In ancient Rome, how one disposed of one's mortal body mattered just as much as how one endured it throughout life. Just as one can live a virtuous life, one can also die a virtuous death, and few examples of admirable, terrible, shameful, and painful deaths have been presented in such detail as those of Roman emperors.
What was a "good death" in ancient Rome?
Passing away peacefully at home surrounded by family members, as in the case of the emperorAugusto, was the most desirable death a Roman could wish for. Or at least that fits more closely with the meaning of the Greek term εὐθανασία (euthanasia), which literally translates as a good death (UE: bom;Thanatos: death).
Because Roman culture was fundamentally militaristic, writers and poets also glorified valiant death in battle. The most interesting thing is that, before Christian theologians preached suicide as a sin, taking one's own life to preserve honor (and the retention of assets) could also be a noble path to follow. And although the most famous ancient example of suicide does not come from Rome, but from Greece, with the death of Socrates, the Romans did their part.imitation.
There were, of course, fundamentally bad deaths. Being murdered like Caligula or a fugitive suicide like Nero were particularly deaths of Roman emperors, as was being slowly and unconsciously poisoned by one of your own immediate family, particularly a wife, as in the case of Emperor Claudius.
"The way we die is sadder than death itself."
Martial, Epigrams, XI, 91.
The most dishonorable death of all was the one that plunged the family, or worse, the Empire, into chaos or civil war. Not surprisingly, many of the examples mentioned are drawn directly from the scandalous lives of the Twelve Caesars.
All the juicy details of the deaths of the Roman emperors are remarkably well documented in the biographies ofSuetonius🇧🇷 If you haven't read it yet and are interested in early Roman emperors, you really should.
Suetonius' biographies tell us a lot about the nature of autocracy, the pitfalls of power, and the difficulties of navigating (and surviving) in Rome's imperial court. And the way your emperors meet their end always reflects something about the way they lived their lives.
- Julius Caesar
If people remember a date in Roman history, it is March 15, 44 BC. Also known as theides of march, this was the day the self-proclaimed dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated, attacked by a group of senators in the newly built meeting house of thetheater of pompey, and stabbed 23 times in the name of preservingromanian republic.
Chief among the leaders of the conspiracy was Marcus Junius Brutus, whose great ancestor had overthrown the last of Rome's kings, Tarquinius Superbus, after raping a young noblewoman namedlucretia🇧🇷 Brutus founded the Roman Republic in 509 BC. C., serving as one of its first consuls. Now his ancestor was being called upon to save Rome from a new tyrant.
In the early hours of the Ides of March, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, awoke from a nightmare in which she held her husband's dead body in her arms. She begged Caesar not to attend the meetings and the dictator reluctantly agreed. But when ridiculed by his senatorial colleagues and would-be assassins for following a woman's whims, Caesar changed his mind.
Or as I said in 2020 when we were stuck in Italy:
The Assassination of Caesar: Truth vs. myth
Caesar was assassinated shortly after entering the new Senate House, recently added to the massive Theater of Pompey, the first stone theater in Roman history and one of the lost wonders of Rome.hidden rome.
Suetonius tells us that a senator named Lucius Tillius Cimber approached Caesar, requesting his brother's removal from exile, but Caesar refused. Cimber then grabbed his cloak, pulling it down and causing Caesar to scream that he was being attacked. Another senator then attacked Caesar's neck with his dagger, and although Caesar caught the dagger in his hand, it only delayed the inevitable.
Within seconds, dozens of senators were attacking the dictator with daggers drawn from their robes. The most famous part of Caesar's death is the dying dictator looking up at his former friend and uttering the immortal words:And you Brute?But this is completely fictional. This line was of Elizabethan origin, written by William Shakespeare for his play of the same name.Julius Caesar.
According to ancient sources, Caesar said nothing or, as some have suggested, uttered the Greek phraseand your sonwhich sounds a bit like "what are you saying technonand means "you too, young man?" Although most Roman aristocrats were bilingual, it's hard to believe that a man who was stabbed two dozen times out of nowhere would have produced a Greek joke while bleeding to death.
