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Chapter XXIII

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter XXV

 p444  Chapter XXIV

The Flavian Period

Vespasian, 69‑79 A.D. T. Flavius Vespasianus was a man of determination and energy, of quick decisions, and of wide experience in practical affairs. These qualities were now needed, for he found the armies demoralized, the credit of the government disappearing among the provincials, Rome in distress, the treasury empty, war in Palestine, and a devastating mutiny on the Rhine. The siege of Jerusalem had been left to Titus and his six legions, a siege that ended in a terrible waste of humanity. Had the Jews been able to unite in a common policy the city might well have been saved, for Titus again and again offered them reasonable terms. But there were several leaders in the city, each jealous of the others, each holding one part of the city under his control. Moreover the fanatic peasant population that acknowledged the commands of the extremist John of Giscala had unfortunately crowded the city in overwhelming numbers before the siege began. These zealots, who would hear of no compromise, put the leaders of the moderate factions to death and held out to the bitter end. Titus, however, is justly blamed for pushing the attack insistently at a needless cost of lives when it was clear that the city had a larger population than it could support. He might have starved the city into submission, but it is apparent that he was not averse to buying military glory at the expense of blood. For months the incessant attacks continued, wall after wall had to be broken, and in each case partial victory ended in the sacking of a portion of the city. Finally the upper part of Mount Zion was starved out and Jerusalem fell. All in all it is said  p445 that a million people perished during the six months, and a hundred thousand were sold into slavery. The Jewish state came to an end, Jerusalem was a ruin, and the Roman tenth legion pitched its camp on the devastated site. The triumphal arch of Titus commemorating the victory may still be seen at the upper end of the Roman Forum.

The great revolt on the Rhine was not equally disastrous, but it threatened Rome's interests more intimately. The headstrong Antonius Primus was in no small measure to blame for this, as he was for the sack of Cremona and Rome. Vespasian indeed owed him little gratitude. Antonius while advancing on Cremona had written ill‑considered letters not only to the legions on the Rhine, but also to the Batavian, German, and Gallic auxiliaries, urging them to revolt from Vitellius in favor of Vespasian. The legions were not likely to heed such a request, since Vitellius had first been elevated by their acclamation, but the barbarian auxiliaries were often on bad terms with their associates in the legions. When Antonius sent a special request to these he must have known that he was inviting mutiny of a very dangerous kind, the more so since a large part of the regular Rhine army had followed Vitellius to Rome, thus leaving the frontier badly exposed. It was Julius Civilis, a Batavian nobleman, till recently an officer in Rome's army, who made the most of this opportunity. He not only urged the 8,000 Batavian auxiliaries to declare themselves for Vespasian, but he called upon all the nearby Batavian and German tribes to do likewise. From the first he seems to have planned in secret to use his forces eventually not in behalf of Vespasian but in winning independence from the Romans. The Batavian cohorts left the Roman camps and cut their way to Civilis, thus providing him with a respectable army trained in Roman tactics. He at once besieged the northernmost garrison of the Romans at Vetera (Xanten), ostensibly fighting in behalf of Vespasian.  p446 But it happened that just then the news came of the defeat of Vitellius at Cremona, and the Roman legions as a matter of course declared themselves also partisans of Vespasian. Civilis should now have laid down his arms and made peace. But, as the Romans suspected, he cared nothing for Vespasian. He drove his blows home with all the more vigor because he knew his opponents were disheartened by the fall of their emperor at Rome. The Roman commander in Gaul relieved Vetera after a desperate battle but was forced by the desertion of many Gauls to retreat to headquarters at Novaesium. And here came the last disgrace to Roman arms when the Roman legionaries themselves mutinied and killed Flaccus, the commander-in‑chief of the Rhine army. Presently the news spread throughout Gaul that Vitellius was dead and that the Capitoline temple was burned. The Druid priests solemnly proclaimed that this was prophetic of the fall of Rome. Three Gallic noblemen, all trained in Roman armies — Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor of the tribe of the Treveri, and Julius Sabinus of the Lingones — called upon the Gauls to assert their independence. Several tribes responded, establishing the "Empire of the Gauls" and four of the Roman legions, surrounded completely by the enemy, took the oath of allegiance to this rebel state. Now, however, when all the North seemed lost to the Romans, the weakness of the enemy became apparent. In the first place, Civilis with his Batavians and Germans refused to coöperate with the Gauls lest they be subjected to Gallic rule, while the Gallic tribes also began to fall apart, each fearing that some other would become the dominant member of the "Empire." The same tribal jealousies now came into evidence that had so effectively aided Julius Caesar in his conquest of Gaul.

