ON 24 October, 51 A.D., a month before Vespasian, as Consul-elect, was due to take office, his son Domitian was born in Pomegranate Street, which formed part of the sixth district of Rome. Later, he converted his birthplace into the Temple of the Flavians. Most people agree that Domitian spent a poverty-stricken and rather degraded youth: without even any silver on the family table. At all events, it is an established fact that Claudius Pollio, an ex-praetor, and the target of Nero's satire The One-eyed Man, used to show his guests a letter in Domitian's handwriting, which he happened to have kept, offering him an assignation. It is also often insisted that Domi-tian was) enjoyed by his eventual successor, the Emperor Nerva.
During Vespasian's war against Vitellius, Domitian with his uncle Sabinus and some members of the Court, fled to the Capitol; but when the Vitellians set the temple on fire, Domitian concealed himself all night in the caretaker's quarters and, at daybreak, disguised as a devotee of Isis, took refuge among the priests of that rather questionable order. Presently he managed to escape with a friend across the Tiber, where the mother of one of his fellow-students hid him so cleverly that she outwitted the agents who tracked him to her house and searched it from cellar to attic. Emerging after Vitellius's death, Domitian was hailed as 'Caesar' and accepted an appointment as City praetor with consular powers — but in name only, because he left all judicial decisions to a junior colleague. However, the lawlessness with which he exploited his position as the Emperor's son clearly showed what might be expected of him later. I shall not discuss this subject in any detail; suffice it to say that Domitian had affairs with several married women, and finally persuaded Domitia Longina to divorce her husband Aelius, Lamia for his sake; and that once, when he had distributed more than twenty appointments at home and abroad in the course of a single day, Vespasian murmured: 'I wonder he did not name my successor while he was about it!'
2. To acquire a military reputation that would compare favourably with his brother Titus's, Domitian planned a quite unnecessary expedition into Gaul and Germany from which, by luck, his father's friends managed to dissuade him. He earned a reprimand for this and was made to feel a little more conscious of his youth and unimportance by being put under Vespasian's tutelage. Whenever Vespasian and Titus now appeared seated in their curule chairs, he had to be content with following behind in a litter; and, while taking part in their Judaean triumph, rode on a white horse, the conventional mount for young princes on such occasions. Of the six consulships enjoyed by Domitian before becoming Emperor, only one was not an honorary appointment, and that came his way because Titus had resigned in his favour.
Domitian pretended to be extremely modest, and though he displayed a sudden devotion to poetry, which he would read aloud in public, his enthusiasm was matched by a later neglect of the art. It is to his credit, however, that he did everything possible to get sent against the Alanians when a request for auxiliary troops, commanded by one of Vespasian's sons, arrived from Vologaesus, king of the Parthians. And he subsequently tried by bribes and promises to coax similar requests from other Oriental kings.
At Vespasian's death Domitian toyed for awhile with the idea of offering his troops twice as large a bounty as Titus had given them; and stated bluntly that his father's will must have been tampered with, since it originally assigned him a half-share in the Empire. He never once stopped plotting, secretly or openly, against his brother. When Titus fell suddenly and dangerously ill, Domitian told the attendants to presume his death by leaving the sick-bed before he had actually breathed his last; and afterwards granted him no recognition at all, beyond approving his deification. In fact, he often slighted Titus's memory by the use of ambiguous terms in speeches and edicts.
3. At the beginning of his reign Domitian would spend hours alone every day catching flies — believe it or not! — and stabbing them with a needle-sharp pen. Once, on being asked whether anyone was closeted with the Emperor, Vivius Crispus answered wittily: 'No, not even a fly.' Domitia presented Domitian with a daughter during his second consulship and, in the following year, with a son, and was therefore awarded the title of 'Augusta'; but he then divorced her because she had fallen in love with Paris, the actor. This separation, however, proved to be more than Domitian could bear; and he very soon took her back, claiming that such was the people's wish. For a while he governed in an uneven fashion: that is to say, his vices were at first balanced by his virtues. Later, he transformed his virtues into vices too — for I am inclined to believe that he was not evil-minded to begin with: it was lack of funds that made him greedy, and fear of assassination that made him cruel.
