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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Classical Journal
Vol. 11, No. 3 (Dec. 1915), pp131‑141.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p131  The Date of the Arch of Titus
By Donald McFayden
University of Chicago

That the Arch of Titus was erected in the early part of the reign of Domitian seems to be the universal opinion of writers on the topography of Rome. A careful study of the reign of Domitian upon which the present writer is now engaged has convinced him, however, that this opinion is wrong; that the arch must rather be referred to the time of Nerva or Trajan.


Of specific evidence as to the date of the arch we have singularly little.

1. It cannot possibly have been completed before the death of Titus; for in the inscription which it bears Titus is referred to as a divus and his ascent into heaven is the subject of the relief which adorns the inner vault of the arch. This affords us September 13, 81 A.D., as an assured terminus a quo.

2. An equally assured terminus ad quem would be at our disposal if we could date the fragments from "the tomb of the Haterii" which are preserved in the Lateran Museum; for on one of these reliefs the Arch of Titus is represented. Unfortunately, however, these reliefs cannot be dated with any precision. The only available criterion is their artistic style. They need not be earlier than Trajan; and some archaeologists are inclined to think that the particular relief on which the Arch of Titus is depicted is later than 135 A.D.1

3. The fact that the arch is nowhere mentioned in Latin literature is slightly surprising if it was erected under Domitian; for  p132 most of Domitian's other building operations are referred to.​2 M. Gsell has pointed out​3 one passage in which it seems as if Martial could hardly have avoided mentioning the arch had it been in existence when he wrote. In the seventieth epigram of his First Book Martial directs his servant to carry a message for him from his house on the Quirinal to a friend's house on the Palatine and describes the route that the servant will take, mentioning the notable buildings he will pass by the way. The route leads directly past the Arch of Titus; yet the arch is not referred to. This epigram was published according to Friedländer in 85/86 A.D.

4. Suetonius says, "defunctum [sc. Titum] nullo praeterquam consecrationis honore dignatus, saepe etiam carpsit [sc. Domitianus] obliquis orationibus et edictis."​4 This seems like an express assertion that no triumphal arch was erected to Titus at any time in Domitian's reign.

These last two bits of evidence are not usually noticed by writers on the Arch of Titus, probably because they are felt to be outweighed by considerations of probability. The arch commemorates the love and sorrow of the Senate and people of Rome for the most amiable of the Roman emperors, and it seems most natural to suppose that that love and sorrow were felt most keenly just after his death. We know that he was deified just after his death. It seems probable that the arch was erected at that time also. A more intimate study of the historical situation, however, will show that it is highly improbable that any triumphal arch (and in particular this triumphal arch) was erected in Titus' honor under Domitian, that the fact of Titus' deification in no way shakes this presumption, and finally that Titus was even more popular after Domitian's death than he was just after his own.


If the arch was erected under Domitian, we may be sure that it was erected with his full approval and probably at his desire; for under Domitian the Senate was little more than an organ for  p133 carrying out the imperial pleasure. Now it is an abundantly attested fact that Domitian was extremely jealous of Titus and particularly of Titus' military achievements.​5 He was painfully conscious of being outshone. It was his habit to depreciate on all occasions Titus' services to the state. He even went so far as to boast that Titus and Vespasian himself had owed their thrones to him.​6 His hatred of Titus long antedated his own accession. It is very improbable that at any period of his reign, even at its beginning, Domitian would have permitted the erection of an arch on one of the most frequented spots in Rome to commemorate Titus' exploits.

This consideration has led M. Reinach​7 to suggest that perhaps the arch was begun by Titus and that Domitian felt compelled to complete it. But M. Reinach himself has pointed out one serious objection to this theory. Titus had already erected in the Circus Maximus an arch commemorating the capture of Jerusalem. It is hard to see why he should have set about immediately to erect another arch in Rome to commemorate the same event.