By this time, Rome was again well under control and Vespasian sent a faithful friend, Cerialis, with six legions to put down the revolt. He first attacked the Treveri and  p447 Lingones, who had been deserted by their fellows, then he defeated the Germanic tribes under Civilis at Vetera, followed them in several combats beyond the Rhine, and forced them to make peace. The Gauls and Germans were restored to their former condition without added exactions, but their military cohorts were no longer permitted to remain grouped together in garrison duty near home and under their own officers. In fact Vespasian applied to all armies the lesson learned in this rebellion. Auxiliary cohorts were henceforth sent to serve in armies far from home, and they were put under the charge of officers drawn from Italy. The legionaries that had mutinied were discharged in disgrace and without the customary "bonus."

While these wars were being settled in a way that demonstrated to all the world that Rome once more had a responsible government, Vespasian was busy at home placing Rome and the empire on a stable basis. He was first of all a business man, in fact, the only strong organizer that the business classes of Rome ever supplied for high position. His grandfather had been a money-lender in the Sabine country and his father, at first a publican — an honest one at that — had spent his last days as a money-lender in Switzerland. The young man had gone into the civil service at his mother's urging — she seems to have been of better family — but men always found in him the traits of a money maker. This to Rome seemed something of a disgrace, but Rome's opinion was very conservative. There was in Vespasian a sense of honesty, a respect for property-rights, a faith in sound national finances, which the Roman nobility too often failed to comprehend. Such disrespect for elementary business principles as had permitted the Julio-Claudian aristocrats to waste the state funds till they were driven to confiscate private property in order to balance their ledgers might be a mark of aristocracy, but that did not make it a royal virtue. Nor can it be truthfully  p448 said that his business training had made Vespasian scornful of better things. It was precisely this scion of business‑men who was the first prince at Rome to endow public institutions of learning and give stated pensions to artists and literary men.

The need for financial reorganization was great. After examining the records of the treasury Vespasian made the statement that it would take some two billion dollars to put the state on a sound financial basis. That was then a staggering sum and, of course, it was never secured. He got along with far less, but he also was forced to cut down the army to a dangerous point, and he probably refrained from many public improvements that he knew to be needed. He had to pay up the arrears in the soldiers' pay, he had to strengthen the navy, particularly on the Rhine and the Danube, he had to build roads, especially military roads. His work in road-building was particularly remarkable, and he accomplished it with meager funds only by resorting to the unpopular device of employing unoccupied legions upon it. We find his milestones deep in the sandy wastes of Africa, all along the German and Austrian frontiers, through the mountains of Spain, and far off on the upper frontier of Armenia, not to speak of the roads built and repaired in the nearer provinces. Much of Rome had to be rebuilt, and he went somewhat beyond immediate needs by adding a Temple of Peace on the north side of the Forum, and, after destroying Nero's park, building the vast amphitheater (Colosseum) where Nero's lake had been. His son Titus was permitted to turn a part of the "Golden House" into a large public play-ground with free baths.