4. Domitian presented many extravagant entertainments in the Colosseum and the Circus. Besides the usual two-horse chariot races he staged a couple of battles, one for infantry, the other for cavalry; a sea-fight in the Colosseum; wild-beast hunts; gladiatorial shows by torchlight in which women as well as men took part. Nor did he ever forget the Quaestorian Games which he had revived; and allowed the people to demand a combat between two pairs of gladiators from his own troop, whom he would bring on last in their gorgeous Court livery. Throughout every gladiatorial show Domitian would chat, sometimes in very serious tones, with a little boy who had a grotesquely small head and always stood at his knee dressed in red. Once he was heard to ask the child: 'Can you guess why I have just appointed Mettius Rufus Prefect of Egypt?' A lake was dug at his orders close to the Tiber, surrounded with seats, and used for almost full-scale naval battles, which he watched even in heavy rain.
He also held Saecular Games, fixing their date by Augustus's old reckoning, and ignoring Claudius's more recent celebration of them; and for the Circus racing, which formed part of the festivities, reduced the number of laps from seven to five, so that 100 races a day could be run off. In honour of Capitoline Jupiter he founded a festival of music, horsemanship, and gymnastics, to be held every five years, and awarded far more prizes than is customary nowadays. The festival included Latin and Greek public-speaking contests, competitions for choral singing to the lyre and for lyre-playing alone, besides the usual solo singing to lyre accompaniment; he even instituted foot races for girls in the Stadium. When presiding at these functions he wore buskins, a purple Greek robe, and a gold crown engraved with the images of Jupiter Juno, and Minerva; and at his side sat the Priest of Capitoline Jupiter and the Priest of the Deified Flavians, wearing the same costume as he did, except for crowns decorated with his image. Domitian also celebrated the annual five-day festival of Minerva at his Alban villa, and founded in her honour a college of priests, whose task it was to supply officers, chosen by lot, for producing lavish wild-beast hunts and stage plays, and sponsoring competitions in rhetoric and poetry.
On three occasions Domitian distributed a popular bounty of three gold pieces a head; and once, to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Hills, gave a splendid banquet, picnic fashion, with large hampers of food for senators and knights, and smaller ones for the commons; taking the inaugural bite himself. The day after, he scattered all kinds of gifts to be scrambled for, but since most of these fell in the seats occupied by the commons, had 500 tokens thrown into those reserved for senators, and another 500 into those reserved for knights.
5. He restored a good many gutted ruins, including the Capitol, which had burned down again in the year 80 A.D. but allowed no names to be inscribed on them, except his own — not even the original builder's. He also raised a temple to Jupiter the Guardian on the Capitoline Hill, the Forum of Nerva (as it is now called), the Flavian Temple, a stadium, a concert hall, and the artificial lake for sea battles — its stones later served to rebuild the two sides of the Great Circus which had been damaged by fire.
6. Some of Domitian's campaigns, the Chattian one, for instance, were quite unjustified by military necessity; but not so that against the Sarmatians, who had massacred a legion and killed its commander? And when the Dacians defeated first the ex-Consul Oppius Sabinus, and then his successor, a former Commander of the Guards named Cornelius Fuscus, Domitian led two punitive expeditions in person. After several indecisive engagements he celebrated a double triumph over the Chattians and Dacians; but did not insist on recognition for his Sarmatian campaign, contenting himself with the offer of a laurel crown to Capitoline Jupiter.
Only an amazing stroke of luck checked the rebellion which Lucius Antonius raised during Domitian's absence from Rome; the Rhine thawed in the nick of time, preventing the German barbarians in Antonius's pay from crossing the ice to join him, and the troops who remained loyal were able to disarm the rebels. Even before news of this success arrived, Domitian had wind of it from portents: on the critical day, a huge eagle embraced his statue at Rome with its wings, screeching triumphantly; and a little later, rumours of Antonius's death came so thick and fast that a number of people claimed to have seen his head being carried into Rome.
