Volume 8, September 2004, Section E043
B.A. (Hist.), M.A. cand. (Hist.)
University of New England, Australia
One of the most notable aspects of Domitian’s reign was the emphasis that he placed upon the erection and restoration of public buildings: especially temples and shrines. One of the major factors contributing to this building program was the vast number of fires that had occurred between AD 64 and 80, especially in the Capitoline and Palatine areas (Jones, 80). The damage ensuing from the conflagration of 64 had largely been repaired thanks to Nero’s reconstruction (Tacitus, An., 15.43), where those fires following from the Civil War in AD 69, and 80 (Suet, Vit., 15.3; Dio, 66.24.2), resulted in most of the rebuilding being left to Domitian (Suet, Dom., 5). Such was the impact of these fires that he erected altars to Vulcan, possibly in each region of Rome, in an attempt to prevent the calamities reoccurring (Jones, 84). The sheer magnitude of the program undertaken by Domitian surpassed simple reconstruction and restoration. The program had become an unparalleled effort to create a capital deserving of the Roman Empire (Strong, 105; Coarelli, 108), reflecting Domitian’s taste for display and majesty (Charlesworth, 33). This application is reflected in the concentration of Eusebius and the Chronographer upon Domitian’s building program (Anderson, 1982, 93). The commentaries of such historians, detailing the building program of Domitian, have been confirmed by archaeological evidence, such as brickstamps, waterpipes, coins, later reliefs and the Severan Marble Plan (Anderson, 1983, 93-105). His motivation in beginning such a program indicates Domitian’s need to justify his power, and to ensure safety from any threat to his person by placing trust in certain deities. That Domitian undertook such extravagant schemes reflects the extent of his anxieties concerning his personal safety, and maintaining the legitimacy of his position. These concerns will be made apparent through an examination of Domitian’s emphasis upon Jupiter, Minerva, and Isis. It will reveal consistent significance being placed on these deities, mostly in terms of gratitude for the obtainment of his exalted position, and in supplication to maintain this supremacy. Naturally, there is a danger in drawing too many psychoanalytical assumptions about historical figures, but in this case, owing to the large number of literary references and the frequent occurrence of particular deities in association with Domitian, it may prove to give form to an interesting perspective upon this intriguing emperor.
The repair and construction of public buildings was undoubtedly one of the largest and most important items of public expenditure of the Roman state and had been so since the Republican period (Polybius, 6,13,3). The healthy nature of Domitianic finances meant that a continuous building program was able to be undertaken throughout the entirety of Domitian’s reign, resulting in a very different city at the end of his regime. Domitian’s particular attention to the imperial finances and building program was born of a desire to legitimize his office as princeps, and his outlook towards not only public works, but the principate itself (Southern, 123). Dio comments that Domitian’s attitude towards reconstruction was vastly different to that of his father, because Vespasian only inscribed the name of the original builder on the brickstamps of a building, whereas Domitian inscribed only his own (Dio, 65.10a). In so doing, Dio unfairly casts Domitian in an unfavourable light: Domitian actually inscribed Domitianus…restituit, thus finding a convenient method for stating the fact as well as carrying out a little self promotion (McCrum and Woodhead, nos. 422, 436). The continuation of Flavian religious policy is evident in Domitian’s reign with the continuation of the traditional family worship policies (Jones, 99-100). He also promoted the cults of the previous Flavian emperors, erecting many buildings and temples, such as the Vespasiani Templum, the Divorum and Templum Vespasiani et Titi, and theGentem Flaviam, which was intended as a family mausoleum within the city precincts. This was a revolutionary move in itself (Martial, 9.34.7). The veneration of his deceased relatives was combined into an original style of worship with the deity Jupiter to further strengthen Domitian’s own position as emperor, an unmistakable continuation of Vespasian’s dynastic policies (Garzetti, 267; Hammond, 206).
