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This Week In History

Titus Begins Sole Reign – June 23, 79 AD

During the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD), Vespasian was held in high esteem, allowing his son, Titus to be raised in the company of the royal court. Titus was taught along side Britannicus, Claudius’s son. They became close friends and Titus was at the dinner party at which Britannicus was fatally poisoned by Nero in 55. It is said Titus even drank some of the poison and became very ill, but recovered. Nero continued to rule, Vespasian had retired in 51 and Titus was sent to Germania. From c.57-59, Titus was a military tribune in Germania, arriving in Britannia c.60 with reinforcements after the revolt of Boadicea.

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Flavian Amphitheater

Titus married twice, the first to Arrecina Tertulla, the daughter of one of Caligula’s praetorian prefects, when he returned to Rome in c.63. The were married until Tertulla’s death in c.65. He then married Marcia Furnilla, but divorced her sometime after the Pisonian Conspiracy against Nero in 65, possibly because of her family ties to the plot. He never remarried, but did have a daughter from each marriage. Both daughters were named Julia, but it is the daughter from the second marriage that appears on coinage as Julia Titi.

In 66, Titus accompanied his father, who had come out of retirement, to lead the campaign against the rebels in Judaea. He played a militarily supporting role until Vespasian was forced to deal with Vitellius in the civil war of 69. Vespasian went on to defeat Vitellius and ended up being named emperor. Meanwhile, Titus, now 27 years old, was leading the campaign in Judaea, and he and his 15-year-old brother, Domitian, who was still in Rome, were elevated to co-Caesar. Titus took Jerusalem in late 70 and returned to Rome, having been hailed Imperator by his soldiers. He arrived in Rome in early 71, surprising his father. Vespasian, Titus and Domitian enjoyed a triumphal procession for the Judaean War and Titus was given command over the praetorian guards, replacing Mucianus.

During his tenure as Caesar and Imperator from 69-79, Titus was not very popular. Because of his musical talent and intellect, people were reminded of the reign of Nero. Also, his love interest in Princess Berenice, sister of Agrippa II, whom he met in Judaea, was looked down upon in Roman society. Lastly, he harshly dealt with two leaders of a plot against his father. When Vespasian died on June 23 in 79, Titus was elevated to emperor. Romans feared he would end up being another Nero, but they were very pleasantly surprised. He ordered an end to the common practice of trials based on treasonous charges and abolished the network of informers that had terrorized Rome since the reign of Augustus. He also became well-known for his generosity. He is credited by Suetonius with stating at a dinner party “Friends, I have lost a day” when he realized he had not given any benefit to anyone that whole day.

During his short reign from 79-81, several major tragedies occurred. Mount Vesuvius erupted in August 79, wiping out Pompeii, Herculaneum and much of the area around the Bay of Naples. The following year saw a massive fire in Rome wipe out the newly-built Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, the Temples of Isis and Serapis, Agrippa’s Pantheon, parts of the Theater of Pompey, among many other important structures. Simultaneously, a plague broke out in the city. Titus personally compensated the families of the affected of the eruption, visited Pompeii the following year and worked to rebuild Rome. One of the greatest structures of ancient Rome was completed in June 80 – the Flavian Amphitheater, commonly called the Colosseum. It still stands today and is undergoing restoration and is visited by millions annually.

Titus died on September 13, 81 of a fever, passing on the Roman Empire to Domitian.

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