The insistence upon a sound treasury balance did not of course bring him popularity. He angered many by restoring Augustan tariffs and taxes on sales that had been remitted by Nero and Galba. He had all titles to public property looked up, and was thus able to acquire for sale  p449 many parcels that had fallen into private use. He instituted many petty taxes, so that Titus was led to remark that their money was tainted. In answer Vespasian took a coin out of his pocket and asked his son whether he could detect any odor on it,​a giving currency to an expression which is of course still used. The provinces suffered perhaps unduly, for Vespasian not only increased the tribute wherever possible, but he also removed most of the Oriental client-princes, making the peoples of such states directly tributary to Rome. Indeed he made Greece once more a tribute-paying province, saying — doubtless with good reason — that the Greeks no longer knew how to use freedom. And he likewise made a province of Lycia and Pamphylia, where the hardy mountaineers had so long enjoyed immunity. But he also bore his share of the sacrifice. He abandoned the use of most of Nero's palaces as being too expensive, and confined himself to a very modest house on the Esquiline. There he lived frugally and in the manner of a private citizen, keeping open house to all callers. The expensive and thieving freedmen were also banished from the higher offices, and his son Titus served as his secretary, holding a position practically of Secretary of State.

Having gained an intimate knowledge of imperial affairs from his army service in Britain, Gaul, and Syria, Vespasian showed particular skill in organizing the provinces, their frontiers and their armies. For Britain he chose excellent governors: Cerialis, who had quelled the rebellion of Civilis; Frontinus, whose illuminating books on strategy and on Rome's water department we still have; and Agricola, Tacitus' father-in‑law. These men by prudent advances carried the frontier to southern Scotland. Spain was treated as almost ready for citizenship. He accorded to all urban communities of the province the jus Latii, and we still have fragments of two of the city charters (of Malaga and of Salpensa) given by his son in accordance with this grant.  p450 This measure at once made Roman citizens of all annual town magistrates and all their descendants.

In Gaul, Vespasian completely reorganized the army, as we have seen, and in order to connect the Rhine frontier directly with that of the Danube he took into the province upper Baden, running a military road eastward from Strasbourg to the Neckar and on to the Danube. It was characteristic of the emperor's fiscal policy that he claimed this new region as an imperial domain and settled it with tithe-paying tenants. The road through the Schwartzwald made it possible in the future to hasten troops from the Rhine to the Danube and vice versa, and hence he found it possible to cut down the standing armies on the whole front.

The Danube front also received attention. Had Vespasian but known what a ferment of folk-wanderings had already set in far off in the East and North he would have employed all his resourceful military experience here. To be sure, the Marcomanni and Quadi, who bordered the river as it skirted the provinces of Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia, had given promise of being friendly, but the Dacians and Sarmatians living (in Rumania) over against Moesia had already indicated what might be expected of them when by taking advantage of the civil war they had crossed the Danube in 69, and Mucianus had had to turn from his path to drive them back. The Dacians were a Thracian tribe that had long lived west of the Black Sea without causing much trouble, for except in Augustus' day, when Horace repeatedly mentions them as a danger, they had broken into factions that effectually checked each other. Now a resourceful prince, Decebalus, was uniting them into a powerful people coalescing under pressure from the Sarmatae. The Sarmatians were a very numerous Iranian tribe of nomads related to the old Persians and had slowly moved westward through the steppes of Russia. They are  p451 very important to history, for it was from them that the Goths later got much of their culture, and groups of them, called the Alani, eventually combined with the Goths in raiding a large part of southern Europe. They spoke an eastern dialect of the Indo-European language, and seem to have lived under matriarchal institutions; indeed, their women dressed like the men and went to battle with them. It is likely that the old stories of the Amazons refer back to members of this tribe. Two tribes of these Orientals had now approached the Danube, the Jazyges, living in Hungary, west of the Dacians, and the Roxolani, who were pushing down along the west shore of the Black Sea. The danger to Rome from all these people lay in the fact that the Huns would soon start westward from the far East, while the German tribes were beginning to push down from the Baltic toward the Black Sea. It is easy to see that the Dacians and Sarmatians must bridge the Danube sooner or later if they were to survive.

The Romans knew but little of these wanderings at that time. Vespasian, taking a hint from the slight movement in 69, made one important change on the northeast border. He gave up the inland garrison on the Drave, and sent the legions to strong forts on the Danube, one at Vienna (Vindobona), one at Carnuntum, two in the region of Belgrade, and two nearer the mouth of the Danube. Then he strengthened the Danube flotilla, which was to connect these stations and patrol the river at points of danger. On the easternmost end of the empire he helped safeguard the northern boundary of the protectorate of Armenia by aiding in the building of city walls along the Caucasus, where other Sarmatian tribes threatened to break through.

