The Flavian Dynasty (69–96)

  • Lid of a funerary altar
    1997.271
  • Intaglio of a venator fighting a lion
    41.160.710
  • Head of a helmeted Roman soldier
    25.78.62
  • Funerary altar of Cominia Tyche
    38.27
  • Cinerary chest with lid
    27.122.2a,b
  • Sestertius
    08.170.118
  • Bronze sestertius of Trajan
    08.170.120
  • Gold aureus of Hadrian
    99.35.177

Essay

The reigns of the emperors Vespasian (r. 69–79 A.D.), Titus (r. 79–81 A.D.), and Domitian (r. 81–96 A.D.) comprised the Flavian dynasty. The Flavians, unlike the Julio-Claudians before them, were Italian gentry, not Roman aristocracy. They restored stability to Rome following the reign of Nero (r. 54–68 A.D.) and the civil wars that had wreaked havoc on the empire, and particularly on Italy itself. Vespasian showed great moderation and common sense in his dealings as emperor, but he was also known for his greed. One reason was that he needed to increase taxation in order to restore public finances and refill the imperial treasury. He reformed the Senate, whose authority and numbers had diminished under Nero and during the civil wars. Vespasian also recruited equestrian officers, who brought personal wealth, and Italian and provincial members, who brought local knowledge, to the imperial administration and civil service. Furthermore, he guaranteed a stable succession with his sons Titus and Domitian, both able administrators.

Titus is remembered principally for his destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., but during his reign as emperor, Rome also witnessed a great natural disaster—the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. He was responsible for completing the Amphitheatrum Flavium in 80 A.D., which became known as the Colosseum because it was situated near the site of a colossal statue of Nero.

Artistic talent and technical skill inherited from Nero’s regime were used to aggrandize the Flavians’ military accomplishments. Titus’ brother and successor, Domitian, was responsible for erecting the Arch of Titus in Rome (82 A.D.) in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem. In the provinces, where there were fewer commemorative monuments, portraiture and coinage persisted as the chief reminders of imperial power. Domitian was also responsible for signing a peace treaty with Decebalus, the Dacian king, in 89 A.D. Although popular with his troops, Domitian incurred the Senate’s displeasure with his absolutist tendencies and by elevating equestrian officers to positions of power formerly reserved for the Senate. He eventually succumbed to paranoia and engaged in a vicious round of executions that led to his own assassination in 96 A.D.

Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2000

Citation

Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Flavian Dynasty (69–96).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/flav/hd_flav.htm (October 2000)

Further Reading

Boyle, A. J., and W. J. Dominik, eds. Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text. Boston: Brill, 2003.

Luciani, Roberto. The Colosseum: Architecture, History and Entertainment in the Flavian Amphitheatre, Ancient Rome's Most Famous Building. Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1990.

McDermott, William C., and Anne E. Orentzel. Roman Portraits: The Flavian-Trajanic Period. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1979.

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