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This Week In History

Domitian Murdered – September 18, 96 AD

The Roman Emperor, Vespasian, had two sons – Titus and Domitian. After Vespasian’s death in 79 AD, Titus, being the elder brother, was elevated from Caesar to Augustus. Domitian, while Caesar, played a minor role in government during the reigns of his father and brother, but wasted no time while Titus was on his death bed at their family villa to travel to Rome more than 40 miles away so the praetorian guard could proclaim him as Augustus. Although capable and talented, historians are unkind to Domitian for good reason – his reign began, and continued to be, relatively smooth. He has some troubles in the Danubian region, but the revolt by Saturninus in Upper Germany began his undoing.


The revolt of Saturninus, even though a failure, caused Domitian to become very suspicious of other plots. He began executing senators around 90 AD and increasingly purged closer and closer to home. Julia Titi, Domitian’s niece and de-facto wife, died around 90/91 AD during a botched abortion of presumably Domitian’s child and Domitian was compelled to restore Domitia and have her move back into the palace, after having divorced and exiled her in c.83 AD. In 95 AD, he executed his second-cousin, Flavius Clemens. His widow, Flavia Domitilla III, was Domitian’s own niece, and was exiled. It’s unclear, but Domitian may have also executed all of the couple’s children at that time as well – two of whom were Domitian’s adopted heirs, as Domitian did not have any surviving children with his wife Domitia or Julia Titi.

The elimination of Flavius Clemens left everyone close to Domitian fearful and brought about the self-fulfilling prophecy of a plot to assassinate the emperor. Domitia, along with the leaders of the praetorian guard, some freedman and Domitian’s chamberlain Stephanus, who was previously the steward of Flavia Domitilla III, set upon Domitian in his bedroom. Stephanus stabbed the emperor in the groin, which did not kill him. A struggle ensued until the rest of the conspirators entered and hacked Domitian to death on September 18, 96 AD.

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