“And you too, young man?
We may prefer this dramatic version, but the others are probably more accurate. In all likelihood, the dying dictator pulled his robes over his face to preserve whatever dignity he had left before bleeding to death alone beneath the statue of hisex rival.
Of all the deaths of Roman emperors, that of Augustus is the simplest and most written about. As the emperor lay on his deathbed innola, near Naples, on August 19, 14 d. C., he asked those around him if he had played his part in the comedy of life well. He then recited the final lines of a Greek comedy by the playwright Menander:
"Since the play is so good, clap your hands and everyone sends us away with applause."
After dismissing the entourage around his bed, the 75-year-old emperor kissed his wife Livia and told her to live "aware of your marriage". So he said goodbye to her too before the curtain fell on his long and eventful life.
Augustus's death was exactly as he had hoped: easy. Apparently, whenever I hear of someone dying a good death (euthanasia), would wish the same for him and his loved ones.
Augustus's death was nothing more than theatrical. Which was fitting, since his whole life had been nothing more than an act.
Theatrical Death of a Lifelong Actor
the great british historianronald simeHe once described Augustus as a chameleon, skilled at adapting his appearance but never able to change his substance. It's a powerful analogy, drawing attention to an often-overlooked aspect of Augustus' character.
Augustus was essentially a warlord who had risen to power through targeted assassinations, relentless brutality, and civil war. He clung to power by ruthlessly overthrowing his enemies and creating a well-oiled propaganda machine that would jeopardize the status of George Orwell.1984Embarrass. The image we have of the pious, peaceful, and fatherly emperor is more a product of this effective propaganda than a true reflection of history.
Augustus' entire life had been an act of what the Romans calledconcealmentkeeping up appearances, hiding one's true thoughts and emotions behind a carefully placed public mask. Augusto used this persona until his last days, attending public performances and carrying out his public duties while his body suffered from diarrhea and digestive infection.
On her deathbed, she asked for a mirror so she could fix her hair and repeatedly asked if her death was causing any trouble in the streets. Augustus' entire life consisted of projecting an image of him as a fundamentally good, moral, and family-oriented emperor. It should come as no surprise that death is no different.
Despite the alcoholic andsexual excessesof his twilight years, Tiberius reached the oldest age of any Roman emperor. He could have passed 78ayear too, were it not for the treacherous intentions of his nephewcaligulaand the murderous intervention of his Praetorian Guard, Macro. Or at least that's how one version of the story goes.
How did Tiberius die?
Tiberius died on the way back from Rome. He hadn't been to the city itself. Despite visiting on two separate occasions, Tiberius never dared cross the city walls of Rome, preferring to rule from a distance from his palace, the Villa of Jupiter, on the island of Rome.Capri🇧🇷 Here he settled into self-imposed exile early in his reign, preferring his isolation from the prying eyes of the capital and his court.
Our sources tell us that Tiberius was stricken with the disease first at Astura and then at Circeii, a coastal town midway between Rome and Naples. Like Augustus before him, Tiberius was determined not to show his illness; this can encourage others to help you on your path. And so he stoically watched some of the gladiatorial games staged at Circeii's army camp, even tearing a boar apart by throwing a javelin from its imperial box.
Tiberius continued his journey to Misenum, near Naples, maintaining his daily routine of dining, drinking and partying late into the night. Partly to hide her aggravation, partly because she couldn't resist.
Finally, he stopped at his friend Lucullus's villa. Trapped by bad weather and a sharp deterioration in his health, he died on March 16, AD 37. Some thought that Caligula had been administering poison to him for a long time; others said Macro smothered him with a pillow on Caligula's orders. Still, the Roman world reacted to its emperor's death, not in the way he would have liked, but in the way he probably expected.
