The Twelve Caesars (Book Summary) The Inside Story of Rome’s Rulers
A look into the triumphs and tragedies of the Roman Empire's first twelve emperors
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A look into the triumphs and tragedies of the Roman Empire's first twelve emperors
What’s it about?
One of the most colorful biographical works ever written is The Twelve Caesars (121 CE). It records the lives of the men who controlled ultimate authority in Rome after its change from a republic to an empire in 27 BCE and is at times opinionated, spectacular, and dramatic. Suetonius was a former private secretary to one of those emperors, Hadrian, and was well-versed in court life. He uses that information in The Twelve Caesars to shed light on the empire’s early highs and lows, as well as the virtues and all-too-human shortcomings of its apparently heavenly rulers.
About the author
Around the year 69 CE, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was born into a wealthy Roman family. He was a brilliant scholar and philosopher who published biographies of notable persons of his time as well as research on topics ranging from courtesans in politics to poetry and Roman culture. During the reigns of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, Suetonius also served at the imperial court. Suetonius’ best-known work, The Twelve Caesars, was written in 122 CE.
In the year 85 BCE, a 15-year-old boy is mourning the loss of his father. Due to the death of the family patriarch, the adolescent is now the leader of his household. Julius Caesar was his name.
Coming of age is a tumultuous time. A civil war between plebeian populists and traditional aristocrats has engulfed Rome. The aristocrats won after a long battle. Sulla, a conservative general, is appointed as dictator.
Caesar, the nephew of Gaius Marius, one of the populists’ most famous leaders, has become a target. His inheritance is taken away from him, and he is forced to flee. Sulla eventually pardons him, but he does so with a sense of foreboding in his proclamation. Caesar, he claims, possesses all of the characteristics of a man who will one day overthrow the Republic. He isn’t mistaken.
Caesar does not wait to see if Sulla will reconsider his decision on the pardon. He departs Rome to join the army of the Republic. The dictator, however, is dead by 78 BCE, and Caesar has returned.
Like his uncle, the young guy is a fiery populist and a superb speaker. During these years, he established a reputation as a scourge of elite corruption and a champion of regular people’s rights, which he fights in Rome’s courts. Caesar is a ruthless opponent, as any who cross him quickly discover.
When he is captured by pirates while crossing the Aegean Sea, he proves it. His kidnappers demanded 20 talents of silver as ransom. Caesar is enraged, claiming that the figure is far too low. He insists that it be increased to 50 skills, which is almost 3,000 pounds of silver. They succeed in doing so, and the ransom is paid. But the story doesn’t end there.
During his captivity, Caesar promises his kidnappers that he will find and execute every one of them as soon as he is free. He appears to be joking, yet he is dead serious. He assembles a fleet and sails back to the Aegean. Caesar follows through on his pledge after capturing the pirates. He executes them and crucifies their bodies.
By 69 BCE, Caesar’s political career was well underway. He was elected to supervise Rome’s finances in that year. But he’s getting irritated. Alexander the Great had conquered the world at the same age. By contrast, what has he accomplished? Maybe a few victories here and there, but nothing revolutionary.
That will soon change.
Caesar’s power grows, conservatives and aristocracy begin to be concerned.
It’s simple to understand why. Here’s a young man with military experience who comes from a family of political radicals. Worse, he has the lower classes’ ear. Then there’s his fondness for staging gladiatorial contests, which many believe is a pretext to amass a private army in the Republic’s capital.
There has even been talking of using those fighters to attack the Senate and install Caesar as the supreme ruler. Fearful senators quickly passed legislation restricting the number of gladiators that any individual may retain in Rome. Caesar has them all twitching.
Caesar, on the other hand, does not require his army. He has his sights set on the army of the Republic.
Caesar sought election to the position of consul, Rome’s highest political office, in 60 BCE.
Conservatives are doing everything they can to prevent him from winning. Even Senator Cato, known for his honesty, supports paying voters to keep Caesar out of government. It doesn’t matter; Caesar is re-elected.
