Lecture 22: After the Julio-Claudians. Envoi.

Lecture 22, December 5th 2019 

Suetonius (Life of Galba 1, 2): The race of the Caesars ended with Nero. Nero was succeeded by Galba, who was related in no degree to the house of the Caesars, although unquestionably of noble origin and of an old and powerful family; for he always added to the inscriptions on his statues that he was the great-grandson of Quintus Catulus Capitolinus, and when he became emperor he even displayed a family tree in his hall in which he carried back his ancestry on his father’s side to Jupiter and on his mother’s to Pasiphae, the wife of Minos.

After the Julio-Claudian Emperors

69 CE: “Year of the Four Emperors”

Galba 8 June 68 CE – 15 Jan. 69 CE 
Otho 15 Jan. 69 CE – 16 April 69 CE
Vitellius 17 April 69 CE – 20 Dec. 69 CE
Vespasian took up power 21 Dec. 69 CE 

Flavians (69 – 96 CE)

Vespasian 69 – 79 CE
Titus 79 – 81 CE 
Domitian 81 – 96 CE

The Flavians
(69 – 96 CE)

Tacitus (Histories 4.1): “The death of Vitellius was rather the end of war than the beginning of peace.”

VESPASIAN (r. 69 – 79 CE)

  • T. Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian): an experienced general sent by Nero to crush Jewish War (66-70 CE); Vespasian’s troops killed Vitellius Dec. 20 69 CE. 
  • 60 years old when declared princeps by the senate. He had had a solid career: praetor under Caligula, legionary legate in conquest of Britain, consul 51 CE, proconsul of Africa in 61 CE.
  • Groomed his son, Titus, for succession. Vespasian and Titus held consulships together in 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, 77, and 79 CE; both held the censorship in 73-74 CE. Titus was included in the tribunician and proconsular powers of the emperor. 
  • Vespasian immediately deified at his death in 79 CE.

Suetonius (Life of Vespasian 4): Vespasian was chosen by Nero for the task [Jewish War, 66-70 CE], both as a man of tried energy and as one not to be feared because of the obscurity of his family and name.

Suetonius (Life of Vespasian 23): As death drew near, Vespasian said: “Woe’s me. I think I’m turning into a god.”

Marble Portrait of Vespasian (67-79 CE), Musei Capitolini. Image: Musei Capitolini. A rejection of the idealism of Julio-Claudian portraiture, and a return to Republican verism. Flavian portraiture displays the squat and square proportion of these Emperors. 

Suetonius (Life of Vespasian 20): He was well built, with strong, sturdy limbs, and the expression of one who was straining. Apropos of which a witty fellow, when Vespasian asked him to make a joke about him too, replied rather cleverly: “I will, when you have finished  relieving yourself [i.e. taking a shit].” 

TITUS (r. 79 – 81 CE)

  • Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Titus): b. 39 CE, son of Emperor Vespasian. Raised at court alongside Claudius’ son, Britannicus. Military postings in Germania, Britain, Judaea. 
  • Assumed leadership in the Jewish War in 69 CE. Titus took Jerusalem in 70 CE, sacking and burning the citym destroying the Second Temple, the holiest site in Judaism. Fortress of Massada held out until 73 CE, when the rebels committed mass suicide. Many Jews were sold into slavery or fled Judaea in the Jewish Diaspora. 
  • From 71 CE, Titus became sole commander of the praetorian guard, therefore his father’s bodyguard. 
  • In 79 CE ruled as emperor, but lived on a short while longer (till 81 CE). 
  • 79 CE: Mt. Vesuvius erupted (see lecture 9).
  • 81 CE: Titus dies under mysterious circumstances (Suet. Titus 10; Dom. 2). Titus was deified after his death (Dom. 2).

