Roman Emperor Titus: History, Reign & Major Accomplishments
Before succeeding his father, Vespasian, Emperor Titus was feared by the Romans due to his extreme use violence and ruthlessness against any potential enemies. But upon assuming the throne, Titus rose to become one of Rome’s most well-loved emperors, especially after showing kindness to his people following two major natural disasters.
Titus is credited with strengthening Rome’s power through his military conquests. He transformed Rome’s entertainment landscape by completing the famous amphitheater, the Colosseum. Known as the second ruler of the Flavian Dynasty (69-96), Titus had a successful but short reign. The emperor died two years after ascending the throne.
Family and Childhood
Titus was the eldest child of Titus Flavius Vespianus (more commonly known as Vespasian) and Domitilla the Elder. He had two younger siblings, Titus Flavius Domitianus (also called Domitian) and Domitilla the Younger.
Emperor Titus’s great-grandfather – Titus Flavius Petro
His great-grandfather, Titus Flavius Petro, was a centurion under Pompey’s army and fought in the civil war (i.e. Caesar’s Civil War) between Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. However, his reputation took a hit when he fled from the Battle of Pharsalus.
Still, Petro was able to turn his fortunes around and married a wealthy woman named Tertulla, with whom he welcomed Titus Flavius Sabinus I who was Titus’s grandfather. With a good foundation, Sabinus also expanded the family’s wealth through his occupation as a banker and tax collector. Through his marriage to Vespasia Polla, who was from a prominent family, Sabinus was successful in ensuring that his sons Titus Flavius Sabinus II and Vespasian served in the Roman Senate.
Titus’s Father – Emperor Vespasian
Titus’s father Vespasian was a celebrated military commander, best known for successfully invading Britain. After the death of Emperor Nero and with Rome plunged into a state of chaos, Vespasian rose to power. Vespasian was the most successful emperor to serve Rome after Nero’s death. He brought an end to the Year of the Four Emperors, a period where there was a struggle for the throne. Vespasian is credited with the founding of the Flavian dynasty.
Little is known about Titus’s childhood except that he grew up somewhat privileged and was raised in the courts of Emperor Claudius under the guidance of the emperor’s son, Britannicus. It is most likely Titus received most of his military training in emperor’s court.
Titus was known to be exceptionally skilled in languages, speaking Latin and Greek fluently. He was also good at poetry and public speaking. These were all skills that helped him become a successful military officer and politician.
Titus married Arrecina Tertulla, but the marriage ended two years later when she died. Later, he married Marcia Furnilla, who was from a prestigious Roman family. After his second marriage ended in divorce – because of Furnillas’ alliance to Emperor Nero – Titus never married again. He did, however, father many daughters.
Rise to Power: Military Accomplishments & Siege of Jerusalem
Between 57-59 AD, Titus served in Germania as a military tribune. He was also instrumental in the defeat of Queen Boudica in Britannia during her revolt around 60 AD.
It appears that, through his father’s support and influence, Titus was groomed to one day become a ruler. He was most likely in his late teens to early twenties when he served in Germania and Britannia. Ten years later, he rose through the ranks as legate, in charge of the fifteenth legion serving in Judea under his father.
It was Titus who encouraged his father, Vespasian, to make a claim for Rome’s emperorship. When Vespasian became an emperor, Titus was placed in charge of the army.
Titus distinguished himself brilliantly as military commander in suppressing the Jewish revolt against the Romans. He fought in three major battles during that period, from 66 AD to 73 AD.
Titus also improved diplomatic relations with other important leaders and formed a close alliance with the legate of Syria, Mucien. This relationship was instrumental in helping Vespasian claim the throne and firmly establishing the Flavian dynasty.
In 70 AD, together with his army, Titus successfully besieged the Judean city of Jerusalem, which resulted in the destruction of King Herod’s temple and much of the city, About 97,000 Jews were captured during the siege and many others fled. For this military achievement, the Romans honored Titus with an arch, now known as the Arch of Titus.
He became a celebrated figure and was honored with a Roman triumph in 71 AD. A triumph is a large parade where the Romans display the treasures and captives the military general had acquired through wars.
Later that year, he returned home and together with his brother, Domitian, supported their father during his reign. They received the title “Caesar” from the Roman Senate. During Vespasian’s reign, Titus held many high-ranking appointments, serving as tribune, consul, and secretary to his father, often attending Senate meetings on Vespasian’s behalf. He also became the commander of the Praetorian Guard, which was a unit under the Roman army responsible for protecting the emperor.
As a Praetorian Prefect, Titus developed a notorious reputation in Rome. He was extremely violent and often resorted to immediately killing anyone he suspected of being a traitor or a treasonist.
Titus and the Jewish queen Berenice
Many Romans were also very displeased with his relationship with Berenice, who was the sister of Herod Agrippa II, while in Judea. During the Jewish revolt, the Herodians, including Berenice, had supported the Romans and backed Vespasian in his quest to become emperor.