The most publicly celebrated imperial death
There were celebrations in the streets after Tiberius' death. Some people ran screaming:"To the Tiber with Tiberius!"Others prayed that Tiberius would find no rest in the underworld. It was even suggested that his body was pierced with hooks and dragged along thegemonian staircase.
That would have been appropriate. The Gemonian Staircase was a common place of execution where convicted criminals were strangled and thrown down the stairs. Many died in this way during Tiberius' purges (majestytrials, as they were known), including his former confidant,Sejanus🇧🇷 But Tiberius' body was spared this mistreatment.
Caligula was not the first emperor to rule by violence, but he was the first to reap what he sowed. Whichever version of the murder you believe, the end result is the same. On January 24, 41 AD, in the midst of the Palatine Games, Caligula was assassinated in a passage below the Palatine Theater. Killed by the men sworn to protect him.
The Assassination of Caligula: The Most Brutal Death of Roman Emperors
Suetonius reports two versions of Caligula's death. In the first, the Praetorian prefect Cassius Chaerea snuck up behind him as he was talking to a group of Asian kids about to perform onstage. Slashing her throat from behind, Chaerea yelled, "Take this!" - words that traditionally accompany a sacrifice - as the city's tribune, Cornelius Sabinus, impaled Caligula through the front.
The second version involves the same cast, but the acting is much more theatrical.
Here Sabinus asked Caligula for the military password to which the emperor replied: "Jupiter!" Then Chaerea came after her and shouted, "So be it" (Jupiter is the god of sudden death), brandishing her sword and opening the emperor's jaws. Writhing on the ground, Caligula shouted that he was still alive (Suetonius does not mention how he managed this with his jaw dropped), but was soon stabbed to death by other conspirators.
The conspirators cut off Caligula's genitals and, to end his Julian lineage, slaughtered his wife and infant daughter. His wife,milonia caesonia, was hacked to death beside him while his daughter was thrown out of sight and crushed against the wall.
Later writers would try to justify the murder of his year-old daughter, Julia Drusilla, by saying that she had inherited her father's savagery, biting and scratching the faces of those who played with her. However, it's not hard to see this as a pathetic attempt to justify the barbaric murder of a baby.
Seeing through the distortion of our sources is critical to understanding Caligula's life and death. There is no doubt that Caligula was crazy: he grew up in an environment where your father is poisoned, your mother starves, and you wake up every morning not knowing if your uncle is going to kill you and might do it to you.
But the image of the crazed sociopath, who believes himself to be a god, kills anyone and everyone creates a character that belongs more to the theater than history.
How did Claudius die?
All our ancient writers agree that Claudius was poisoned. They just disagree on how to deliver it. Claudio ingested poisoned mushrooms that were served to him at dinner or induced its fatal dose through a feather soaked in poison, which he stuffed down his throat to vomit during banquets.
Those suspected of murdering him were (his wife and niece) and Nero, his son, enlisting the help of the notorious imperial poisoner Locusta. If our sources are to be believed, the sleazy duo wasn't particularly subtle. Later, Nero would joke about mushrooms being the "food of the gods", as eating and dying from them resulted in Claudius being deified.
In reality, Claudio's death may not have been as suspicious as people think. Ancient writers were eager to implicate others, especially women, in the non-violent deaths of Roman emperors. We saw it with Augustus, whose wife Livia faced accusations of secretly administering poison to the emperor, and we saw it with Tiberius, with rumors that Caligula had poisoned or suffocated him.
It is true that Claudio had a bad history with his wives. His first wife as emperor,Mesalina, was executed for conspiring against him and marrying another senator on business in Ostia, and it is true that this made Agrippina an easy target.
But while Claudius's death may have been relatively banal, a surviving text that circulated in Nero's court shortly afterwards is quite the opposite.
Known asapocolocyntose(try saying a few drinks), the text was supposedly written by Seneca the Younger, the great Stoic philosopher and tutor to Emperor Nero. It is essentially a satirical poem about Claudius's death, his ascension to heaven, and his arrival among the Capitoline gods (by Claudius' time, it was becoming common practice for emperors to be declared gods after their deaths, a process known asapotheosis).