Head Titus Glyptothek Munich 338.jpg

Colossal head of Titus (r. 79-81 CE). Height of the full statue: 3.20m. Munich Glyptothek. Image: Wikimedia

The Flavian Amphitheatre (=”Colosseum”), 72-80 CE

  • built on the site of the lake on the former grounds of the Domus Aurea
  • known as “Colosseum” due to its proximity to Nero’s Colossus
  • designed for spectacular entertainments: animal hunts, prison executions (damnatio ad bestias), gladiatorial fighting, naval battles. 
  • 80 CE: Dedication of the Flavian Amphitheatre under Emperor Titus – 100 day inaugural games. 
  • structurally complex: 617ft on long axis, 512ft on cross axis, 159ft in height; arena floor = 282ft x 177ft 
  • facade = 4 storeys of travertine marble; first 3 storeys with 80 arches in an arcade; 
  • 1st floor: Tuscan columns, 2nd floor: Ionic, 3rd floor: Corinthian 
  • skeleton made of locally sourced travertine marble, but structure only possible becuase of concrete
  • network of tunnels and passages allowed 45,000 spectators 
  • intricate substructure below the arena floor
  • contemporary images on coins and the Tomb of the Haterii (see below)

Related imageThe Flavian Amphitheatre as it appears today. Constructed between 72-80 CE, dedicated by Titus in 80 CE. 

Reconstruction_3D_Domus_Aurea_Nero_Golden_House_5The Flavian Amphitheatre reclaimed space formerly taken up by the man-made lake, part of Nero’s Domus Aurea (see lecture 21). 

In 80 CE, the Flavian Amphitheatre (= the “Colosseum”) was inaugurated under Titus. A bronze coin (80 CE, RIC2.1 184) shows the spectators inside. Image: British Museum.

Tomb of the Haterii (early 2nd c. CE), via Labicana. Built by a family of builders, these reliefs depict building during the Flavian period (a crane operated by slaves, powered by a wheel), and the Colosseum. There appear to be statues in the arches. Left image: Musei Vaticani. Right image: Dr. Sophie Hay via twitter. 

A leopard attacks a criminal in the arena. Roman mosaic, 3rd c. CE. Archaeological Museum of Tunisia. Image: Wikimedia

Martial (De Spectaculis 1): Let barbarous Memphis speak no more of the wonder of her pyramids, nor Assyrian toil boast of Babylon; nor let the soft Ionians be extolled for Trivia’s temple; let the altar of many horns say naught of Delos; nor let the Carians exalt to the skies with extravagant praises the Mausoleum poised in empty air. All labor yields to Caesar’s Amphitheatre. Fame shall tell of one work in the place of all.

Statues of the Deified Vespasian and Titus, c. 95 CE 

Portraits of deified Vespasian and Titus Misenum c. 95 CEStatues of the deified Vespasian and Titus (c. 95 CE), discovered at the Sacellum of the Augustales, Misenum. Museo Archeologico dei Camp Flegrei, Baia. Height of each (including base) = 7.5ft (2.3m). Image: Gareth Harney via twitter. 

Sacellum of Augustales
Statues of the deified Vespasian and Titus (c. 95 CE), in situ at the Sacellum of the Augustales, Misenum. Image: Gareth Harney via twitter. 

DOMITIAN (r. 81-96 CE)

  • Titus Flavius Domitianus (Domitian): b. 51 CE. While he held the consulship and was member of important priestly colleges, he did not have the famed military history of his elder brother or father. 
  • September 14th 81 CE: senate conferred full imperial powers on Domitian.
  • 83 and 87 CE: conspiracies against Domitian. 
  • 89 CE: L. Antonius Saturninus, legate of Upper Germany, rebels and names self emperor, accompanied by two legions and some Germans. 
  • 93 CE: bloody persecution of senators, expulsion of philosophers from Rome and Italy, proceedings against Jews and Christians. 
  • September 18th 96 CE: Domitian is stabbed to death by a conspiracy which included his wife, Domitia, two praetorian prefects, and senators, including the senator, M. Cocceius Nerva, already chosen to be next emperor…
  • Domitian suffers a damnatio memoriae. The literary tradition (esp. Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, Cassius Dio) is extremely hostile to his memory. 

Suetonius (Life of Domitian 17): Concerning the nature of the plot and the manner of his death, this is about all that became known. As the conspirators were deliberating when and how to attack him, whether at the bath or at dinner, Stephanus, Domitilla’s steward, at the time under accusation for embezzlement, offered his aid and counsel. To avoid suspicion, he wrapped up his left arm in woollen bandages for some days, pretending that he had injured it, and concealed in them a dagger. Then pretending to betray a conspiracy and for that reason being given an audience, he stabbed the emperor in the groin as he was reading a paper which the assassin handed him, and stood in a state of amazement.

