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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
By Todd Dennis, Curator (Futurist: 1979-1996; Full Preterist: 1996-2006; Idealist: 2006-Forevermore)



The Roman Caesars

Roman Empire

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[Image: Emperor Vespasian]
Statue head of Vespasian

Emperor Vespasian
(A.D. 9-79)

DIVUS VESPASIANUS

"a star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter will rise out of Israel. It shall crush the foreheads of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed."
(Numbers 24.17-19)

Lives of the Caesars: Vespasian | Son Titus | Triumph of Titus and Vespasian | Tapestries of Titus and Vespasian | The Fall of Jerusalem and the Roman Conquest | The Roman Siege of Jerusalem | The Epigraphical Evidence for the Reigns of Vespasian and Titus (PDF)


Josephus Being Presented to Vespasian by Titus

The Roman general Vespasian may seem an odd candidate for a Messiah, but nonetheless, his coup d'état in 70 was regarded as the fulfillment of the famous Balaam-prophecy that "a star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter will rise out of Israel. It shall crush the foreheads of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed."  (Numbers 24.17-19)

The star was the comet that appeared in 69 and is mentioned by Cassius Dio. Most people thought that the new ruler would be the liberator of Israel, but Flavius Josephus claims to have found the true meaning of the prophecy.

What did the most to induce the Jews to start this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 6.312-313)

The Roman authors Suetonius and Tacitus give the same interpretation of the prophecy, probably using the same source, who was not Flavius Josephus. This proves that there was at least one other author who shared Josephus' opinions.

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome -as afterwards appeared from the event- the people of Judaea took to themselves. (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 4.5)

The majority [of the Jews] were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. This mysterious prophecy really referred to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, true to the selfish ambitions of mankind, thought that this exalted destiny was reserved for them, and not even their calamities opened their eyes to the truth. (Tacitus, Histories 5.13)

Josephus' messianology may seem hypocritical, but it is not. In his view, the Zealots had ruined Judaea, and God had sent the Roman general to punish His chosen people as a second Pompey. In the past, God had sent the Jews into exile in Egypt and Babylon; and he had used Philistine, Assyrian and Seleucid armies to punish his chosen people. This punishment could be considered a way to restore the true Israel. To call a foreigner a Messiah was nothing new: the Persian king Cyrus the Great had already been considered the Messiah, as we saw above." (Sources: Cassius Dio, Roman history 65.8.1, 66.1.4; Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 3.399-404 and 6.310-315; Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 4.5; Tacitus, Histories 5.13; Zonaras, Epitome 11.16. )

Introduction

Titus Flavius Vespasianus' rise to power is one of the most adventurous, unlikely and over-looked stories of the first century AD. Many histories of this time concentrate on the intrigue, excesses, brutality and madness of emperors from Augustus through Nero, then stop at the Year of the Four Emperors, a year which saw Vespasian as victor. Lindsey Davis embraces this unusual time-period to place Falco, for only at this time, could a man like Marcus Didius Falco exist and a Senator's daughter like Helena Justina survive.

Early Life and Marriage

Vespasian was born in Falacrina, a small village just beyond Reate in A.D. 9, during the reign of Augustus. No one in his family had ever reached high office. Sabinus, his father, was a tax collector in Asia and later became a banker in Helvetica, where he died leaving his wife Vespasia Pollia and two sons, Vespasian and Sabinus. Vespasian's brother, Sabinus, reached the rank of City Prefect in Rome, but Vespasian dithered, and only stood as a senatorial candidate after his mother's constant and sarcastic use of the phrase "your brother's footman". Once Vespasian had his senatorial stripe, he was ready to embark upon his public life.

Vespasian married Flavia Domitilla, which was a politically unambitious match, due to her lack of social standing and family connections. Her father, Flavius Liberalis had to appear before a board of arbitration to establish his daughter's claim to full Roman Citizenship, instead of just a Latin one. Vespasian and Flavia Domitilla produced three children, a daughter also called Domitilla, and two sons, Titus and Domitian. Both Flavia Domitilla and the daughter Domitilla died before Vespasian reached his magistracy. After the death of his wife, Vespasian returned to his former mistress Caenis (a Freedwoman and secretary to Antonia, Marc Antony's daughter) who remained his wife in all but name even during his Emperorship. [The subject of Lindsey Davis' novel The Course of Honour].

