A.D. 51-96

Roman emperor

Titus Flavius Domitianus, or Domitian, was the second son of the emperor Vespasian, who succeeded his older brother Titus as emperor in A.D. 81. Domitian was an able administrator and commander, but his dictatorial manner earned him the bitter hatred of the Roman Senate.

Domitian devoted much of his attention to securing the borders of the empire in Europe. He led a successful campaign against German tribes beyond the Rhine River, which won him the loyal support of his armies. The king of Dacia (present-day Romania) invaded several times along the Danube River, and the emperor was forced to move legions* from other parts of the empire to reinforce this border. In Rome, Domitian ruled efficiently and tried to reduce corruption and raise public standards of morality. Several of Rome’s great monuments were completed during his reign, including the Arch of Titus, in honor of his brother’s military successes, and the last and greatest of the imperial* palaces on Palatine Hill. He also had plans drawn for a new forum, which was completed after his death.

During Domitian’s reign, problems arose concerning his dealings with the Senate. Although, by this time, the Senate had little real power, the emperors of Rome usually consulted this body on important matters, if only for form’s sake. Domitian held no such pretense. He virtually ignored the Senate and flaunted his absolute authority, which deeply angered the senators. Over time, Domitian grew increasingly suspicious and had many senators condemned to death for treason. In this poisonous climate, palace conspirators, who probably included his wife Domitia, assassinated him in A.D. 96. The Senate denounced his memory, and later Roman historians labeled him a tyrant*. His death marked the end of the Flavian dynasty*. (See also Barbarians; Palaces, Imperial Roman; Rome, History of; Senate, Roman.)

* legion main unit of the Roman army, consisting of about 6,000 soldiers

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

* tyrant absolute ruler

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

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