Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.]

[image ALT: Faire clic ici pour une traduction française.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces one of
The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

C. Suetonius Tranquillus

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars

 p339  The Life of Domitian

1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Domitian was born on the ninth day before the Kalends of November of the year when his father was consul elect and was about to enter on the office in the following month, in a street of the sixth region called "the Pomegranate,"​1 in a house which he afterwards converted into a temple of the Flavian family. He is said to have passed the period of his boyhood and his early youth in great  p341 poverty and infamy. For he did not possess a single piece of plate and it is a well known fact that Claudius Pollio, a man of praetorian rank, against whom Nero's poem entitled "The One-eyed Man" is directed, preserved a letter in Domitian's handwriting and sometimes exhibited it, in which the future emperor promised him an assignation; and there have not been wanting those who declared that Domitian was also debauched by Nerva, who succeeded him. 2 In the war with Vitellius he took refuge in the Capitol with his paternal uncle Sabinus and a part of the forces under him. When the enemy forced an entrance and the temple was fired, he hid during the night with the guardian of the shrine, and in the morning, disguised in the garb of a follower of Isis​2 and mingling with the priests of that fickle superstition, he went across the Tiber with a single companion to the mother of one of his school-fellows. There he was so effectually concealed, that though he was closely followed, he could not be found, in spite of a thorough search. 3 It was only after the victory that he ventured forth and after being hailed as Caesar,​3 he assumed the office of city praetor with consular powers, but only in name, turning over all the judicial business to his next colleague. But he exercised all the tyranny of his high position​4 so lawlessly, that it was even then apparent what sort of a man he was going to be. Not to mention all details, after making free with the wives of many men, he went so far as to marry Domitia Longina, who was the wife of Aelius Lamia, and in a single day he assigned more than twenty positions in the city and abroad,​5 which led Vespasian to say more than once  p343 that he was surprised that he did not appoint the emperor's successor with the rest.

2 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He began an expedition against Gaul and the Germanies, which was uncalled for and from which his father's friends dissuaded him, merely that he might make himself equal to his brother in power and rank. For this he was reprimanded, and to give him a better realisation of his youth​6 and position, he had to live with his father, and when they appeared in public he followed the emperor's chair and that of his brother in a litter, while he also attended their triumph over Judaea riding on a white horse.​7 Moreover, of his six consul­ships only one was a regular one,​8 and he obtained that only because his brother gave place to him and recommended his appointment.

2 He himself too made a remarkable pretence of modesty and especially of an interest in poetry, an art which had previously been as unfamiliar to him as it was later despised and rejected, and he even gave readings in public. Yet in spite of all this, when Vologaesus, king of the Parthians, had asked for auxiliaries against the Alani and for one of Vespasian's sons as their leader, Domitian used every effort to have himself sent rather than Titus; and because the affair came to nothing, he tried by gifts and promises to induce other eastern kings to make the same request.

3 On the death of his father he hesitated for some time whether to offer a double largess​9 to the soldiers, and he never had any compunction about saying that he had been left a partner in the imperial power, but that the will had been tampered with.​10 And from that time on he never ceased to  p345 plot against his brother secretly and openly, until Titus was seized with a dangerous illness, when Domitian ordered that he be left for dead, before he had actually drawn his last breath. And after his death he bestowed no honour upon him, save that of deification, and he often assailed his memory in ambiguous phrases, both in his speeches and in his edicts.

3 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 At the beginning of his reign he used to spend hours in seclusion every day, doing nothing but catch flies and stab them with a keenly-sharpened stylus. Consequently when someone once asked whether anyone was in there with Caesar, Vibius Crispus made the witty reply: "Not even a fly." Then he saluted his wife Domitia as Augusta. He had had a son by her in his second consul­ship, whom he lost the second year after he became emperor; he divorced her because of her love for the actor Paris, but could not bear the separation and soon took her back, alleging that the people demanded it.

2 In his administration of the government he for some time showed himself inconsistent, with about an equal number of virtues and vices, but finally he turned the virtues also into vices; for so far as one may guess, it was contrary to his natural disposition​11 that he was made rapacious through need and cruel through fear.

4 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He constantly gave grand costly entertainments, both in the amphitheatre​12 and in the Circus, where in addition to the usual races between two-horse and four-horse chariots, he also exhibited two battles, one between forces of infantry and the other by horsemen; and he even gave a naval battle in the amphitheatre. Besides he gave hunts of wild  p347 beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well. He was always present too at the games given by the quaestors, which he revived after they had been abandoned for some time, and invariably granted the people the privilege of calling for two pairs of gladiators from his own school, and brought them in last in all the splendour of the court. 2 During the whole of every gladiatorial show there always stood at his feet a small boy clad in scarlet, with an abnormally small head, with whom he used to talk a great deal, and sometimes seriously. At any rate, he was overheard to ask him if he knew why he had decided at the last appointment day to make Mettius Rufus praefect of Egypt. He often gave sea-fights almost with regular fleets, having dug a pool near the Tiber and surrounded it with seats;​a and he continued to witness the contests amid heavy rains.