A brief review of the positions of the legions as placed by Vespasian will convey some idea of where a well-informed general considered the critical points of the empire  p452 to be. A full and absolutely reliable list is not attainable, but the following is at least approximately correct:

Spain had but one legion, no. VII, called the Gemina.

Britain had three legions: II Augusta; IX; XX Victrix.

Lower Germany four: II Adjutrix; VI Victrix; X Gemina; XXI Rapax.

Upper Germany four: I Adjutrix; VIII Augusta; XI Claudia; XIV Gemina.

The Danube line, six: XIII Gemina; XV Apollinaris; I Italica; IV Flavia; Macedonica; VII Claudia.

Syria three: III Gallica; IV Scythica; VI Ferrata.

Judea one: X Fretensis.

Cappadocia two: XIII Fulminata; XVI Flavia.

Egypt two: III Cyrenaica; XXII Deiotariana.

Africa one: III Augusta. Two or three other legions are not accounted for.

The legions at this time consisted of about 5,000 men, and if full each one was divided into ten cohorts and subdivided into 60 centuries. Attached to each were 120 horsemen divided into four turmae, and as an additional aid one or usually several cohorts of non‑citizen auxiliaries, a cohort when full consisting of 1,000 men. Similarly, there were with each legion one or more alae of non‑citizen cavalrymen, which when complete consisted of 24 turmae of 40 each, making 960 horse for each ala. These auxiliary troops formed the light-armed forces of the army and their numbers depended largely on what kind and strength of light-armed forces were requisite for the sort of warfare that must be undertaken in any given province.

The legionaries were of course citizens, whereas the auxiliaries were provincials who were given citizenship only at the end of the full period of service — in Vespasian's time twenty years. But we must not suppose that even a majority of legionaries were recruited from citizen-municipalities. As is implied in the names of some of the legions, the members  p453 were to a large extent recruited wherever they can be found in the provinces and given citizenship on the day of enrolment. Indeed, Vespasian seems to have discouraged recruiting in Italy entirely, except for the praetorian guard and for cohorts of volunteers to be used at special crises. He may have had economic or patriotic reasons for this, but it proved a danger later when armies made up wholly of provincials were tempted to support with arms the claims of a fellow provincial to the throne. However, this danger might have been avoided if later emperors had followed Vespasian's precedent of distributing national groups into widely scattered cohorts, and stationing soldiers in general somewhere else than near their native country.

Vespasian ruled but little over ten years. As we have seen, he was too exacting and firm to be a popular ruler. There were charges that greed led him even to dishonesty, but of this there is no respectable evidence. A hard exactor of taxes could not escape the charge of greed, and we have evidence enough that the income of the empire went very far. Charges of cruelty may perhaps have a better basis, for Helvidius Priscus, the Stoic philosopher, was banished by him for his constant criticism. Priscus was finally put to death, though Vespasian is probably not to be held guilty of the order of execution. It must be said in extenuation of Vespasian that Priscus rested his criticism chiefly on the ground that he was not permitted to take vengeance upon an informer who had done him and his family a wrong. Perhaps some of Vespasian's unpopularity was due to his custom of going to work before sunrise and insisting that his heads of departments must be at their desks at the same hour. He certainly managed to get himself and them through an immense amount of work in ten years.

It appears to us somewhat strange that Vespasian should have given encouragement to acts of emperor-worship. He probably cared not a whit for the farce so far as it applied  p454 to himself, for he was utterly democratic in his converse with men, and when on the point of death he alluded jocosely to the cult by remarking dryly: "I fear I am turning into a divinity." His sense of humor indeed seldom deserted him. But it is true that the imperial cult had now come to be a real patriotic force in all parts of the empire, and Vespasian had been in the East long enough to know that loyalty to the empire if put in terms of devotion to a divinity was most easily apprehended by many subjects. He, therefore, did nothing to discourage it.