Our feeling that neither Titus nor Domitian could have had anything to do with the erection of the arch as we have it, is strengthened as we note carefully the reliefs with which the arch is decorated and the inscription which it bears; for these display a certain disregard for historical fact, for constitutional usage, and (if either Titus or Domitian was responsible for them) for the demands of filial respect, of which it is unnatural to suppose either Titus or (under the circumstances) Domitian would have been guilty. The subject of the main reliefs is the triumph which celebrated the successful completion of the Jewish War. The reliefs depict Titus as riding alone as the sole triumphator, thus ascribing to him the whole glory of the victory. This, however, is a glaring inaccuracy. As a matter of fact, Titus was not the sole or even the chief triumphator in the triumph as it actually took place, for the reason that the glory of the Jewish conquest was not his alone and in law  p134 it was not his at all. Titus only completed a task which his father has already more than half accomplished, and he completed it as his father's legatus.​8 In constitutional law a victory won by a legatus was reckoned as a victory of the imperator under whom the legatus served. Vespasian therefore, strictly speaking, was the conqueror of Jerusalem and Vespasian alone had the right to triumph. As a matter of fact, it was Vespasian who triumphed over the Jews, although by special favor Titus, who in the meantime had been made Vespasian's college in the imperium, shared in the triumph.9

That Domitian would have allowed a relief to be carved which gave Titus more than his due seems very unlikely. If, as M. Reinach suggests, the relief were already in place, we may be sure that he would have had the inaccuracy corrected in the inscription, which was certainly composed after Titus' death. Yet the inscription contains no reference to Vespasian's part in the Jewish War. It runs simply thus: Senatvs popvlvsque Romanvs divo Tito divi Vespasiani f. Vespasiano Avgvsto.

That even Titus would have been guilty of the slight to his father's memory which the reliefs involve seems contradicted by the impression which one derives from a study of his whole attitude toward his father.​10 The inscription on the arch which was erected in his principate is preserved for us in the Codex Einsiedlensis, although the arch itself was destroyed some time in the thirteenth century. In that inscription it is expressly mentioned that Titus conquered Jerusalem praeceptis patriis consiliisque et auspiciis.11

 p135  III

But the fact remains that Domitian permitted Titus to be deified.​12 If he allowed him this supreme honor, is it not reasonable to suppose that he may have allowed him the lesser honor of a memorial arch? This contention loses its force when the policy of Domitian in the matter of the imperial cult​13 is examined.

In Domitian's reign all deceased descendants of Vespasian were worshiped as divi, not Titus only but also Vespasian's daughter, Flavia Domitilla, who died before Vespasian came to the throne, Titus' daughter Julia, and Domitian's son, who seems to have died almost immediately after his birth in 73 A.D. The custom of deifying all members of the imperial house on their decease was a Flavian innovation, as was also the custom discernible under the Flavians of giving to all the female members of the imperial family the title of Augusta. The beginnings of both these customs are discernible under Titus, perhaps even under Vespasian. Domitian adhered to them with rigid consistency.

The purpose of both customs is obvious — to emphasize the imperial dignity of the Flavian family. The descendants of Vespasian had good reason to emphasize their imperial dignity, for it was the only dignity that the family could boast. Until Vespasian and his brother attained senatorial rank the Flavii had been only Italian tradesmen. Vespasian had owed his Judean command largely to the fact that Nero assumed that his plebeian birth barred him from being a candidate for the throne. When Vespasian did attain the principate, he and his sons after him found themselves ever face to face with an aristocracy which resented their rule as that of low-born upstarts. To justify their position the Flavians of the second generation found it convenient to assert that are family was more than noble — it was  p136 divine!​14 The Julians had asserted the same thing of their family in their day. The religious reforms of Augustus for the most part were a carefully calculated attempt to emphasize the sanctity of the Julian gens. The Flavians, however, could claim no Venus Genetrix. Divus Vespasianus had to serve instead. It behooved them to make the most of him and to insist in every way possible that his descendants inherited his divine nature.

It especially behooved Domitian to insist upon this idea. Vespasian and Titus might claim the principate on the ground that they were the most distinguished men of their day; but Domitian's only claim was his descent. It was a political necessity for him to leave nothing undone which could express the idea that his descent guaranteed his divinity. The pains that Domitian took to proclaim his divinity are well known. His interest in the matter was no mere freak of madness. His possession of a divine equipment for his high office was his only ostensible right to rule.

His arrangements for the carrying on of the imperial cult display a deliberate attempt to make that cult set forth his own divinity. In the first place, he was careful to enforce recognition of the principle that divinity inhered in all the descendants of Vespasian. All the members of the house who died in his reign he caused to be enrolled among the divi. Titus and Julia certainly, his own son probably, and possibly his sister Domitilla also, owed their deification to him. The poem which Martial wrote while Domitian was still alive can be depended upon to reflect Domitian's ideas. It is significant, therefore, to find Martial addressing the child whom Domitian was expecting in 90 A.D. as vera deum suboles. The child, Martial implies, will inherit a divine endowment from the gods (Vespasian and Domitian) from whom he is descended.