3 He also celebrated Secular games,​13 reckoning the time, not according to the year when Claudius had last given them, but by the previous calculation of Augustus. In the course of these, to make it possible to finish a hundred races on the day of contests in the Circus, he diminished the number of laps from seven to five.14

4 He also established a quinquennial contest in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays. For there were competitions in prose declamation​15 both in Greek and in Latin; and in addition to those of the lyre-players, between choruses of such players and in the lyre alone,  p349 without singing; while in the stadium there were races even between maidens. He presided at the competitions in half-boots,​b clad in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales,​16 similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well. He celebrated the Quinquatria​17 too every year in honour of Minerva at his Alban villa, and established for her a college of priests, from which men were chosen by lot to act as officers and give splendid shows of wild beasts and stage plays, besides holding contests in oratory and poetry.

5 He made a present to the people of three hundred sesterces each on three occasions, and in the course of one of his shows in celebration of the feast of the Seven Hills gave a plenti­ful banquet,​18 distributing large baskets of victuals to the senate and knights, and smaller one to the commons; and he himself was the first to begin to eat. On the following day he scattered gifts of all sorts of things​19 to be scrambled for, and since the greater part of these fell where the people sat, he had five hundred tickets thrown into each section occupied by the senatorial and equestrian orders.

5 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He restored many splendid buildings which had been destroyed by fire, among them the Capitolium, which had again been burned,​20 but in all cases with the inscription of his own name only, and with no mention of the original builder. Furthermore, he built a new temple on the Capitoline  p351 hill in honour of Jupiter Custos and the forum which now bears the name of Nerva;​21 likewise a temple to the Flavian family, a stadium, an Odeum,​22 and a pool for sea-fights.​23 From the stone used in this last the Circus Maximus was afterwards rebuilt, when both sides of it had been destroyed by fire.

6 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 His campaigns he undertook partly without provocation and partly of necessity. That against the Chatti was uncalled for, while the one against the Sarmatians was justified by the destruction of a legion with its commander. He made two against the Dacians, the first when Oppius Sabinus an ex-consul was defeated, and the second on the overthrow of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the praetorian guard, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of the war. After several battles of varying success he celebrated a double triumph over the Chatti and the Dacians.​24 His victories over the Sarmatians he commemorated merely by the offering of a laurel crown to Jupiter of the Capitol.

2 A civil war which was set on foot by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germany, was put down in the emperor's absence by a remarkable stroke of good fortune; for at the very hour of battle the Rhine suddenly thawed and prevented his barbarian allies from crossing over to Antonius. Domitian learned of this victory through omens before he actually had news of it, for on the very day when the decisive battle was fought a magnificent eagle enfolded his statue at Rome with its wings, uttering exultant shrieks; and soon afterwards the report of Antony's death became so current, that several went so far as to assert positively that they had seen his head brought to Rome.

 p353  7 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He made many innovations also in common customs. He did away with the distribution of food to the people​25 and revived that of formal dinners.​26 He added two factions of drivers in the Circus, with gold and purple as their colours, to the four former ones.​27 He forbade the appearance of actors on the stage, but allowed the practice of their art in private houses. He prohibited the castration of males, and kept down the price of the eunuchs that remained in the hands of the slave dealers. 2 Once upon the occasion of a plenti­ful wine crop, attended with a scarcity of grain, thinking that the fields were neglected through too much attention to the vineyards, he made an edict forbidding anyone to plant more vines in Italy and ordering that the vineyards in the provinces be cut down, or but half of them at most be left standing; but he did not persist in carrying out the measure.​28 He opened some of the most important offices of the court​29 to freedmen and Roman knights. 3 He prohibited the uniting of two legions in one camp and the deposit of more than a thousand sesterces by any one soldier at headquarters,​30 because it was clear that Lucius Antonius had been especially led to attempt a revolution by the amount of such deposits in the combined winter quarters of two legions. He increased the pay of the soldiers one fourth, by the addition of three gold pieces each year.31

