In 121 AD, historian Suetonius wrote of Titus Caesar, ‘Titus, was the delight and darling of the human race; such surpassing ability had he, by nature, art, or good fortune, to win the affections of all men, and that, too, which is no easy task, while he was emperor.’
Perhaps such eloquent words were written because in such a short reign there was very little time to do anything wrong, coupled with the fact that Domitian, his brother who followed him, was such a cruel, sadistic megalomaniac.
Whatever the reason, General Titus Flavius was one of Rome’s most popular emperors.
Titus Flavius Vespasianus - The Early Years
Titus, emperor of Rome from 79 – 81 AD, was born in the city he ruled in 39 AD. He was the eldest son of Emperor Vespasian and Domitilla the Elder. His sister, Domitilla the Younger was born six years later and his brother, the future emperor Domitian, six years after that.
His great-grandfather Titus Flavius Petro served under Pompey the Great during the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC.
Thanks to his father’s military exploits, especially during the invasion of Britain, the young Titus is believed to have benefitted from a court education where he learned Latin and Greek and became a poet of some renown.
From around the ages of eighteen to twenty, Titus served as a military tribune in Germania and Britannia. According to an unnamed contemporary source, he understood ‘the art of war and peace, handled arms and rode a horse as well as any man living.’
He married twice. His first wife died in 65 AD, within two years of their marriage, and he divorced his second wife for political reasons. He never married again.
From Titus Flavius Vespasianus To Titus Caesar
His reputation as a military commander of repute came in Judea, where he fought under the command of his father Vespasian in the First Jewish-Roman War.
Emperor Nero committed suicide in 68 AD, followed by the short-lived and chaotic reigns of Galba, Otho and Vitellius. This huge disruption to the Empire would later be known as the Year of the Four Emperors. However, from this pandemonium, Vespasian would soon return to Rome himself, and emerge as the man who would secure control of the Empire. He left his son with the brief to end the Jewish rebellion.
Taking advantage of a civil war in Jerusalem, Titus and his army, who had been joined by reinforcements, then encircled the city. One particular Jewish incursion almost ended with the capture of Titus and, after a peace deal failed, the Romans breached the first two city walls. After a weak attempt at resistance, the third wall fell. Much of the city was sacked and almost 100,000 were taken prisoner and enslaved.
Titus returned to Rome in 71 AD a conquering hero. When his father was declared Emperor Vespasian, Titus and his brother Domitian were awarded the title of Caesar by the Senate.
Vespasan died in 79 AD and Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus took to the throne.
As the second emperor of the Flavian dynasty, Titus was the first to come to the throne after his biological father. He was described as fair and calm and was renowned for his generosity.
When Vesuvius erupted burying Pompeii and Herculaneum, Titus pledged huge amounts of money to help the victims, as well as manpower to aid the relief effort.
The following year, a catastrophic fire lasting three days devastated much of Rome. It destroyed famous buildings such as the Pantheon and the Temple of Jupiter. Again, Titus, emperor and benefactor, donated money to help to rebuild the ravaged city.
In the meantime, he faced an alleged plot by his own brother to murder him and seize the throne. It didn’t materialise and despite the threat, Titus refused to banish Domitian from Rome.
In 80 AD, the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known today as the Colosseum, was completed. Its opening was celebrated with 100 days of games including gladiatorial fighting, reenactments of famous naval battles and chariot racing. It remains one of the world’s most famous and instantly recognisable buildings, and the overarching symbol of Rome to this day.
The Death of Titus Caesar
Titus died suddenly aged just 41 in the year 81 AD, allegedly of a fever. Debate remains as to whether his brother Domitian hastened his demise. His final words were believed to have been ‘I have made but one mistake.’
What this means has been the subject of conjecture for over 1,900 years. Greek sophist Philostratus wrote that Domitian poisoned his brother with some sort of sea creature and the mistake he refers to was that he ate it.
Another chronicler, Cassius Dio, writing around a century after Titus died, suggested that the mistake was not killing his brother when Titus learned of his plot against him.
When he took the throne, Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to honour his brother.