7. Domitian made a number of social innovations: cancelled the corn issue, restored the custom of holding formal dinners, added two new teams of chariot drivers, the Golds and the Purples, to the existing four in the Circus — namely, Blues, Whites, Leek-greens, and Reds; and forbade actors to appear on the public stage, though still allowing them to perform in private. Castration was now strictly prohibited, and the price of eunuchs remaining in slave-dealers' hands officially controlled. One year, when a bumper vintage followed a poor grain harvest, Domitian concluded that the cornlands were being neglected in favour of the vineyards. He therefore issued an edict that forbade the further planting of vines in Italy, and ordered the acreage in the provinces to be reduced by at least half, if it could not be got rid of altogether; yet took no steps to implement this edict. He reserved half of the more important Court appointments, hitherto held by freedmen, for knights. Another of his edicts forbade any two legions to share a camp, or any individual soldier to deposit at head-quarters a sum in excess of ten gold pieces; because the large amount of soldiers' savings laid up in the joint winter headquarters of the two legions on the Rhine had provided Lucius Antonius with the necessary funds for launching his rebellion. Domitian also raised the legionaries' pay from nine to twelve gold pieces a year.
8. He was most conscientious in dispensing justice, and convened many extraordinary legal sessions in the Forum; annulling every decision of the Centumviral Court which seemed to him unduly influenced, and continually warning the Board of Arbitration not to grant any fraudulent claims for freedom. It was his ruling that if a juryman were proved to have taken bribes, all his colleagues must be penalized as well as himself. He personally urged the tribunes of the people to charge a corrupt aedile with extortion, and to petition the Senate for a special jury in the case; and kept such a tight hold on his city magistrates and provincial governors that the general standard of justice rose to an unprecedented high level — you need only observe how many such personages have been charged with every kind of corruption since his time!
As part of his campaign for improving public manners, Domitian made sure that the theatre officials no longer condoned the appropriation by the commons of seats reserved for knights; and came down heavily on authors who lampooned distinguished men and women. He expelled one ex-quaestor from the Senate for being over-fond of acting and dancing; forbade women of notoriously bad character the right to use litters or to benefit from inheritances and legacies; struck a knight from the jury-roll because he had divorced his wife on a charge of adultery and then taken her back again; and sentenced many members of both Orders under the Scantinian Law, which was directed against unnatural practices. Taking a far more serious view than his father and brother had done of unchastity among the Vestals, he began by sentencing offenders to execution, and afterwards resorted to the traditional form of punishment. Thus, though he allowed the Oculata sisters, and Varronilla, to choose how they should die, and sent their lovers into exile, he later ordered Cornelia, a Chief-Vestal — acquitted at her first trial, but re-arrested some years later and convicted — to be buried alive, and had her lovers clubbed to death in the Comitium. The only exception he made was in the case of an ex-praetor, who had the death sentence commuted to banishment, for confessing his guilt after the interrogation of witnesses under torture had failed to establish the truth of the crime with which he was charged. As a lesson that the sanctity of the gods must be protected against thoughtless abuse, Domitian made his soldiers tear down a tomb built for the son of one of his own freedmen from stones intended for the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter and fling the contents into the sea.
9. While still young, Domitian hated the idea of bloodshed; and once, in his father's absence, remembered Virgil's line:
Before an impious people took to eating slaughtered beeves ...
and drafted an edict forbidding the sacrifice of oxen. No one thought of him as in the least greedy or mean either before, or for some years after, his accession — in fact, he gave frequent signs of self-restraint and even of generosity, treating his friends with great consideration and always insisting that, above all, they should do nothing mean, refused to accept bequests from married men with children, and cancelled a clause in Rustus Caepio's will which required the heir to find an annual sum of money for distribution among newly-appointed s; senators.