On the other hand, it was to Domitian's interest to make clear that the divinity of Vespasian's descendants was theirs by inheritance, not by achievement. If divinity went by achievement, his claim to divinity might be doubtful. He made this clear by procuring divine honors for his little son. He made it clear also by the arrangements which he made for celebrating the Flavian worship. Titus apparently had not found time in his brief reign to  p137 build the temples, perhaps not even to establish the priesthood required. It fell to Domitian to make good the deficiency. He built two temples, a Templum divi Vespasiani​15 in the Forum and a Templum Gentis Flaviae at the family mausoleum which occupied the site of the house in which he himself was born.​16 None of the Flavian divi seem to have had individual shrines or priests in Rome,​17 though such are attested for nearly all previous divi. The worship of all of them was intrusted to a college known under Domitian as the Sodales Flaviales.18

 p138  These titles and arrangements teach the doctrine that the Domitian wished to inculcate, that it was the Flavian gens​19 as a whole that was divine, that its members were to be worshiped as members of that gens. That Domitian wished himself to be regarded as (in at least a prospective sense) an object of the Sodales' worship was expressed in the official head-dress which they wore at the Capitoline Games. It was decorated with images of the Capitoline trinity, Juppiter, Juno, and Minerva, and with an image of Domitian himself.20

The effect of all these arrangements was to make the worship of Titus as inconspicuous as possible. His deification was required both by consistency and by policy, but his deity was not insisted upon a whit more than the deity of Domitian's infant. Titus received no special ordinances of worship. For this there was good reason. As Domitian's reign wore on, the people fell into the habit of expressing their hatred of Domitian by praising Titus, whom they regarded as in every way Domitian's opposite. The public worship of Titus apart from the other Flavian divi would have afforded an altogether too convenient occasion for the expression of this feeling. It was wiser to have him lost in the crowd. Suetonius' statement that Domitian allowed no public honor to be decreed to Titus except that of bare consecration is therefore in all probability to be taken very literally. All things considered, no presumption that the existing Arch of Titus was erected in Domitian's reign. In fact, the presumption is quite the other way; for Domitian may almost be said to have insulted Titus in the very process of deifying him.


Yet despite the considerations we have adduced, the probability that the arch was erected under Domitian would still be strong were we unable to point to another date which is at least  p139 equally probable. It happens, however, that the theory which we suggested at the outset, that the arch was erected in the years immediately following Domitian's death, satisfies all the data that we have.

In the first place, the specific bits of evidence which are available accord with, if they do not actually suggest, this date. In the second place, this period was one in which Titus was adored, both literally and figuratively, with greater fervor even than at the time of his death.

Domitian's insistence upon his own dignity and his right to rule naturally but increased the hostility of the nobility. There were a succession of aristocratic conspiracies. Domitian retaliated with repressive measures, confiscations, exile, and executions, which culminated in the last three or four years of his reign in a terrible persecution of the senatorial class and all their adherents. The result was Domitian's own assassination in 96 A.D.

Domitian left behind him only two adopted children, who were too young to succeed him. On his death, therefore, the Senate, i.e., the aristocracy, regained control of the state and elected one of their number, M. Cocceius Nerva, emperor. The soldiery, always loyal to the Flavians, bitterly resented Domitian's murder. The Praetorians would have avenged him, but they were deserted by their leaders. To placate the army Nerva, after about a year, associated with himself M. Ulpius Trajanus, the most distinguished general of the day, who on Nerva's death, which soon ensued, became sole emperor. Under Trajan the aristocracy still continued to enjoy the consideration, or, to use their own phrase, the libertas, which they had regained at Domitian's fall.

They made use of this libertas to damn Domitian's memory. At the first meeting of the Senate after Domitian's death, his statues and triumphal arches were ordered to be demolished and his name to be erased from all inscriptions in which it occurred. Those whom he had banished were recalled and all his policies were reversed. The writers of the day took the cue. Martial, who had fawned upon Domitian to the last, now hailed the accession of Nerva:

Recta Fides, hilaris Clementia, cauta Potestas

Jam redeunt: longa terga dedere metus.

 p140  Tacitus, the younger Pliny, Juvenal, Suetonius a little later, and others set themselves to paint a portrait of Domitian which reflected him in the darkest colors. They did their work well. Later ages, from the time of Cassius Dio onward, have learned to think of Domitian as the type of the cowardly and cruel tyrant and debauché. Not until very recent times has history learned to read between their lines and in inscriptions that with all his sins, Domitian was a capable administrator, and that the world as a whole prospered under his rule.

