The Domitian Obsession

domitian-1Why Domitian? Why am I so obsessed by him?

I think anyone who has to study Tacitus’ Annals feels the hand of Domitian. All the books tell you Tacitus’ depiction of Tiberius’ reign of terror was influenced by Domitian’s reign which he had lived through.
Reading Suetonius’ 12 Caesars comes as somewhat of a disappointment . Domitian as a ‘bad’ emperor can’t compete with eunuch Marrying/ mother murdering Nero. Nor with the sadistic glee of Caligula.
In fact the most memorable Suetonian anecdote is of Domitian’s habit of spending his time alone stabbing flies with a pen. It’s hardly on a par with Nero’s spectacular cheating at the Olympics.


So then you dig a little deeper and you find a whole list of Domitian’s successes. The stamping out of corruption, the epic building programme, the banning of castration and child prostitution.
This was a man who worked hard at being emperor. He had set out to emulate Augustus and he has a good stab at it.


So what went wrong? Plenty. A complete inability to flatter and work with the Senate fixed how Domitian is remembered. After his death they gleefully smashed his statues.
And it’s clear that he was afflicted with a growing paranoia, with men being executed decades after a perceived offence. I think a lot of this surely has to do with his experiences during 69 ad, the period I write about.
When Vespasian was declared emperor he was safely in the east with the legions. 17 year old Domitian was in Rome.
Initially held under house arrest he was later party to some fierce fighting at the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. The Temple was burnt to the ground with Domitian managing to escape disguised as an acolyte of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
His uncle was not so fortunate and was murdered by Vitellian forces.
Being a first hand witness to the fall of emperors surely had a lasting effect on him. When he is emperor he is determined that nobody shall dare treat him so.

So why am I so obsessed? Because he’s a complex man, neither cartoonishly evil nor woefully misunderstood. Just human.

A Curious Triangle

The curious case of Domitian/Domitia and Julia.

The charge by the likes of Dio Cassius and Suetonius is that Domitian banished his wife Domitia for adultery then seduced his niece Julia, continuing the affair openly when Domitia returned.
Julia it is said to have died from an abortion forced upon her by her uncle

This all appears to me highly suspect.
Domitian falls for Domitia in 70 AD and they marry the same year. What would be interesting to know is at what point in 70 AD they wed because Vespasian doesn’t reach Rome till October
Did Domitian marry without his father’s permission?

Domitia is a good choice in many ways. She was the daughter of Nero’s celebrated general Corbulo. Corbulo was executed by a jealous Nero. Marrying her was a good way to distance this new Flavian dynasty from the previous one.

However Julia would have been the better match. Yes she was his niece but this was not unheard of in ancient Rome. Claudius had married his niece Agrippina.
And we know that the match was suggested as it is mentioned by all our sources. Also mentioned is the reason why it never happened, Domitian’s stated passion for Domitia.

It would be fascinating to know whether this pressure to marry Julia was applied to Domitian pre or post his marriage to Domitia.
Whatever the truth Domitian held firm.

From which I think we can conclude there was genuine affection between Domitia and Domitian. This is born out by the fact that he doesn’t divorce her after her alleged adultery but rather eventually brings her back under the pretext that the people demand it. Did they really? Or was he merely missing his wife?

If Domitian was as obsessed by Julia as the sources claim why didn’t he marry her and thus possess her entirely?
He had the perfect cause to divorce Domitia. Julia was married true but that was no impediment to an emperor.
And if there was an affair and she fell pregnant why didn’t he marry her then? Domitian had no heir and this would have been the perfect Flavian via both parents.

Both Juvenal and Pliny who were contemporaries of Domitian mention the affair and the abortion death of Julia. But importantly after Domitian was safely dead.
Martial wrote an epigram shortly after Julia’s death in which he expresses hope that Domitia wI’ll produce a son named Julius after his aunt and protected by her spirit.
If Domitian had geniunely impregnated his niece and then forced an abortion on her this is a near suicidal poem by Martial.

So no I don’t believe it. It’s significant that post Domitian’s assassination despite the blackening of his name Domitia continues to call herself his widow.

From my WIP Vitellius’ Feast.

His natural modesty prevented him from revealing that he’d memorized all of Homer and could recite any passage from memory unprompted.  It was a talent he’d acquired as an adolescent to fill his lonely evenings.

Whilst his contemporaries were exploring the opposite sex, themselves and the effects of undiluted wine, Philo has instead used his time to learn things.


He  could  read ten languages, name every consul going back to the formation of the republic and juggle six balls at once if called to do so. So far Philo’s impressive juggling skills remained undiscovered but his ability to memorize large bodies of text was about to be fully utilized. 

Mina: Action girl.

