Germania is conquered
An aureus of Domitianus
Titus Flavius Domitianus was only 30 years old when he ascended the throne in 81 AD. He succeeded his brother Titus, who died suddenly and unexpectedly after a reign of only two years. Domitian was the second and younger son of Emperor Vespasian (69–79), a successful commander. In 69 AD, Vespasian emerged victorious from the battle to become Emperor Nero's successor, and established the Flavian imperial dynasty. Vespasian had chosen Titus, his elder son, to be his successor, and had prepared him for the role of Emperor. Titus had proved himself in the First Jewish-Roman War (66–70) as well as in other conflicts, and had conquered Jerusalem. Domitian, by contrast, came to power surprisingly quickly, and had barely any political or military experience.
Domitian had the reputation of being easygoing, and he had many lovers. He enjoyed poetry and had a fondness for Greek learning. Numerous statues and, not least, coins give us an indication of his physical appearance. The coin portraits of the Roman emperors are generally true to life up until Late Antiquity, and possess high artistic quality. On our aureus, Domitian wears a laurel wreath. The laurel wreath was originally the sole ornament worn by a victorious commander entering in triumphal procession, and was awarded by the Senate. Since the reign of Augustus, it was the emperor's privilege to wear the laurel wreath at all times.
Domitian's style of rule was highly autocratic. The emperor had his imperial status enhanced by having extraordinary honours conferred on him by the Senate. As Emperor, he obtained the right to hold the post of consul continuously, for example. The two annually-elected consuls were the highest-ranking officials of the Republic, but had forfeited most of their power and status with the beginning of the Empire. In actual fact, during his reign Domitian held the consulship more often than any emperor before him. On our coin, Domitian indicates with the abbreviation "COS XIIII" that he has already been a consul fourteen times. Important offices held are frequently mentioned on coins of the Roman Empire. This allows the coins to be dated very precisely, often down to the exact year.
In terms of elevating his status, Domitian even went as far as to rename the months of September and October "Germanicus" and "Domitanus" in his own honour.
Although Domitian was a ruler who strongly polarised opinion and made himself many enemies, he was not a bad ruler. The imperial administration ran efficiently under his strict control, and was still regarded as exemplary in later years. He also kept public finances in good order. His army fought successfully in Britain and in the Middle and Lower Danube regions. His very first military venture led Domitian personally to the Rhine. It was here, in the spring of 83 AD, that he began the military campaign against the Germanic tribe of the Chatti, who were settled in the area between the Fulda and Eder rivers in the present-day German federal state of Hesse. The Romans succeeded in conquering the area between Taunus, Lahn and Main (Wetterau) and driving out the Chatti. In recognition of his military successes, the Senate honoured him with the epithet "Germanicus" as conqueror of the Germani. This name also appears regularly on his coins. Following another war against the Chatti in 85 AD, Domitian established the Germanic provinces of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior and declared the Germani problem, unresolved since the reign of Augustus, to be at an end. The border with free Germania remained largely peaceful for almost a century.
Our coin references the Emperor's successes in Germania; this is because coins were not only a means of payment, but also an important medium for spreading news. On the reverse of our aureus, the mourning Germania is depicted, sitting on a Germanic shield. Beside her lies a broken spear. Roman emperors often commemorated their successes with the aid of personifications – for instance, the sorrowing Germania is a reference to the militarily defeated tribes of Germania.
Emperor Domitian met an inglorious end. He fell victim to an assassination plot in the year 96. Following his death, the Senate decided to expunge Domitian's memory (damnatio memoriae). The process of damnatio memoriae involved removing the name and likeness of the condemned person from public inscriptions and buildings, in order to erase that person from public memory. Domitian's death also marked the end of the Flavian dynasty.
Rome – Roman Empire, Domitianus (81–96)