Portrait bust of Emperor Domitian, ca. 90 CE. Ancient Rome, from Italy. Parian marble; H- 23 7:16 in. (59.5 cm); W- 15 7:8 in. (40.3). The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio (1990.30).jpg

Portrait bust of Emperor Domitian (c. 90 CE). The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio. Although Domitian was bald – the satirist, Juvenal, called him a “bald Nero” (Sat. 4.38) – he is here depicted with a full head of hair. Image: Metropolitan Museum

Fragments of a colossal statue of Domitian (81-96 CE) which originally stood outside his temple at Ephesus. It may have been destroyed as part of his damnatio memoriae after his assassination. The temple was rededicated to Vespasian. Image: Dr. Sophie Hay.

C37pl5GUYAAbp3eEquestrian statue of Domitian, c. 95 CE, with his face later replaced by that of his successor, Nerva (r. 96-98 CE). discovered at the Sacellum of the Augustales, Misenum. Museo Archeologico dei Camp Flegrei, Baia. Image: Michel Lara on twitter.  

Domitian’s face replaced by that of his successor, Nerva (r. 96-98 CE). discovered at the Sacellum of the Augustales, Misenum. Museo Archeologico dei Camp Flegrei, Baia. Image: Michel Lara on twitter. 

The Arch of Titus


Arch of Titus (after 81 CE). One of Domitian’s first public works, a triumphal arch celebrating his brother, Titus, after his premature death (81 CE). The passageway is decorated with two panel reliefs depicting the joint triumph of Vespasian and Titus in 71 CE for the Jewish War (66-70 CE). Image: Wikimedia.

Arch of Titus 81 CERelief of the spoils from Jerusalem, Arch of Titus, Rome, after 81 CE. Image: Dnalor 01, CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimedia. In the Jewish War (66-70 CE), the Romans enslaved 97,000 people (Joshel 2010: 67).

djir1y3ueaizplt (1)The Center for Israel Studies Arch of Titus Project has developed a colour reconstruction of the triumph relief. Image: Center for Israel Studies. Watch a Youtube video.

The Arch of Titus — antiquity recalled?

Modern quotations of the ancient Arch of Titus, around the world. 1) Arc de Triomphe in Paris (1806), 2) Washington Square Arch in New York (1892), 3) United States National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge (1917), 4) India Gate in New Delhi (1921). 

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The Pantheon 


Photograph of the outside of the Pantheon, a large temple dedicated to all of the gods.Image: “Maros” (CC BY 2.5) via Wikimedia.

  • among the best preserved and influential of all Roman buildings 
  • preserved because it was converted into a church by the early 7th c. CE 
  • Agrippa, whose name appears in the inscription over the porch (M AGIRPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT = “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time”), had constructed an original structure here in 27 BCE
  • but the building which we now see was largely constructed later in the reign of Trajan (r. 98-117 CE)
  • prior dating to the reign of Hadrian (117-138 CE) was previously standard in scholarship based on the discovery of Roman brick stamps dated to 125 CE
  • examination of the rotunda shows that much of the building was already standing when Hadrian’s transitional block and porch were built

1280px-Dome_of_Pantheon_Rome.JPGThe Dome inside the Pantheon with its oculus, 27 feet across.  Image: Wikimedia. Like the Colosseum, this feat of engineering would be impossible without concrete

Back to the beginning…

  • Rome’s traditional foundation date: 21st April 753 BCE
  • Regal period at Rome: 753 – 509 BCE
  • Roman Republic: 509 BCE – 27 BCE
  • Roman Empire: 27 BCE – 476 CE
  • “Fall” of Rome: 
    • 330 CE: capital moved Rome to Constantinople (Nova Roma
    • 395 CE: split into West + East
    • 476 CE: Western portion falls
    • 1453 CE: East falls to Ottoman Turks

Rome’s 1st king: Romulus, 753 – c. 717 BCE  
Rome’s 1st emperor: Augustus (considered calling self Romulus), 27 BCE – 14 CE
Rome’s last emperor: Romulus Augustulus (‘Romulus little Augustus’), 460 CE – after 476 CE

Quotations of the ancient

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotation and Originality (1875): “By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. We quote not only books and proverbs, but arts, sciences, religion, customs, and laws; nay, we quote temples and houses, tables and chairs.”



