By Jean Marie Carey

Fortuna seemed to have a special interest in the fates of the imperial dynasties on 18 September. On this day in 96, Caesar Domitianus Germanicus Augustus, whom we know as Domitian, was assassinated at age 44 by officials of his court who were displeased by the emperor’s less-than-successful military exploits in Dacia and Germanica.

The Roman Senate declared a damnatio memorae upon Domitian, and many images of him since discovered are often deliberately disfigured or broken. Domitian was the last of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire between 69 and 96, including also the reigns of Vespasian (69–79), and Titus (79–81).

Sculptural figures of women from the era are distinguished by replication of ornate, complicated hairstyles of thickly rolled fillets and corkscrew ringlets in rows and waves often plaited into a honeycomb structure. These styles conveyed a religious as well as materialistic significance. Colored stones such as pavonazzetto were similarly used by the Flavians not just for domestic enhancement, but also for temple furnishings and even architectural elements.

Following a two-year stabilizing rule by Domitian’s former advisor, Nerva, in early 98, Caesar Nerva Traianus Divi Nervae filius Augustus – Trajan – rose as the imperator, presiding until his death in 117 over one of the Empire’s last great expansions and earning the reputation he has kept for 1900 years as a thoughtful and fair leader. Coincidentally, Trajan was born on 18 September in 53.

Reference: Harriet I. Flower. “A Tale of Two Monuments: Domitian, Trajan, and Some Praetorians at Puteoli,” American Journal of Archaeology, 1 October 2001, Vol. 105(4), pp.625-648.

Portrait head of the Emperor Domitian idealized as Hercules, c.75. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Accession No. 1978.227

Portrait of a Priestess, c. 50. Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, No. 2005.006.001.

Lion-Headed Table Leg of pavonazzetto, c. 50. Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, No. 1988.004.002.

Column of Trajan (miniature), 113. Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, No. 581.

Trajan’s Market, on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 Further Reading:

Andrew Zissos. A Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial Rome. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

Julian Bennett. Trajan: Optimus Princeps. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2001.

Pat Southern. Domitian: Tragic Tyrant. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2009.

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