He was nearly seventy when he fell fatally ill. His last words might have seemed pretentious from another, but they seem fitting enough for this embodiment of energy. As he felt death near he rose from his bed saying, "An emperor ought to die standing," and fell dead.

Titus, 79‑81 A.D. Upon the news of his death there was great rejoicing through the land, for Titus, genial, good-natured and prodigal, was to succeed his father. In fact, the son had for several years smoothed the father's hard path by his ever ready charm and courtly manners. Rome loved him and he repaid Rome by doing all that was expected of him, even to the point of refusing to marry Berenice, his betrothed and mistress, because as a princess of the Idumaean house she was not congenial to Rome. What kind of a ruler Titus would have made we cannot say, since he died in two years, but his greed for praise, his readiness to please everyone, his willingness to lavish a hundred days on games at the opening of the Colosseum can hardly be interpreted as promising. Suetonius calls him deliciae generis humani, "the darling of all mankind," but the human race had shown poor judgment in estimating similar qualities in Caligula and Nero.

The only event of Titus' reign that was long remembered was the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, which buried Herculaneum under lava and Pompeii under a load of ashes. It  p455 has been estimated that more than 50,000 people lost all their possession at this time and many more suffered severely; but a large part of these escaped alive, since earthquakes and heavy falls of ashes continued for hours before the wave of poisonous fumes descended which choked out the lives of those who attempted to brave it out.

Domitian, 81‑96 A.D. Vespasian had never left any doubt of the fact that he was founding a dynasty. He had said openly that his sons, or no one, were to succeed him, and he had associated Titus with himself from the year 71, by obtaining for him from the Senate both tribunician and proconsular power. Domitian's position as a potential successor was also indicated by his repeated designation as consul during Vespasian's lifetime. But he was not granted the distinctive imperial powers either by his father or his brother, nor was he ever permitted by either to hold any high office in the army, though he earnestly begged for it. He was distrusted in fact because of an unreliable and impetuous temperament, and it is probable that if Titus had had a son as he desired he would have endeavored to procure the succession for his son rather than for his brother. Both Titus and Domitian, so unlike their sturdy Sabine father, seem to have had a taint in their blood. Their mother in fact was said to have been a non‑citizen from Etruria, a woman of merely "Latin" rights when Vespasian married her. It is difficult to comprehend what this means unless it is that she was a descendant of the Etruscans who were lowered to the "Latin" status by Sulla for supporting Marius.​1 Such a heritage might account for the peculiar mixture of religiosity and lustfulness, of thirst for blood and love of beauty in Domitian.

Domitian succeeded to power in 81, when he was nearly thirty years of age. At the death of his brother he presented himself to the praetorian guard before he went to  p456 the Senate, an act as significant of the impotence of the Senate as it was of Domitian's intended course. In fact, when the Senate asked him to take the oath that he would put no senator to death — an oath which was meant to secure a recognition of its immunity from imperial jurisdiction and therefore its position in the dyarchy — he simply refused. He had in fact no intention of treating the Senate as an equal. He intended to be sole ruler, and it was not long before he requested and secured the censorship for life, an office by which he could add to and subtract from the Senate at pleasure. He was the first of the emperors to add this function to the imperial powers as a permanent and essential part of those powers. It is by this autocratic behavior toward the Senate that he raised the most strenuous opposition to himself, and that he pricked the more stubborn members of the Senate into resistance which usually ended in their death on the charge of treason; and it is because of the criticism aroused by such acts that the senatorial writers of the day, men like Tacitus and Pliny found it impossible to write fairly even of his conduct of imperial affairs. To them he appeared to be merely a tyrant and a fool. To us who may look beyond the Roman Senate to the empire at large he seems indeed foolishly tyrannical in his policy toward the Senate, but for the rest a well-meaning and industrious, though impulsive, short-sighted, and autocratic ruler of a world too large for his capacities.