Cursus Honorum

Reign of Caligula

Vespasian first served as a colonel in Thrace, then drew lots for a quaestorship and won Crete and Cyrenaica. He tried to win an aedileship, but only scraped through in sixth place on his second attempt at the post. However, when ran for the praetorship, he won easily and was at the top of the list. At this time, most of the Senate was at odds with Caligula. Vespasian, wishing to win the Emperors favour, proposed games be held to celebrate Caligula's German "victory", and conspirators who attempted to assassinate Caligula [1] be denied public burial. He thanked the Emperor, in front of the whole Senate, for being invited to dine at the Palace.

Reign of Claudius

Following the assassination of Caligula in A.D. 41, the Praetorian Guard declared Claudius their Emperor. The Flavians had secured the favour of Claudius via Antonia and Claudius' Freedman Narcissus. Through Narcissus, Vespasian was also granted command of a legion in Germany. During Claudius' invasion of Britain in A.D. 43, Vespasian and his legion served under Aulus Plautius (consular rank commander) and at times under Claudius himself. He fought thirty battles, subjugated two war-like tribes and captured numerous towns, including the entire Isle of Vectis (Isle of Wight). He won several Triumphal decorations and a couple of priesthoods. By A.D. 51, Vespasian reached the Consulship, the highest office on the "Cursus Honorum". Unfortunately, at this time, the influence of Agrippina on her son Nero was increasing and Claudius' position as Emperor looked dangerous, as did the position of any friends of Claudius and Narcissus. Therefore, following his consulship, Vespasian withdrew from public life for just over ten years, only returning when he was granted the proconsul governorship of Africa in circa A.D. 63-64.

Reign of Nero

In Africa, Vespasian ruled with justice and dignity (some say with severity and parsimony), except when, on one occasion, the populace of a town pelted him with turnips. He returned from Africa no richer than he left and had to mortgage his estates to his brother to pay off his creditors, and also traded in mules (which not not the done thing for a Senator!). Back in Rome, he became an influential senior senator and was included in Nero's retinue on the tour of Greece in A.D. 66-67. It was in Greece that Vespasian offended the Emperor by falling asleep during one of Nero's recitals. Luckily, Vespasian only incurred banishment from the court. In fear for his life Vespasian fled to a small out-of-the-way township. Meanwhile, there were rumblings in the conquered east. A common belief among the Jews of this time was that from Judaea the ruler of the world would emerge. A revolt started in Judaea and Nero called Vespasian from banishment, granting him a special command in the east with the aim of crushing the revolt. Vespasian took his eldest son, Titus, to serve on his staff. In Rome, an attempt was made on Nero's life. Nero fled to his country villa where he persuaded a slave to help him commit suicide in June, A.D. 68. After the initial joy the news of Nero's death brought Rome, there was one question that had to be answered: who was going to succeed him?

The Year of the Four Emperors - A.D. 69

For the next eighteen months, the Roman Empire was thrown into chaos as four men contended for the Emperorship. Only one man would be successful. The first person to succeed Nero was Servius Sulpicius Galba, an old man and a conspirator against Nero. Galba remained emperor for six months until Marcus Salvius Otho was declared emperor and recognised by the Praetorian Guard. Upon being declared emperor, Otho sent out the cavalry to murder Galba, after which the Senate also recognised Otho as emperor. Almost immediately, the legions of Aulus Vitellius revolted, declared their commander emperor and started to march on Rome. In the ensuing battles, Otho's forces were severely damaged and he committed suicide in April of that year. The Senate then recognised Vitellius as emperor. During this time, Vespasian was still fighting in Judaea, and made his legions swear allegiance to each emperor in turn. However, when Vitellius came to power in June, Vespasian met with Gaius Licinius Mucianus and they decided to revolt. In the east, each legion in turn swore their allegiance to Vespasian, as did the legions in Egypt and the Danube region. Handing the siege of Jerusalem to his son Titus, Vespasian headed for Egypt with the intention of cutting off the corn supplies to Rome, while Mucianus headed off to Rome. The Vitellian forces were eventually defeated and Vitellius himself tried to abdicate in exchange for his life. His abdication was not accepted and on 20th December, A.D. 69, when the Flavian army entered Rome, Vitellius was killed. On 21st December, A.D. 69, Titus Flavius Vespasianus was recognised by the Senate as Emperor of Rome.