Caesar appoints himself governor of numerous Roman provinces during his year as consul, including Cisalpine Gaul in northeastern Italy and Illyricum in today’s Balkans. This places him in command of four legions, or approximately 14,000 troops. He senses that greatness is on the horizon.
Caesar is a capable military commander. The men under his command are referred to as “comrades” rather than “soldiers.” Caesar refuses to shave his beard or cut his hair until the dead are avenged when they lose in battle. Loyalty — and boldness – are inspired by this type of leadership. One of Caesar’s troops grabs the stern of an opposing vessel during naval combat. A sword slashes his handoff. Undaunted, he boards the ship and, using just his shield, pushes the enemies back.
Caesar returned to Rome with his forces in 49 BCE, having defeated the Germanic tribes on the Republic’s northern frontiers. A civil war ensues, with Caesar on the winning side this time. He ascends to dictatorship and exercises full authority.
He only stays in power for five years, yet he alters the path of history within that time. His tenure accelerated the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Rome will be ruled by individuals who can claim to be descended from Caesar from now on.
Caesar is adamant about his importance to Rome, claiming that a new civil war will erupt if anything happens to him. In 44 BCE, a group of senators stabbed him twenty-three times, fulfilling his prophecy.
Rome is in a state of emergency. Caesar’s plebeians seek vengeance for their champion, who they believe was murdered by a cowardly aristocracy. Assassins consider themselves to be heroes. They stopped Caesar from overthrowing the Republic and establishing himself.
But who will rule Rome now: another dictator or a pretender to the throne in the style of Caesar?
After Caesar’s death, there were three contenders for power.
Brutus and Cassius, who were behind Caesar’s assassination, symbolize returning to the old Republic. Another military dictatorship is supported by Caesar’s friend, general Mark Antony. Then there’s Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, who is 18 years old. What does he represent? It’s difficult to say, but he has a strategy.
Antony takes advantage of public fury to exile Brutus and Cassius from Greece. They still constitute a threat, though; after all, you never know when they might return to Rome with an army. To eliminate this threat, Octavian and Antony join forces. Each man leads an army into Greece, and at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, Brutus and Cassius’ forces are defeated.
After assassinating Brutus, Octavian sends his head to Rome, tossed at Caesar’s statue’s feet. He is as ruthless on the battlefield as his adoptive father. When the prisoners on death row seek a suitable burial, he replies that they may seek “the carrion birds.”
The ceasefire between Octavian and Antony falls apart when Antony and Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt, become lovers.
Octavian persuades the Senate that this is just a warm-up for an attack on Rome. How? Cleopatra and Caesar, after all, were lovers. Caesarion, the son of Caesar and Cleopatra, has been named Caesar’s true heir by Cleopatra. Antony appears to be utilizing this assertion as a wedge issue from Rome. Octavian defeats Antony’s soldiers in 31 BCE with the Senate’s blessing. Caesarion is killed, and Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide. After all, Caesar can only have one son.
Rome is at peace after years of civil conflict. The cornerstone in this agreement is Octavian. After just over a decade as a dictator, he took Augustus’s name and became Emperor of Rome in 17 BCE.
After Julius Caesar’s assassination, Augustus declares himself Imperator Caesar Divi Filius – Commander Caesar, Son of the Divine.
Augustus seemed to be favored by the gods. The wealth he brings back from Cleopatra’s Egyptian treasury aids in the finalization of his peace agreement. Commerce thrives now that the civil wars are gone. As Rome becomes more prosperous, the Empire expands once more. This marks the start of the Pax Romana, 200 years of Roman peace.
What is Augustus’ personality like? We may imagine a tyrant, or at the very least a man full of imperial arrogance, yet Suetonius portrays a pretty different portrait of Caesar’s son.
Augustus lives atop the Palatine Hill, one of Rome’s seven hills and home to a great and good city. Although it is a fittingly grand setting for an emperor, his residence and lifestyle are unlike his neighbors. Rather than marble, his home is made of bare brick. It lacks the ornate tiled floors that the wealthy want, and the furniture is as practical and straightforward as a commoner.