One form in which this detestation of Domitian expressed itself was the exaltation of Titus' memory. Under Domitian himself a favorite mode of denouncing the tyrant employed by the nobles in the secrecy of their palaces had been to contrast him with his brother. Titus, we may surmise, had not been universally beloved by the nobility in his lifetime. He did everything in his power to make himself popular; but there must have been some at least who never forgot certain severities which he had exercised under Vespasian,​21 and after all he was a Flavian upstart. But now all Titus' imperfections were forgotten. Only his virtues and his untimely death were remembered. On the accession of Nerva these sentiments found open expression. The historians used his virtues as a background against which to paint Domitian's vices. They represented him as all that a man and an emperor ought to be, as "the darling of the human race."​22 His cult emerged from the obscurity to which Domitian had consigned it. He was worshiped no longer as merely one, but as the chief, of the Flavian divi. This is shown, not merely by the fact that the Temple of Vespasian came to be known, doubtless at this time, as the Temple of Vespasian and Titus,​23 but also by a very significant change in the title of the Flavian sodalitas. Four different titles of that sodalitas are attested in inscriptions. It is called sometimes the Sodales Flaviales, sometimes the Sodales Flaviales Titiales, sometimes the Sodales Titiales Flaviales, sometimes even the Sodales Titiales. Of these titles we have shown reason to believe that the first was  p141 the title in use under Domitian. One of the others, probably the second, now becomes official, undoubtedly by senatorial decree.24

The title Sodales Flaviales Titiales singles out Titus as an especial object of the Flavian cult. The two other titles, by which we must suppose the college to have been known in popular usage, go still farther. They designate Titus as the chief of the Flavian divi, for the first of them may be translated "the college that worships Titus and the other Flavians,"​25 and the second indicates that Titus was the sole object of the college's devotions.

That this period, which we may perhaps define as covering the reign of Nerva and the early part of the reign of Trajan, was the period in which the Arch of Titus was erected is in every way probable. Enthusiasm for Titus ran high. The tendency would, therefore, be to attribute the conquest of the Jews entirely to have. Enthusiasm for Titus was free to express itself; for a favorite mode of flattering the existing emperors was to damn Domitian in their presence as in every way their own opposite,​26 and the exaltation of Titus was, as we have seen, only another method of damning Domitian. That we have no record of the arch's erection at this period is easily explicable. We have no detailed knowledge of the period at all. The modern historian is left to spell out from the reliefs of Trajan's pillar the story of the last great achievement of the Roman arms.

The Author's Notes:

1 See on the date of these reliefs Helbig, Führer durch die Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, 3d ed., 1913, II, 30 and 32 and the references there cited; also G. Spano, Sul relievoº sepolchraleº degli Aterii, Naples, 1906.

2 Compare the list of Domitian's buildings in Gsell, Essai sur le règne de l'empereur Domitien (1893) with the references in M. Gsell's footnotes.

3 Ibid., p108, n2.

4 Dom. 2.3.

5 Suet. Dom. 2.3; Cassius Dio 67.2; Silius Italicus, Punica 3.607.

6 This silly boast is attested not only by Suetonius (Dom. 13.1) but also by the writers at Domitian's court (Martial IX.101.15; Quintilian X.I.91).

7 L'arc de Titus (1890), pp11‑12.

8 Titus did not become coemperor with his father till July 1, 71 A.D. On the coinage of the years 69 and 70 he does not bear the title of imperator. On coins issued in the first half of 72 his name appears with the title imperator designatus (Pauly-Wissowa, VI, 2708 and 2710).

9 Triumphavit cum patre (Suet. Titus 6). Josephus (B.J. 7.121), it is true, says that the Senate voted two triumphs, one for Vespasian and one for Titus; but this proposition was overruled.

10 See Pauly-Wissowa, VI, 2706 ff.

11 CILVI, 944. The present writer is inclined to believe that the only public recognition which Titus' mother ever received was the coins which her son Titus issued in her memory: those namely, which Cohen (erroneously) lists under the heading, Domitille jeune.

12 Titus died on September 13, 81 A.D. He was not deified until after October 1, 81 A.D., before which date Domitian had been invested with all the imperial prerogatives (CIL VI, 2060, l. 48).

