The Flavians and their Colossal Playpen

The Spoils of War

The word “dynasty” suggests long-lived power, but there were only three Emperors in the Flavian Dynasty. Vespasian came first, then his son Titus, and then another son, Domitian. Vespasian emerged supreme from the chaos caused by Nero’s tyranny and looked like a savior because of it, but later his son Domitian turned tyrant himself. He was assassinated, and the Flavians’ rule ended after just under thirty years.

Vespasian and Titus led the armies in the Jewish War of 66-73, and they brought the wealth of Judea, partly measured in slaves, back to Rome. With it, they built the Flavian Amphitheater, which we know as the Colosseum. They also built the Temple of Peace, the Flavian Palace, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, the Arch of Titus, the Baths of Titus, and more. The shape of one of Rome’s most popular locations, Piazza Navona, comes from the racecourse that Domitian built there.

And because one “house,” even if it covers acres, is never enough for a tyrant, we will call attention to two of Domitian’s villas. One was on the Palatine Hill overlooking both the Forum and the Circus Maximus; the other overlooked (and included) Lake Albano, to the southest of Rome, in Castelgandolfo. Attractive gardens forming a part of the latter are a possession of the Vatican, and Pope Francis has opened them for visits.

We will take up the Colosseum in four podcasts now on our schedule. Other of their contributions will be taken up as time permits.

Night photo of the Collesium's full side, lit from the inside.

Charlie Wheeler’s night photo helps to show how open the arched walls of the Colosseum are, as well as the more solid wall on the fourth level.

The Colosseum and the Flavians’ other building projects would not have been possible if they had not won the war Rome fought against the Jews in Judea or if they had not followed the Roman practice of seizing the wealth, and even the persons, of the conquered. The main historian of the war is Josephus, a former commander of Jewish forces who ended up living and writing in Rome as a friend of the Emperor Titus. According to his account, which I have not yet tested against other sources of evidence, over a million people died during the siege of Jerusalem, many due to disease and starvation, and about 100,000 were captured and enslaved. Many of these were brought to Rome to build the Colosseum.

The Romans honored the victorious general, Titus, with a Triumphal Arch on the approach to the Forum on the Sacred Way. Rather, since the Roman people no longer played a serious and direct role in ruling Rome, the Emperor Vespasian honored his son, the victorious general and his heir apparent, with such an arch. It is pictured below, heavily restored, but on the inside reliefs are still visible showing the spoils being taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, including the golden candelabrum or Menorah.

The Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus, which honors the Emperor Vespasian’s son for leading Roman troops to victory over the Jewish Revolt in 66-73 AD. (My photo)

The Good Emperors