Augustus has a thrifty lifestyle as well. He avoids the ostentatious imperial garb that emperors are known for, instead opting for the home-woven clothing that his wife and daughters weave for him. He dislikes banquets, preferring ordinary people’s food, such as coarse bread, fresh hand-pressed cheese, green figs, and Mediterranean seafood. When it comes to alcohol, he seldom consumes more than three glasses of wine in one sitting.
The Emperor’s most striking characteristic, however, is his calm demeanor. After being granted a meeting with Augustus during a military campaign in the Alps, a Gallic chief confessed that he planned to throw him from a cliff. “Had the sight of that serene face not melted my heart, I would have carried out my plan,” the chef continues.
Gaius Caesar succeeded Tiberius as Emperor in 37 CE.
Gaius, or Caligula, as he is better known, is a Roman general whose nickname means “Little Boot” in Latin. They did, however, know and adore his father, Germanicus.
Germanicus embodied the image of the perfect Roman man throughout his life. He was a skilled orator in both Latin and Greek, and he could recite passages from both languages’ literary classics at will. He was also a skilled swordsman who was known for his bravery and proficiency in hand-to-hand battle. He was a model citizen off the battlefield, as graceful as he was generous.
Augustus considered appointing Germanicus as his successor, but he eventually chose Tiberius. Germanicus had died by the time the latter died in 37 CE. Caligula was the only one left. “Little Boot” had a lot of ground to cover.
Caligula inherited his father’s popularity among the Roman people. Romans fill the streets to catch a glimpse of him when he accompanies Tiberius’ burial procession. Onlookers address him with expressions of endearment such as “star,” “baby,” “pet,” and “chick.”
Caligula is unanimously granted absolute power by the Senate, making him the Roman Empire’s third Caesar. He establishes himself as a famous and capable king in the first few months of his reign. He permits exiles to return to Rome, reuniting families split apart by politics and pardons criminals accused during Tiberius’ reign. Taxes are abolished, and great gladiatorial and racing spectacles are performed for the public’s amusement.
But something isn’t quite right. Tiberius sought advice from an astrologer named Thrasyllus on who should succeed him before he died. Caligula was no more likely to become Emperor than he was to walk across the Gulf of Naples, according to Thrasyllus.
This prophecy haunts Caligula. He gathers every commercial ship he can locate and anchors them in a three-mile line stretching from Baiae to Puteoli on opposing sides of the Gulf. The ships are boarded up, and soil is piled on them to create an artificial “road” across the water. Caligula defiantly walks up and down this odd creation for two days, indifferent to everything else.
It’s a sign of what’s to come.
Suetonius divides Caligula’s reign into two parts: the time when he is an emperor and when he is a “monster.” In the end, it is in this second persona that he leaves his imprint on history.
Caligula believes himself to be a god. He thinks the Romans should recognize this, so he constructs a shrine to his divinity. A life-size gilded figure of the monarch stands in the center. He surrounds it with statues of the other gods, their heads removed and replaced with his likenesses. In his honor, priests sacrifice flamingos, peacocks, pheasants, and hens.
Caligula’s arrogance isn’t his only flaw; his cruelty is what makes him a true monster. He rarely utilizes his power without abusing it.
Take, for instance, Gaius Piso and Livia Orestilla. Because Piso is a senator, he invited the Emperor to his wedding. Caligula, on the other hand, takes issue with something Piso says at the feast. He immediately instructs his men to transport Orestilla back to his residence. After finding that she still intends to marry Piso, he releases her after a few days but banishes her from Rome.
After the Emperor learns that Lollia Paulina, the wife of a consular army commander named Gaius Memmius, is the granddaughter of outstanding beauty, she suffers the same fate. Then Caligula grows tired of her as well. Rather than banishing Paulina, he prevents her from ever sleeping with another man.
Even Caesonia, the lady he appears to love, is mistreated. In front of his friends, he humiliates her and refuses to marry her until she has given him a son. Caligula announces both the birth and the marriage at the same time.
Caligula’s desire for cruelty intensifies over time. At first, humiliating Senate members is sufficient, such as forcing officials to run for miles alongside his chariot or threatening to have his horse made consul. Later, he calls men who offended him to his rooms, having secretly ordered their assassinations. When they don’t show up, he casually suggests that they must have committed suicide. Other times, he appears to close the granaries on a whim, leaving Rome’s citizens starving.