Moreover, if suits against debtors to the Public Treasury had been pending for more than five years, he quashed them and permitted a renewal of proceedings only within the same twelvemonth, and ruled that if the prosecutor should then lose his case, he must go into exile. Although the Clodian Law restricted the private business activities of quaestors' scribes, Domitian now pardoned such of them as had broken it; and generously allowed former owners of commandeered land to farm whatever plots survived the assignments of small-holdings to veterans. He severely dealt with informers who bad increased the public revenue by bringing false charges against property owners and getting their estates confiscated. A saying attributed to him runs: 'An Emperor who does not punish informers encourages them.'
10. His good-will and self-restraint were not, however, destined to continue long, and the cruel streak in him soon appeared. He executed one sickly boy merely because he happened to be a pupil of the actor Paris, and closely resembled him in looks and mannerisms. Then Hermogenes of Tarsus died because of some incautious allusions that he had introduced into a historical work; and the slaves who acted as his copyists were crucified. Domitian was always down on the Thracians and a chance remark by one citizen, to the effect that a Thracian gladiator might be 'a match for his Gallic opponent, but not for the patron of the Games', was enough to have him dragged from his seat and with a placard tied around his neck reading: 'A Thracian supporter who spoke evil of his Emperor' — torn to pieces by dogs in the arena.
Domitian put many senators to death on the most trivial charges: among them a group of ex-Consuls, three of whom, Civica Cerealis, Acihus Glabrio, and Salvidienus Arfitus, he accused of conspiracy; Cerealis was executed while governing Asia; Glabrio while in exile on another charge. Aelius Lamia lost his life as a result of some harmless witticisms at Domitian's expense, made several years previously: he had been robbed of his wife by Domitian, and when someone later praised his voice remarked drily: 'I have given up sex and gone into training!'; and then, encouraged by Titus to marry again, asked: 'What? You are not wanting a wife, too, are you?' Salvius Cocceianus died because he continued to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor Otho, his paternal uncle; and Mettius Pompusianus, because his birth was said to have been attended by Imperial portents, and because he always carried with him a collection of speeches by kings and generals extracted from Livy and a parchment map of the world — and because he had named two of his slaves 'Mago' and 'Hannibal'! Sallustius Lucullus, Governor-general of Britain, had equally offended Domitian by allowing a new type of lance to be called 'the Lucullan'; so had Junius Rusticus, by his eulogies of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus — an incident which led Domitian to banish all philosophers from Italy; and Helvidius the Younger by his farce about Paris and Oenone, which seemed a reflection on Domitian's divorce; and Domitian's own cousin, Flavius Sabinus, by being mistakenly announced by the Election Day herald as Emperor-elect, instead of Consul-elect.
After the suppression of Antonius's rebellion, Domitian grew even more cruel. He hit on the novel idea of scorching his prisoners' genitals to make them divulge the whereabouts of other rebels still in hiding; and cut off the hands of many more. It is a fact that only two leaders of the revolt — a colonel of senatorial rank and a centurion — earned his pardon; which they did by the simple expedient of proving themselves to have been so disgustingly immoral that they could have exerted no influence at all over either Antonius or the troops.
11. Domitian was not merely cruel, but hot-headed and cunning into the bargain. He summoned a Palace steward to his bedroom, invited him to share his couch, made him feel perfectly secure and happy, condescended to share a dinner with him — yet had already given orders for his crucifixion on the following day! He was more than usually gracious to the ex-Consul Arrecinius Clemens, a favourite agent, just before his death-sentence, and invited him out for a drive. As they happened to pass the man who had informed on Arrecinius, Domitian asked: 'Shall we listen to that utter scoundrel tomorrow?' And he impudently prefaced all his most savage sentences with the same little speech about mercy; indeed, this pre-amble soon became a recognized sign that something dreadful was on the way. Having brought a group of men before the Senate on a treason charge, he announced that this must be a test of his popularity with the House; and thus easily got them condemned to 'old-style execution'. However, he seems to have become all at once appalled by the cruelty involved, because he pleaded to have the sentence modified. His exact words are interesting:
'Gentlemen of the Senate, I know that you will not readily grant me anything I ask, but let me beg one favour of you: pray allow these men to choose the manner of their deaths! That will be easier on your eyes; and the world will know that I have done my best with the House.'