Monticello, Virginia, primary home of Thomas Jefferson, who began designing the complex at the age of 26. 1769-1809. Image: americanheritage.com.


University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent the “authority of nature and power of reason.” Heavily inspired by the Pantheon. 1822-1826. Image: “Patrickneil” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

1024px-Jefferson_Memorial_At_Dusk_1The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC designed by John Russell Pepe. 1939-1943. Statue of Jefferson added in 1947. Image: Wikimedia


On leaving antiquity

decline and fall.jpg

Spines of English historian Edward Gibbon’s History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), which shows the steady crumbling of a column over time. Spans period of reign of Trajan (98 CE) to Constantinople (1453). Image: @TheHiddenWorId.

Are We Romans?

Sarah Bond: “The trend of comparing the US to Rome is nothing new. What is clear is that the ‘Fall of Rome’ and the fall of the Roman Republic are most often used as a device to tease out perceived flaws in American society.”

+ her ongoing list of articles that compare various things about American society to the quote unquote “fall of Rome.”

Robert Needham Cust (1899: 17): “…and when gradually, though not yet thirty years of age, I found myself helping to rule Millions in their hundreds of towns and thousands of villages, the lines of Virgil came back to me:

‘Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento;
Hae tibi erunt artes; pacisque imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos.’ [=Aeneid 6.851-853]

Sarah Ruden’s translation of 6.851-853 (p141):

“But Romans, don’t forget that world dominion
Is your great craft: peace, and then peaceful customs;
Sparing the conquered, striking down the haughty.”

Phiroze Vasunia (2013: 240):Robert Needham Cust wrote in his autobiography that he was reminded of lines from Book Six of the Aeneid when he was sent to India as a young man and entrusted with the task of governing millions. And one finds references to Virgil and his works in articles written by Europeans (and some by Indians) for the learned journals of the Asiatic societies, in the official reports of colonial administrators, and in memoirs of army officers, civil servants, and the like.”

Edith Hall, “How Enoch Powell got Vergil Wrong” (20 April 2013): “45 Years ago today, classical literature was put to its most shameful use in the history of British oratory, when Enoch Powell MP quoted lines from the Aeneid to incite racial hatred. At a Conservative Party meeting in Birmingham, he emotively described the alleged plight of the white working-class in the face of immigration, and said that it was bound to end in violence: ‘like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.’” bella, horrida bella / et Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno’ (6.86-7). [The words are in fact spoken by the Apollo via Sibyl to Aeneas — she predicts that there will be a second Trojan War in Italy]

9/11 monument — New York City

Caroline Alexander, New York Times April 6th 2011: “But one feature of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum seems above reproach: a quotation from Virgil’s “Aeneid” that will be inscribed on a wall in front of the victims’ remains. The memorial inscription, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is an eloquent translation of the original Latin of “The Aeneid” — Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo (9.447). The impulse to turn to time-hallowed texts, like the classics or the Bible, is itself time-hallowed. In the face of powerful emotions, our own words may seem hollow and inadequate, while the confirmation that people in the past felt as we now feel holds solace. And the language of poets and great thinkers can be in itself ennobling. But not in this case. Anyone troubling to take even a cursory glance at the quotation’s context will find the choice offers neither instruction nor solace…The immediate context of the quotation is a night ambush of the Rutulian enemy camp by two Trojan warriors, Nisus and Euryalus, whose mutual love is described in terms of classical homoerotic convention and whose deaths represent one of the epic’s famously sentimental set pieces. Falling on the sleeping enemy, the two hack away with their swords, until the ground reeks with “warm black gore.” Stripping the murdered soldiers of their armor, the two are in turn ambushed by a returning Rutulian cavalry troop. As each Trojan tries to save his companion, both are killed, brutally and graphically…”

Further Reading: 

  • Sarah Bond’s many excellent pieces at Forbes and now Hyperallergic
  • Phiroze Vasunia (2013) The Classics and Colonial India. Available online via BU library.
  • Peter Onuf and Nicholas Cole (2011) Thomas Jefferson, the classical world, and early America. Available online via BU library.
  • Carl Richard (1994) The founders and the classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment. [Mugar JA84.U5 R48 1994]