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Reign of the Flavian Dynasty

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The Flavian Dynasty (Latin Flavii), sometimes also called the First Flavian Dynasty — was a dynasty of Roman emperors that ruled in 69-96 AD. The founder-Vespasian (69-79) - came to power after the Civil War (68-69).

Suetonius reports that the Flavians were of unknown origin, pointing out that they did not have images of their ancestors (which were originally supposed to be patricians, and then to all persons who held the highest honorary positions). Under Flavius, many members of the provincial nobility were introduced to the Senate and the equestrian class. The Flavians extended Roman and Latin citizenship rights to provincials more widely than their Julius-Claudian predecessors, which helped expand the social base of imperial power. The Flavian policies reflected the interests of the provincial nobility, and in some cases displeased the Senate.

The Flavian Dynasty was a Roman imperial dynasty that ruled the Roman Empire between 69 and 96 AD, including the reigns of Vespasian (69-79) and his two sons Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96). The Flavians came to power during the Civil War of 69, known as The Year of the Four Emperors. His claim to the throne was quickly challenged by the legions stationed in the eastern provinces, who declared their commander Vespasian emperor in his place. The second Battle of Bedriacus tilted the balance decisively in favor of the Flavian forces, which entered Rome on 20 December The next day, the Roman Senate officially declared Vespasian Emperor of the Roman Empire, thus beginning the Flavian dynasty. Although the dynasty did not last long, several significant historical, economic, and military events occurred during its reign.

Map of the Empire at the beginning of the year of the Four Emperors

Titus ' reign was plagued by many natural disasters, the most serious of which was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The surrounding cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely buried under ash and lava. A year later, Rome was struck by fire and plague. On the military front, the Flavian dynasty witnessed the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 after the failed Jewish revolt of 66. Substantial conquests were made in Britain under the command of Gnaeus Julius Agricola between 77 and 83, while Domitian was unable to secure a decisive victory over King Decebalus in the war against the Dacians. In addition, the Empire strengthened its border defenses by expanding fortifications along the Lyme Germanicus.

The Flavians also initiated economic and cultural reforms. Under Vespasian, new taxes were developed to restore the Empire's finances, and Domitian revalued Roman coinage, increasing the silver content. Titus put in place a massive construction program to celebrate the rise of the Flavian dynasty, leaving behind many enduring landmarks in Rome, the most impressive of which was the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum.

Family tree

The decades of civil war in the first century BC largely contributed to the decline of the old aristocracy of Rome, which was gradually replaced by the new Italian nobility at the beginning of the first century AD. One such family was the Flavians, or Flavian family, who rose from relative obscurity to prominence in just four generations, gaining wealth and status under the emperors of the Julius-Claudian dynasty. Vespasian's grandfather, Titus Flavius Peter, served as a centurion under Pompey during Caesar's Civil War. His military career ended in disgrace when he fled the battlefield at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. However, Peter managed to improve his status by marrying the extremely wealthy Tertulla, whose fortune guaranteed the upward mobility of Petro's son Titus Flavius Sabinus I. Sabinus himself amassed further wealth and may have become a horseman through his services as a tax collector in Asia and banker in Helvetia (modern Switzerland). By marrying Vespasia Polla, he joined the more prestigious patrician family of Vespasia, ensuring the elevation of his sons Titus Flavius Sabinus II and Vespasian to senatorial rank.

Around 38 AD, Vespasian married Domitilla the Elder, the daughter of a Ferencian horseman. They had two sons, Titus Flavius Vespasian (born 39) and Titus Flavius Domitian (born 51), and a daughter, Domitilla (b. Domitilla the Elder died before Vespasian became emperor. After that, his mistress Kenida was his wife until she died in 74. Vespasian's political career included the posts of quaestor, aedile, and praetor, culminating in the consulship in 51, the year Domitian was born. As a military commander, he gained early fame by participating in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD. However, ancient sources claim that the Flavian family was poor during Domitian's upbringing, even claiming that Vespasian gained notoriety under the emperors Caligula (37-41) and Nero (54-68). Modern history refutes these claims, suggesting that these stories were later spread under the Flavian rule as part of a propaganda campaign designed to reduce success under the less respected emperors of the Julius-Claudian dynasty and maximize achievement under Emperor Claudius (41-54) and his power. son of Britannicus. Apparently, the imperial favorability of the Flavians was high throughout the 40s and 60s. While Titus received his courtly training in the company of Britannicus, Vespasian enjoyed a successful political and military career. After a long period of retirement during the 50s, he returned to public service under Nero, serving as proconsul for the province of Africa in 63, and accompanying the emperor on an official tour of Greece in 66.

