintus Catulus were consuls [i.e., 2 October 72 BCE].47
In fact, all human life was there. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, it was wiped out.
We have an incredibly vivid eyewitness account from two letters written to Tacitus by the Younger Pliny, a Roman administrator and poet whose uncle, Pliny the Elder, was the commander of the naval base at Misenum on the Bay of Naples. Most conventional accounts date the eruption to IXKal. Septembris, i.e., 24 August 79, although there is now some doubt about this. Pliny’s text may have been corrupted, and could possibly read III Kal. Novembris, Kal. Novembris or IX Kal. Decembris (30 October, 1 November or 23 November respectively); the victims were largely wearing heavy woollen garments; quantities of autumnal fruits have been found; and a coin of Titus discovered in the House of Gold Bracelet bears the legend TR P VIIII IMP XV COS VII PP = ‘with Tribunician power for the ninth time [conferred on 1 July], acclaimed Imperator for the fifteenth time [epigraphic sources suggest that this honour could not have been granted before 8 September], Consul for the seventh time [securely dating the coin to 79], Father of his Country’.
Yet if the date remains unclear, the unfolding of the tragedy is not. It started with a minor explosion of steam (the ‘phreatomagmatic opening phase’). Then around noon a huge column of hot gas and pumice erupted from the volcano, rising to a height of 15 to 30 kilometres. This phase of explosive volcanic eruptions is now called the ‘Plinian phase’ after the way Pliny described it:
Its general appear ance can best be expressed as being like [an umbrella] pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches.48
He tells of hot, thick ash falling, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames. This material fell on Pompeii at the rate of 15 cm per hour for around the next eighteen hours. There was a threat that people would get trapped in their houses by falling debris, and outdoors people tied pillows over their heads to protect themselves. During the night, broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed on Mount Vesuvius, made all the more frightening by severe earth tremors.
By around dawn, Pompeii was covered to a depth of more than 3 metres. Three hundred and ninety-four bodies have been recovered from the pumice layers, 88 per cent of them in buildings, where walls and roofs had collapsed.49 Herculaneum, which was not downwind of the eruption, received less pumice (20 cm or so) at this stage. Pliny says that there was darkness, blacker and denser than any ordinary night, which they re lieved by lighting torches and lamps. Tsunamis struck the coast:
We also saw the sea sucked away and apparently forced back by the earthquake: at any rate it receded from the shore so that quantities of sea creatures were left stranded on dry sand.50
There was panic, but despite the falling material those who fled into the open air had the greater chance of survival at this stage. However, this changed around daybreak as the eruption column began to collapse, and the first of six pyroclastic density currents (‘PDCs’, also known as nuées ardentes), avalanches of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments and volcanic gas, hurtled down the sides of the volcano at speeds of 100 kilometres per hour or more:
The cloud sank down to earth and covered the sea; it had already blotted out Capri and hidden the promontory of Misenum from sight [. . .] I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood [. . .] Darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.51
No one in their path stood a chance. At Herculaneum, which was overwhelmed to a depth of 3 metres by searing hot ash, more than 300 victims sheltering in the arcades by the sea met a swift but agonizing end: a woman swept off a terrace 20 metres above; a soldier knocked face down by the force of the blast, his fingers scrabbling at the sand; a small horse; a lady wearing jewel-encrusted gold rings, golden bracelets and earrings; a seven-month-old baby in the arms of a fourteen-year-old girl; and a 10-metre-long Roman boat thrown keel-up on the beach, with its helmsman nearby, clutching an oar. An hour or so later, a second PDC hit Herculaneum, depositing another 1.5 metres of ash, tearing down walls, columns and statues. In the end, Herculaneum was buried to depth of 15 to 18 metres in what used to be thought was boiling mud, but which is in fact ignimbrite: the gas trapped in the deposit of pyroclastic flows escapes and the ash gets welded together because of the heat, forming a solid, hard rock.