He began very early in his reign to revise the Senate list, pruning out members whom he declared unfit; and it was said that the most decisive mark of "unfitness" was a show of independent judgment. This undertaking led to mutterings of dissent which were answered by edicts of banishment, and presently a granting of favors to informers who brought him data of "treasonable" expressions. So the delatores, whom he had begun by avoiding, came back once more. Domitian made a particular study of the life and  p457 documents of Tiberius in order to find precedents for methods of imposing his will upon the Senate. He discovered abundant precedents not only for turning the Senate itself into a court of treason but also for holding trials in the imperial presence, and he followed both customs.

Fortunately for Rome, he was called away to the German frontier in the second year of his rule. Here he undertook to extend the work of his father, who had made tithe-lands of the region now included in lower Baden. North of that district, especially along the river Main, many Gallic settlers had found homes after the Chatti had been punished in the days of Augustus. Wiesbaden, in fact, had already become a health resort. Domitian now took the legions of the army of the upper Rhine across the river (we do not learn on what excuse) and by driving out the Chatti pacified the country from above the Taunus range down as far as the Neckar. For this he was voted a triumph and the laudatory cognomen Germanicus, though Tacitus doubtless expresses the true attitude of the Senate when he reports that the victory was hardly worthy of mention. Whether or no Tacitus was right — and he was not inclined to be fair in this case — Domitian left his mark on the future policy of Rome by drawing a strong line of forts some 120 miles long marking his new frontier. His system of fortifications consisted of earthen forts interspersed with wooden watch-towers where advance guards might be posted, and behind this line, well connected by roads, a series of large stone forts capable of holding larger detachments which could dash to the defense of any point endangered. This "limes," as it was called, extended from above Coblenz on the Rhine eastward north of the Taunus range, then southeast past modern Frankfort, striking finally down through Württemberg towards the Danube. The line was apparently not at this time completed all the way to Ratisbon, but the credit of having stabilized the frontier on practical lines from the Rhine to the Danube — a problem  p458 Augustus had failed to solve — seems to belong to Domitian and his engineers.

While this work was being accomplished the Dacians (apparently in 85) crossed the Danube again and defeated and killed the governor of Moesia. Domitian rushed to the scene with several legions of the nearby provinces and drove the Dacians back. Probably at this time that the Roman wall still to be seen in Dobrudja was built. Returning home Domitian permitted his general Fuscus to undertake a punitive expedition into the enemy's country, but Decebalus, the great Dacian king, proved the better soldier. Fuscus was thoroughly defeated at Adamklissi, and Decebalus not only took many prisoners but also, what he prized more, a great many engines of war which he used as models for building up a strong artillery.

Domitian at first sent Julianus to restore order on the Danube, for he found his attention occupied in executing senators who had in his absence abetted Antonius Saturninus, a rebellious governor of lower Germany. (The treason-trials of the year 88 were indeed among the worst acts of tyranny in his bloody career.) In 89, after Decebalus had been defeated by Julianus, Domitian returned to the Danube and foolishly undertook an expedition against the Germans of the Bohemian mountains, the famous Marcomanni, on the plea that they had not sent contingents in the previous campaign according to their promises. The enemy were not eager for the fray and sent him envoys, whom, it is said, he treacherously slew as enemies. Domitian might have read Roman history to advantage. He crossed the Danube, but was defeated by the Dacians and driven back in disgrace. He felt that he had had enough of war for a while and, securing favorable terms from Decebalus, he made peace. Decebalus indeed went so far as to acknowledge the suzerainty of Rome, which was indeed a great deal, but he also demanded in return — to make a show at home of independence — some gifts and the use  p459 of Roman engineers, who were of course to teach his army the art of war against future invasions. Domitian had perhaps accomplished enough for a legitimate Dacian triumph. And he had no need of mentioning his ill‑starred expedition into Bohemia. But the Romans were not accustomed to such bargains with enemies and the bestowal of gifts upon the conquered. The senatorial writers chose to call the Dacian expedition also a failure, and the gifts a sign that Domitian "paid tribute to the barbarian." The gossip about the defeat in Bohemia drove Domitian to one more trial with the Marcomanni.