I had another reader contact me via social media to tell me how much they liked Philo. Philo has quite a fan club now.
So conversely I’m going to talk about Mina instead.
Here are some of her best bits, one from each book.

1) She gazed round at the small party. There was such interest, such hope, such gleeful anticipation that she felt she couldn’t disappoint. Throwing back her head she cried, “Oh I cannot deny it any longer. It is true. Straton and myself are indeed enjoying a rare and blissful union.”
Erotica swore under her breath, Daphne squealed, Lysander inhaled near all the oxygen in the room and Alex crossed his arms giving Mina a disapproving glare.
Erotica was the first in with the question. “Bona Dea Mina what’s he like in bed?”
Mina suddenly struck with a horrifying image of Straton in the buff, repressed a shudder and replied wistfully. “It is like the tale of King Minos’ wife.”
To a room full of uncomprehending faces.
“You know the story.”
“Don’t think we do,” said Lysander.
“King Minos on claiming his throne promised Neptune that he would sacrifice a white bull in his honour. But it was such a fine bull that he decided to keep it instead. Neptune mad at such defiance to the gods got his revenge by inducing Minos’ wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull. Unable to control her lecherous feelings she had a craftsman construct a wooden crate fashioned in the shape of a cow so that she could consummate her vile passions. One day she had the crate taken into the fields and she lay within, waiting and waiting. The bull noting the strange creature examined its form and as bulls will, it mated with it copiously. And from this union the Minotaur was born!
Well it’s like that but without the crate.”

2) Mina kept telling herself that this was going to make
one outstanding anecdote to compete and beat Sporus’ “I was with Nero when he died” tale.
She was in the imperial dungeons with two murderers; Straton, who undoubtedly ranked with them; and Philo, the world’s most improbable traitor and adulterer.

3)“Oh no you don’t,” she warned.
“Don’t what?”
“I know that look, you’re going to fake faint. A very unconvincing swoon to the ground and hope that Otho will scoop you up into his arms.”
Sporus stuck out a petulant lip. “And so what if I am! What’s it to you?”
“I am the empress’ bodyguard and if I know you, and the Gods will declare that I do, oh half boy whom I knew when he was fully intact boy, you will aim your swoon straight into her to push her out the way. Which might well result in an injury to the empress. So I am not allowing it.”
“Spoilsport. And you used to be so much fun too. I suppose I shall just have to stand here and radiate attraction. I’m very good at that. Drop me into some eastern king’s haram and I’ll be his chosen partner every. single. night.”
On the final ‘t’ he bolted for it, leaving Mina just a split second to decide whether to go for her whip. Her mentor, Straton had taught her never to whip in anger for you would never hit your target. You must be in control, measured, calm. He’d mentioned nothing as to whether it was acceptable to whip your oldest friend to stop him wrecking a very carefully choreographed religious ceremony. It was the sort of question Mina would have very much liked to ask him.

4)Mina surveyed Domitian and mentally categorised him as ‘grumpy posh boy’. Turning to Philo she enquired. “Are we sure he’s worth keeping alive?”

The Fetish. Flash fiction: prompt is curious & guilty pleasures.

They were words to freeze a girls heart.

“I have a fetish for tonight.” read Philip’s text.

Oh God, thought Stephanie. A fetish? Philip? Philip had a fetish?Philip?!?

He was the most normal bloke she’d ever met. He was ultra normal. She’d never seen a man who wore such practical clothing or who kept a torch in his bag ‘just in case’

“Just in case of what?” she’d asked that morning she’d discovered it.
“A power cut or if I get lost in the dark or if there’s a dark cupboard I need to find something in.”

Oh God the torch wasn’t part of whatever it was? Stephanie pressed her knees together.

She stared down at those few words on the screen, her fingers hovering above the touch pad.

What could it be? I mean she loved Philip, she loved him a lot.
He was kind and sweet, he held doors open for her, offered to pay the bill every time they went out for dinner. He was a nice guy.
But even for nice guys there were places Stephanie would not go.

She would not be peed on. That was a definite. Even if she could have a shower immediately afterwards. Because nobody wanted to be the someone that got weed on

It was undignified. What was the suitable expression to hold whilst someone weed on you? Bubbly delight? Aroused?

Stephanie was sure she couldn’t manage anything but a wrinkled nose disgust.

S&M? Did Philip want her to beat him with a cane? It seemed unlikely given all the fuss he’d made that time he banged his knees on her coffee table.

Oh God? Did he want to beat her? She blamed Fifty Shades if that was the case. There were millions of bemused husbands and partners who thought their wives needed blindfolds and handcuffs and all that Ann Summers rubbish.

What was wrong with a good, hard shag performed the standard way?
Her fingers hovered nearer to the keys.

