Ancient Rome ”“ Who is Domitian?

Worshipping Roman gods and goddesses was a popular trend in ancient times, but there came a time when this belief system was no longer being followed in the same manner. This meant that some rulers would greatly clash with the subjects who turned their backs on the Roman deities for a different belief system.  In this article, you will learn more about Domitian, who was the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.

During the early years of Domitian’s career, his existence was overshadowed by his brother Titus, who was known as an excellent military leader for his role in the First Jewish-Roman War. As long as his father Vespasian was in power, Domitian was not in the forefront. The two brothers differed, as Titus held many offices under the rule of his father, while Domitian received honors but no responsibilities. When Vespasian died in 79, Titus became his successor. However, a fatal illness unexpectedly took the life of the leader in 81. This left Domitian as the new emperor ”“ a title that came from the Praetorian Guard.

Domitian was a strong supporter of believing in the deities and by the time he had assumed power, an increasing number of people believed in another God. The last book of the Bible (called The Apocalypse of Saint John) is thought to have been written during the reign of Domitian, which was at the end of the 1st century. An increasing number of people started to take notice to following in another system of belief.
Three-hundred years later, Eusebius of Caesarea recounted the first widespread persecution of Christians and Jews that occurred during Domitian’s rule. Texts state that Domitian was opposed to all other religions outside of the Roman belief system ”“ he was a tyrant to those that did not feel the same way as he. Because of this, he naturally faced the grumblings of his close advisors and friends like other emperors before him. He would answer by killing his opponents.

Domitian executed many influential politicians and wealthy citizens, but it was the death of his secretary Epaproditus that was the last straw. To put an end to his tyranny, a man named Stephanus (along with several others) conspired to kill Domitian. The plan involved Stephanus pretending to be wounded for several days so that he could hide a dagger underneath his bandages. He visited Domitian in his bedroom and used the knife to stab the emperor in the groin. It was then that several men attacked Domitian (including a gladiator) ”“ all of them stabbed him until he was dead.

The same day that Domitian was assassinated, his advisor Nerva became his successor. The memory of the emperor was tainted when the Roman Senate condemned it to oblivion. Senatorial authors, such as Pliny the Younger, would publish histories that showed Domitian as a “cruel and paranoid tyrant.” However, modern historians would beg to differ. They believe that Domitian may have been ruthless, but was still an efficient autocrat, who laid down the foundations for culture, economics and politics to thrive in the 2nd century.