The Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD)

The Flavian dynasty was the second Roman imperial dynasty consiting of Vespasian and his two sons Titus and Domitian. They ruled the Roman Empire from 69 AD until 96 AD, when Domitian was assassinated. The Flavians rose to power during the civil war of 69 AD , known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

A map of the Roman Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors. (c) Steerpike & Andrei nacu

When Vitellius became emperor in the middle of the year, after the short reigns of Galba and Otho, the Eastern Legions declared their commander Vespasian as emperor. Vespasian’s forces defeated those of Vitellius at the Second Battle of Bedriacum and entered Rome on the 20th December. The following day, the Roman Senate officially declared Vespasian emperor. Although the dynasty proved to be short-lived, several significant historic, economic and military events took place during their reign.

(c) Steerpike

Under Vespasian

Head of Vespasian, 1st c. AD. Museum of Lucus Feroniae.

Vespasian spent his first year as emperor in Egypt shoring up his support in the East, during which the administration of the empire was given to C. Licinius Mucianus, who was aided by Domitian. Vespasian first arrived in Rome in the summer of 70 AD and he immediately embarked on a widespread propaganda campaign to consolidate his power and promote the new Flavian dynasty. He undertook many financial reforms, such as the institution of a tax on public toilets. Many military campaigns were fought during his reign, including the Batavian Revolt and the First Jewish-Roman War, which ended in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by Titus. Vespasian also started a building programme in Rome, adding the Forum of Vespasian and Temple of Peace and beginning the construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, which is better known as the Colosseum. Vespasian died of natural causes on the 23rd June 79 AD and was succeeded by his eldest son Titus.

Under Titus

Head of Titus, 79 AD, from Marsala. Baglio Anselmi Archaeology Museum.

Titus ruled to great acclaim following the death of Vespasian and was considered a good emperor by ancient authors. He continued Vespasian’s public building programme in Rome and finished the construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre in 80 AD. He was praised for how he dealt with two major disasters: the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD and the fire of Rome in 80 AD. Titus also revived the practice of the Imperial Cult, he deified his father and he began construction on the temple which would become the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, which was completed by Domitian. After just over two years as emperor, Titus unexpectedly died of a fever on the13th September 81 AD and was succeeded by his brother Domitian.

Under Domitian

Bust of Domitian, 1st c. AD. Venice National Archaeological Museum.

Domitian’s reign, which lasted more than fifteen years, was the longest an emperor had ruled since Tiberius. Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluing the Roman monetary system, he improved the border defenses of the Empire and followed his father and bother in undertaking building programme to restore Rome after the fire of 80 AD. Militarily, Domitian had success in Britain, with his governor Cn. Julius Agricola expanding the Emprie to Scotland, but he was unable to defeat the Dacians and resorted to a peace treaty. Although liked by the common people, he had a poor relationship with the Roman Senate. On the 18th September 96 AD, Domitian was assassinated by court officials and with him the Flavian dynasty came to an end.

Building Inscription of a Bridge with Domitian’s name erased, 90 AD, from Coptos. British Museum.

After his death the Roman Senate passed a Damnatio Memoriae on Domitian, which meant that his name was erased from public monuments and his statues were torn down. Ancient authros tend to portray Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. However, modern historians has rejected these views, instead characterising him as a ruthless but efficient autocrat, whose cultural, economic and political programme provided the foundation for the Principate of the peaceful 2nd c. AD.

He was succeeded by his longtime advisor Nerva, who would found the Nerva-Antonine dynasty.

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