The third PDC reached the nearest gate of Pompeii at about 6.30 a.m. At around 7.30 a.m. a fourth surge overwhelmed the interior of the town, killing many of the surviving residents, 650 of whose remains have been discovered, mainly by asphyxiation, but also by thermal shock or physical trauma caused by the force of the eruption. About half the people were indoors at the time, and the majority of them were in groups rather than on their own. In the Giornale di Napoli for 12 February 1863, Giuseppe Fiorelli, then director of the excavations at Pompeii, wrote:
On the third of this month [. . .] at the height of five meters above the soil52 [. . .] we came to a place where the earth gave way under the trowel, revealing a hollow cavity deep enough to reach in at arm’s length and remove some bones. I re alized immediately that this was the impression of a human body, and I thought that by quickly pouring in scagliola, the cast of an entire per son would be obtained. The result surpassed my every expectation.53
Fiorelli talked of the ‘very bodies of the ancients, stolen from death [rapiti alla morte], after eighteen centuries of oblivion’, and another letter by Luigi Settembrini, entitled ‘The Pompeians’, published in the same newspaper five days later, put it perfectly:
But now you, my friend Fiorelli, have discovered human pain, and whoever is human can feel it.54
Guidebooks glibly tell you that Pompeii is a ‘city frozen in time’, which gives us ‘a complete snapshot of Roman everyday life’. It does nothing of the sort. It gives you an enlarged picture of pure, unmitigated horror. There is a group with the family silver; a slave hampered by the iron bands around his ankles; a pregnant late-teenage girl with her unborn child still in her womb, and her arthritic elderly relatives; a guard-dog chained to the entrance of its owner’s house; eighteen adults and boys in the lavatory of the great gymnasium; and a rich lady taking refuge in the gladiatorial barracks. It is often (wrongly) said that this lady was conducting a sordid affair with a hunky gladiator, but if she was it was probably even more interesting than that interpretation implies: her body was found with seventeen other people and a dog. All these casualties shared a similar fate to Pliny’s asthmatic uncle, who collapsed amid the flames and smell of sulphur, choked by the dense fumes as he rushed from Misenum to help the stricken population and to get a view of the volcanic phenomena.
Two more surges hit Pompeii in quick succession, killing anyone who may have survived thus far, and adding another 60 to 180 cm of debris. The volcanic activity probably lasted for several more days, or indeed weeks, leaving the town buried to a depth of 6 to 7 metres. Precisely what proportion of the inhabitants died is hard to tell, although recent estimates lean towards approximately 2 000 at Pompeii. Young males are underrepresented among the dead, so it may be that they simply ran for it as soon as the eruption started. Specific named victims include Agrippa, the son of a Jewish princess called Drusilla who was the daughter of Agrippa I, and Antonius Felix, Claudius’ procurator of Judaea. Another incredibly moving set of documents is the Epigraphic Alba from Herculaneum. These marble slabs, dateable to the last decade of the city’s life, contain lists of 450 legible names of residents of Herculaneum, many of whom must have perished.55
Titus, however, made disaster relief a priority:
He conveyed not only [. . .] a series of comforting edicts but [helped] the victims to the utmost extent of his purse. He set up a board of ex-Consuls, chosen by lot, to relieve distress in Campania, and devoted the property of those who had died in the eruption and left no heirs to a fund for rebuilding the stricken cities.56
But, although the region as a whole recovered reasonably quickly, the cities were not rebuilt.
Further problems occurred the next year, in the form of a bad fire in Rome, which destroyed temples, public buildings and thousands of dwellings, and a virulent outbreak of plague. But Titus’ humanitarian efforts bolstered his popularity, and he acquired a reputation for generosity, notwithstanding Dio’s less than gushing assessment that, ‘in financial matters, Titus was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditure’.57
The ‘Sacred Pornography of Cruelty’: The Colosseum/Coliseum
Whether or not the completion of a 50 000-capacity gladiatorial arena can be classified under ‘frugality’ and/or ‘necessary expenditure’, the Colosseum project was finally inaugurated in 80, a decade after Vespasian had started the process. Its name comes partly from its size, but also perhaps from a statue of Nero (the ‘Colossus’) that stood close by. The cost was immense, but so was the booty from the Jewish War, and even though it was still not quite finished, Titus staged a hundred-day festival at venues across the entire city of Rome.
