Dissertation Monday, Mar. 30, 2015

Every Monday, I will provide a glimpse into the research I am doing into the persecution of the Christian and Jewish communities during the reign of Domitian.  I am plunging headlong into the research and loving every minute of it.

My interest in Domitian began with research I undertook in summer of 2014 into Johannine studies.  Last week’s fourth part can be seen here.  Today, I present to you the fifth and final portion of that research, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In this section, I explore possible further research avenues that could open up the discussion of Domitian toward a more classical view.



Due to the vast overstatements of their case, a full re-examination of the cases made by Jones and Thompson are warranted. Each piece of evidence must be taken apart to be rigorously examined and questioned for alternative views. There needs to be a return to the sources and their contexts. It seems from Jones and Thompson that a failure exists to understand the sources or at least to appropriately see them as historians who had little qualms with making value judgements. This is unlike our current scholarly culture which abhors invectives.

Furthermore, exactly what do the sources claim of Domitian, and what are the possibilities?  Could a larger Imperial cult than just Ephesus alone have existed?  Was the Imperial cult and persecutions driven by a rogue Legionnaire desirous of his faith, or an ordered but non-official persecution?  Besides understanding the sources in their context, examine the cited evidence of the sources to either sustain or overrule their claims, such as the games Suetonius references among other things.

As well, another major area is reconstructing an accurate history of events in the administration of Domitian. It is obvious when reading Suetonius that Domitian developed over time many character flaws and failed policies, but when did these develop and in what order?  What can both the sources and collaborating evidence tell us?  An examination of Senatorial records for corroboration with classical historians is in order.  Thompson mentions that no major appointments were made in the last years of Domitian’s reign, but what does that reflect?  Did Domitian kill off the person and leave his seat unchanged?  Did other concerns keep Senatorial record keeping as a neglected activity?

The other arena of study that shows some interesting implications is the possibility for a satirical side to the works of Statius. If so, how much did this reflect the arts community? Did plays produced during that time have anti-government sentiments? What did this cause in the schools, and did that translate into who came afterwards like Tactius, Pliny, and the rest?

Domitian_Domitia_aureusFinally, possibly the most promising avenue of future research is to look into the archaeological evidence in the coinage minted by Domitian and the monuments he built.1  Suetonius mentions Domitian’s great love for Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and several coins minted during his reign reflect that through her image appearing on the reverse side.  As well, there are several unique features in Domitian coins that could show a growing divine mindset.  After the death of Domitian’s brother Titus, Domitian built the Arch of Titus in recognition of his successful campaign against Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  A feature of that arch is that the reliefs show the gods and men in the same composition, which is the first time in Roman art history.  Could this point toward a ruler set on a course to deify himself?

This breath of research could best be done through a dissertation level research project. That allows the intensive study it deserves due to the heavy influence of this view of Domitian on secular historians as well as Biblical scholars in the SBL community. Domitian remains a controversial figure and a thorough study of him might recover the classical view to be correct, and thereby re-establish the Christian community’s ill memory of him to be justified.

Here is a relief of Roman soldiers taking away the spoils of the Temple in 70 A.D.


1“Domitian Coins,” Forum Ancient Coins, 2001, http://www.forumancientcoins.com/Alex/index.html. “Browsing Roman Imperial Coinage of Domitian,” Wild Winds, n.d., http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ ric/domitian/t.html. “Caesar to Domitian,” Roman Historical Coins, n.d., http://www.romancoins.info/VIC-Historical1.html. “Roman Currency of the Principate,” Tulane.edu, n.d., http://www.tulane.edu/~august/ handouts/601cprin.htm. 1. “Domitian Imperial and Provincial Silver,” FORVM Ancient Coins, (n.d.), http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=1193.

Arch of Titus, Bernardo Bellotto, published into the Public Domain.

Laureate head of Domitian and Draped bust of Domitia, by Classical Numismatic Group, published under a Creative Commons License.

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