Apocolocyntosis is a pun on this word, which translates to something like the "pumpkin" of Claudius, or "How Claudius became a pumpkin". (I said it was a pun; I didn't say it was funny.)
Apocolocintosis describes how, on October 13, 54 AD. C., fate decided to mercifully intervene and give the 64-year-old emperor a terminal respite from his tortuous existence. Cláudio was watching a troupe of comedians when he interrupted the performance with a loud fart.
pronounce your last words,“My God, I look like I shit myself!",before ascending to heaven. Instead of receiving a warm welcome, however, he is tried by a court of gods, headed by Augustus, and condemned to be Caligula's slave for life.
As an emperor and as a human, Nero was absolutely horrible. The exhibition reel of his worst moments shows him murdering his mother, forcing his first wife to commit suicide, and kicking his second wife to death when she scolded him for spending too much time at games.
As Emperor, he abjectly failed in his primary job of holding the Roman Empire together. For in his final days, he mishandled events so spectacularly that what began as a minor revolt led him to commit suicide without an heir, plunging Rome into yet another civil war.
The beginning of the end came with the rebellion of the Roman governor of Gallia Lugdunensis (present-day Lyon, in northern France) in March 68 AD. Tired of Nero's inept leadership and seeking to rally support for his cause, he named the Spanish governor Galba as the new emperor. Despite Galba being declared an enemy of the state, it was not long before the armies abandoned Nero and swore allegiance to him.
The 30-year-old emperor toyed with various solutions, including throwing himself at the mercy of Galba or Rome's enemies, the Parthians, or going up to the rostra (platform for speaking in the forum) dressed in black and publicly apologizing for all past offenses. .
In the end, Nero decided to do nothing and went to bed.
Waking up in the middle of the night, he found that everyone had abandoned him, even his personal gladiator, who he sought to help the Emperor end his miserable life.
How did Nero die?
Fleeing from the imperial palace on horseback, Nero made his way to the villa of his freedman (former slave), Phaon, on the fourth milestone between Via Nomentana and Via Salaria.
A passing soldier recognized him and saluted, startling the emperor and causing him to run off the road. He circled the back of Phaon's village, scratching his face in twigs and brambles, before crawling inside to await news from the outside world. A few hours later he came, but it wasn't what Nero wanted to hear. The Senate had declared him an enemy of the state.
Nero prepared to commit suicide but could not bring himself to do it, asking in vain for someone to show him how it was done. Finally, mistaking the sound of horses outside for someone sent to arrest him, he plunged a dagger into her throat.
The most misunderstood death of Roman emperors
Moments before his death, Nero is credited with saying "What an artist I am! - What an artist's day with me!Although it is understood in the sense of “that artist dies with me!”, the truth is that this phrase was misunderstood for centuries.
Artisttranslates less as "artist" and more as "craftsman" in the modern sense of the word: a builder and a creator.
It is true that Nero oversaw some extraordinary building projects after theGreat Fire of Rome🇧🇷 Not least the Domus Aurea (Golden Palace) which he built near the present site of the Coliseum and parts of which can still be seen.VisitThis Day.
But Nero was never good as an artist; Suetonius tells us that he had a husky singing voice, desirable in the Seattle grunge scene of the 1990s, let alone first-century Rome.
Galba may have been the first to fill the power vacuum left by Nero's suicide, but he wasn't the last. His violent, petty, and phenomenally unpopular reign lasted just 7 months, from his taking the throne in June 68 until his assassination on 15 January 69.
Things started to get worse for Galba when the Praetorian Guard proclaimed another general, Otho, emperor in their camp. Deciding they needed to get Galba out of safety, they sent soldiers to him with the news that Otho had been killed and requesting the emperor's presence at his home.to camp🇧🇷 He set out across the Forum but, abandoned by his attendants, was stopped by the cavalry at the side of the street.