The poet Martial’s Book of the Shows, written to commemorate the Amphitheatre’s inauguration, begins with a gruesomely pornographic re-enactment of the mythological tale of Pasiphae and the Cretan bull:58
Believe that Pasiphae was mated to the Dictean bull; we have seen it, the old legend has won credence. And let not hoary antiquity plume itself, Caesar: whatever Fame sings of, the arena affords you.59
There were gladiators, although only one contest is described – the only one, in fact, to be described in any surviving ancient source:
As Priscus [‘Ancient’] and Verus [‘True’] each drew out the contest and the struggle between the pair long stood equal, shouts loud and often sought discharge for the combatants. But Caesar obeyed his own law (the law was that the bout go on without shield until a finger be raised [as a sign of submission]) [. . .] But an end to the even strife was found: equal they fought, equal they yielded. To both Caesar sent wooden swords [symbolizing discharge from the obligation to fight again] and to both palms. Thus valour and skill had their reward.60
There were fights featuring elephants, a rhino, bulls, lions and tigresses, and women, albeit not ones ‘of social distinction’, were involved in wild beast hunts. Suetonius says that 5 000 animals were killed on the first day alone, and Dio puts the grand total at 9 000.61 There is controversy over whether the arena was flooded as part of the shows. Dio states that
Titus [. . .] filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians.62
Suetonius implies otherwise:
Titus staged a sea-fight on the old artificial lake, and when the water had been let out, used the basin for further gladiatorial contests and wild beast hunts.63
The substructures that now comprise the basement area of the Colosseum would not have allowed flooding to take place, but the first versions of these are thought to be of post-Titan date, and the pro-/anti-flooding debate, which covers the questions of venue, sight lines, water supply, drainage, etc., has been vitriolic since the nineteenth century.
Mark Twain regarded the Colosseum as ‘the monarch of all European ruins’.64 Its elliptical outer ring is almost 50 metres high; the long axis is 188 metres and the shorter one 156 metres. The travertine outer facade is divided into four tiers and embellished with ‘applied’ (i.e., purely decorative) Tuscan columns on the lower level, Ionic on the second, and Corinthian on the third. The fourth tier is divided by Corinthian pilasters into sections where square windows are positioned at regular intervals. Above the windows is a set of corbels used to hold the masts which supported a great awning (velarium) that provided shade for the spec tators, who took their seats via the seventy-six numbered arches on the ground floor. The four arches on the main axes were not numbered, and it is usually assumed (on practically zero evidence) that these were allocated to the gladiators, authorities and the imperial entourage, although the ‘royal box’ on the south side, which can also be accessed from outside the building via an underground passageway, could have been reserved for the Emperor.
Admission was probably free, but the seats were carefully segregated on the basis of civic status – seeing and being seen were a crucial part of the experience – and every amphiteatregoer doubtless had a ‘ticket’ specifying the entrance archway, maenianum(block/level) and row of the seat. The ‘ringside’ area (the ima cavea), which had good-quality stone seats, was allocated to various VIP groups of magistrates, colleges of priests and foreign diplomats, with a special seating area, the subsellia, set aside for Senators and their families. ‘Health and Safety’ considerations meant that they were well protected from activities in the arena below. The second sector (maenianum primum) had marble seats reserved for Equestrians. The plebs took up the third (maenianum secundum imum) and the fourth sectors (mae nianum secundum summum), whilst the fifth (maenianum summum in ligneis), which comprised a series of wooden steps crowned with a colonnaded portico, was set aside for slaves, non-citizens and women, effectively ensuring that no woman with any social pretensions would go there.
The performers are usually said to have entered the arena through gates on the long axis, called in modern guidebooks, but not by ancient Romans, the Porta Triumphalis (west, for the living) and the Porta Libitinaria (east, for the verifiably dead). As its name suggests, the arena (Latin harena = ‘sand’) was a sandy surface, and it stood on wooden staging above a complex of underground rooms and passages called the hypogeum, which was completed by Domitian. The hypogeum contained rooms for storing scenery and props, dressing rooms, and alternative ways into the arena for the gladiators, wild beasts and auxiliary staff, such as lifts that could bring the performers up into the arena to good dramatic effect. Tunnels led into the hypogeum from outside the amphitheatre: the passage on the central axis went to the barracks of the gladiators (the Ludus Magnus). Various ancillary facilities in the neighbourhood included the Sanitarium where wounded gladiators were treated, the Spoliarium, where dead gladiators were taken, theArmamentarium (armoury), and the Summum Choragium where props and staging equipment were stored.
These days a large cross, erected originally by Mussolini’s Fascist regime, stands on the north side; outside, on the east wall, is a Latin inscription installed by Pope Benedict XIV in 1750:
The Flavian amphitheatre, famous for its triumphs and spectacles, dedicated to the gods of the pagans in their impious cult, redeemed by the blood of the martyrs from foul superstition.
