The Assassination of Domitian
Titus Flavius Domitianius was born the youngest son of Emperor Vespasian in 51 CE. This was prior to his father’s rise to emperor of Rome. (For more on Emperor Vespasian, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/emperor-titus-flavius-vespasian/ ) His older brother, Titus, and his father were close, leaving Domitian on the outside looking in. After a stunning turn of events, Vespasian became emperor and passed the throne to his oldest son Titus on his death. Titus was groomed as Vespasian’s heir, and it was assumed Titus would marry and pass the throne on to his sons. Domitian was relegated to being a patron of the arts, and was none too happy about it. However, fate took a turn. Domitian was set to be the emperor’s black sheep brother when Titus died suddenly. The little known and lesser cared for brother was now the Emperor of the Roman Empire.
The beginning of his reign was a bit ominous as he spent hours alone in a room killing flies with a stylus. This account comes from Suetonius, who reported a general quipped “not even a fly” was with the emperor. However, he shored up support with army by raising their pay and financing campaigns along the Rhine and in Dacia. Domitian ended up ruling for fifteen years, the longest since Emperor Tiberius. He maintained power and popularity, but showed a staggering contempt for the Senate. He hated the aristocratic families who make up its ranks and went out of his way to humiliate them.
In 90 CE, Cornelia the head of the Vestal Virgins was accused of being unchaste. This was a crime against the State as the Virgins had to remain pure to tend the sacred flame to protect the city. (For more on Vesta, please see this post: http://www.historynaked.com/hestia/ ) Cornelia was found guilty and was walled alive and her alleged lovers beaten to death. In this climate of unrest, treason trials were put on for members of the Senate. The consul Flavius Clemens was killed and his wife Flavia Domitilla was banished for “godlessness”. This was just his sister and brother in law. Even the heads of Domitian’s beloved praetorian guards, Petronius Secundus and Norbanus, we’re accused. No one was safe. Someone had to act.
As the fifteenth anniversary of his reign approached, according to Suetonius an astrologer predicted the emperor would die around midday on September 18th. Naturally, Domitian was nervous and restless but settled down to try to accomplish something. Petronius Secundus and Norbanus had recruited Stephanus, an ex-slave of Flavius Clemens’ banished widow, to do the deed. Stephanus approached Domitian with a dagger concealed his bandages from a fake wound. They fought with Stephanus wounding Domitian in the groin, but he was also fatally wounded. Both died on the palace floor. The last Flavian emperor was dead. He was denied a state funeral and his name removed from state buildings.