There are several accounts of his final moments. Someone does the frightened emperor's cry: “Soldiers, what are you doing? I'm yours and you're mine!" before being cut off. Another has him try to bribe his way out, offering his killers a donation if they'll spare his life.
Most ancient accounts, however, agree that Galba met his death bravely, slitting the throats of his assassins and urging them to attack if they believed it was the right thing to do.
The only soldiers who came to Galba's aid were a detachment of German soldiers. Fiercely loyal by nature, as they had been to Caligula moments after his assassination, the Emperor's German Guard were treated particularly well by the Emperor whenever one of his men was sick or injured.
Guidance was not their strong suit, however, and after desperately getting lost trying to find it in the Forum, they were too late to help.
The treatment given to Galba's corpse makes the deaths of other Roman emperors pale in comparison.
Galba's corpse was subjected to a terrible humiliation. A passing soldier, returning from gathering his corn distribution, dropped his load, took outespadaand beheaded Galba. He wanted to bring the head to Otho, but he had difficulty grabbing it, unable to hold her hair because Galba was completely bald. So, after hiding it inside his cloak on his way through the Forum, he took it out, stuck his thumb in his mouth and brought it to Otho.
The new Emperor Otto impaled his head on a spear and was paraded through the Praetorian camp. Encouraging jeers and taunts from his men, Otho is said to have shouted, "What a cute boy you are Galba, you better make the most of your boyish good looks!" Galba, 73, was neither, said to have a hooked nose, crippling arthritis and an expanding fleshy growth protruding from his right flank.
While Otho's death may not be the most memorable of the first twelve emperors, it is by far the most redemptive.
The ancients gave the life of Otho a terrible history. Suetonius describes him as a wild, flamboyant, sexually corrupt young man: a favorite of Emperor Nero, with whom he was believed to have been more than just a friend. Tacitus thought he was no different than Nero or Vitellius, and while we haven't met Vitellius yet, suffice it to say that this was not good.
But both writers show a curiously reverent respect for the way he met his end in Otho. Tacitus calls it suicidegreat, a word that gave us “atrocious”. These terrible days describe something really bad, but in ancient times it meant the opposite. It may seem strange to us today that suicide can be viewed in lofty and laudable terms. But the world of the Twelve Caesars was a world yet to be colored by Christian moralizers who preached suicide as a sin.
Otto's reign was brief and not particularly sweet. Declared emperor in January 68, he died in mid-April at the age of 38. His death occurred after the lower Rhine legionary commander and claimant to the throne, Aulus Vitellius, defeated him in battle. What is notable is that Otho's defeat was not crushing; he still had a large number of reservations. But to spare the empire more years of vicious civil war and spilled Roman blood, Otho chose to die.
Cassius Dio, a later writer, credits him with saying:
“It is far more just to perish one for all than many for one,”
And he also tells us that this message went down so well with his soldiers that many were killed along with it. There may be some exaggeration, but all sources agree that, when retiring to his chambers, he wrote letters to his loved ones, distributed money to his slaves, and left the door open all night, letting in anyone who wanted to see him. As soon as he woke up the next morning, he pulled a dagger from under his pillow and stabbed himself through the heart.
The Most Redeeming Death of Roman Emperors
Otto's suicide earned him the admiration of later Romans. Those who hated him in life sang his praises in death. So much so, in fact, that a patriotic tradition arose around him that he did not remove Galba from office because he wanted to become Emperor, but rather restore the Republic.
Vitellius suffered the worst death of the first Roman emperors.
In terms of execution, location, and people involved, Vitellius' death borrowed elements from several other imperial deaths. That he did so is appropriate, if not a little ironic, especially considering the extent to which Vitellius had ingratiated himself with several previous emperors and thus owed his final position to them.
Vitellius as friend of all emperors
- During his time on Capri, Vitellius is alleged to have been one of thetiberiusfavourites, affectionately known and for reasons we really don't need to go into, like one of their "tight asses".