Yet, despite various Christian accounts dating from the fifth century or later that may indicate otherwise, there is no watertight evidence for any Christian ever being martyred for their faith in the Colosseum. They may have been (many were martyred ‘in Rome’), but it was in the interests of later Christians to assert that they were: ‘“Martyr Acts” [. . .] acted as a kind of sacred pornography of cruelty, tying the Christian message to gruesome and gory deaths at the hand of the Roman authorities.’65
Domitian Comes to Power
Titus remained popular during his short reign, but in the summer of 81 he fell ill, and on 3 September he died in the same villa as Vespasian had done. He was forty-two. The mourning was deep and the conspiracy theories plentiful: had Domitian ordered him to be left for dead when he was ill? Had Domitian placed him in a chest packed with snow in order to bring on a chill? Had Domitian poisoned him? Or had Titus just rashly used the baths when he was poorly?66 We don’t know. But fratricide or not, Domitian delivered the funeral eulogy, had Titus deified, and completed the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. Apparently, Titus had one last unspecified regret: Dio wonders whether this was to do with not taking his brother’s wife, or his life.67 He also suggests that, like certain rock stars of today, Titus’ reputation benefited from an early death.
The twenty-nine-year-old person who now emerged from his elder brother’s shadow was tall, cultivated a self-consciously modest expression and had large, dimly sighted eyes. He was good-looking in his younger years, although he rather went to seed later on and wrote a book, On Haircare, in response to going bald. He was reputedly idle and lustful: his ‘sexercise’ consisted of what he called ‘bed-wrestling’; he personally depilated his concubines; and he swam with the most vulgar whores. Or so says Suetonius.68Domitian was also a solitary individual, spending an hour a day catching flies and stabbing them with a sharp stylus. His would not be an easy Principate.
Domitian’s conjugal choices are illuminating (see Genealogy Table 2). Titus’ daughter (Domitian’s niece) Flavia Julia had been offered to him as a bride, but he had spurned her in favour of Domitia Lon gina, daughter of Nero’s star general Corbulo. This was not a bad choice, and it gave Domitian some military credibility by association, but it was also a stormy relationship: their only child died in infancy and Domitian exiled her around 83–4 for adultery with a pantomime actor called Paris. He revisited the idea of marrying Flavia Julia, but recalled Domitia Longina to Rome, where she lived with him until his death, in which she possibly had a hand.69 Flavia Julia is said to have died when Domitian forced her to have an abortion in the late 80s.
Once he had been hailed as Emperor by the Praetorian Guard, and the Senate had formally ratified their choice, Domitian had all that he needed to rule: imperium, the title Augustus, tribunician power, the office of Pontifex Maximus and the designation Pater Patriae. The first item on his ‘to do list’ was to acquire military credentials.
Domitian’s Military Campaigns
Ultimately, Domitian would be acclaimed Imperator twenty-two times, and one man who would contribute to that tally was on his third tour of duty in Britain, of which he was the governor: Cn. Julius Agricola. Agricola’s daughter was married to Tacitus, said to be probably a better biographer than Agricola was a general, and whose Agricola gives us excellent, if rather panegyrical, insights into the campaigns. Vespasian had appointed Agricola in 77 or 78, and after quashing a rebellion by the Ordovices in Wales, sending his auxiliary cavalry swimming across the Menai Straits to capture Mona, mopping up pockets of resistance among the Brigantes left over from Cerialis’ governorship,70 and advancing to the River Tay, he consolidated the Forth–Clyde line, which Titus (then Emperor) may have envisaged as the limit of Roman expansion (see Map 2). Under Domitian, Agricola became uneasy about a possible uprising by the northern tribes, so he moved beyond the Forth–Clyde line into the territory of the Caledones, whereupon they retaliated by attacking Roman installations ‘without provocation’,71 and thus gave him his casus belli.
The first campaign saw Legio IX Hispana’s camp attacked by night, and only narrowly saved by XX Valeria Victrix, but the following year Agricola confronted the Caledones at the battle of Mons Graupius in 83 or 84. Despite being urged on by Calgacus’ immortal denunciation of Roman imperialism, ‘where they make a desert they call it peace’,72 the natives were easily beaten. Agricola’s legions didn’t even have to engage, as his auxiliaries inflicted 10 000 casualties.
The Battle of Mons Graupius marked the end of Roman expansion in Britain for a while. Agricola was recalled, and although Tacitus states that ‘Britain was totally subdued and immediately abandoned’,73 because of Domitian’s jealousy of Agricola’s success, the reality was that troops were urgently needed in central Europe: a vexillation of Legio II Adiutrix was transferred to the Danube front in 85, and the rest of the legion followed shortly afterwards; all the territory beyond the Forth was given up; and the British garrison was permanently reduced to three legions, II Augusta, IXHispana and XX Valeria Victrix.