Domitian held a deep and personal sense of piety towards Jupiter, bringing the deity into a new prominence in Imperial ideology (Fears, 75-7). Much of the reasoning behind the new focus upon Jupiter was owing to the need for divine sanction concerning the position of emperor, given that senatorial support was no longer adequate. The importance of such divine associations between Domitian and Jovian theology is further accentuated by how Domitian presided over the Capitoline Games. The emperor was dressed in a purple robe and a gold crown, which was engraved with images of the Capitoline triad, accompanied by the flamen Dialis and sodales Flaviales, who were similarly dressed, except with imperial images on their crowns (Suet, Dom., 4). To strengthen Imperial and divine associations further, Domitian had restored the order of Jovian priests, the flamen Dialis, as had Augustus (Suet., Aug., 31.4), and followed the procedures for the pontifex maximus with strict obedience (Plut., Mor., 276; Viscusi, 86). The sodales Flaviales were a special priesthood for the worship of deceased Flavians, but were also strongly associated with the worship of Jupiter, as Domitian’s protector. Domitian’s appreciation and veneration for Jupiter can be traced back to 69 AD, when he hid, accompanied by the young Sabinus, in the Templum Iuppiter Capitolinus to escape from the supporters of Vitellius (Wellesley, 203). After Vespasian had won his victory and had taken control, Domitian constructed a shrine to Iuppiter Conservator (the Preserver) to commemorate his deliverance, with images on the altar in the shrine depicting his escape (Fears, 77).
The Templum Iuppiter Conservator was later replaced during the reign of Domitian with a sacellum, or small shrine, to Iuppiter Custos (Guardian) which is depicted on the Aurelanic panels now in the Conservatori Palace, and possibly identified with a temple on the Haterii relief (Blake, 101). It is more likely that the Haterii relief actually depicts another of the temples dedicated to Jupiter which had been reconstructed by Domitian, that of Iuppiter Tonans (Nash, 535-6). This temple was originally constructed by Augustus (Suet, Aug., 29) and was unique considering that it was one of the few buildings entirely constructed from marble instead of just being faced with marble (Pliny, Nat. Hist., 36.50). The Haterii relief depiction is more likely of Jupiter Tonans because of the prominent thunderbolt on the attic of the temple, and the style of the cult statue depicted is more like that of Jupiter Tonans (Blake, 101). Whereas the Templum Iuppiter Custos on the other hand, contained an effigy of Domitian sitting in the lap of the deity, reflecting his supplication for protection (Tac., Hist., 2.74). The significance of the transference from Jupiter Conservator (the Preserver) to Custos (Guardian), is symbolic of the continuing fears that Domitian held for his own safety. The personification of Jupiter was altered in that it ceased to be a celebration of his preservation in 69, but instead symbolised his need for a celestial guardian. This concern is also reflected in the continuation of Jupiter Conservator, Custos and Victor imagery on his coinage, which began on his issues before his reign.
These constructions were, however, only minor when compared to the rebuilding of the Templum Iuppiter Capitolinus after its demise in the fires of 80 (Dio, 66.24.2), being the first of the great Capitoline temples (Platner and Ashby, 300). Domitian spared no effort, or expense, in the reconstruction of this temple, having it built in a sumptuous manner (Suet., Dom., 5), with a Corinthian facade of white Pentelic marble (Plut.,Pub., 15), the doors plated with gold (Zosimus, 5.38.4), and the roof covered with gilded bronze shingles, rendering the roof practically fireproof (Procopius, 3.5.4). Domitian commemorated his reconstruction of the temple on coins issued in 82, while other coins exhibit the style of the temple (Mattingly, pl. 68, n. 3; 77, n. 7; 79, n. 3). The cost of constructing the Templum Iuppiter Capitolinus alone would have been great. In his building program, Domitian utilized many different types of imported marble, and was the first to do so on a large scale, thus greatly increasing not only the beauty of his monumental architecture, but also the cost, to the same degree (Ward-Perkins, 99). Such was the veneration Domitian held for Jupiter, and the effort and expense that he was prepared to outlay to be associated with the deity.
Domitian’s desire to be viewed as a member of this partnership was uncompromising. He depicted himself as the earthly representative of Jupiter, and the chosen leader of the Roman Empire (Scott, 139). This is evidenced on the Column of Trajan where Domitian is shown hurling thunderbolts at his Dacian enemies, thus defeating the forces of disorder (Fears, 79). Domitian also had himself represented in this manner on coinage after his victories against the Chatti, once again being represented with a thunderbolt (Mattingly, 372, 377, 381, 386, 389, 403, 406). The Great Arch at Cumae is also crowned with a representation of Domitian wielding thunderbolts, and is complemented by such laudatory comments as those of Statius: en! Hic est deus, hunc iubet beatis pro se Iuppiter imperare terris; quo non dignior has subit habenas, ex quo me duce praescios Averni Aeneas avide futura quaerens lucos et penetravit et reliquit (Silv., 4.3.128-9). Martial also refers to this style of identification in his Epigrams, when he says: at te protexit superum pater et tibi, Caesar, pro iaculo et parma fulmen et aegis erat (Martial, 9.20). This remark creates an unmistakable link between Domitian and Jupiter, with the emperor also frequently identified with the bearer of the aegis, Minerva, the protector.
