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Titus Flavius Vespasianus (A.D. 79-81)

John Donahue
College of William and Mary

A bust of the Emperor Titus

Early Life

Titus was born on 30 December A.D. 39 in Rome, one of three children of Vespasian, Roman emperor (A.D. 69-79), and Domitilla I, daughter of a treasury clerk. .[[1]] The family's circumstances were modest, but began to improve during the emperorship of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), under whom Vespasian advanced rapidly. His ascent likely played a role in securing the honor of a court education for Titus, who studied with the emperor's own son, Britannicus. The two remained close friends until Britannicus' death in A.D. 55 under Nero. In affection for his boyhood mate, Titus later preserved his memory by setting up golden statues of him in the palace and by routinely accompanying another statue in processions in the Circus. .[[2]] The intellectual advantages of a palace education, with its emphasis on Greek and Latin literature and declamation, and of a father who had attained the rank of consul, placed Titus firmly upon the path of a young senator. His early posts remain obscure but, perhaps as early as A.D. 61, he served as a military tribune in Upper Germany and Britain, the same provinces in which his father had served as a legionary legate..[[3]] While in Britain, Titus is said to have saved Vespasian's life; another source records numerous busts and statues in Britain and Germany commemorating his achievements. The accounts lack historical basis but are typical of the fondness of later historians for exaggerating Titus' qualities and achievements.. [[4]]

Returning to Rome in the early months of A.D. 64, Titus practiced law, most likely with the intention of advancing his own reputation. Little is known of his political career after his return from Britain. In all likelihood, he advanced through the offices typically held by a young senator. It was during this year that he married Arrecina Tertulla. Her background remains obscure, and not long after the marriage, Arrecina died. Soon thereafter, Titus married Marcia Furnilla. The marriage represented a notable success for the Flavians, as Marcia was of a noble family, the granddaughter of a former proconsul of Africa. Suspicions of political intrigue were ever present in first-century Rome, however, and when Marcia's family fell into disfavor with Nero, the brief marriage ended in divorce. The sources agree that a daughter, Julia, was born, yet it is not clear whether she belonged to Titus' first or second marriage. At any rate, Julia's subsequent life was miserable; she is said to have died in her mid-twenties of an abortion forced upon her by Titus' brother and successor, Domitian, in the late eighties A.D.[[5]]

Judaean Campaigns

In A.D. 66 Nero granted to Vespasian a special command in the East with the task of settling the revolt in Judaea. The immediate cause of the war was rioting in Cesaraea and Jerusalem, leading to the slaughter in the latter city of Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. In response to the crisis, the emperor placed the seven legions in Syria under Vespasian' s authority and named Titus as legate of the 15th legion of Apollo, the legio XV Apollinaris. The appointment was unusual, for Titus had not yet held the praetorship, a judicial post normally held by a senator before he became a legionary commander. At the very least, both appointments reflected Nero's confidence in father and son.

It is difficult to assess Titus' role in the campaigns of A.D. 67-68. The main source, the Jewish Wars by Josephus, a Jew with strong Roman sympathies, consistently portrays him in highly favorable terms. Titus did figure prominently in the subjugation of at least five rebel centers during this period, but he never wholly subdued any town that had its own defenses. When stripped of Josephus' enhancements, therefore, Titus' accomplishments seem more modest.[[6]] Nevertheless, he capably performed the tasks assigned to him and, in the process, projected the image of a daring and successful military leader. While not entirely accurate, the portrait is not completely surprising either, for as the son of the supreme commander Titus would have enjoyed more attention than was typically accorded an ordinary quaestorian legionary legate.

With the death of Nero in A.D. 68, the Flavians methodically plotted toward the imperial throne. Little is heard of Titus during this critical period. He likely helped to consolidate support for the Flavians in the East by negotiating with the likes of Gaius Licinius Mucianus, governor of Syria. Even so, it was Vespasian who remained in charge. By mid-July, A.D. 69, legions in Judaea, Egypt, and Syria had declared for him. The Danubian legions soon followed, and on 21 December, the day after the emperor Vitellius' death, the senate conferred all the usual powers on Vespasian. Following these events, Titus remained in the East to undertake the siege of Jerusalem, the exploit for which he is most remembered. Beset by violent factional strife and internal discord, Jerusalem was a stubborn obstacle to the Roman pacification of Judaea. Built on two hills and surrounded by walls, the city's fortifications were formidable. With four legions under his command, Titus began an assault on the city in spring, A.D. 70. In less than four weeks, his forces had breached the walls of the so-called New City, or suburb of Bezetha. Only the inner city and the Temple itself remained to be taken. A siege wall was quickly built around the city, and the circumvallation had the desired effect of increasing starvation. By August, the outer Temple court had been reached and, in the ensuing attack, the Temple was burned to the ground and all captives butchered. Titus was hailed as imperator by his troops. In a final desecration to the Temple, sacrifice was made to the Roman standards in the Temple court.[[7]]