One of Domitian’s military problems was a war against the Chatti that had broken out along the middle sector of the Rhine frontier in 82 or 83. He took the field against them personally, smashed their power, expanded the area of Roman control in the Wetterau and established a permanent boundary there as well as along the eastern edge of the Decumates Agri, and celebrated a triumph in the summer of 83 (even though the war dragged on for a few more years).
Domitian was generally popular with his soldiers, not least because he increased their pay by one-third (the first rise since Augustus), and he would need their loyalty to deal with a serious threat on the Danube (see Map 4). Led by Decebalus, the Dacians, who occupied modern Romania, had invaded Roman territory in 85 and killed Oppius Sabinus, the governor of Moesia. Domitian’s punitive response, led by the Praefectus Praetorio Cornelius Fuscus, was successful enough for Domitian to celebrate a triumph in 86. But Fuscus then got himself killed in further fighting and Domitian had to return to the region, where Tettius Julianus, the new governor of Upper Moesia, defeated the Dacians in (probably) 88.
Domitian’s problems just wouldn’t go away. In January 89, L. Antonius Saturninus, who commanded the legions of Germania Superior, mutinied. Fortunately for the Emperor, the Rhine thawed just in time to prevent Saturninus’ barbarian allies from crossing the ice to join him. Saturninus was killed in battle, the putsch was duly suppressed, and to discover any conspirators who were in hiding Domitian tortured his captives by applying fire to their private parts, although two men avoided death by claiming that they wereimpudici (played the receptive role in sex), and therefore too effeminate to be guilty.
With the region now more stable, he converted the military districts of Germania Superior and Inferior into regular provinces and redeployed some of the Rhine troops to the Danube. He also made a deal with Decebalus whereby the Dacian would become a nominal client king and protect the lower Danube in return for subsidies. This allowed the Romans to attack the Marcomanni (‘Border Men’) and Quadi. The source material is poor for this, but it seems that Domitian was back on the Danube in 92 to take on the Suevi (also spelled Suebi) and the Sarmatians in a campaign that took about eight months, and saw the destruction of a Roman legion. By January 93, Domitian had returned to Rome, but only to celebrate an ovatio rather than a triumph. The Danube had clearly become the Empire’s crucial frontier area, needing nine legions as opposed to the Rhine’s six.
Domitian’s Domestic Policies
On the home front Domitian was one of Rome’s greatest builders. The fire in Titus’ reign had left the city in need of a facelift, and Domitian stepped up to the plate by building, restoring or finishing around fifty projects, including: the fourth incarnation of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which used at least 12 000 talents of gold to gild the bronze roof tiles; the finishing touches to the Colosseum; the Ludus Magnus, Rome’s largest gladiator barracks, complete with its own mini-amphitheatre; and the ‘awesome and vast’74 Domus Flavia (the official part of the imperial palace) and Domus Augustana (Domitian’s opulent private residence) on the Palatine. He also had a massive Villa at Alba, his ‘Alban fortress’,75 just outside Rome, and he initiated infrastructure and defence projects on an Empire-wide basis.
From 86 onwards he celebrated the lavish Capitoline Games, with contestants coming from all over the Empire to compete in chariot racing, athletics, gymnastics, music, oratory and poetry. He also presented elaborate and often bizarre spectacles: nighttime gladiatorial contests; dwarves versus women; food showered on the public from ropes stretched across the top of the Amphitheatre; all-night banquets for the people.
All this was expensive, but Domitian handled the economy firmly and deftly. Soon after he became Princeps, he raised the silver content of the denarius by about 12 per cent, and, although he had to devalue it in 85 as military and public expenses caught up with him, he was still able to keep the currency standard at a higher level than in Vespasian’s day. He tried to promote grain production by banning the planting of new vines in Italy and ordering the destruction of all or some vineyards in the provinces, but backed down in the face of strong opposition. In the end, though, he left the treasury in surplus.
Domitian was also rigorous in administering justice, and tough on corruption:
He took such care to exercise restraint over the city officials and the governors of the provinces that at no time were they more honest or just.76
He was also big on public order and morality. Three Vestal Virgins were executed for unchastity in 83, and in 91 Cornelia, the chief Vestal, suffered the archaic punishment of being buried alive.