The Emperorship

Vespasian's reign can be characterised as being very conscientious. He had inherited an empire drained by the excesses of previous emperors and shattered by civil war. Vespasian committed himself to a program of rebuilding and restoration (including the Capitol, burned in A.D. 69). He also began to construct new buildings; a temple to the deified Claudius (to identify himself as a legitimate heir of the Julio-Claudians); a temple of Peace; and the Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre). Among his other acts, Vespasian reformed the Senatorial and Equestrians orders; induced the Senate to make laws against various form of debauchery; and reduced the backlog of court cases waiting to be heard.

Suetonius indicates that nobody was ever wrongly punished in Vespasian's reign, and only one execution was ever carried out on his orders (and even then he sent out orders to halt the execution that arrived too late), this man was Helvidius Priscus, a critic of the Flavian regime from the start and an advocate of Senatorial independence.

Vespasian claimed that forty thousand million sestertii were needed to complete all his projects, to restore the state physically and economically. To this end, he is said to have revoked imperial immunities, manipulated the supply of goods in order to inflate their price, increased provincial taxation and extracted fees from candidates for office. Despite this apparent avarice Vespasian was very generous to all classes, from offering subventions to senators not possessing the necessary property qualifications of their rank, to being the first emperor to grant salaries to teachers of Latin and Greek rhetoric.

In foreign affairs, Vespasian increased the number of legions in the East (where his son, Titus, was still involved with the revolt in Judaea). He also continued the invasion of Britain, capturing the north, pacifying Wales and venturing into Scotland. He also ventured into southwest Germany and granted Latin rights to communities, particularly in Spain, thus ensuring the rapid Romanisation of the province.

Vespasian died at Aquae Cutiliae (in Sabine country) on 23rd June A.D. 79, following a brief fever. On his deathbed, he is supposed to have quipped "Dear me! I must be turning into a god" (in Latin: "vae puto fieri deus"). After his death, he was indeed deified, and interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus.

In conclusion, Vespasian was a very disciplined, conscientious and witty man with simple tastes. His reign was one of tranquillity and peace, compared to that of his predecessors. He restored Rome's buildings, and restored prosperity and peace to the empire. He was in all a good model for future Emperors, and Tacitus notes that he is the first man to improve after becoming emperor.

References

Donahue, J. Titus Flavius Vespasianus (A.D. 69-79) [Article] De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopaedia of Roman Emperors [http://www.roman-emperors.org/]

Levick, Barbara   Vespasian Routledge (1999)

Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (Trans. Robert Graves, 1957. Revised - Michael Grant, 1979) Penguin Classics (1989)

Tacitus The Histories (Trans. W. H. Fyfe, 1912. Revised - D. S. Levene, 1997) Oxford University Press (1997)

Notes:

[1] There were numerous conspiracies on Caligula's life, both real and imagined. Vespasian refers to the conspirators on an unsuccessful plot - Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus. (Suetonius) [Back to text]

Antonia Caenis
Imperial Mistress

There is precious little by way of historical records about Caenis, other than the following half sentence in Suetonius' biography of Vespasian in The Twelve Caesars.

"[Vespasian] then took up again with Caenis, his former mistress and one of Antonia's Freedwoman and secretaries, who remained his wife in all but name even when he became Emperor."
[Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (VIII X: Vespasian, 3)]

Suetonius mentions her name again twice, once in reference to Vespasian's daily habits after her death (X: Vespasian, 21), and once in reference to Domitian's behaviour and personality (XII: Domitian, 12). She is also mentioned briefly in Cassius Dio's The Roman History.

Perhaps the most exciting snippet of information comes from Rome, where archaeological evidence has been found for her villa outside the Porta Nomentana (that's right next to the Praetorian Camp). The items discovered include a piece of lead pipe bearing her name, which came from a nearby bath house named after her (Balneum Caenidianum) and a memorial dedicated to her as "best patron" by her steward Aglaus and his children.

Slave to Freedman

These pieces of information are how we can piece together a very sketchy idea of Caenis' life. We know that Caenis started life as a slave, and was employed as a secretary (so she was also educated) in the service of Antonia the daughter of Marc Antony and mother of Emperor Claudius. We also know that this must have been sometime during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (AD 14 - 37) because Antonia is known to have committed suicide at the beginning of Caligula's reign (AD 37 - 41) and also, the historian Dio Cassius says Antonia dictated her letter denouncing Sejanus (for his plot to overthrow Tiberius in AD 31) to her loyal secretary Caenis.