Titus' use of defense walls, towers, catapults, and battering rams in overtaking the city - all traditional Roman military tactics - demonstrated that he was a capable, but not an innovative, military leader. In addition, he had sometimes displayed a reckless intervention, especially in the early stages of the siege. .[[8]] These flaws owed more to inexperience than to military incompetence, however, and as a counter-balance Titus displayed remarkable energy in the field and the ability to inspire deep loyalty in his troops. As a result, Jerusalem was efficiently, if not brutally, overcome and the campaign in Judaea was effectively won. Titus spent the winter of A.D. 70 touring the East with a splendid retinue of legionaries and prisoners, presumably to provide a public display of Flavian military prowess and to underscore the consequences of rebellion against his father by the punishments inflicted on Jewish prisoners. Here he revealed a sympathy for brutality and humiliation, most evident in the way in which Jews were thrown to wild beasts or forced to fight each other in shows for public enjoyment. Indiscretion also played a part in his activities, particularly in his dalliance with Berenice, the thrice-married sister of M. Julius Agrippa II, an Eastern monarch with a strong allegiance to Rome. Powerful, wealthy, and experienced in Eastern affairs, Berenice was a formidable match for Titus. Yet, as Cleopatra's relationship with Mark Antony had earlier shown, involvement with an Eastern queen represented a threat to Roman stability that could not be tolerated. Marriage remained an impossibility. Even so, Berenice visited Rome in A.D. 75 with her brother and openly lived with Titus for a time, although he dismissed her, with mutual regret, upon his accession to the throne.. [[9]]

Role Under Vespasian

Titus returned to Rome in June, A.D. 71 and participated in a lavish joint triumph with Vespasian to celebrate the Judaean campaign. The joint celebration was deliberate, as Vespasian wished to waste no time in establishing an heir-apparent to the throne. Consequently, Titus shared in virtually every honor with the emperor during the seventies A.D., including the tribunician power, seven joint-consulships, and a share of the office of censor. In A.D. 72, Titus was also appointed praetorian prefect with responsibility for the army at Rome, a particularly important post since military loyalty was indispensable to the success of the new regime. It seems clear that not only did Vespasian need a trusted colleague in this post but also one who would do his dirty work. Tradition records that Titus was skilled as a forger. We also learn that he was "somewhat arrogant and tyrannical" in that he tried suspicious characters in the theater and camp "by popular pressure and not by trial.". [[10]] A certain amount of bad press was to be expected for the regime's enforcer, but only a single instance of justice of this kind survives, making any further evaluation of Titus' role difficult.[[11]] On the other hand, Titus was also portrayed during these years as a capable and diligent administrator who attended senate meetings, requested advice, and generally mixed well with all parties. At the same time, the sources offer no indication that he was ever considered a "co-ruler' with Vespasian, and it was only upon the latter's death on 24 June, A.D. 79 that Titus assumed full imperial powers.

Titus' Reign

Before becoming emperor, tradition records that Titus was feared as the next Nero, a perception that may have developed from his association with Berenice, his alleged heavy-handedness as praetorian prefect, and tales of sexual debauchery.. [[12]] Once in office, however, both emperor and his reign were portrayed in universally positive terms. The suddenness of this transformation raises immediate suspicions, yet it is difficult to know whether the historical tradition is suspect or if Titus was in fact adept at taking off one mask for another. What is clear, however, is that Titus sought to present the Flavians as the legitimate successors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Proof came through the issuing of a series of restoration coins of previous emperors, the most popular being Augustus and Claudius. In A.D. 80 Titus also set out to establish an imperial cult in honor of Vespasian. The temple, in which cult (the first that was not connected with the Julio-Claudians) was housed, was completed by Domitian and was known as the Temple of Vespasian and Domitian.