- vitellius made friendscaligulathrough their shared love of chariot racing.
- vithelium enteredclaudio' inner circle through their shared love of the game.
- Understand that music was the way toNeroIn his heart, he would perform an encore during the emperor's musical performances, leading Nero to think he was more popular and better than he actually was.
Vitellius met his end on December 22, AD 69, when the vanguard of Vespasian, commander of the legions in Judea and the last of the emperors in that civil war, entered Rome. The emperor went underground (Tacitus tells us in a porter's hut), but was soon dragged away by rebel troops. They didn't recognize him at first, but once they learned the identity of their imperial captive, they decided to execute him.
Vitellius was stripped half naked, a rope was thrown around his neck and his hands were tied behind his back, and he was dragged along the Via Sacra to the Roman Forum. Along the way, commoners spit on him, threw excrement at him, and insulted him for his obesity and grotesque appearance.
The journey was painfully long; Vitellius limped all the way because one of his legs was broken when Caligula once hit him with a cart. After at least 30 minutes, judging by the length of the Via Sacra, he reached the German Steps.
There he was executed, bleeding to death from dozens of small incisions. His body was pierced with hooks and dragged into the Tiber, the river becoming his final resting place.
As mentioned, his death shared features with other deaths of Roman emperors. Like Nero, he tried to flee and was given some dramatic last words,"But I was once your Emperor!"
As with Tiberius, the people wanted his body sent to the Tiber, although with Vitellius they actually got it. Like Caligula and Galba, he was publicly murdered, suggesting that terrible emperors met a terrible end.
The manner in which Vespasian met his death is very much in keeping with his character. Histories and biographies show Vespasian as a witty and cheerful man. And because, as we've seen so far, the deaths of Roman emperors tend to echo the way they lived their lives, it should come as no surprise that humor features heavily in Vespasian's death.
How did Vespasian die?
While in Campania in July 79 AD. C., Vespasian suffered a mild illness. We don't know the details, but it was enough to convince him to return to Rome and start putting his affairs in order.
It is notorious that, when feeling sick for the first time, it is said that he joked:wow fuck god topic,"Ah, I think I'm becoming a god"referencing the now-common convention of deifying dead emperors.
And behold, the Senate declared him a god.
However, his health rapidly deteriorated, not helped by the fact that he was used to taking long cold showers, just as any good Roman would, and therefore had an underlying intestinal disorder. He stopped at Rieti, a town not far from Rome in the Lazio region, but soon found himself confined to bed.
From there he continued to receive embassies and attend to official business, but a sudden bout of diarrhea on 23 June convinced him that was the end. Exclaiming that an emperor must die standing up, he rose from his bed and died in the arms of his attendants.
This is the official version. But scrape beneath the surface and you'll find something sinister about Vespasian's reign.
Like Augustus, he was the first emperor of a new dynasty, a man who rose to power only by virtue of being the only man left standing after a costly civil war. War in all its forms must inevitably be followed by times of peace. But after civil wars, peacetime is rarely so jovial.
I tend to imagine Vespasian's reign as characterized by intense propaganda, severe censorship, and the uprooting and eradication of any past (or potential future) enemies. The fact that there is hardly a bad word to say about Vespasian in the surviving literature is enough to raise alarm bells among historians, but if you look closely you will find senatorial and philosophical commentary.opponentswho were sentenced to death on trivial grounds.
Titus' death marks a departure from other deaths of Roman emperors. His end was not violent, not theatrical, not mysterious. It was just sad. Suetonius tells us that Titus exuded potential as an emperor, and the tragedy is that he never lived up to it.
How did Tito die?
The death of Titus, on September 13, 81 AD. at the age of 41, he was, in Suetonius' words, "more a loss to mankind than to mankind".
Since our Roman sources are sparse on details, there is little to say about Titus' death. Returning from the games to his estate in Sabine, he developed a fever and was forced to stop inRieti🇧🇷 Sadly, he stayed in the same villa where his father, Vespasiano, had died just two years earlier.