8 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He administered justice scrupulously and conscientiously, frequently holding special sittings  p355 on the tribunal in the Forum. He rescinded such decisions of the Hundred Judges as were made from interested motives.​32 He often warned the arbiters​33 not to grant claims for freedom made under false pretences. He degraded jurors who accepted bribes, together with all their associates.​34 2 He also induced the tribunes of the commons to prosecute a corrupt aedile for extortion, and to ask the senate to appoint jurors in the case. 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, whereas after his time we have seen many of them charged with all manner of offences. 3 Having undertaken the correction of public morals,​35 he put an end to the licence at the theatres, where the general public occupied the seats reserved for the knights; did away with the prevailing publication of scurrilous lampoons, in which distinguished men and women were attacked, and imposed ignominious penalties on their authors; expelled an ex-quaestor from the senate, because he was given to acting and dancing; deprived notorious women of the use of litters, as well as of the right to receive inheritances and legacies; struck the name of a Roman knight from the list of jurors, because he had taken back his wife after divorcing her and charging her with adultery; condemned several men of both orders, offenders against the Scantinian law;​36 and the incest of Vestal virgins, condoned even by his father and his brother, he punished severely in divers ways, at first by capital punishment, and afterwards in the ancient fashion. 4 For while he allowed the sisters Oculata and also Varronilla free choice of the manner of  p357 their death, and banished their paramours, he later ordered that Cornelia, a chief-vestal who had been acquitted once but after a long interval again arraigned and found guilty, be buried alive; and her lovers were beaten to death with rods in the Comitium, with the exception of an ex-praetor, whom he allowed to go into exile, because he admitted his guilt while the case was still unsettled and the examination and torture of the witnesses had led to no result. 5 To protect the gods from being dishonoured with impunity by any sacrilege, he caused a tomb which one of his freedmen had built for his son from stones intended for the temple of Jupiter of the Capitol to be destroyed by the soldiers and the bones and ashes contained in it thrown into the sea.

9 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 In the earlier part of his reign he so shrank from any form of bloodshed, that while his father was still absent from the city, he planned to issue an edict that no oxen should be offered up, recalling the line of Vergil,

"E'er yet an impious race did slay and feast upon bullocks."​37

He was equally free from any suspicion of love of gain or of avarice, both in private life and for some time after becoming emperor; on the contrary, he often gave strong proofs not merely of integrity, but even of liberality. 2 He treated all his intimates most generously, and there was nothing which he urged them more frequently, or with greater insistence, than that they should be niggardly in none of their acts. He would not accept inheritances left him by those who had children. He even annulled a legacy in the will of Rustus Caepio, who had  p359 provided that his heir should yearly pay a specified sum to each of the senators on his entrance into the House.​38 He cancelled the suits against those who had been posted as debtors to the public treasury for more than five years, and would not allow a renewal except within a year and on the condition that an accuser who did not win his suit should be punished with exile. 3 Scribes of the quaestors who carried on business, which had become usual although contrary to the Clodian law,​39 he pardoned for past offences. Parcels of land which were left unoccupied here and there after the assignment of lands to the veterans he granted to their former owners as by right of possession. He checked false accusations designed for the profit of the privy purse​40 and inflicted severe penalties on offenders; and a saying of his was current, that an emperor who does not punish informers hounds them on.

10 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 But he did not continue this course of mercy or integrity, although he turned to cruelty somewhat more speedily than to avarice. He put to death a pupil of the pantomimic actor Paris, who was still a beardless boy and ill at the time, because in his skill and his appearance he seemed not unlike his master;​41 also Hermogenes of Tarsus because of some allusions in his History, besides crucifying even the slaves who had written it out. A householder who said that a Thracian gladiator was a match for the murmillo, but not for the giver of the games,​42 he caused to be dragged from his seat and thrown into  p361 the arena to dogs, with this placard: "A favourer of the Thracians who spoke impiously."43

2 He put to death many senators, among them several ex-consuls, including Civica Cerealis, at the very time when he was proconsul in Asia, Salvidienus Orfitus, Acilius Glabrio while he was in exile — these on the ground of plotting revolution, the rest on any charge, however trivial. He slew Aelius Lamia for joking remarks, which were reflections on him, it is true, but made long before and harmless. For when Domitian had taken away Lamia's wife,​44 the latter replied to someone who praised his voice: "I practise continence";​45 and when Titus urged him to marry again, he replied: "Are you too looking for a wife?" 3 He put to death Salvius Cocceianus, because he had kept the birthday of the emperor Otho, his paternal uncle; Mettius Pompusianus, because it was commonly reported that he had an imperial nativity and carried about a map of the world on parchment and speeches of the kings and generals from Titus Livius, besides giving two of his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, governor of Britain, for allowing some lances of a new pattern to be named "Lucullean," after his own name; Junius Rusticus, because he had published eulogies of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus and called them the most upright of men; and on the occasion of this charge he banished all the philosophers from the city and from Italy. 4 He also executed the younger Helvidius, alleging that in a farce composed for the stage he had under the characters of Paris and Oenone  p363 censured Domitian's divorce from his wife; Flavius Sabinus too, one of his cousins, because on the day of the consular elections the crier had inadvertently announced him to the people as emperor elect, instead of consul.