12. Unfortunately, the new building programme, added to his expensive entertainments and the rise in Army pay, were more than Domitian could afford; so he decided to reduce expenditure by cutting down the military establishment. But, then realizing that this would expose his frontiers to barbarian attack, without appreciably easing the financial situation, he resorted to every form of extortion. Any charge, however slight — to have spoken or acted in prejudice of the Emperor's welfare was enough — might result in the confiscation of a man's property, even if he were already dead. An unsupported claim that someone had been heard, before his death, to name the Emperor as his heir, even though he were unknown at Court, was sufficient pretext for taking over the estate. Domitian's agents collected the tax on Jews with a peculiar lack of mercy; and took proceedings not only against those who kept their Jewish origins a secret in order to avoid the tax, but against those who lived as Jews without professing Judaism. As a boy, I remember once attending a crowded Court where the Procurator had a ninety-year-old man stripped to establish whether or not he had been circumcised.
From his earliest years Domitian was consistently discourteous and presumptuous. When Caenis, his father's former mistress, returned from Istria and, as usual, offered him her cheek to kiss, he held out his hand instead. He objected when his nephew-by-marriage dressed his servants in white — Domitian's own servants wore white livery — and quoted at him Homer's line:
Too many rulers are a dangerous thing.
13. On his accession Domitian boasted to the Senate of having himself conferred the Imperial power on Vespasian and Titus —it had now merely returned to him! He also spoke of his action in taking Domitia back, after the divorce, as 'a recall to my divine bed'; and on the day of his public banquet delighted to hear the audience in the Colosseum shout: 'Long live our Lord and Lady!' At the festival of Capitoline Jupiter when unanimously implored to pardon Palfurius Sura, whom he had expelled from the Striate but who had nevertheless won the prize for public speaking, Domitian would not reply and sent a public crier to silence them. Just as arrogantly he began a letter, which his procurators were to circulate, with the words: 'Our Lord God instructs you to do this!' and 'Lord God' became his regular title both in writing and conversation. Images dedicated to Domitian in the Capitol had to be of either gold or silver, and not below a certain weight; and he raised so many arcades and. arches, decorated with chariots and triumphal insignia, in various City districts, that someone scribbled 'arci', meaning 'arches' on one of them — but used Greek characters, and so spelled out the Greek word for 'Enough!' He held seventeen consulships, which was a record. Only the seven middle ones formed a series, and all were sinecures: he relinquished most of them after a few days, and every one of them before 1 May. Having adopted the surname 'Germanicus' at his double triumph, he renamed September and October, the months of his accession and birth, respectively, 'Germanicus' and 'Domitianus'.
14. All this made him everywhere hated and feared. Finally, his friends and freedmen conspired to murder him, with Domitia's connivance. Early astrological predictions had warned him how and when he would die; they even specified the day and hour. Vespasian once teased him openly at dinner for refusing a dish of mushrooms, saying that it would be more in keeping with his destiny to be afraid of swords. As a result, Domitian was such a prey to anxiety that the least sign of danger unnerved him. The real reason for his reprieving the vineyards, which he had ordered to be rooted up, is said to have been the publication of this stanza:
You may tear up my roots, goat, But what good will that do? l shall still have some wine left For sacrificing you.
Though he loved honours of all kinds, this same anxiety made him veto a Senatorial decree that, whenever he held the consulship, a group of knights should be picked by lot to walk, dressed in purple-striped robes and armed with lances, among the lictors and attendants who preceded him.
As the critical day drew near his nervousness increased. The gallery where he took his daily exercise was now lined with plaques of highly-polished moonstone, which reflected everything that happened behind his back; and no Imperial audiences were granted to prisoners unless Domitian were alone with them, and had tight hold of their fetters. To remind his staff that even the best of intentions could never justify a freedman's complicity in a master's murder, he executed his secretary Epaphroditus, who had reputedly helped Nero to commit suicide after everyone else had deserted him.'
15. The occasion of Domitian's murder was that he had executed, on some trivial pretext, his own extremely stupid cousin, Flavius Clemens, just before the completion of a consulship; though he had previously named Flavius's two small sons as his heirs and changed their names to Vespasian and Domitian.