The only puzzling question concerns his last words. As he was carried in a litter to his family's villa in Rieti, he apparently opened the curtains and lamented that his life had been cruelly taken when he didn't deserve to lose it, well, maybe that was rather theatrical. He then said he only had one regret in his life. However, presumably to the annoyance of those around him, he refused to reveal what it was about, although some have speculated about a secret affair with his brother's wife, Domitia.
A completely different version of Titus's death appears in the Babylonian Talmud.
According to this Jewish text, the cause of Titus' death was an insect that got into his nose and tore out his brain for seven years. It is not surprising that the Jewish author suggested this: no love was lost betweenTitus and the Jews, ever since the emperor captured Jerusalem and sacked its temple in AD 70, killing a million people. What is surprising is that this legend was lazily copied from another about the biblical king Nimrod.
We are told that the Roman public mourned as if they had lost a member of their own family, clearly an exaggeration. Furthermore, Suetonius tells us that, on hearing of his death, the senators thronged the senate house, opened its doors, and took turns praising the late emperor, speaking more highly of him than ever before when he was alive. 🇧🇷 We must be skeptical of seeing this as genuine, probably reflecting instead his attempt to ingratiate himself with his brother and successor, Domitian.
"It was a terrible thing to be emperor," Domitian once said, "because everyone thought his paranoia was unfounded until he was murdered."
Whether this quote was apocryphal or not, we'll never know. If she did not, it is certainly ironic, as she perfectly foreshadows her own death, murdered by one of her niece's attendants in the emperor's chamber on September 18, AD 96.
Another irony of Domitian's death, and a feature shared by the deaths of other Roman emperors, was that he was already aware of his time and manner through prophecy. Domitian's father, Vespasian, once laughed at him when he refused some mushrooms for dinner, reminding him that it was the sword, not the poison, that was to be avoided. This prescience, repeatedly reinforced by a series of strange omens and omens he received throughout his life, apparently fueled his murderous paranoia.
How did Domitian die?
Domitian had been informed that he would be killed at the sixth hour of September 18th. What he hadn't considered was that those who told him the time might be part of the conspiracy. On the appointed day, thinking that the danger was past, he arranged for someone with important news to visit him in his chambers, dismissing his servants. Almost comically, we are still told that Domitian was "amazed" when he received his first stab. Other conspirators, including many of his chamber staff, invaded, killing the 45-year-old emperor and ending his 15-year reign.
Domitian was one of the worst emperors in Rome and therefore had one of the worst deaths of Roman emperors. Or at least that's what they tell us. The Roman satirist Juvenal dubbed Domitian the “bald nero,” but what he and Nero shared was not personality but the fact that they were the last rulers of their respective dynasties: Nero, the Julio-Claudians; Domitian, the Flavians.
This in many ways ensured that they would be portrayed negatively. In short, canceling the memory of its predecessor, subjecting it tomemory curse, it has always been in the interest of a succeeding dynasty to portray its predecessor as malicious and incompetent.
What is telling is that while the senators were rejoicing over Domitian's death, the army was distraught and the people indifferent. That should make usreconsider domitianlike a terrible emperor and leads us to ask new questions. Because if Domitian really was as bad as our sources say, instead of asking why after 15 years he was killed, we might ask why for 15 years he was allowed to live.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on the deaths of Roman emperors.
The esteemed ancient historian Fergus Millar once described the work of a Roman emperor as one of theworst jobs in the ancient world🇧🇷 Despite the constant reception of delegations, the endless administrative tasks and the ramifications of court politics, the Roman emperor was daily faced with the very real possibility of being assassinated at any moment.
As the illustration below shows, few deaths of Roman emperors could be described as "euthanasia," good deaths, and most consisted of a combination of murder, execution, and death in battle. The next article in our series will examine some of these deaths in detail. Make sure you stay tuned!