Overall his policies seem to have had a positive effect on the welfare of the Empire, and while he was alive writers like Statius and Martial had nothing but praise for him. But anyone who liked to style himself ‘Our Lord and God’, allowed only gold or silver statues of himself above a certain weight to be erected on the Capitol, and renamed September ‘Germanicus’ and October ‘Domitianus’ after himself and his triumphs was inevitably going to clash with the Senate. Late in 85 he conferred on himself the unprecedented office of Censor Perpetuus, Censor for life.77 This not only allowed him the supervision of public morality, but also empowered him overtly to determine who might, or might not, be a Senator. This was utterly odious to the nobility, as was the fact that he used Equites more than any previous Emperor and often favoured non-Italians, especially Easterners, for senior appointments.
Further disrespecting the Senate’s dignity, he relied heavily upon his amici (‘friends’) in the Consilium Principis (Privy Council) for policy making, a system ridiculed by Juvenal in a satirical poem about how to cook an enormous turbot:
But alas, no big enough dish could be found for the fish. A summons went out to the Privy Council, each of whom quailed beneath the Emperor’s hatred, whose drawn, white faces reflected that great and perilous ‘friendship’.78
They were probably right to be afraid: Domitian executed at least eleven Senators of Consular rank and exiled many others. This was not as bad a record as Claudius’, but Domitian’s attitude counted for much, and the Senate gained some measure of revenge via the literary tradition that subsequently excoriated him.
There is vilification of Domitian from another quarter too. On the basis of scant and ambivalent evidence, Domitian is often portrayed as a persecutor of Christians on a par with Nero. Jews certainly felt the impact of his extension of the fiscus Iudaicus, which came to include not only those who were born Jewish or had converted to Judaism, but also people who kept the fact that they were Jews a secret, or lived as Jews without professing Judaism. Suetonius was an eyewitness to this process in action:
I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised.79
Domitian’s cousin, the Consul T. Flavius Clemens, was put to death in 95 on a charge of ‘atheism’, and a number of others who had ‘drifted away into Jewish customs’ were similarly condemned.80 Romans at this date generally regarded Christians as a Jewish sect, and it may be that those who ‘lived as Jews without professing Judaism’ were in fact Christians. In Rome there was an early Christian cemetery called ‘the Cemetery of Domitilla’ after Clemens’ wife, on ground that she owned, and another man charged with ‘atheism’ was Acilius Glabrio, whose family had a crypt in the Christian Cemetery of Priscilla. Spurning Rome’s state religion if you weren’t a Jew counted as atheism, which became a common accusation against Christians. So it could be that Clemens, Domitilla and Glabrio were Christians, although to extrapolate from there, as some have done, and talk of Empire-wide persecutions, and to associate Domitian with the Beast of Revelation and Rome with Babylon ‘the mother of the fornications [. . .] drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus’81 is perhaps stretching the evidence somewhat.
Domitian’s Reign of Terror and Death
The execution of Clemens showed just how suspicious the Emperor had become. Saturninus’ rebellion of 89 had not helped the overall atmosphere, and prior to that, probably in 82–3, Clemens’ brother T. Flavius Sabinus was executed on the grounds that the herald had declared him elected Emperor, not Consul. Domitian supposedly said that no one believed in conspiracies against Emperors unless they had been killed, and his last years degenerated into a paranoid reign of terror. Two of the highest-profile victims were Stoics: Arulenus Rusticus, author of a panegyric on Thrasea Paetus, and Herennius Senecio, author of the Life of Helvidius Priscus, both of whose books were publicly burned.
On 18 September 96 it was time to believe in conspiracies. Two groups of people decided to get their retaliation in first: various members of Domitian’s domestic staff, who had access to the private quarters, were fearful for their jobs and lives; and certain Senators, who had overlapping concerns with the domestics, but were also driven by ideological and/or practical considerations. His wife Domitia Longina may have been in the plot, and the two Praetorian Prefects, T. Petronius Secundus and Norbanus, certainly knew about it. The Senate as a whole could be guaranteed to approve, and someone had already been selected to fill the dead man’s shoes – the elderly and respectable M. Cocceius Nerva, even though he was also one of Domitian’s amici. The man who dealt the first blow was a steward called Stephanus, and though the Emperor put up a decent fight (Nerva heard a rumour that Domitian had survived and almost fainted), he was overcome by further stabs from other assassins.