Such oppression is intolerable. Disaffected troops working with Caligula’s Senate foes kill the 28-year-old Emperor in 41 CE.
The news of Caligula’s assassination reaches the imperial residence on Palatine Hill quickly.
When Claudius, Caligula’s 51-year-old uncle, learns the news, he assumes he will be next. That makes sense; palace coups frequently result in the death of the Emperor and his male kin.
Claudius hides behind a curtain when he hears footsteps outside the palace, indicating his time is up. A soldier discovers his feet. The curtain is abruptly drawn back. Claudius sinks to his knees and begs for mercy, expecting a sword blow.
The blow is never delivered. Instead, the soldier congratulates the new ruler of Rome.
Claudius’ life hasn’t been very cheerful up until this point. True, he has received numerous distinctions – after all, he is a descendent of Julius Caesar. However, he has never been in good health. Seizures afflict him, and he walks with a peculiar limp. When he speaks, he stutters, and when he is animated, he drools.
Throughout his life, he has been mocked mercilessly. Caligula, in particular, delighted in humiliating him. Claudius appears to have survived execution during Caligula’s reign only because the Emperor liked to torment him.
When Claudius becomes Emperor, the mockery stops. His health improves considerably as well. He is, however, terrified. This is also understandable.
Claudius’ reputation for being abnormally fragile never fades, which encourages his foes. He has faced a dozen conspiracies throughout his thirteen years in leadership. The plotters are generally within easy reach. His servants hatch one plot, his wife, Messalina, hatches another, and Rome’s highest-ranking senators develop a third. Claudius’ adversaries are apprehended and executed in each case, but his mental state deteriorates. He grows increasingly disoriented, questioning why those he’s executed aren’t present for supper. This isn’t a nasty joke, as Caligula was fond of doing, but genuine perplexity.
His reign hasn’t been without accomplishments, either. Claudius, for example, concluded Julius Caesar’s conquest of Britain, which had begun many years before.
Claudius’ luck runs out in 54 CE, and he, too, is assassinated. Suetonius names several suspects, including his fourth wife, Agrippina, who is accused of poisoning his favorite mushroom dish.
Claudius adopts Agrippina’s son, Nero, when he marries Agrippina.
That puts Nero next in line for the throne, which is why many believe Agrippina poisoned Claudius’ food.
Nero was 16 years old when he was declared Emperor on the imperial palace steps. He appears to be a capable ruler. He aspires to be like Augustus, emphasizing his compassion and leniency. He decreases the taxes that disproportionately affect the poor, and he spends his own money to expand Rome’s city walls and construct a new canal. He groans and declares that he wishes he’d never learned to write when asked to sign death warrants.
Unfortunately, it’s all a ruse.
When the young Emperor’s imagination wanders, he dreams of his fame rather than Rome’s greatness. He wants to be regarded as a great artist above everything else.
He tries to improve his singing voice by practicing the lyre, a handheld stringed instrument that looks like a tiny harp. He does this by lying on his back with a hefty lead weight on his chest for days. He also avoids eating apples, which harms the vocal cords, and uses enemas to lose weight. Suetonius characterizes his voice as “feeble and husky,” implying that his attempts are in vain.
Nero, on the other hand, is happy with his progress. He began organizing performances for Rome’s elite classes, quoting the Greek proverb that unheard melodies are never sweet. Nero’s concerts are typically over 10 hours long, and attendees are not allowed to leave. The only way out is to drop dead, or at least pretend to, and be taken out on a stretcher – a ruse that more than a few guests pulled off successfully.
Nero is fascinated by more than just music; he also wishes to remodel Rome’s architectural fabric. A massive fire tears through the city in 65 CE, destroying the historic core. Many Romans believe Nero caused the fire to fulfill his dream of remaking the metropolis in his image. Is it true that Nero started the fire? Suetonius believes he did, and it is in these passages, the concept that Nero fiddled while Rome burnt is first mentioned. According to Suetonius, Nero mounted a tower overlooking the city and then watched the fire while singing a dramatic piece called The Fall of Troy.