5 After his victory in the civil war he became even more cruel, and to discover any conspirators who were in hiding, tortured many of the opposite party by a new form of inquisition, inserting fire in their privates; and he cut off the hands of some of them. It is certain that of the more conspicuous only two were pardoned, a tribune of senatorial rank and a centurion, who the more clearly to prove their freedom from guilt, showed that they were of shameless unchastity and could therefore have had no influence with the general or with the soldiers.

11 1  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] His savage cruelty was not only excessive, but also cunning and sudden. He invited one of his stewards to his bed-chamber the day before crucifying him, made him sit beside him on his couch, and dismissed him in a secure and gay frame of mind, even deigning to send him a share of his dinner. When he was on the point of condemning the ex-consul Arrecinius Clemens, one of his intimates and tools, he treated him with as great favour as before, if not greater, and finally, as he was taking a drive with him, catching sight of his accuser he said: "Pray, shall we hear this base slave to‑morrow?"

2 To abuse men's patience the more insolently, he never pronounced an unusually dreadful sentence without a preliminary declaration of clemency, so that there came to be no more certain indication of a cruel death than the leniency of his preamble.  p365 He had brought some men charged with treason into the senate, and when he had introduced the matter by saying that he would find out that day how dear he was to the members, he had no difficulty in causing them to be condemned to suffer the ancient method of punishment.​46 3 Then appalled at the cruelty of the penalty, he interposed a veto, to lessen the odium, in these words (for it will be of interest to know his exact language): "Allow me, Fathers of the senate, to prevail on you by your love for me to grant a favour which I know I shall obtain with difficulty, namely that you allow the condemned free choice of the manner of their death; for thus you will spare your own eyes and all men will know that I was present at the meeting of the senate."

12 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Reduced to financial straits by the cost of his buildings and shows, as well as by the additions which he had made to the pay of the soldiers, he tried to lighten the military expenses by diminishing the number of his troops; but perceiving that in this way he exposed himself to the attacks of the barbarians, and nevertheless had difficulty in easing his burdens, he had no hesitation in resorting to every sort of robbery. The property of the living and the dead was seized everywhere on any charge brought by any accuser. It was enough to allege any action or word derogatory to the majesty of the prince. 2 Estates of those in no way connected with him were confiscated, if but one man came forward to declare that he had heard from the deceased during his lifetime that Caesar was his heir. Besides other taxes, that on the Jews​47 was levied with the utmost rigour, and those were prosecuted who without publicly acknowledging that faith yet lived as Jews, as well  p367 as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people.​48 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.

3 From his youth he was far from being of an affable disposition, but was on the contrary presumptuous and unbridled both in act and in word. When his father's concubine Caenis​49 returned from Histria and offered to kiss him as usual, he held out his hand to her. He was vexed that his brother's son-in‑law had attendants clad in white, as well as he, and uttered the words

"Not good is a number of rulers."​50

13 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 When he became emperor, he did not hesitate to boast in the senate that he had conferred their power on both his father and his brother, and that they had but returned him his own; nor on taking back his wife after their divorce, that he had "recalled her to his divine couch."​51 He delighted to hear the people in the amphitheatre shout on his feast day:​52 "Good Fortune attend ourº Lord​53 and Mistress." Even more, in the Capitoline competition,​54 when all the people begged him with great unanimity to restore Palfurius Sura, who had been banished some time before from the senate, and on that occasion received the prize for oratory, he deigned no reply, but merely had a crier bid them be silent. 2 With no less arrogance he began as follows in issuing a circular letter in the name of his procurators, "Our Master and our God bids that this be done." And so the custom arose of henceforth  p369 addressing him in no other way even in writing or in conversation.​c He suffered no statues to be set up in his honour in the Capitol, except of gold and silver and of a fixed weight. He erected so many and such huge vaulted passage-ways and arches in the various regions of the city, adorned with chariots and triumphal emblems, that on one of them someone wrote in Greek: "It is enough."​55 3 He held the consul­ship seventeen times, more often than any of his predecessors. Of these the seven middle ones were in successive years, but all of them he filled in name only, continuing none beyond the first of May and few after the Ides of January. Having assumed the surname Germanicus after his two triumphs, he renamed the months of September and October from his own names, calling them "Germanicus" and "Domitianus," because in the former he had come to the throne and was born in the latter.​d