Legitimacy was also sought through various economic measures, which Titus enthusiastically funded. Vast amounts of capital poured into extensive building schemes in Rome, especially the Flavian Amphitheater, popularly known as the Colosseum. In celebration of additions made to the structure, Titus provided a grand 100-day festival, with sea fights staged on an artificial lake, infantry battles, wild beast hunts, and similar activities. He also constructed new imperial baths to the south-east of the Amphitheater and began work on the celebrated Arch of Titus, a memorial to his Jewish victories.. [[13]] Large sums were directed to Italy and the provinces as well, especially for road building. In response to the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Titus spent large sums to relieve distress in that area; likewise, the imperial purse contributed heavily to rebuilding Rome after a devastating fire destroyed large sections of the city in A.D. 80. As a result of these actions, Titus earned a reputation for generosity and geniality. Even so, his financial acumen must not be under-estimated. He left the treasury with a surplus, as he had found it, and dealt promptly and efficiently with costly natural disasters. The Greek historian of the third-century A.D., Cassius Dio, perhaps offered the most accurate and succinct assessment of Titus' economic policy: "In money matters, Titus was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditure.". [[14]] In other areas, the brevity of Titus' reign limits our ability to detect major emphases or trends in policy. As far as can be discerned from the limited evidence, senior officials and amici were well chosen, and his legislative activity tended to focus on popular social measures, with the army as a particular beneficiary in the areas of land ownership, marriage, and testamentary freedom. In the provinces, Titus continued his father's policies by strengthening roads and forts in the East and along the Danube.

Death and Assessment

Titus died in September, A.D. 81 after only 26 months in office. Suetonius recorded that Titus died on his way to the Sabine country of his ancestors in the same villa as his father.. [[15]] A competing tradition persistently implicated his brother and successor, Domitian, as having had a hand in the emperor's demise, but the evidence is highly contradictory and any wrongdoing is difficult to prove..[[16]]Domitian himself delivered the funeral eulogy and had Titus deified. He also built several monuments in honor of Titus and completed the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, changing the name of the structure to include his brother's and setting up his cult statue in the Temple itself.

Titus was the beneficiary of considerable intelligence and talent, endowments that were carefully cultivated at every step of his career, from his early education to his role under his father's principate. Cassius Dio suggested that Titus' reputation was enhanced by his early death. [[17]] It is true that the ancient sources tend to heroicize Titus, yet based upon the evidence, his reign must be considered a positive one. He capably continued the work of his father in establishing the Flavian dynasty and he maintained a high degree of economic and administrative competence in Italy and beyond. In so doing, he solidified the role of the emperor as paternalistic autocrat, a model that would serve Trajan and his successors well.


The bibliography on Titus is far more comprehensive than can be reasonably treated here. As a result, the works listed below are either main treatments of Titus or have direct bearing on the issues discussed in the entry above. A more complete listing of bibliographical sources can be found in Jones (1984), 181-205.

Atti congresso internazionale di studi Flaviani, 2 vols. Rieti, 1983.

Bastomsky, S.J. "The Death of the Emperor Titus: A Tentative Suggestion." Apeiron 1 (1967): 22-23.

Bengston, H. Die Flavier. Vespasian, Titus und Domitian. Geschichte eines römischen Kaiserhauses. Munich, 1979.

Bosworth, A. B. "Vespasian and the Provinces: Some Problems of the Early 70's A.D." Athenaeum 51 (1973): 49-78.

Bradley, K. R. Suetonius' Life of Nero: An Historical Commentary. Brussels, Collection Latomus no. 157, 1978.

Buttrey, T. V. Documentary Evidence for the Chronology of the Flavian Titulature. Meisenheim, Beitrage zur Klassischen Philologie 112, 1980.

Crook, J. "Titus and Berenice." AJPh 72 (1951): 162-175.

D'Espèrey, S. Franchet. "Vespasien, Titus et la littérature." ANRW II.32.5: 3048-3086.

Gilliam, J. F. "Titus in Julian's Caesares." AJPh 88 (1967): 203-208.

Grant, M. The Roman Emperors. A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Rome 31 B.C. - A.D. 476 (New York, 1985), 55-59.

Jones, B. W. "Titus and Some Flavian Amici." Historia 24 (1975): 453-462.

________. The Emperor Titus. London, 1984.

________. "The Reckless Titus." In Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 6 (1992): 408-420.

________. The Emperor Domitian. London, 1992.

Levi, M.A. "I Flavi." ANRW II.2: 177-207.

McCrum, M. and Woodhead, A.G. Select Documents of the Principates of the Flavian Emperors Including the Year of Revolution. Cambridge, 1966.

Morford, M. P. O. "The Training of Three Roman Emperors." Phoenix 22 (1968): 57-72.

Richardson, L. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore, 1992.

Rogers, P. M. "Titus, Berenice and Mucianus." Historia 29 (1980): 86-95.

Scarre, C. Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. The Reign-by Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome. London, 1995.

