The Early Christian Church - Vol. 1

By Philip Carrington | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18 THE TYRANNY OF DOMITIAN

The philosophers, p.333. Domitian and the Jews, p.333. The grandsons of Jude, p.334. The last works of Josephus, p.335. Baruch and Esdras, p.336. Some apocalyptic conventions, p.339. The Sibyl, p.340. The Apocalypse of John, p.341. The date of the Revelation, p.343. The return of Nero, p.344. The victorious word of God, p.346. The thousand years, p.347. The new Jerusalem, p.348.

The Emperor Domitian appears in Christian history and tradition as a tyrant and a persecutor, and he has left an equally sinister impression in the works of Roman writers. Tacitus and Suetonius, who lived as young men under his 'tyranny', may have been tempted to blacken his memory in order to please the subsequent emperors, but their writings leave no doubt in our minds that the unpleasant impression was justified. He was secretive and suspicious. He loved the exercise of power and he took seriously his claim to divine honours. He adopted the designation of 'Our Lord God Domitian': deus et dominus noster Domitianus. Such a title might accord well with the adoration offered to an eastern king, but it would not be taken seriously in Rome.

Vespasian had restored the authority of the senate, and had respected the constitution as it had been settled by Augustus; but under Domitian the relations between emperor and senate progressively deteriorated. A rebellion on the German frontier in the year 88 or 89, headed by a general named Saturninus, was put down with difficulty, and a number of senators who were implicated in it were executed. The emperor was now on the defensive. He surrounded himself with guards, and organized a secret police. The reign of terror began.

From this time the senate was forced to comply with his will; and there were others who felt the force of his tyranny. In 89 the philosophers were expelled from Rome, and in 93 there was a second edict under which a number of the Stoics were put to death.

-332-

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