14 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 In this way he became an object of terror and hatred to all, but he was overthrown at last by a conspiracy of his friends and favourite freedmen, to which his wife was also privy. He had long since had a premonition of the last year and day of his life, and even of the very hour and manner of his death. In his youth astrologers had predicted all this to him, and his father once even openly ridiculed him at dinner for refusing mushrooms, saying that he showed himself unaware of his destiny in not rather fearing the sword. 2 Therefore he was at all times timorous and worried, and was disquieted beyond measure by even the slightest suspicions. It is thought that nothing had more effect in indu­cing him to ignore his proclamation about cutting down  p371 the vineyards​56 than the circulation of notes containing the following lines:

"Gnaw at my root, an you will; even then shall I have juice in plenty

To pour upon thee, O goat, when at the altar you stand."​57

3 It was because of this same timorousness that although he was most eager for all such honours, he refused a new one which the senate had devised and offered to him, a decree, namely, that whenever he held the consul­ship Roman knights selected by lot should precede him among his lictors and attendants, clad in the trabea58 and bearing lances.

4 As the time when he anticipated danger drew near, becoming still more anxious every day, he lined the walls of the colonnades in which he used to walk with phengite stone,​59 to be able to see in its brilliant surface the reflection of all that went on behind his back. And he did not give a hearing to any prisoners except in private and alone, even holding their chains in his hands. Further, to convince his household that one must not venture to kill a patron even on good grounds, he condemned Epaphroditus, his confidential secretary, to death, because it was believed that after Nero was abandoned​60 the freedman's hand had aided him in taking his life.61

15 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Finally he put to death his own cousin Flavius Clemens, suddenly and on a very slight suspicion, almost before the end of his consul­ship;  p373 and yet Flavius was a man of most contemptible laziness and Domitian had besides openly named his sons, who were then very young, as his successors, changing their former names and calling the one Vespasian and the other Domitian. And it was by this deed in particular that he hastened his own destruction.

2 For eight successive months so many strokes of lightning occurred and were reported, that at last he cried: "Well, let him now strike whom he will." The temple of Jupiter of the Capitol was struck and that of the Flavian family, as well as the Palace and the emperor's own bedroom. The inscription too on the base of a triumphal statue of his was torn off in a violent tempest and fell upon a neighbouring tomb.​62 The tree which had been overthrown when Vespasian was still a private citizen but had sprung up anew,​63 then on a sudden fell down again. Fortune of Praeneste​64 had throughout his whole reign, when he commended the new year to her protection, given him a favourable omen and always in the same words. Now at last she returned a most direful one, not without the mention of bloodshed.

3 He dreamed that Minerva, whom he worshipped with superstitious veneration, came forth from her shrine and declared that she could no longer protect him, since she had been disarmed by Jupiter. Yet there was nothing by which he was so much disturbed as a prediction of the astrologer Ascletarion and what befell him. When this man was accused before the emperor and did not deny that he had spoken of certain things which he had foreseen through his art, he was asked what his own end would be. When he replied that he would shortly  p375 be rent by dogs, Domitian ordered him killed at once; but to prove the fallibility of his art, he ordered besides that his funeral be attended to with the greatest care.​65 While this was being done, it chanced that the pyre was overset by a sudden storm and that the dogs mangled the corpse, which was only partly consumed; and that an actor of farces called Latinus, who happened to pass by and see the incident, told it to Domitian at the dinner table, with the rest of the day's gossip.

16 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 The day before he was killed he gave orders to have some apples which were offered him kept until the following day, and added: "If only I am spared to eat them"; then turning to his companions, he declared that on the following day the moon would be stained with blood in Aquarius,​e and that a deed would be done of which men would talk all over the world. At about midnight he was so terrified that he leaped from his bed. The next morning he conducted the trial of a soothsayer sent from Germany, who when consulted about the lightning strokes had foretold a change of rulers, and condemned him to death. 2 While he was vigorously scratching a festered wart on his forehead, and had drawn blood, he said: "May this be all." Then he asked the time, and by pre-arrangement the sixth hour was announced to him, instead of the fifth, which he feared. Filled with joy at this, and believing all danger now past, he was hastening to the bath, when his chamberlain Parthenius changed his purpose by announcing that someone had called about a matter of great moment  p377 and would not be put off. Then he dismissed all his attendants and went to his bedroom, where he was slain.

