From Worst to Best: Emperor Domitian v. Emperor Trajan

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Trivial Diversions

From Worst to Best: Emperor Domitian v. Emperor Trajan

From Worst to Best: Emperor Domitian v. Emperor Trajan
  1. Domitian was bald

And boy, was he unhappy about it. He was very sensitive about his baldness, and wore wigs in his later years. Weirdly, he wrote a book about hair care.

By Steerpike (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Steerpike (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Domitian may have killed his brother

Domitian’s brother Titus became Emperor following the death of their father, Vespasian. Two years later on a trip to the Sabine territories, Titus suddenly fell very ill with a severe fever. His brother Domitian, who already somewhat disliked Titus, according to ancient authors, was either directly responsible for Titus’ death or left his ill brother behind to die.

Titus_Vespasian_Aegidius_Sadeler

Pictured: Titus, looking a lot like Jim Belushi

 

  1. Domitian more or less nullified the Senate

When he became Emperor, Domitian quickly moved all power out of the hands of the Senate and into his own. He declared himself the censor of the Roman people, in charge of the moral wellbeing of the people. As a result, he issued imperial edicts of all sorts, from opposing corruption to restoring buildings.

  1. Domitian was popular with the people

One thing that Domitian did right, though was pay for a lot of entertainment. He founded the Capitoline Games in 86, encouraged competitors to come from all across the Empire, and added innovations to the existing games, such as naval battles, nighttime battles, female gladiators and dwarf gladiators. These made him more popular with the common people, although he was still roundly despised by the Senate.

  1. Domitian was assassinated

Domitian’s reign became increasingly marked by suspicion, and, following a Senator’s revolt the execution of several senators, including four from his own family. In 96 A.D., court officials had Domitian assassinated (after locking the doors and removing the sword that Domitian kept hidden under his pillow).

  1. Domitian’s memory was erased

That may sound like a line from a science fiction movie, but in reality it was an edict from the Senate called a damnatio memoriae. This decree ordered the destruction of every public trace that Domitian lived, including removing his name from records and monuments, seizing his property, and having any statues of him recarved to look like other people. Despite this, the order was only partly followed in Rome and wasn’t at all outside of Italy.

  1. Nerva crowned Emperor

After Domitian’s death, the Senate proclaimed Marcus Cocceius Nerva emperor. Nerva was old, childless, and not a terribly public figure.

Also, he looks like he just smelled sweaty sock.

Also, he looks like he just smelled sweaty sock.

  1. Nerva died soon after

Here’s the thing about Nerva: he was old, childless, and unpopular. He had been a supporter of Domitian’s family, which did not endear him to the Senate, and the people knew very little about him. So, in order to increase his popularity (especially with the military), Nerva adopted a popular general and consul named Marcus Ulpius Traianus – the very successful future Emperor Trajan.

  1. Trajan peacefully became emperor…sort of

Nerva died in 98 A.D., and Trajan became emperor with no large incidents. However, Trajan did some things which made it seem like his ascension wasn’t quite unanimous. First, after he heard the new of Nerva’s death, the new emperor did not hurry back to Rome. Instead, he took a lengthy tour of the holdings in Gaul. Then, Trajan summoned Prefect Aelianus (who had forced Nerva to execute Domitian’s killers) and had him killed. Only then did he return to Rome.

027_Traianus

  1. Trajan expanded the Empire to its largest size

One of Trajan’s strengths was in the military. He led campaigns against the tribes to the near east, including the Dacians, the Nabataeans and the Parthians, stretching the Empire to encompass land east to Mesopotamia and north to modern-day Romania and southern Ukraine.

  1. Trajan built things… a lot

To commemorate his defeat of the Dacians, Trajan built himself a massive complex, including a new forum, a basilica, two libraries, Trajan’s Column, and Trajan’s markets. In addition, he built many arches and rebuilt roads.

By Mihai [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mihai [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Trajan organized welfare

Aside from his monumental building and success at war, Trajan is known for formalizing the Alimenta. This was a program of the emperor handing out food to help orphans and poor children. For Trajan, this meant several good effects. First, since the program was only in effect in Italy, this established a stronger Italian power base. Then, there would be more Italians (especially those boys to grow up to join the army), since more poor people were surviving. Finally, it was a truly charitable gesture, and people loved him for it.

  1. Trajan was named optimus princeps

This literally means “best ruler.”

Traianus_Glyptothek_Munich_72

Related topics Domitian, emperor, Empire, Nerva, Rome, trajan
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