Domitian’s devotion to Jupiter and his desire to create a definite association between himself and the supreme deity, was splendidly complimented by a private veneration for Minerva who was his personal divine patroness (Fears, 78). Although the relationship between Domitian and Minerva existed on a more private level, this did not prevent him making public offerings to her. The most important of these was his construction of the Templum Minerva Chalcidicia, late in Domitian’s reign. It was built in close proximity to the Pantheon, and was also connected to the Divorum Vespasiani et Titi by a flight of steps as can be seen on the Severan Marble Plan. This connection between Minerva and his deified predecessors is symbolic in terms of the attachment that Domitian felt towards his patron goddess, being linked, as it were, with his family who were also deified. This correlation is also found in the close proximity of the Vespasianic Templum Pacis (Josephus, 7.158), which was completed by Domitian, to the Forum Transitorum, or Forum Nervae (Aur.Victor, 12.2; Eutropius, 7.23), which contained an impressive temple to Minerva (CIL, 6.953). The construction has been confirmed to be Domitianic, with the architectural features being similar to those of the Palatine Palace. Domitian also restored the Templum Castorum et Minervae, as implied by Martial (9.3.11). The relationship between the two divinities was purely topographical, but their affinity is relevant considering that the Aedes Castoris (Suet., Julius, 10) was one of the most important and well known temples (Jones, 91). Anderson considers the most likely location for the Temple of Minerva was at the entrance to the Domus Augustana, Domitian’s private palace on the Palatine (1983, 100).
One of the most obvious signs of Domitian’s personal veneration for Minerva was the shrine, which Domitian had erected in his bedroom for his private and diligent supplication to her (Suet., Dom., 15.2; Dio, 67.16.1). This in itself illustrates the multiple roles each divinity played in Domitian’s life, and his purposes in his devotions. Jupiter’s role was to render his position legitimate, while his relationship with Minerva was more personal, hence his insistence on being referred to as the son of Minerva (Philostratus, 7.24). The solemnity of Domitian’s feelings towards Minerva are reflected in the establishment of a college of priests to Minerva (Suet.,Dom., 4), and he also named a new legion after her, the I Minervia, when ordinarily legions were named directly after the emperor, or the imperial family (Viscusi, 85). Further, her imagery dominated the coinage of Domitian (Carradice, 189-91), where she is sometimes depicted wielding the thunderbolt of Jupiter (Morawiecki, 187). To a certain degree these coins were linked with war, but they also symbolized her protection of Domitian, the military and personal patronage of Minerva armifera for Domitian (Ovid, Fasti, 3.681).
When examining the representation of Minerva on the coinage of Domitian, it is clear that depictions of this goddess dominated the reverse throughout his reign on gold and silver coinage minted in Rome. A good example of this is the period from AD 90-91, where there were 26 issues, of various denominations, and of these 23 had Minerva on the reverse. Throughout his reign, on the remainder of these valuable issues, there are also frequent references to Jupiter. It is also pertinent that Minerva was repeatedly shown wielding a thunderbolt, which furthers Domitian’s association with both Minerva and Jupiter. It is also pertinent to note that on the gold and silver coins, when Minerva was depicted on the reverse, only Domitian was represented on the obverse - furthering the importance of their association. When the obverse depicted Domitia or Julia, none of these issues had Minerva on the reverse. In the period from AD 95-6, there were also seven depictions of temples, which may refer to both Domitian’s piety, but also to the large number of temple restorations and constructions that he had undertaken throughout the previous years. It is also pertinent to note that of these representations, Minerva was shown in association with one temple and Jupiter was also shown with a temple in another issue. The eight denarius piece issued in AD 85 also depicted Minerva with two shrines, which accentuated the Emperor’s piety and devotion to this goddess.