17 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 Concerning the nature of the plot and the manner of his death, this is about all that became known. As the conspirators were deliberating when and how to attack him, whether at the bath or at dinner, Stephanus, Domitilla's​66 steward, at the time under accusation for embezzlement, offered his aid and counsel. To avoid suspicion, he wrapped up his left arm in woollen bandages for some days, pretending that he had injured it, and concealed in them a dagger. Then pretending to betray a conspiracy and for that reason being given an audience, he stabbed the emperor in the groin as he was reading a paper which the assassin handed him, and stood in a state of amazement. 2 As the wounded prince attempted to resist, he was slain with seven wounds by Clodianus, a subaltern, Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius, Satur, decurion of the chamberlains, and a gladiator from the imperial school. A boy who was engaged in his usual duty of attending to the Lares in the bedroom,​67 and so was a witness of the murder, gave this additional information. He was bidden by Domitian, immediately after he was dealt the first blow, to hand him the dagger hidden under his pillow and to call the servants; but he found nothing at the head of the bed save the hilt, and besides all the doors were closed. Meanwhile the emperor grappled with Stephanus and bore him to the ground, where they struggled for a long time, Domitian trying now to wrest the dagger from his assailant's hands and now to gouge out his eyes with his lacerated fingers.

 p379  3 He was slain on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of October in the forty-fifth year of his age and the fifteenth of his reign. His corpse was carried out on a common bier by those who bury the poor, and his nurse Phyllis cremated it at her suburban estate on the Via Latina; but his ashes she secretly carried to the temple of the Flavian family and mingled them with those of Julia, daughter of Titus, whom she had also reared.

18 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He was tall of stature, with a modest expression and a high colour.​68 His eyes were large, but his sight was somewhat dim. He was handsome and graceful too, especially when a young man, and indeed in his whole body with the exception of his feet, the toes of which were somewhat cramped. In later life he had the further disfigurement of baldness, a protruding belly, and spindling legs, though the latter had become thin from a long illness. 2 He was so conscious that the modesty of his expression was in his favour, that he once made this boast in the senate: "So far, at any rate, you have approved my heart and my countenance." He was so sensitive about his baldness, that he regarded it as a personal insult if anyone else was twitted with that defect in jest or in earnest; though in a book "On the Care of the Hair," which he published and dedicated to a friend, he wrote the following by way of consolation to the man and himself:

"Do you not see that I am too tall and comely to look on?​69

And yet the same fate awaits my hair, and I bear  p381 with resignation the ageing of my locks in youth. Be assured that nothing is more pleasing than beauty, but nothing shorter-lived."

19 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He was incapable of exertion and seldom went about the city on foot, while on his campaigns and journeys he rarely rode on horseback, but was regularly carried in a litter. He took no interest in arms, but was particularly devoted to archery.​70 There are many who have more than once seen him slay a hundred wild beasts of different kinds on his Alban estate, and purposely kill some of them with two successive shots in such a way that the arrows gave the effect of horns. Sometimes he would have a slave stand at a distance and hold out the palm of his right hand for a mark, with the fingers spread; then he directed his arrows with such accuracy that they passed harmlessly between the fingers.

20 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 At the beginning of his rule he neglected liberal studies,​71 although he provided for having the libraries, which were destroyed by fire,​72 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. "How I wish," said he, "that I were as fine looking as Maecius thinks he  p383 is." He declared too that the head of a certain man, whose hair had changed colour in such a way that it was partly reddish and partly grey, was like "snow on which mead had been poured."

21 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 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.​f

Whenever he had leisure he amused himself with playing at dice, even on working days and in the morning hours. He went to the bath before the end of the forenoon and lunched to the point of satiety, so that at dinner he rarely took anything except a Matian apple​73 and a moderate amount of wine from a jug. He gave numerous and generous banquets, but usually ended them early; in no case did he protract them beyond sunset, or follow them by a drinking bout. In fact, he did nothing until the hour for retiring except walk alone in a retired place.

22 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 He was excessively lustful. His constant sexual intercourse he called bed-wrestling, as if it were a kind of exercise. It was reported that he depilated his concubines with his own hand and swam with common prostitutes. After persistently refusing his niece, who was offered him in marriage when she was still a maid, because he was entangled in an intrigue with Domitia, he seduced her shortly afterwards when she became the wife of another, and that too during the lifetime of Titus. Later, when she was bereft of father and husband, he loved her ardently and without disguise, and even became the cause of her death by compelling her to get rid of a child of his by abortion.74

 p385  23 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 The people received the news of his death with indifference, but the soldiers were greatly grieved and at once attempted to call him the Deified Domitian; while they were prepared also to avenge him, had they not lacked leaders. This, however, they did accomplish a little later by most insistently demanding the execution of his murderers. The senators on the contrary were so overjoyed, that they raced to fill the House, where they did not refrain from assailing the dead emperor with the most insulting and stinging kind of outcries. They even had ladders brought and his shields​75 and images torn down before their eyes and dashed upon the ground; finally they passed a decree that his inscriptions should everywhere be erased, and all record of him obliterated.​76g