Unfortunately we get no clear details about this expedition. We are told that the Germans were aided by Sarmatians. One wonders what would have happened if the left bank of the Danube had been held by a homogeneous people instead of by German, Iranian, and Thracian tribes intermingled. Domitian seems to have had success enough to win favorable terms, but not even he, who usually saw his deeds through a magnifying conceit, dared claim a triumph this time. It was left for better men to meet the onset which he had now provoked.

As for the rest of the frontier, Agricola was still continuing the advances in Britain begun under Vespasian. He was indeed prospering, but Domitian saw little use in spending blood and money in winning dominion over northern Britain and over Ireland, which Agricola wished to invade. The ambitious general was wisely recalled. The Roman boundary in fact remained in Britain where Domitian's decision left it.

The latter years of Domitian's reign were not relieved by any expeditions to the frontier, and the Senate suffered in consequence — the Stoic group most of all. Herennius Senecio had written a laudatory life of Helvidius Priscus, Junius Rusticus had written one of Thrasea. Both were tried for cynical references to the government which were interpreted as treasonable, and both were executed. Fannia,  p460 the wife of Thrasea, was banished for having supplied materials to both, and finally a general edict went out banishing all philosophers, as edict which exiled Epictetus and Dion Chrysostom, two men that Rome could ill afford to lose.

Domitian is also credited by the writers of the church with persecuting the Christians. In a sense the charge is true. Flavius Clemens, his own cousin, was accused of "infidelity" and put to death, though Domitian had already chosen the two sons of Clemens as his heirs. They were his nearest of kin. Clemens' wife, Flavia Domitilla, was banished at the same time. Connected with this was the condemnation of Acilius Glabrio, a member of a very old family. It has been supposed that the strange religion espoused by them may have been the Jewish one, since we know that many Romans found an appeal in this monotheistic cult at this time, but the stories of the church fathers receive support from the fact that the earliest Christian catacombs are actually found on the property of Domitilla and the Acilii. Whether, however, the charge of Christianity was at this time made the real basis for persecution may well be doubted. Clemens, as the father of the chosen successors of Domitian, could hardly have had an easy life in the vicinity of the unreasonable tyrant. Since the "persecution" was not extensive, it is likely that Domitian had executed Clemens and Acilius on the grounds of personal dislike, that perhaps he let the charge of "infidelity" be made for the sake of appearances, and that the later Christians, knowing of the execution of these early members of the group, counted them among the "martyrs." It is, however, very interesting to find that men of such rank had thus gained early access to Christian writings and had found them convincing.

The death of Clemens, 95 A.D., was probably influential in stirring up the conspiracy which ended the emperor's career, for it was Domitian's own wife, Domitia, who, realizing how close to his own family he could strike, directed  p461 the plot. She was a daughter of Nero's excellent general, Corbulo. Her life had been difficult. For a long time she had had to be content with a marriage in the simple form of usus, not knowing whether she would be recognized as empress if Domitian came to the throne. Then she was formally married, but after her son died her husband proved untrue to her for many years. Recently he had called her back to be his wife again, only to tyrannize over her. It ended by her forming the plot with some of the household freedmen, and various senators were informed of it. After selecting Nerva as his successor, a man universally respected and yet colorless enough not to be identified with any faction, the conspirators designated some of the freedmen to strike the tyrant down in his own house.


The Author's Note:

1 She may possibly have belonged to the class of freedmen called Latini Juniani.


Thayer's Note:

a Excessive delicacy on our author's part has made this a bit hard to follow. Among the "petty taxes", a tax on either the use of urinals or the collection of urine by fullers — the famous passage of Suetonius (Life of Vespasian, 23.3), whence the paraphrase here, is not clear as to which; see the brief discussion in Smith's Dictionary of Greek & Roman Antiquities, s.v. Fullo. The French in turn had the genial idea of naming public urinals for the emperor: they are vespasiennes (or were, since they're now more or less phased out).


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