Yavetz, Z. "Reflections on Titus and Josephus." GRBS 16 (1975): 411-432.


[[1]] The main ancient sources for Titus' life are: Suet. Tit.; Dio 66.17-26; Jos. BJ. On his birthdate, see Philocalus in CIL I, p. 356; for December 28: PIR2 F 399. Suetonius assigns the date to the year of Gaius' assassination (24 Jan. A.D. 41), but later contradicts himself at Tit. 11. Dio is more accurate, recording that Titus was 39 years, five months and 25 days on his accession (24 June A.D. 79).

[[2]] Suet. Tit. 2, where it is also recorded that Titus was present at the poisoning of Britannicus and tasted the cup in affection for his friend. On the poisoning of Britannicus, see also Suet. Nero 33.2-3; Tac. Ann. 13.15-17; Dio 61.7.4; Jos. AJ 20.153; Eutropius 7.14.3; Herodian Hist. 4.5-6.

[[3]] The date of the military tribunate is difficult to establish, but Jones argues sensibly for A.D. 61: The Emperor Titus (London, 1984), 14-16.

[[4]] On the saving of Vespasian's life: Dio 61.30.1; busts and statues: Suet. Tit. 4.1.

[[5]] The account of Titus' offspring is confusing. Suet. Tit. 4.2 says that Titus divorced Marcia "after she had borne a daughter." Yet the girl is not named, and Philostratus (Vit. Apoll. 7.7) contends that Titus had more than one daughter. It has also been argued that Arrecina Tertulla, Titus' first wife, was Julia's mother. See H. Castritius, "Zu den Frauen der Flavier," Historia 18 (1969): 492-502. On the death of Julia: Suet. Dom. 22.

[[6]]Jos. BJ 3-4. For a useful listing of the sieges of A.D. 67 and 68 and Titus' role in them see Jones, The Emperor Titus, 41-42.

[[7]] Titus is cited by almost every ancient author who discusses him or the city: Jos. BJ passim; Hist 5.1; Dio 66.7; Aurelius Victor De. Caes. 11.11; Orosius 7.9; Eutropius 7.21. On the siege of the city itself, Josephus is the only surviving substantial surviving account. See BJ 5-6.

[[8]] For instances of rash behavior: Jos. BJ 5.88, 332-339.

[[9]] On the brutality to prisoners at public shows: Jos. BJ 7.23, 36, 39-40. On Berenice, a useful account appears at Acts 25, in which Paul meets the two Jewish royals. Josephus frequently mentions her wealth (BJ 2.426), her men and arms (BJ 2.312), and her relationship with her brother Agrippa (BJ 2.310), but he avoids mentioning her in relationship to Titus.

[[10]] As praetorian prefect: Suet. Tit. 6; on forgery: ibid., Tit. 3.

[[11]] The single piece of evidence concerns Aulus Caecina, an ex-consul, whom Titus ordered stabbed at an imperial dinner on the suspicion of treason. See Suet. Tit. 6.

[[12]] On the praetorian prefecture, see notes 10, 11 above; on Berenice, note 9 above; on Titus' sexual profligacy: Suet. Tit. 7.

[[13]] Flavian Amphitheater and public celebration: Dio 66.25; Suet. Tit.7; baths: Suet. Tit. 7, but likely finished by Domitian, according to the Chronographer of 354: Chron. Min. 1, p. 346; other references to Amphitheater: Martial Ep. 3.20.15, 3.36.6; Arch of Titus: CIL 6.944 for the dedicatory inscription, which reveals that the structure was dedicated after Titus' death. See also L. Richardson, Jr., A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1992) s.v. "Arcus Titi," 30.

[[14]] Dio 66.19.3.

[[15]] Suet. Tit. 10.1.

[[16]] The ancient sources are quite inconsistent concerning Titus' death. Suetonius records that Domitian ordered Titus to be left for dead when he was ill, and Dio says that Domitian submerged his brother in packed snow while he was still alive in order to hasten his end: Suet. Dom. 2.3; Dio 66.26.2-3. Suetonius also reports an unidentified final regret by Titus (Tit. 10.1), which Dio interpreted as his failure to eliminate his brother (66.26.2-3). Later writers consistently vilified Domitian as the poisoner of Titus: Aurelius Victor, De Caes. 10.11; Philostratus, De Apoll. 6.32. According to Plutarch, Titus died because he unwisely used the baths when ill: De Sanitate Tuenda 3.

[[17]] Dio 66.18.3.

Copyright (C) 1997, John Donahue. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: John Donahue.

Updated: 23 October 2004

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