Following the Great Fire of Rome in 65 CE, things began to deteriorate.
Senators conspire to overthrow their vain ruler, but their plan is thwarted. Nero’s position has never been stronger. He has a blank canvas to accomplish his artistic goals now that the city is in ruins. There’s just one problem: he’s already depleted the imperial treasury.
Nero quickly solves this cash-flow crisis by seizing the wealth of merchants, nobility, and family members, including murdering them.
Fearing for their lives, Roman aristocrats started hunting for a replacement for their Emperor.
Nero believes that fortunes are made to be squandered and that those who protect their wealth are misers. “True gentlemen constantly toss their money about,” he once said.
He embodies his ideal. He never wears the same outfit again and stakes his fortune on a single roll of the dice. When someone pleases him, he lavishes presents on them. In this way, a gladiator named Spiculus and a lyre musician named Menecrates come to possess the estates usually reserved for war heroes.
The mules that carry his belongings and the horses that drive his carriage are each shod in silver. If he travels by boat, he will find temporary brothels along the banks of rivers and bays’ shores.
How does he come up with the cash to pay for all of these luxuries? In a nutshell, robbery.
Nero seizes the entire family’s riches if a nobleman dies without leaving him a substantial enough share of his estate. He sends agents out on the market day to sell illegal fabric dyes to unsuspecting buyers. When an unfortunate wholesaler purchases a few ounces of this dye, he is accused of breaching the law, and his business is forfeited to the Emperor.
Murder is another means by which Nero achieves his goals. Take, for example, his aunt Domitia, to whom he administers a lethal dose of laxative when she is confined to bed with constipation. Before she is even dead, he seizes her estate.
When a revolt against Nero breaks out in Spain, Rome’s aristocratic classes embrace the rebellion’s commander, a general named Galba. Galba was proclaimed Emperor by both the Senate and the army in 68 CE. Nero commits suicide because he sees no other option.
Augustus’ wife, Livia, plants a bay tree at the start of his reign.
It grows and flourishes, becoming an emblem of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Augustus’ heirs wear laurels made from the tree’s leaves and take cuttings to plant their plants. These are also symbolic. If one of the seedlings dies, the planter is thought to be near death.
Livia’s tree withers at the root in 68 CE, portending doom for the family. As a result of Nero’s suicide, the Julio-Claudian line dies out.
Galba, the originator of the rising against Nero, is now attempting to seize control.
He’d been a loyal commander and Empire’s servant before the rebellion. He was once praised for jogging 20 kilometers alongside the Caligula’s chariot when inspecting his troops in Spain. After Caligula’s death, his friends urged him to grab power. He declined, earning Claudius’ appreciation for the rest of his life. Galba, the general, knew who he wanted to satisfy and what benefits he could gain by doing so.
Emperor Galba, on the other hand, isn’t interested in pleasing others. This poses a difficulty because his warriors did not place him on the throne out of altruism. They’ve been promised large sums of money. Galba refuses to keep his promises, claiming arrogantly that he prefers to “levy troops, not buy them.” It isn’t easy to forgive him for his betrayal. The German legions of Rome appointed their leader emperor, a general named Vitellius, and set out on a march to Rome.
As Galba tries to maintain his position, Otho, an ambitious senator, makes his move.
Otho plans a coup after being rebuffed by Galba, who names a much less experienced senator as his successor. That appears to be a simple task. The soldiers in the capital have little desire to defend, much less die for, a ruler they despise.
When Galba learns of the coup, he goes into the streets to restore order, only to be assassinated by an enraged mob. He’s only been in power in Rome for seven months.
Otho, on the other hand, does not endure long. In January 69 CE, he is proclaimed Emperor, and he bets everything on a quick triumph over Vitellius’ armies. On the other hand, he overplays his hand, forsaking a solid defensive position to launch a devastating offensive.
A protracted and violent civil war now appears to be inevitable. Otho, who still cringes at the mention of Brutus and Cassius, is determined to stop it. He murders himself with his dagger on April 16th. He has only been Emperor for three months.