On the bronze coinage there were naturally more issues throughout his reign, owing to their wider circulation and thus a greater opportunity for personal propaganda. In these issues Domitian was frequently depicted upon both the reverse and obverse of the coinage, often referring to his military victories. These representations of the emperor were frequently associated with both Jupiter and Minerva in either a victorious or pious guise. The imagery of Minerva is also prominent on the Flavian reliefs from the Palazzo della Cancelleria, demonstrating and accentuating Domitian’s reverence for Minerva (Jones, 100; Last, 9).
Every year Domitian also held a private literary contest, the Quinquatria, at the Alban Villa in honour of Minerva (Ovid, Fasti, 3.809; Dio, 67.1.2), thus combining two of his passions, and also, being a poet (Suet.,Dom., 4), gained Minerva’s special protection. This difference in the deities’ roles would have been a factor in Domitian’s motivation in placing the Templum Minerva Chalcidicia in close proximity to the temple of his deified family, and the Templum Castorum et Minervae in such close proximity to the entrance of the Palatine Palace, and the personal shrine to her in his palace bedroom. This close relationship between Minerva and Domitian is also alluded to by Martial (9.3), when he refers to Minerva as the emperor’s consort. The occurrence of revolts, such as those of Sallustius Lucullus, the false Nero, and Saturninus, would have naturally escalated Domitian’s concern for his safety, especially when combined with the senate’s growing hostility towards him (Garzetti, 272, 275).
Despite Minerva’s importance to Domitian, his private devotion was not allowed to surpass his homage to Jupiter in public. Domitian’s view of Minerva as his personal protector was quite appropriate as she was Jupiter’s celestial vice-regent (Stat., Sil., 4.3.128). Domitian certainly recognized the power of Jupiter and the possible influence of Minerva. Suetonius (15.2) reports that Domitian had an ominous dream shortly before his death concerning Minerva’s inability to protect him anymore, while Philostratus (8.25) states that Domitian’s dying words were a plea to the goddess. Even if these reports are apocryphal, they provide a clear and significant illustration of the contemporary view of his veneration for Minerva. In the eyes of Domitian, Jupiter had the power to confer earthly power, but also the power to remove it, and it was he that had disarmed Minerva, and therefore sealed Domitian’s fate. Seneca (2.45.1-2.) refers to Jupiter as: rectorem custodemque universi, animum ac spiritum mundi, operis huius dominum et artificem, cui nomen omne convenit. Vis illum fatum vocare, non errabis. This embodiment, even in Stoic theology, of Jupiter as Fate provides a clear view of Jupiter’s role in deciding the events that occurred in the universe, even those affecting his earthly vice-regent (Ferguson, 40). It is therefore possible that Domitian also saw Minerva as a celestial representative, perhaps a protector from Jupiter, who was renown for his vindictive and changeable nature, as well as for his protection. This response is entirely understandable when the number of revolts are taken into account, combined with the events of the Civil War, all of which surely revealed to Domitian the fragile nature of the Principate.
Such a view of Minerva as consort and protector was complemented by Domitian’s devotion to Isis, the Egyptian counterpart of Minerva, who, he believed, had hidden and protected him in her Isaic procession in 69 while fleeing from Vitellian soldiers (Tac., Hist., 3.74). Devotion to Isis had been an element of the religious beliefs of Vespasian and Titus, Suetonius reporting that Vespasian was said to have healed a crippled man through the intervention of Serapis (Tac., Hist., 4.81; Dio, 66.8.1), who had apparently appeared to him (Suet., Vesp., 7.1). The significance of Isis to Titus and Vespasian is demonstrated in Josephus’ report that they spent the night in an Isaic temple before they celebrated their joint triumph (Josephus, 7.123), which was also celebrated on numismatic issues, with imagery of the Isaic temple on the reverse (Mattingly, 572, 659, 780). The reasoning behind the Flavian support of the Isis cult owed to the assistance they believed they received in attaining Imperial domination in both the Jewish and Civil Wars (Liebeschuetz, 181). The popularity of the Isaic cult during the Flavian era has also been exhibited in several wealthy houses in Pompeii, such as the Praedia of Julia Felix, which included a small altar to Isis in the garden, as well as Nilotic wall paintings in the main triclinium and statues along the long euripus in the garden (Richardson, 295). Domitian’s motives for following the Egyptian cult were based on his previous experience of Isaic protection. According to both Suetonius and Tacitus, it was by disguising himself in the dress of an Isaic priest, and mingling in a procession of these followers, that Domitian was able to make his escape from the Vitellian soldiers in 69 AD (Suet.,Dom., 1.2). Prior to the Flavians, such emperors as Caligula and Otho had favoured the Egyptian cult, but otherwise it had received fluctuating support (Witt, 49). Egyptian cults were abolished from Rome during the reign of Tiberius, mainly due to the Paulina and Decius Mundus scandal, at which point Tiberius had closed the Isis temple, destroyed the cult statue, crucified all of the Isaic priests, and forced all citizens to burn their Isaic religious vestments (Tac., An., 2.85; Witt, 138). The cult was officially consolidated with Rome again by 65 (Lucan, 8.831), with a temple to Isis and Serapis being dedicated in Rome, possibly by Caligula (Wiseman, 174). This temple was another casualty in the fires of 80, and was restored by Domitian (Martial, 2.14.7, 10.48.1; Juvenal, 9.22, Eutropius, 7.23), with the Iseum adjoined by a Serapeum. The buildings have been identified in accordance with an inscription on the Severan Marble Plan, reading Iseum et Serapeum, and also supported by fragments of Domitianic architecture from the area (Anderson, 1982, 96).