So much lightning had fallen during the past eight months that Domitian cried out: 'Now let the Almighty strike whomever he pleases!' The Almighty did, in fact, strike the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter the Temple of the Flavians, the Palace, even Domitian's own bedroom; and a hurricane wrenched the inscription plate from the base of a triumphal statue of his and hurled it into a near-by tomb. The famous cypress-tree which had been blown down but had then taken root again, while Vespasian was still a private citizen, now collapsed a second time. Throughout his reign Domitian had made a practice of commending each new year to the care of the Goddess Fortune at Palestrina, and every year she had granted him the same favourable omen; but this year the omen was a dreadful one, portending bloodshed. Domitian also dreamed that Minerva, whom he worshipped fervently, emerged from her shrine to tell him that she had been disarmed by Jupiter and could no longer protect him. What disturbed him most, however, was a prediction by the astrologer Ascletarion, and its sequel. This man, when charged, made no secret of having revealed the future, which he had foreseen by magical means. Domitian at once asked whether he could prophesy the manner of his end, and upon Ascletarion's replying that he would very soon be torn to pieces by dogs, had him executed on the spot, and gave orders for his funeral rites to be conducted with the greatest care, as a further proof that all magicians lied. But while the funeral was in progress a sudden gale scattered the pyre and a pack of stray dogs mangled the astrologer's half-burned corpse. Latinus, the comic actor, who happened to witness this incident, mentioned it at dinner when he brought Domitian the latest City gossip.
16. On the day before Domitian's assassination someone brought him a present of apples. 'Serve them tomorrow,' he told the servants, adding: ' —if tomorrow ever comes.' Then, turning to his companions he remarked: 'There will be blood on the Moon as she enters Aquarius, and a deed will be done for everyone to talk about.' With the approach of midnight Domitian became so terrified that he jumped out of bed; and at dawn condemned to death a soothsayer from Germany who was charged with having said that the lightning portended a change of government. Domitian then scratched a pimple on his forehead and made it bleed, muttering: 'I hope this is all the blood required.' Presently he asked for the time. As had been pre-arranged, his freedmen answered untruthfully: 'The sixth hour,' because they knew it was the fifth he feared. Convinced that the danger had passed, Domitian went off quickly and happily to take a bath; whereupon his head valet, Parthenius, met him with the news that a man had called on very urgent and important business, and was now waiting in the imperial bedroom. So Domitian dismissed his attendants and hurried there.
17. All that has come to light about either the plot or the assassination is that his niece Domitilla's steward, Stephanus, had been accused of embezzlement; and that when he approached the conspirators, they were already debating whether it would be better to murder Domitian in his bath or at dinner. Stephanus offered them his services, which were accepted; and then, to divert suspicion, feigned an arm injury and went around for several days with a dagger concealed in the woollen bandages. Finally he told Parthenius that he had discovered a plot, and was admitted to Domitian's bedroom, where he produced a list of names; but suddenly stabbed him in the groin while he was reading it. Domitian put up a good fight. The boy who was, as usual, attending to the household-gods in the bedroom, witnessed the murder and later described it in some detail. On receiving the first blow, Domitian grappled with Stephanus, and screamed at the boy to hand him the dagger which was kept under his pillow and then run for help; the dagger, however, proved to have no blade, and the doors to the servants' quarters were locked.
Domitian fell on top of Stephanus and, after cutting his own fingers in a prolonged effort to disarm him, began clawing at his eyes; but succumbed to seven further stabs, his assailants being a subaltern named Clodianus, Parthenius's freedman Maximus, Satur a head-chamberlain, and one of the Imperial gladiators.
He died at the age of forty-four, on 18 September, 96 A.D., after reigning not much more than fourteen years. The body was carried away on a common litter by the public undertakers, as though he were a pauper; and cremated by his old nurse Phyllis in her garden on the Latin Way. She secretly took the ashes to the Temple of the Flavians and mixed them with those of his niece Julia, who had also been one of her charges.