13 A full discussion of Domitian's use of the imperial cult would be out of place in this paper. The present writer hopes ere long to treat the matter more fully elsewhere and incidentally to show that it was Domitian's insistence upon the imperial cult that led to the first breach between the Christian church and the imperial government and to the first official persecution of the Christian religion.

14 The imperial family is referred to as a domus divina in a Neapolitan inscription of Domitian's time (CIL, X, 1632).

15 That this and not Templum Vespasiani et Titi was the official name of this temple under Domitian is proved by the dedicatory inscription which it bore on its front, which has been preserved for us by the Einsiedeln monk (CIL, VI, 938) and by the other two references to this temple which come down to us from Domitian's reign (CIL, VI, 2065, col. 1, l. 52, and Statius Silv. I.1.31).

16 Titus had been born in an earlier and much humbler abode of Vespasian (Suet. Titus 1).

17 Newton, The Epigraphical Evidence for the Reigns of Vespasian and Titus (1901), p98. Flamens or flaminicae of individual Flavius divi, however, were appointed in the municipia.

18 This college is variously referred to in inscriptions as Sodales Flaviales. Sodales Flaviales Titiales, Sodales Titiales Flaviales, and Sodales Titiales. It was modeled on the already existing college of the Sodales Augustales Claudiales. The history of the earlier college is well known. It was founded at the time of Augustus' deification as the Sodales Augustales. When Claudius was deified its title was enlarged to Sodales Augustales Claudiales. Analogy suggests that the later college had a similar history: that it was probably founded as the Sodales Flaviales on the occasion of the deification of Vespasian by Titus and that the adjective Titiales was added to its title under Domitian when Titus was deified. This is indeed the current view. (Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer [2d ed., 1912], p565). On closer scrutiny, however, the analogy breaks down. The phrase Sodales Augustales Claudiales is strictly logical. It denotes "the college that has in charge the worship of Augustus and Claudius." The phrase Sodales Flaviales Titiales, however, is strictly tautological. It may be paraphrased "the college that has in charge the worship of the Flavii and one of the Flavii, viz., Titus." That Domitian should have allowed Titus to be thus singled out for special worship is very unlikely. The title Sodales Flaviales is in exact accord with the view of the cult which Domitian wished to express and with the titles which Domitian gave to the temples in which the priesthood ministered. It is much more likely that the title was changed after Domitian's death when, as we shall see, especial emphasis was placed upon Titus' worship. With this conclusion what scanty evidence agrees. It will be found collected in Newton, op. cit., pp96 f. There is absolutely no evidence that the college existed under Titus. The only references that can possibly reflect the Domitianic usage are in harmony with the view that under Domitian it was known as the Sodales Flaviales simply (Suet. Dom. 4.4; CIL, XI, 1430; Dessau, 1010.) All the inscriptions which refer to it otherwise can be shown to belong to later reigns, except the one which cannot be dated at all. Finally the titles of the municipal Seviri which were modeled on the Roman college bear out this view (see Newton, op. cit., pp97 f.). "Titiales" is attested as a title of these Seviri only in two cases (CIL, III, 1768 and 1835). The full title in each case is Sodales Augustales Flaviales Titiales Nervales. The addition of "Nervales" shows that these inscriptions cannot be earlier than the reign of Trajan.

19 I. e., the descendants of Vespasian.

20 Suet. Dom. 4.4.

21 Suet. Titus 6f.

22 Suet. Titus 1.

23 It is so called in two fourth-century handbooks of Roman antiquities which have come down to us, the so‑called Curiosum and the Chronica urbana.

24 Dessau, 1010: A. Didivs Gallvs Fabricivs Veiento cos III XVvir sacris faciend. sodalis avgvstal. sod. Flavial. sod. Titialis et Attica eivs nometon V.S.L.M. M. Gsell's explanation of this inscription is probably the correct one (op. cit., p51, n1), that Didius Gallus was a member of the Flavian sodalitas when it was first instituted as the Sodales Flaviales; that he was still a member of it when the change in its name was made; and that it was as a result of this change in title that he became a Sodales Titialis as well as a Sodalis Flavialis. This inscription seems to point to a formal and official change in the title of the college. Unfortunately, however, it gives no clue to the date at which the change took place; for we know that Didius Gallus' career extended from the time of Nero to that of Nerva and probably into the reign of Trajan. Whichever date we adopt for the change, Didius would have lived through it.

25 Did the populace ever understand it to mean "the college that worships Titus Flavius"?

26 Compare Pliny's Panegyric of Trajan passim.

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