In addition to the Iseum and Serapeum, Domitian erected a number of obelisks with a total of four in various parts of Rome (Jones, 86). One of the most interesting obelisks founded by Domitian was discovered in Beneventum, which had a flourishing Isaic cult in the Domitianic period. This obelisk is of great interest because of the depiction which exhibits Domitian wearing Egyptian dress, with the invocation reading, “Domitian living forever” (Witt, 86). The imagery of Domitian in Egyptian garb is certainly referring to both his escape from the Capitol in 69, and also to the reverence in which he held Isis as his rescuer from destruction. The location of this obelisk also complies with this symbolism because, as Dio comments, after the Civil War the first meeting between Domitian and his father took place in Beneventum, symbolizing victory and security to Domitian (Dio, 66.9.3; Last, 10-12).
The common Roman interpretation of Isis was to identify her with a Roman deity, and in many cases, a link was made between Isis and Minerva. This association was agreeable considering the similar responsibilities of the deities, in regards to warfare, protection and generalship. This link is further substantiated by the close proximity of the Roman Iseum to the Templum Minerva Chalcidicia. The connection made between the two deities by Domitian is also stressed by the similar dating of his Quinquatria festival for Minerva, from 19th-23rd March, with the Egyptian Pelusia festival which is held on 20th March, which had a definite Isaic theme. But the most overwhelming correlation between the two deities was the statue of Minerva in the central opening of the Arcus ad Isis Blake, 107). This statue was a direct allusion to the Templum Minerva Chalcidicia, and also to Domitian’s association with both deities. The basis of Isaic religion would have appealed to Domitian, given his negative views concerning fate and the paranoia he exhibited concerning his own safety (Southern, 120). As Apuleius mentions (11.6.3), the patronage of Isis removed the concept of fate for the devotees, leaving them with control over their life. This cult personified love throughout all facets of life, with theIseum being the “one unsoiled place in Rome” to the devotees (Porphyry, 10), but naturally being open to attack from some aspects of Roman society (Ovid, Am., 2.2.25; Juv., 9.20-2). But it did provide a powerful source of psychological support unlike any of the Roman cults, which, when combined with the protection Isis provided to Domitian in 69, seems to have been very attractive to the emotionally susceptible Domitian (Liebeschuetz, 182).
Domitian’s strict control of administration and lavish building program ensured that Rome became digna populo victore gentium sedes, nec minus ipsa visenda, quam quae ex illa spectabuntur (Pliny, Pan., 51.3). Domitian’s nature benefited the empire in many ways, while also reflecting Domitian’s personal insecurities. His desire for monetary confidence and his unparalleled building scheme demonstrate a strong desire for legitimacy (Barnes, 1988, 15-16), which, for Domitian, could only be granted by Jupiter. The power of Jupiter to change government is commented on by Suetonius (Dom., 15-16), as Domitian would have been only too aware. It is for this reason (as shown to him by his life experiences) that his paranoia escalated, manifested in his strong desire for personal protection, both physical and celestial (Suet., Dom., 14.4, 17; Dio, 67.16.1, 67.17.1). Clearly his religious building program was motivated by Domitian’s personal religious beliefs in so far as it appealed to his insecurities concerning both his legitimacy and his personal safety, and provided physical evidence of his great reverence for a devotion to his favoured deities.Bibliography
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