Her [Caenis] mistress Antonia, the mother of Claudius, had once employed her as secretary in writing a secret letter to Tiberius about Sejanus and had immediately ordered the message to be erased, in order that no trace of it might be left. Thereupon she replied: "It is useless, mistress, for you to give this command; for not only this but as whatever else you dictate to me I always carry in my mind and it can never be erased."
[Dio The Roman History (65)]

This means Caenis was born sometime near the end of Augustus' reign (31 BC - AD 14) which makes her approximately the same age as Vespasian (who was born in A.D. 9). At some point Antonia freed Caenis (either before Antonia's death or as a result of her death), which according to Roman manumission law, meant Caenis assumed the name of her former owner before her own, thus Caenis becomes Antonia Caenis.

Wife in All But Name

While in the employ of Antonia, Caenis would have been around or very near the Imperial palace a lot. It is known that Vespasian had connections with Antonia, so this is more than likely how Vespasian met Caenis (the affair must have started here, because he isn't yet married - he marries during Caligula's reign - and for next twenty years or so he isn't in Rome much at all). After Antonia's death Vespasian remained connected with the family via Narcissus (Emperor Claudius' Freedman) which is probably how he was granted a legion in Germany and a command in the Claudian expedition to Britannia (A.D. 43) - did Caenis have an influence perhaps? Sometime near the end of Claudius' reign, Vespasian's wife dies, and Vespasian gains a consulship. This event is what Suetonius refers to, so we know that Vespasian takes up residence with Caenis and they live as virtual husband and wife, even during Vespasian's ten-year self-imposed exile and his Emperorship. There are stories, quoted in Dio, that were circulated during and after Vespasian's Emperorship regarding Caenis receiving enormous sums of money from several sources for the sale of governorships, procuratorships, military commands, priesthoods and so on. It is also rumoured that Vespasian was more than willing to profit from all of this himself (indeed, perhaps Caenis was working on his behalf in this area!).

This gave her [Caenis] the greatest influence and she amassed untold wealth, so that it was even thought that he [Vespasian] made money through Caenis herself as his intermediary. For she received vast sums from many sources, sometimes selling governorships, sometimes procuratorships, generalships and priesthoods, and in some instance even imperial decisions. For although Vespasian killed no one on account of his money, he did spare the lives of many who gave it; and while it was Caenis who received the money, people suspected that Vespasian willingly allowed her to do as she did.
[Dio The Roman History (65)]

Death and Memorial

We know that while Vespasian was off fighting wars and while his wife was still alive, Caenis probably lived alone. The existence of the memorial near her villa supports this, as well as providing proof of the existence of her steward Aglaus and his children. It is known that Caenis died in or around AD 74, five years before Vespasian himself dies - this is why she only has a brief appearance in Two For The Lions, Lindsey can not change history!

Conclusion

As far as I know, there are no contemporary artistic representations of her. In fact the only modern representations of her that I know of are on the book covers for The Course of Honour (author, Lindsey Davis), but I'd LOVE to be proved wrong and shown a statue of her, although it is unlikely because of the fact she was a Freedwoman and never 'Officially' married to Vespasian (it was illegal according to the Twelve Tables of law - see references). I think perhaps if there was a picture or statue of Caenis, it would be very ordinary looking - certainly no Roman supermodel - with an inner gravity and dignity, or what the Romans referred to as "gravitas" and "dignitas", creating a different sort of beauty, which I suspect was more attractive to Vespasian (he is hardly an Adonis himself!).

The air of mystery surrounding Caenis is what probably makes her so appealing and interesting as a character. When you consider what she survived and endured for over sixty years, she must have been a very strong and resourceful woman.

References

Adams, J. P. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law [at the California State University Northridge, Department of Modern and Classical Languages & Literatures]

Cassius Dio The Roman History: Volume VIII. Books 61-65 (Trans. Herbert B. Foster 1905-06, Revised Trans. by Earnest Cary) Loeb Classical Library (1924)

Donahue, J. Titus Flavius Vespasianus (A.D. 69-79) [Article] De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopaedia of Roman Emperors [http://www.roman-emperors.org/]

Levick, Barbara   Vespasian Routledge (1999)

Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (Trans. Robert Graves, 1957. Revised - Michael Grant, 1979) Penguin Classics (1989)

 

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