2 A few months before he was killed, a raven perched on the Capitolium and cried "All will be well," an omen which some interpreted as follows:

"High on the gable Tarpeian​77 a raven but lately alighting,

Could not say 'It is well,' only declared 'It will be.' "

Domitian himself, it is said, dreamed that a golden hump grew out on his back, and he regarded this as an infallible sign that the condition of the empire would be happier and more prosperous after his time; and this was shortly shown to be true through the uprightness and moderate rule of the succeeding emperors.

The Editor's Notes:

1 Various quarters and streets of the city were designated (p339)in this way; cf. ad Capita Bubula, Aug. v; ad Pirum, Mart. 1.117.6. Ad Malum Punicum was a street on the Quirinal hill, probably corresponding with the modern Via delle Quattro Fontane; see Platner, Topography of Rome, p485.

Thayer's Note: The Platner reference was what was available when the Loeb edition first appeared (1914). See Platner's brief entry (1929) in the Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, and the further links there.

2 Cf. Otho, xii.1, at the end.

3 See note on Galba, i.

4 As son of the emperor.

5 That is, in the provinces.

6 He was but eighteen years old at the time.

7 The usual procedure for a youthful prince; cf. Tib. vi.4.

8 See note on Galba, vi.1. The reference is to his consul­ships before he became emperor; see chap. xiii.3.

9 That is, twice as large as his brother's.

10 Titus had the ability to do this; cf. Tit. iii.2, at the end.

11 See chaps. ix and xi.1.

12 See note on Vesp. ix.1.

13 See note on Claud. xxi.2.

14 See note on Claud. xxi.3.

15 As well as in poetry.

16 Established for the worship of the deified Flavian emperors, after the manner of the Augustales; see note on Claud. vi.2.

17 See Aug. lxxi.3.

18 While the spectators remained in their seats; cf. Dio, 67.4.

19 Represented in many cases by tesserae, or tickets; see note on Aug. xli.2.

20 In 80; it had previously been destroyed by fire in 69; see Vit. xv.3.

21 Who finished and dedicated it; it was also called the Forum Transitorium because it connected the Forum of Augustus with the Forum Pacis, as well as the Subura with the Forum Romanum. It occupied a part of the Argiletum.

22 Or Music Hall.

23 See chap. iv.2.

24 Tac. Agr. 39 says that his unjustified triumph over the Germans (and the Dacians) was a laughing-stock.

25 See Nero, xvi.2.

26 See Aug. lxxiv.

Thayer's Note: And more to the point, Nero, xvi.

27 See Calig. lv.2.

28 See chap. xiv.2.

29 That is, those which had formerly been restricted to the senatorial order.

30 Where the soldiers deposited their surplus money with the general for safe keeping, until the end of their term of service; see Veget. 2.20 and for fuller details Grenfell, Hunt, and Hogarth, "Fayoum Towns and their Papyri," pp252 ff., where the accounts of two soldiers of about the year 180 are published.

31 That is, raised the amount from nine to twelve aurei. The aureus contained 100 sesterces and was equal to a little over a pound sterling, or five dollars.

Thayer's Note: A reminder that this equivalent dates to 1914 (notice the pound at about $5); in 2003, the Loeb editor would have written that the aureus was about $85 or £57.

32 That is, to gain favour with influential men or their advocates; cf. Tib. xxxiii.

33 Cf. Nero, xvii.

34 That is, all who sat in judgment on the same case.

35 As censor.

36 De nefanda Venere.

37 Georg. 2.537.

38 Probably referring to new senators, entering the House for the first time.

39 Nothing is known of this law. Livy, 21.63.3‑4 mentions a law of Q. Claudius, which forbade senators to engage in business, and that law may have had a chapter referring to the scribae quaestorii and other "civil servants"; or, as some suppose, Publius Clodius may have passed such a law.

40 That is, charges which resulted in the confiscation of the goods of the accused to the privy purse.

41 See chap. iii.1.

42 Implying unfairness on the part of Domitian, who favoured the Thracians; cf. Pliny, Paneg. xi and xxxiii.

43 There is an added insult in parmularius, "one armed with the buckler," "a Thracian," as applied to a Roman citizen (pater familias).

44 See chap. i.3.

45 Part of a course of training; cf. Nero, xx.1.

46 See Nero, xlix.2.

47 A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Titus in return for free permission to practise their religion; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.6.6.