From c. 57 to 59, Titus was a military tribune in Germany and later served in Britain. His first wife, Arresina Tertulla, died two years after the wedding, in 65. Titus then took a new wife from a more distinguished family, Marcia Fournilla. However, Marcia's family was closely associated with the opposition to the Emperor Nero. Her uncle Bareia Soranus and his daughter Servilia were among those killed after the failed Pisan plot 65 years ago. Some modern historians suggest that Titus divorced his wife because of her family's connection to the conspiracy. He never remarried. Titus had several daughters, at least one of them by Marcia Furnill. The only one known to have survived to adulthood was Julia Flavia, possibly Titus ' child by Arresina, whose mother was also named Julia. During this period, Titus also practiced law and reached the rank of Quaestor.

The Flavian family tree


Little factual information has been preserved about Vespasian's government during the ten years of his reign as emperor. Vespasian spent his first year as ruler in Egypt, during which time the administration of the empire was handed over to Mucianus , who was assisted by Vespasian's son Domitian. Modern historians believe that Vespasian stayed here to enlist the support of the Egyptians. In the mid-70s, Vespasian first came to Rome and immediately launched a large-scale propaganda campaign to consolidate his power and promote a new dynasty. His reign is best known for financial reforms following the decline of the Julius-Claudian dynasty , such as the introduction of a tax on urinals and numerous military campaigns in the 70s. The most significant of these was the First Jewish-Roman War , which ended with Titus ' destruction of the city of Jerusalem. In addition, Vespasian faced several rebellions in Egypt, Gaul, and Germany, and reportedly survived several plots against him. Vespasian helped rebuild Rome after the Civil War, adding the Temple of Peace and starting the construction of the Flavian amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum. Vespasian died of natural causes on 23 June 79, and was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Titus. Ancient historians who lived during this period, such as Tacitus , Suetonius , Josephus, and Pliny the Elder, speak well of Vespasian, denouncing the emperors who preceded him.


Despite initial misgivings about his character, Titus ruled with great success after Vespasian's death on 23 June 79, and was considered a good emperor by Suetonius and other modern historians. In this role, he is best known for his public building program in Rome and the completion of the Colosseum in 80, as well as for his generosity in alleviating the suffering caused by two disasters, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 and a fire. Rome of the 80s. Titus continued his father's efforts to promote the Flavian dynasty. He revived the practice of the imperial cult , deified his father, and laid the foundation for what would later become the Temple of Vespasian and Titus , which Domitian completed. After barely two years in office, Titus died unexpectedly of a fever on September 13, 81 and was deified in the Roman Senate.


Domitian was declared Emperor by the Praetorian Guard the day after Titus ' death, beginning a reign that lasted more than fifteen years - longer than any man who had ruled Rome since Tiberius. Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluating Roman coinage, expanded the Empire's borders, and initiated a massive construction program to rebuild the ruined city of Rome. In Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola expanded the Roman Empire to present-day Scotland , but in Dacia, Domitian failed to achieve a decisive victory in the war against the Dacians. September 18, 96 Domitian was killed by court officials, and with him came the end of the Flavian dynasty. On the same day , he was replaced by his friend and adviser Nerva, who founded the long-standing Nervan-Antonian dynasty. Domitian's memory was consigned to oblivion by the Roman Senate, with whom he had a notoriously difficult relationship throughout his reign. Senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius published stories after his death promoting Domitian's view as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. Modern history has rejected these views, instead describing Domitian as a ruthless but effective autocrat whose cultural, economic, and political agenda formed the basis of the peace principate of the 2nd century. His successors Nerva and Trajan were less strict, but in reality their policies differed little from those of Domitian.

Internal policy

After the fall of the republic, the power of the Roman Senate was largely undermined by the quasi-monarchical system of government established by Augustus , known as the principate. The Principate allowed for the existence of a de facto dictatorial regime, while maintaining the formal framework of the Roman Republic. Most emperors supported the public facade of democracy, and in response, the Senate unconditionally recognized the emperor's status as de facto monarch. The Civil War of 69 clearly showed that the real power in the Empire belongs to the control of the army. By the time Vespasian was proclaimed emperor in Rome, all hope of restoring the republic had long since vanished.

The Flavian approach to government involved both explicit and implicit exclusion. When Vespasian returned to Rome in the mid-70s, he immediately launched a series of efforts to consolidate his power and prevent future revolts. He offered gifts to the military and dismissed or punished soldiers loyal to Vitellius. He also restructured the senatorial and equestrian orders, removing enemies and adding allies. Executive control was largely distributed among his family members. Non-Flavians were effectively excluded from important government positions, even those who were among Vespasian's earliest supporters during the Civil War. During this time, Mucianus is slowly disappearing from the historical record, and is thought to have died sometime between 75 and 77. That Vespasian intended to establish a long dynasty to rule the Roman Empire was most evident in the powers he bestowed on his eldest son Titus. Titus shared tribune power with his father, was granted seven consulships , censored , and , perhaps most surprisingly , was given a command from the Praetorians. Since Titus actually acted as co-ruler with his father, no drastic changes in Flavian policy occurred during his brief reign from 79 to 81.