There were mixed reactions to Domitian’s death: the legions generally liked him, but there was no one to lead them in an act of vengeance; the general public were ambivalent; and the Senate were ecstatic. While they ordered all inscriptions referring to him to be effaced and all records of his reign obliterated, authors such as Tacitus and Pliny set to work to damn him for eternity. The hitherto pro-Domitian Martial now changed his tune:
Flavian race, how much the third inheritor took away from you! It would almost have been worthwhile not to have had the other two.82
The Flavian dynasty had come to its end. Rome now entered a new era under the first of what Machiavelli called Rome’s ‘Five Good Emperors’.83
1 Tr. Rackham, H. A., Pliny: Natural History in Ten Volumes, I, Praefatio, Libri I, II, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, rev. edn., 1949.
2 Wellesley, K., The Year of the Four Emperors, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, 3rd edn., p. 209.
3 The original manuscript of Suetonius put the figure at forty billion: Suetonius, Vespasian 16.3.
4 Suetonius, Vespasian 16.1.
5 ‘Plebiculam’ – Suetonius, Vespasian 18.
6 Suetonius, Vespasian 8.5.
7 Alföldy, G., ‘Eine Bauinschrift aus dem Colosseum’, ZPE 109, 1995, 195–226. Not all scholars accept Alföldy’s hypothesis, but the funding undoubtedly came from the spoils of war.
8 See below, pp. 145 ff.
9 Suetonius, Vespasian 9.2, tr. Graves, R., op. cit.
10 Dio 66.12.1, tr. Kershaw, S.
11 Tacitus, Histories 4.13, tr. Wellesley, K., Tacitus: The Histories, London: Penguin, rev. edn., 1975. The disfigurement was the loss of one eye; Sertorius had rebelled against Sulla’s dictatorship in 80–72 BCE.
12 See p. 145 below.
13 Tacitus, Histories 3.45, tr. in Mann, J. C. and Penman, R. G. (eds.), op. cit.
14 Tacitus, Agricola 17, tr. Mattingley, H., Tacitus: The Agricola and the Germania, Translated with an Introduction by H. Mattingley, Translation Revised by S. A. Handford, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
15 Suetonius, Vespasian 24.
16 Ibid. 23.4, tr. Kershaw, S.
17 Panegyricus. 11.1.
18 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations IV.32, tr. in Brown, P., The Making of Late Antiquity, Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 6.
19 Matthew 22.21; Mark 12.17; Luke 20.25.
20 Luke 3.14.
21 Josephus, de Bello Judaico 3.7.23, tr. Kershaw, S.
22 See above, p 115.
23 The only substantial surviving account of the siege is Josephus, de Bello Judaico 5–6.
24 Juvenal, Satire 6.156 ff., tr. Green, P, op. cit.
25 Suetonius, Titus 1.
26 Suetonius, Titus 8.1, tr. Kershaw, S.
27 Eusebius, Chronicle 79 CE, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit.
28 It is conventionally said to depict the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE, but there are also persuasive arguments in favour of Granicus (334 BCE) or Gaugamela (331 BCE). See Cohen, A., The Alexander Mosaic: Stories of Victory and Defeat, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
29 ‘Ultimately, its purpose remains a mystery’, Berry, J., The Complete Pompeii, London: Thames & Hudson, 2007, p. 202; ‘To be honest, this is all completely baffling’, Beard, M., Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, London: Profile Books, 2008, p. 131.
30 My emphasis.
31 CIL X 852 = ILS 5627, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit. Quinquennial duumviri were local magistrates.
32 CIL IV 429 = ILS 6412e, tr. Kershaw, S.
33 CIL IV 581 = ILS 6418d, tr. Kershaw, S.
34 CIL IV 2188, tr. Kershaw, S. He mis-spells the Latin for ‘fuck’ as ‘was’, and uses quem, the masculine for ‘whoever’, when (presumably) he means quam (feminine).
35 CIL IV 2246, tr. Kershaw, S.
36 CIL IV 9131, tr. Kershaw, S. The line is written on the wall of a house belonging to a fuller called M. Fabius Ululitremulus and is in the same metre as Virgil’s Aeneid, whose opening words are arma virumque cano (= ‘I sing of arms and the man’). The owl (ulula) is a symbol of fullers, because of its link to their patroness, Minerva, and the parody also puns on the fuller’s name.
37 CIL IV 1177 = ILS 5144, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit. Polybius is the name of the sign-writer.
