The Emperor Domitian

The Emperor Domitian

The Emperor Domitian

The Emperor Domitian


Domitian, Emperor of Rome AD 81-96, has traditionally been portrayed as a tyrant, and his later years on the throne as a 'reign of terror'. Brian Jones' biography of the emperor, the first ever in English, offers a more balanced interpretation of the life of Domitian, arguing that his foreign policy was realistic, his economic programme rigorously efficient and his supposed persecution of the early Christians non-existent.Central to an understanding of the emperor's policies, Brian Jones proposes, is his relationship with his court, rather than with the senate. Roamn historians will have to take account of this new biography which in part represents a rehabilitation of Domitian.


Stéphane Gsell’s biography of the emperor Domitian appeared almost a century ago. So another should not be regarded as premature and needs no apology, unfashionable though biographies may well be.

Impetus for a new one comes from the additional evidence now available: the mass of epigraphic and archaeological material discovered since 1894 provides a solid basis for a broader and more detailed picture of the period. Substantial gains have been made in the past hundred years: the consular lists for the period 81 to 96 are now all but complete, whilst the names and careers of many more senators and provincial officials have been revealed. We have been made aware of the fact that Domitian was responsible for the demolition of a full-sized legionary fortress in northern Scotland erected only a few years before, and that some of his soldiers were stationed far further to the east (at Baku) than was ever thought possible. Studies by Birley, Blake, Buttrey, Eck, Syme and Waters have provided new insights into the Flavian period, whilst Anderson, Carradice, Jones, Rogers, Strobel, Vinson and Williams have all recently discussed various aspects of his principate.

The traditional portrait of Domitian as a bloodthirsty tyrant has not completely disappeared and still needs emendation. But, as well, we must now take account of his reform of the coinage, his massive building programme, his development of the ‘power set’ within the administration, his (rather than Trajan’s) admission of a substantial number of easterners into the senate, his efforts to come to terms with various groups within the senate—in brief, his achievements were more substantial than Gsell realized.

One important aspect of the reign demands study—the role of his court and his relationship with his courtiers. For he spent most

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