48 These were doubtless Christians, whom the Romans commonly confounded with the Jews.

49 See Vesp. iii.

50 Iliad, 2.204.

51 Pulvinar here means the couch for the images of the gods; cf. Aug. xlv.1.

52 See chap. iv.5.

53 See note on Aug. liii.1.

54 See chap. iv.4.

55 Arci is a transliteration of the Greek word ἀρκεῖ with a pun on its resemblance in sound to arcus, "arch."

56 See chap. vii.2.

57 Cf. Ovid, Fasti, 1.357.

58 A toga ornamented with horizontal stripes of purple, worn by knights on public occasions, as well as by the early kings and the consuls; Tac. Ann. 3.2; Val. Max. 3.2.9.

59 According to Plin. N. H. xxxvi.163, a hard, white, translucent stone discovered in Cappadocia in the reign of Nero. According to Tzetzes, Lyc. 98, φεγγίτηςσεληνίτης, "moonstone." (p371)Pliny also mentions similar mirrors of black obsidian; N. H. xxxvi.196.

60 Cf. Nero, xl.2.

61 Cf. Nero, xlix.4.

62 It was evidently on a metal plate, attached to the marble base.

63 See Vesp. v.4.

64 Fortuna Primigenia; cf. Tib. xliii.1.

65 Including the burning of the body, to prevent the fulfilment of the prophecy.

66 Niece of Domitian.

67 See Aug. vii.1.

68 This in its connection suggests the blush of modesty, but cf. Tac. Agr. 45, ille vultus et rubor quo se contra pudorem muniebat; and in general, Sen. Epist. 11.3. Doubtless Domitian's ruddy complexion was a recommendation in his youth.

69 Iliad, 21.108.

70 Cf. Tit. v.2. The bow and arrow were not included by the Romans in the term arma.

71 Cf. chap. ii.2.

72 The great library of Ptolemy Philadelphus at Alexandria was destroyed during Caesar's Alexandrine war. The Pergamene library was given by Antony to Cleopatra and transferred to Alexandria, where it was kept in the temple (p381)of Serapis. It was frequently damaged during civil disturbances. Burman thinks that the reference is to the latter; but the plural suggests both.

73 Named after C. Matius, a friend of Augustus and a writer on cookery and gardening.

74 Cf. Juv. ii.32 f.

75 Votive shields, adorned with the emperor's image; see Calig. xvi.4.

76 Cf. Pliny, Paneg. lii.

77 The Capitoline hill was sometimes called mons Tarpeius,º from the Tarpeian Rock at its south-west corner. It was not, however, the original name of the hill, as some Roman antiquarians supposed.

Thayer's Notes:

a This doesn't say much for the Roman navy. I'm hardly the first to notice it, though: see Tobias Smollett's entertaining commentary on this passage.

b The translation "in half-boots" renders the Latin crepidatus. For the crepida, see the article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

c Domitian was thus addressed, for example, by no less a man than Quintilian — Inst. Or. IV.3.33.

d If Domitian renamed the months of September and October from his own names, Suetonius also says elsewhere (Calig. 15.2) that Caligula named September Germanicus after his father: so this is either the second time around, or Suetonius has confused things. At any rate, for photographic evidence of the month name, see this page.

e Domitian was murdered the following day, September 18, A.D. 96, at the fifth hour. Since the date was so close to the equinox, that converts almost precisely to between 11 a. m. and noon mean solar time. At that time, by extrapolation based on Bryant Tuckerman, Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions A.D. 2 to A.D. 1649 At Five-day and Ten-day Intervals (The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1962), the Moon was indeed in Aquarius, in the 23rd degree. (Those who need the details should see the comments in the sourcecode of this page.)

Astrologically, from the phrase "the moon would be stained with blood in Aquarius", one might expect a malefic aspect from Mars. Mars, however, was in the 9th degree of Taurus, and in no aspect; although it is interesting to note that it was stationary. At any rate, the astrological chart in and of itself is not particularly striking; if astrology there was in all this, it must have been in the relation­ship between the transiting chart of the event and Domitian's natal chart, which we do not have.

f In a topical translation (2003): when the existence of weapons of mass destruction is known, it is not believed unless they are used.

g Not every bad emperor got this posthumous treatment: on a scale of 1 to 10, this damnatio memoriae, an official condemnation of the very remembrance of him, is 0. Despite it, some few statues of Domitian have survived, almost all in the provinces; and for an unusual statue of Domitian said to have remained in place within a few yards of the Senate-house, a most peculiar story which makes less and less sense the more carefully one looks at it, see the 6c historian Procopius in the Secret History (8.13, with the footnotes and the Appendix mentioned in them).

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 27 Jun 24