Berenice lived in Rome with Titus, which made the Romans wary, especially since they did not want to relive the disastrous events of Marc Antony’s relationship with Queen Cleopatra, who was also from the East.
As a result, the couple was publicly rejected by the people, and Titus had to send Berenice away. However, it did nothing to restore his reputation. But that was all to change in the years that followed.
In 79 AD, Vespasian died and he was succeeded by his son and heir, Titus. This transfer of power marked the first time a Roman emperor ascended the throne in a direct family line.
Initially, many of the people feared that his violent tendencies would have sent them back to Nero’s era of fear and chaos. Surprisingly, he proved them wrong!
Titus was well-mannered and amiable. He was also a just and fair emperor, and through his kindness, his reputation was restored, making him one of the most beloved emperors in Roman history.
One of the most notable things he did was put an end to trials against treasonists. At first, these trials had been created to punish people who had attempted to overthrow emperors in revolutions. However, those trials soon began persecuting libel and slander. As a result, many people were tried and killed under subsequent emperors.
Titus declared, “It is impossible for me to be insulted or abused in any way. For I do naught that deserves censure, and I care not for what is reported falsely. As for the emperors who are dead and gone, they will avenge themselves in case anyone does them a wrong, if in truth they are demigods and possess any power.”
Although Titus’s reign was short, he encountered several challenges. Shortly after succeeding his father, the city of Pompeii and other surrounding cities were destroyed after the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The natural disaster claimed several thousands of lives. Through his personal funds, Titus donated large sums of money to help the victims. He also visited Pompeii twice in solidarity.
While he was away on his second visit to the destroyed city, a fire engulfed sections of Rome for three days and nights, resulting in the destruction of important buildings like the Pantheon, Diribitorium, the Temple of Jupiter, sections of the Theatre of Pompey, and many others. Titus generously gave back to society to restore the damages.
Unlike many his predecessors emperors, Titus’s reign was marked with relative peace, although there were few events of unrest. During his reign, the empire went to war with Britannia again and conquered many more areas. Those feats of his earned him the title of Imperator.
Despite Nero being one of Rome’s worst emperors, Titus was likened to Nero by many others in the eastern provinces. There were also rumors that the infamous emperor was alive and that Nero was parading himself as Titus. As a result, a lot of people falsely presented themselves as Nero. One of such people was Terentius Maximus, who revolted against Titus. According to historians, Maximus was very similar to Nero in terms of his appearance and voice. However the pseudo-Nero was unsuccessful in his pursuit and fled to Parthia.
Other historians also believe that Domitian had also plotted against his older brother but Titus decided to spare his life.
Most Notable Achievements
In 70 AD, Vespasian commenced the construction of the Colosseum; however, he died before completing the project. The task then fell to Titus, who completed the construction of the Colosseum in 80 AD. The magnificent amphitheater became one of the the most popular entertainment hotspots of ancient Rome. The opening of the new building was marked with a 100-day celebration filled with games and other activities. The Romans used the Colosseum for many centuries, staging fierce chariot races, gladiatorial fights, and animal fights.
Emperor Titus is also credited with building the Bath of Titus, which was inaugurated along with the Colosseum.
By the time of his death, he had laid the foundation for the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, which Domitian later completed.
How did Emperor Titus die?
While traveling to the Sabine territories, Titus fell ill and died in 81 AD. It’s likely that he died in the same place as his father, Emperor Vespasian. Titus reportedly said, “I have made but one mistake” before passing away. He was 41 years old at the time. The deceased emperor was later deified by the Roman Senate.
Rumors and myths surrounding his death
Many historians have long debated as to what he’d meant when he uttered those words. One historian, Philostratus, wrote that the emperor had been poisoned by Domitian. Other historians like Cassius Dio and Suetonius believed that Titus died a natural death, but maintained that Domitian left his brother to die without helping him. It’s possible that Titus was referring to him sparing Domitian’s life when he discovered his younger brother’s plot to overthrow him.
In the Babylonian Talmud, which was the religious text of the Jews, it likened the events surrounding Titus’s death to that of King Nimrod. The book reveals that Titus died after an insect entered his nose, effectively causing damage to his brain for a period of seven years as punishment for destroying Jerusalem and the second Temple Mount.
Upon Emperor Titus’s death, his younger brother Domitian ascended the throne. Titus’s rule was short; only two years from 79-81 AD. And once again, the Roman Empire had to go through another major shift under the infamous and brutal leadership of Domitian.
Emperor Titus: Fast Facts
Born: December 30, 39 AD, Rome, Italy
Died: September 13, 81 AD, Rome, Italy
Reign: 79 – 81 AD
Siblings: Domitian, Domitilla the Younger
Spouses: Arrecina Tertulla, Marcia Furnilla,
Parents: Emperor Vespasian and Domitilla