38 CIL IV 2508, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit.
39 CIL IV 4342, 4397, tr. Kershaw, S.
40 CIL IV 4345, tr. Kershaw, S.
41 CIL IV 8562, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit.
42 ILS 648, tr. Richlin, A., op. cit.
43 CIL IV 4182, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit.
44 CIL IV 3130, tr. Kershaw, S.
45 CIL IV 1781, tr. Varone, A., in ‘Voices of the Ancients. A stroll Through Public and Private Pompeii, in Ministetio per i Bene Culturale e Ambientali Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompeii, Rediscovering Pompeii, Rome: L’Erma di Bretscheider, 1992, p. 39.
46 CIL IV 5092, tr. Kershaw, S.
47 CIL IV 1842, tr. in Cooley, A. and M. G. L., op. cit.
48 Pliny Letters 6.16.5, tr. Radice, B., in Pliny: Letters, Books I–VII, Panegyricus, with an English Translation by Betty Radice, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1969.
49 There will undoubtedly be many more. A detailed breakdown of the precise locations and dates of the finds (correct as of 2003) is given in Luongo, G., Perrotta, A., Scarpati, C., De Carolis, E., Patricelli, G. and Ciarallo, A., ‘Impact of the AD 79 explosive eruption on Pompeii, II. Causes of death of the inhabitants inferred by stratigraphic analysis and areal distribution of the human casualties’,Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 126 (2003) 169–200.
50 Pliny Letters 6.20.9, tr. Radice, B., op. cit.
51 Ibid. 6.20.11–14.
52 The victims had evidently emerged from shelter and been overcome by the fourth PDC while heading down one of the streets on top of the material that had been de posited during the earlier phase of the eruption.
53 Giornale di Napoli, 12 February 1863.
55 CIL 10.1403; AE 119.
56 Suetonius, Titus 8.3–4, tr. Graves, R., op. cit.
57 Dio 66.19.3, tr. Kershaw, S.
58 For the myth, which leads to the birth of the Minotaur, see Kershaw, S., op. cit., pp. 275–7.
59 Martial, De Spectaculis Liber 5(6), tr. Shackleton Bailey, D. R., in Martial: Epigrams edited and translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Volume 1, Cambridge MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1993.
60 Ibid., 31(27; 29).
61 Suetonius, Titus 7.3; Dio 66.25.1.
62 Dio 66.25.2 f., tr. Cary. E., op. cit. The Corcyreans and Corinthians had famously fought one another in the fifth century BCE, triggering the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.
63 Suetonius, Titus 7.3, tr. Graves, R., op. cit. Martial’s De Spectaculis Liber 27(24) also mentions sea-battles, but in an unspecified venue.
64 Twain, M., The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress, Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1869, p. 276.
65 Hopkins, K. and Beard, M., The Colosseum, London: Profile Books, 2005, p. 105.
66 Suetonius, Domitian 2.3 (left for dead); Dio 66.26.2–3 (snow); Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus 10.11, Philostratus, De Apoll. 6.32 (poison); Plutarch, De Sanitate Tuenda 3 (bathing).
67 Suetonius, Titus 10.1; Dio 66.26.2–3.
68 Suetonius, Domitian 22.1.
69 Interestingly, even after Domitian’s damnation memoriae, she continued to refer to herself as the Emperor’s wife (as, for instance, on brick stamps datable to 123: CIL 15.548a–9d).
70 See above, p. 143.
71 Tacitus, Agricola 25.
72 Ibid. 30. See above, p. 60.
73 Tacitus, Histories 1.2, tr. Kershaw, S.
74 Statius, Silvae 4.2.
75 Juvenal, Satire 4.145. Cf. Tacitus, Agricola 45.
76 Suetonius, Domitian 8.1, tr. Rolfe, J. C.., op. cit.
77 Eighteen months was the normal duration.
78 Juvenal, Satires 4.72 ff., tr. Green, P., in Juvenal: The Sixteen Satires, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Peter Green, London: Penguin Classics, 3rd edn, 1998.
79 Suetonius, Domitian 12.2, tr. Rolfe, J. C., op. cit.
80 Suetonius, Domitian 15.1; Dio 67.14.1 f.
81 Revelation 17:5, 6; Cf. 2:10, 13; 6:11; 13:15; 20:4.
82 Martial, De Spectaculis Liber 37(33), tr. Shackleton Bailey, D. R., op. cit.
83 Machiavelli, N., Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy, 1517, Book I, chapter 10.