Otho’s suicide had no effect on the civil war he had predicted.
Vitellius is a well-known figure. His insatiable desire for luxury is unquenchable. When the treasury runs dry, he levies high taxes on the ordinary people while plundering the wealthy. Critics of such misrule are short-lived. The privileged are exiled, while the unfortunate are tortured and murdered.
The men of Rome’s eastern legions were poised to revolt by the summer of 69 CE. But, if they succeed in removing Vitellius, who will rule them?
They look over the names of provincial authorities on a list. Men deemed unsuited for the post of Emperor have their names crossed out. They eventually find someone they enjoy: Vespasian.
Vespasian did not come from the senatorial class, where Roman rulers came from, although he did have a distinguished career.
Claudius’ invasion of Britain in the 40s, for example, was led by Vespasian. He was responsible for putting down a Jewish insurrection in Judea in 66 CE. Even though a decisive triumph escaped him, everyone admits that he performed admirably.
The sole stain on his record is an indiscretion during Nero’s reign that nearly cost him his life: he was forced to flee after falling asleep during one of the young Emperor’s famous musical performances.
Vespasian needed some persuasion. Finally, a strange occurrence inspires him to challenge for the throne. An ox crashes into his house, scattering servants and overturning furniture, shaking off its yoke. On the other hand, it bows to the ground and lowers its neck in surrender when it sees Vespasian. That’s got to be a good sign.
The uprising begins. Vitellius’ position falls under prolonged siege, despite leading the Empire’s greatest fighters. Legions and provinces turn allegiance to Vespasian one after the other. Vitellius seeks to surrender for fear of his life, but no senator, magistrate, or consul can be found to take his place.
When he learns that Vespasian’s army is approaching Rome’s gates, he flees to the imperial palace’s doorkeeper’s quarters. He is discovered by an advance guard, who tortures him before throwing him down a flight of steps. His body is taken through Rome’s streets before being thrown into the Tiber River.
On December 22nd, 69 CE, Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor. In a single year, he becomes the fourth man to hold the title.
According to Suetonius, the capable Emperor, Vespasian is initially “befuddled” in his new post. What kind of Emperor do you think he’ll be?
Rome is a wild and chaotic place after Nero’s extravagances and a year of civil war. Vespasian discovers the answer to his question: he will re-establish imperial order.
This entails punishing anything that is viewed as lax or soft. When a man who smells like perfume approaches Vespasian to thank him for a commission, he recoils in disgust and cancels his order. “If it had been garlic, I wouldn’t have cared as much,” he says. On another occasion, he receives an application for a special shoe allowance from a military brigade. He declines and says he expects them to march barefoot in the future.
Vespasian is not a fan of flatterers. He roars with delight when members of his court claim he is descended from a soldier who battled alongside the celestial hero Hercules. He is well aware of his humble beginnings and sees no reason to conceal them.
His easygoing tolerance of rudeness is also rooted in his humility. He meets Demetrius the Cynic, a philosopher known for his sharp tongue while traveling outside of Rome. Demetrius refuses to up to welcome him instead of hurling a snide comment at him. “Good puppy!” Vespasian simply replies.
Vespasian, on the other hand, has his vices. He has enormous intentions, and the imperial treasury is still poor. For example, during these years, work on the arena that we now know as the Colosseum begins.
How did Vespasian get his money? He elevates crooked officials to positions of power, then turns a blind eye as they abuse their positions to collect bribes before accusing them of extortion. Meanwhile, their ill-gotten profits wind up in his wallet. The Emperor does the sponge trick, in which he soaks his officials and then squeezes them dry.
Another option is to simply levy taxes on previously untaxed items, such as public restrooms.
Vespasian’s urinal tax is credited with coining the peculiar expression non-olet, which means “money does not smell.” When his son Titus complained that he had gone too far in taxing public restrooms, Vespasian handed him a coin from the first day’s revenues and asked if it smelled awful. Titus said, “No, father.” “That’s strange,” Vespasian replied, “it’s straight from the urinal!”
Despite his flaws, Vespasian is a famous emperor. On June 24th, 79 CE, he died of natural causes after ten years in the rule.