Domitian's approach to government was less subtle than that of his father and brother. When he became emperor, he quickly abandoned the Republican facade and transformed his government more or less formally into the divine monarchy he believed it to be. By shifting the center of power to the imperial court , Domitian openly abolished the powers of the Senate. He became personally involved in all branches of government: decrees were issued regulating the smallest details of everyday life and the law, while taxation and public morals were strictly enforced. Nevertheless, Domitian made concessions to the senator's opinion. While his father and brother effectively excluded non-Flavians from the civil service, Domitian rarely favored his family members in the allocation of strategic positions, admitting a surprisingly large number of provincials and potential opponents to the consulate and appointing men of the equestrian Order. manage the imperial bureaucracy.

Set of three aurei with Flavian images: Vespasian, Titus, Domitian.

One of Vespasian's first acts as Emperor was to implement tax reform to restore the Empire's depleted treasury. After Vespasian arrived in Rome in the mid-70s, Mucianus continued to insist that Vespasian collect as many taxes as possible, updating old ones and introducing new ones. Mucianus and Vespasian increased the tribute from the provinces and kept a close eye on the treasury officials. The Latin proverb "Pecunia non olet" ("Money doesn't smell") may have originated when he introduced a tax on urine for public toilets.

After his accession to the throne, Domitian revalued Roman coins to the Augustan standard, increasing the silver content of the denarius by 12%. The impending crisis of 85, however, forced the devaluation to Nero's standard of 65, but it was still higher than the level that Vespasian and Titus had maintained during their rule, and Domitian's strict tax policies ensured that this standard would be maintained for the next eleven years. The types of coins from this era show consistently high quality, including careful attention to the title of Domitian and exceptionally refined decoration on the reverse portraits.

Jones estimates Domitian's annual income at more than 1,200 million sesterces , of which more than one-third would probably have been spent on maintaining the Roman army. Another major expense is related to the extensive reconstruction program of Rome itself.

Since the reign of Tiberius, the rulers of the Julius-Claudian dynasty legitimized their power through descendants on the adopted line from Augustus and Julius Caesar. However, Vespasian could no longer claim such a connection. Therefore, a massive propaganda campaign was launched to justify the Flavian rule as predestined by divine providence. At the same time, Flavian propaganda emphasized Vespasian's role as a peacemaker after the 69 crisis. Almost a third of all coins minted in Rome under Vespasian celebrated a military victory or peace, while the word vindex was removed from the coins so as not to remind the public of the rebellious Vindex. Construction sites bore inscriptions praising Vespasian and denouncing previous emperors, and a Temple of Peace was built in the forum.

The Flavians also controlled public opinion through literature. Vespasian favored stories written during his reign, ensuring that prejudice against him was removed, as well as giving financial rewards to contemporary writers. Ancient historians who lived during this period, such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and Pliny the Elder, speak suspiciously well of Vespasian, denouncing the emperors who preceded him. Tacitus acknowledges that his status was elevated by Vespasian, Josephus identifies Vespasian as a patron and savior, and Pliny dedicated his Natural Histories to Vespasian's son, Titus. Those who opposed Vespasian were punished. A number of Stoic philosophers were accused of corrupting students with inappropriate teachings and expelled from Rome. Helvidius Priscus, a philosopher who advocated a republic, was executed for his teachings.

Titus and Domitian also revived the practice of imperial worship, which had fallen somewhat out of use under Vespasian. It is noteworthy that Domitian's first act as emperor was to deify his brother Titus. After their deaths, his infant son and niece Giulia Flavia were also listed as gods. To promote the worship of the imperial family, Domitian built a dynastic mausoleum on the site of Vespasian's former home on the Quirinal and completed the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, a sanctuary dedicated to the worship of his deified father and brother. To commemorate the military triumphs of the Flavian family, he ordered the construction of the Templum Divorum and Templum Fortuna Redux , and completed the Arch of Titus. To further justify the divine nature of Flavian rule, Domitian also emphasized connections with the main deity Jupiter, most notably through the impressive restoration of the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.

Military campaigns

The most significant military campaign undertaken during the Flavian period was the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Titus. The destruction of the city was the culmination of the Roman campaign in Judea after the Jewish revolt of 66. The second Temple was completely destroyed, after which Titus ' soldiers proclaimed him emperor in honor of the victory. Jerusalem was sacked, and most of the population was killed or dispersed. Joseph claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, most of them Jews. 97,000 were taken captive and enslaved, including Simon Bar Giora and John of Giskale. Many fled to areas of the Mediterranean Sea. Titus is reported to have refused to accept the victory wreath because "there is no merit in defeating people abandoned by their own God." On his return to Rome in 71. Titus was triumphant. Accompanied by Vespasian and Domitian, he rode into the city, enthusiastically greeting the Roman population, and was preceded by a lavish parade of treasures and prisoners from the war. Josephus describes a procession with large amounts of gold and silver carried along the route, followed by elaborate reenactments of the war, Jewish captives, and finally treasures taken from the Jerusalem Temple, including the Menorah and Torah. The leaders of the resistance were executed in the Forum, after which the procession ended with religious sacrifices in the Temple of Jupiter. The triumphal arch of Titus, which stands at one entrance to the forum, commemorates Titus ' victory.