Or maybe it wasn’t anything to do with her at all?

Maybe it was an object. Like shoes? Maybe Philip wanted to caress her shoes or sniff them. She’d be fine with that. Stephanie possessed many pairs of kick ass shoes whose inclusion in Philip’s pleasures might help justify the price she’d paid for them.

Or maybe he liked to dress up? In a g string and fishnets perhaps. Stephanie tried to picture Philip in such a guise. And failed.

He was just so ordinary, so Philip. He was the most unlikely man ever to possess a fetish.

She hit reply, typing ‘?’
Then sat back and waited for a reply.

It could be something good. Something fun. She shouldn’t be so closed mind about these things. Maybe trying something new would do wonders for their sex life. Not that there was anything unsatisfactory about it. Far from it. But still. If it was something Philip wanted to try, then there was no harm in that trying. And if she didn’t like it. Well they’d not try it again.

Her phone buzzed. Stephanie stared at the screen. It read.

“oh God. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Bloody autocorrect! I meant feta. I have a feta cheese for the salad tonight. What must you think of me.”

Let’s Talk About Sex (ba-by)

Sex features a lot in my books, a fact I only realised after Mr LJ helpfully totted up the number of ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ (as the announcers on the BBC say) in Palatine.

Err there was quite a lot.

So why so many?



No, I’m not sex obsessed. I have two small children, if anything I’m sleep obsessed. I positively drool at the thought of a solid 8 hours kip.

Roman society’s attitude to sex and sexuality are interesting to explore. This is a non Christian society, there are no Ten commandments, no sin. This doesn’t make it necessarily a more permissive society than our own modern one but it does mean that they have different rules and norms to us. And personally I find that fascinating.

Wandering round Pompeii you are well aware of this difference what with the lucky penis shapes carved into walls and the pavement, the explicit frescoes demonstrating a variety of sexual positions and acts, not to mention the err quite graphic graffiti.

“Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog”

“Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!”

Being two such examples.

People talked about sex, they joked about sex, they scrawled their exploits onto walls.Or for the higher born like Catullus and Martial they wrote poetry about it.

“Stay at home, and get ready
for nine fucks, in succession, with me.
Truly, if you should want it, let me know now:
because lying here, fed, and indolently full,
I’m making a hole in my tunic and cloak”

“Lesbia swears she’s never been fucked for free.
True. When she wants to be fucked, she has to pay.”

And these are two of the tamer examples of their work.



Even imperial biographers such as Suetonius can’t resist listing ala the poets just who was doing what to who.
For the record
Augustus with Julius Caesar and virgins who’d been especially rounded up for him to deflower.
Tiberius with various slave boys and he was fond of cunninglingus
Caligula with everyone
Claudius only with women (a situation Suetonius thinks is worth stressing)
Nero with his freedmen both passive and active role and with his mother.

And that’s just the Julio Claudians
So I think my conclusion is that I’m not sex obsessed it’s all those Romans who are.



Today in history

galbas menjp


January 15th 69AD.
The most dramatic, most surprising day in Roman history.

At the start of the day Otho decides to declare himself emperor. As Suetonius puts it “It signified nothing whether he fell by the hands of his enemies in the field or his creditors in the Forum.”

He is welcomed by a mere 23 soldiers. Yet by dusk he is emperor.
Quite a turn around.
And certainly one of the bloodiest days on record.

As Tacitus so dryly puts it: “Once killing starts its difficult to draw a line.”

To mark this day here is an extract from Galba’s Men which culminates with that day.

“How much?” insisted Epaphroditus.
“Ahem, two hundred million.”
“Sesterces?” pressed Epaphroditus, though what else could it be.
“The men, ahem, who were so kind with their purses have rather a long reach. There is not a sunny place on earth where they or their associates could not get me. Of course if I had access to the imperial treasury… Problem solved!”
His companion groaned, put his head in his hands.
“How you remind me of my father, he often took such a stance.”
“One question, Marcus. Sabinus took months of dedicated planning to bring down Nero. How long have you etched in your diary for such a scheme?”
Otho scratched his chin, furrowed his brows, and said, “I was rather hoping we could finish it off by sunset. Don’t look so worried, there is no danger of failure.”
“No danger? You want to overthrow an emperor in a day? An emperor with an army, with a personal bodyguard, with the blessings of the law, and you say there is no danger! You’ve flipped Marcus, really you have.”
“Of failing, I said. No danger of that at all. The other type of danger perhaps there will be a smidgeon, might upset things a bit I suppose.”
“I shall forgive you this because you were in Lusitania but when Nero fell it was chaos. The streets were awash with blood and that was with Sabinus’ meticulous planning. With you in charge we’ll be crawling over corpses till summer. What makes you think you will succeed?”