In a dream just before his death, Vespasian sees a set of perfectly balanced scales. Claudius and Nero sit in one pan while he sits with his two sons, Titus and Domitian. It’s a foreshadowing vision. The Flavian Dynasty, which he descended from, will rule Rome for the same number of years as Claudius and Nero.
Vespasian’s oldest son, Titus, 39 years old, succeeds him on June 24th, 79 CE.
Titus had been a gifted young man. He was a skilled swordsman, harpist, and spoke fluent, expressive Greek. He was also a devoted friend.
He was particularly close to Claudius’s son, Britannicus, as a child. When Nero poisoned this possible rival, Titus took Britannicus’ infected cup and drank the remaining contents to remember his friend who had died. He came dangerously near to passing away.
Later in Judea, he built a name for himself as his father’s right-hand man. Titus assumed command of the Empire after Vespasian became Emperor. Under his management, Roman armies broke through the walls of Jerusalem, the final stronghold of anti-Roman Jewish insurgents. It was a humiliating defeat. The city was sacked in 70 CE, its religious sites were destroyed, and its population was exiled.
Titus became a hero of the Empire due to his victory, and he was even given an honorary crown in Egypt. After rumors emerged that he had ambitions for the imperial crown, he went to Rome to reaffirm his loyalty to his father, Vespasian. He was a fierce supporter of his father’s dictatorship in the capital, personally overseeing the murder of disloyal officials and generals.
Many Romans see Titus’ brutality as a warning that they are dealing with another Nero, yet after replacing his father in 79 CE, Titus is a mild-mannered and benevolent dictator.
He respects his subjects’ property rights, provides an audience to everyone who requests it, and abolishes Caligula’s despised secret police. When flames and an earthquake strike misery across the Italian peninsula, he dismantles his mansions and distributes the decorations to public buildings. He sighs as he sits down to eat one evening, realizing that he hasn’t done anyone any favors in the previous 24 hours. “I’ve squandered a day!” he screams to his friends.
Although Titus’ reign is only two years long, he left a remarkable effect on his native city. The Colosseum, which would become a global emblem of Rome, is finished under his reign.
Titus speaks his final words just before fainting and dying. He thinks it’s unfair that he’s dying so young because he’s never done anything he regrets. He then takes a moment to consider his statement. Then it occurs to him that there is one thing he regrets.
In an otherwise innocent life, he made the mistake of allowing his brother and heir, Domitian, to plot against him. He was too weak to put him to death or even banish him. Rome will now be held accountable for his inaction.
Titus had been a gifted student. On the other hand, Domitian was just a member of his class – the privileged senatorial elite into which his father’s rise to prominence had thrust him. He was intelligent and capable, but he didn’t always shine.
He tried to break himself from his brother’s shadow as a young man by planning a military campaign into German territory. It was deemed foolish, and he received a stern rebuke. During public occasions, Vespasian and Titus shared a vehicle while Domitian followed behind on horseback.
Titus’ death appears to have caught him off guard. He has no idea what to do with the power that has fallen into his lap after years of plotting against his brother. For months, he has been spending his days alone, capturing and skewering flies with sharp needles.
A sudden interest in social reform rouses him. He rebuilds structures that fires have destroyed, improves the army’s pay, and allots additional land for grain production. These innovations, on the other hand, do not capture his interest for long.
Domitian has now turned his cruelty on other people. He executes individuals on the spur of the moment. One victim is a frail youngster who looks like an actress he despises, while another is a historian who irritates him with an insignificant comment. He tortures inmates who he believes have significant information, and he cuts off the hands of those who don’t. Domitian frequently welcomes victims into his chambers, where he speaks movingly about mercy or compassion. He has his henchman execute them before him once they have been lulled into a false feeling of security.
Domitian, unfortunately for Rome, is in far better health than his brother Titus. He, like so many other emperors before him, only dies violently after 14 years of misrule. His friends and slaves stabbed him to death in 96 CE.
Domitian’s body is carried away by public undertakers, who treat his mortal remains with the same disrespect as if he were an ordinary poor.
It’s the end of the Flavian Dynasty and the completion of our story.
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