18. Domitian had a ruddy complexion; large, rather weak eyes; and not at all an imperious expression. He was tall and well-made, except for his feet which had hammer-toes; and so conscious of his handsome features that he once told the Senate: 'Hitherto my intentions and my face have been equally acceptable to you.' Later, he lost his hair and developed a paunch; and, as a result of protracted illness, his legs grew spindling. He took as a personal insult any reference, joking or otherwise, to bald men, being extremely sensitive about his own appearance; yet in his manual Care of the Hair, dedicated to a friend, he wrote by way of mutual consolation:
Cannot you see that I, too, have a tall and beautiful person?
and added to this Homeric quotation the following prose comment:
'Yet my hair will go the same way, and I am resigned to having an old man's head before my time. How pleasant it is to be elegant, yet how quickly that stage passes!'
19. Domitian hated to exert himself. While in Rome he hardly ever went for a walk, and during campaigns and travels seldom rode a horse, but almost always used a litter. Weapons did not interest him, though he was an exceptionally keen archer. He shot hundreds of wild animals on his Alban estate, and many eye-witnesses report that he sometimes brought down a quarry with two successive arrows so dexterously placed in the head as to resemble horns. Occasionally he would tell a slave to post himself at a distance and hold out one hand; then shot arrows between his fingers with amazing skill.
20. Although, at the beginning of his reign, he went to a great deal of trouble and expense in restocking the burned-out libraries, hunting for lost volumes, and procuring transcriptions and copies from Alexandria, this did not mean that lie was a student himself. No longer bothering with either history or poetry, or taking pains to acquire even the rudiments of a style, he now read nothing but Tiberius's note-books and official memoirs, and let secretaries polish his own correspondence, edicts, and speeches. Still, Domitian had a lively turn of phrase, and some of his remarks are well worth recording. Once he said: 'Ah, to be as good-looking as Maecius thinks he is!' and on another occasion compared a friend's red hair, which was turning white, to 'mead spilt on snow'.
21. He also claimed that all Emperors are necessarily wretched, since only their assassination can convince the public that the conspiracies against their lives are real. His chief relaxation, at all hours, even in the morning and on working days, was to throw dice. He used to bathe before noon, and then eat such an enormous luncheon that a Matian apple and a small pitcher of wine generally contented him at dinner. His many large banquets were never prolonged past sunset, or allowed to develop into drinking bouts; and he spent the rest of the day strolling idly by himself in a quiet part of the Palace
22. Domitian was extremely lustful, and called his sexual activities 'bed-wrestling', as though it were a sport. Some say that he preferred to depilate his concubines himself, and would go swimming with the commonest of common prostitutes. He had been offered the hand of his young niece Julia, Titus's daughter, but persistently refused to marry her on account of his infatuation for Domitia. Later, when Julia took another husband, Flavius Sabinus, he seduced her, though Titus was still alive; and after both Titus and Flavius Sabinus were dead, demonstrated his love for her so openly and ardently that, in the end, she became pregnant by him and died as the result of an abortion which he forced on her.
23. Though the general public greeted the news of Domitian's fate with indifference, it deeply affected the troops, who at once began to speak of Domitian the God — they would have avenged him had anyone given them a lead — and insisted that his assassins should be brought to justice. The Senators, on the other hand, were delighted, and thronged to denounce Domitian in the House with bitter and insulting cries. Then, sending for ladders, they had his images and the votive shields engraved with his likeness, brought smashing down; and ended by decreeing that all inscriptions referring to him must be effaced, and all records of his reign obliterated.
A few months before the murder a raven perched on the Capitol and croaked out the words: 'All will be well!' —a portent which some wag explained in the following verse:
There was a raven, strange to tell,
Perched upon Jove's own gable, whence
He tried to tell us 'All is well!' —
But had to use the future tense.
Domitian is said to have dreamed that a golden hump sprouted from his back, deducing from this that the Empire would be far richer and happier when he had gone; and soon the wisdom and restraint of his successors proved him right.
|« START »||« Twelve Caesars »||« Classics »||« Library »|