The conquest of Britain continued under the command of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who expanded the Roman Empire to Caledonia, or modern-day Scotland, between 77 and 84. In 82 AD, Agricola crossed an unidentified body of water and defeated peoples hitherto unknown to the Romans. He fortified the coast facing Ireland, and Tacitus recalls that his father-in-law often claimed that the island could be conquered by a single legion and a few auxiliaries. He gave refuge to the exiled Irish king, whom he hoped he could use as a pretext for conquest. This conquest never took place, but some historians believe that the passage in question was actually a small exploratory or punitive expedition to Ireland. The following year, Agricola assembled a fleet and marched behind the Fort to Caledonia. To aid the offensive, an extensive legionary fortress was built at Inchtuhil. In the summer of 84, Agricola encountered the Caledonian armies led by Calgacus at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Although the Romans inflicted heavy losses on the Caledonians, two-thirds of their army managed to escape and hide in the Scottish marshes and highlands , which ultimately prevented Agricola from taking control of the entire British island.

Image from the Triumphal Arch of Titus, 1st century AD

Military campaigns undertaken during Domitian's reign were usually defensive in nature, as the Emperor rejected the idea of an expansionist war. His most significant military contribution was the development of the Basswood Germanica, which encompassed an extensive network of roads, forts, and watchtowers built along the River Rhine to protect the Empire. However, several important wars were fought in Gaul, against the Hutts, and across the Danube border against the Suevians, Sarmatians, and Dacians. Led by King Decebalus, the Dacians invaded the province of Moesia around AD 84 or 85, causing considerable damage and killing the Moesian governor Oppius Sabinus. Domitian immediately launched a counter-offensive , which resulted in the destruction of the legion during the ill-fated expedition to Dacia. Their commander, Cornelius Fuscus, was killed, and the Praetorian Guard's battle banner was lost. In 87, the Romans again invaded Dacia, this time under the command of Tettius Julianus, and finally managed to defeat Decebalus in late 88, on the same spot where Fuscus had been killed earlier. However, the attack on the Dacian capital was stopped when a crisis broke out on the German border, forcing Domitian to sign a peace treaty with Decebalus, which was sharply criticized by modern authors. Dacia remained a relatively peaceful client kingdom until the end of Domitian's reign, but Decebalus used Roman money to strengthen his defenses and continued to resist Rome. It was only during the reign of Trajan in 106 that a decisive victory over Decebalus was secured. Again the Roman army suffered heavy losses, but Trajan managed to capture Sarmisegetusa and, importantly, annex the gold and silver mines of Dacia.


The Flavians, though a relatively short-lived dynasty, helped restore stability to an empire on its knees. Although all three were criticized, especially for their more centralized style of government, they implemented reforms that created a stable enough empire to last until the 3rd century. However, their military dynasty led to further marginalization of the Senate and a drastic departure from the princeps, or first citizen, to the emperor or emperor.

Little factual information survives about Vespasian's government during the ten years he was emperor, his reign best known for its financial reforms following the decline of the Julius-Claudian dynasty. Vespasian was distinguished by his gentleness and loyalty to the people. For example, a lot of money was spent on public works, restoration and improvement of Rome: the new forum, the Temple of Peace, public baths and the Colosseum.

Titus ' record among ancient historians is considered one of the most exemplary for any emperor. All the surviving accounts from this period, many of which were written by his contemporaries such as Suetonius Tranquilius, Cassius Dio , and Pliny the Elder , present a very favorable view of Titus. His character especially excelled in comparison to his brother Domitian. Unlike the ideal depiction of Titus in Roman histories, in Jewish memory "Titus the Wicked" is remembered as an evil oppressor and destroyer of the Temple. For example, one legend in the Babylonian Talmud describes Titus as having sex with a whore on a Torah scroll inside the Temple during its destruction.

Although modern historians reviled Domitian after his death, his administration laid the foundation for a peaceful empire of the second century AD and culminated in the Pax Romana. His successors Nerva and Trajan were less strict, but in reality their policies differed little from those of Domitian. The Roman Empire flourished between 81 and 96, which was much more than a grim codex for the first century, during a reign that Theodor Mommsen described as the grim but reasonable despotism of Domitian.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, The Emperors of Rome, The reign of the Julius-Claudian dynasty


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