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The Imperial Finances under Domitian, Nerva and Trajan

  • Ronald Syme

The work of the spade and the use of common sense have done much to mitigate the influence of Tacitus and Pliny and redeem the memory of Domitian from infamy or oblivion. But much remains to be done. The policy of this able and intelligent Emperor has been vindicated on the frontiers, but is still, in the matter of finance, condemned as extravagant and ruinous. Not only is this the view of those who, with the warrant of the senatorial tradition, see little in his reign but the dark night of despotism before the dawn of a new era of felicity—even a judicious historian like M. Gsell reproaches Domitian for not having done enough to restore the finances of the Empire, compromised as they had already been by Titus. So the charge is not baseless: and it is more with sorrow than with surprise that we read at the beginning of M. Carcopino's elegant and ingenious paper, Les richesses des Daces et le redressement de l'empire romain, the emphatic statement ‘c' est un fait reconnu de tous que Domitien laissa derrière lui une situation financière obérée.’

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page 55 note 1 Essai sur le règne de l'empereur Domitie 1894, p. 334.

page 55 note 2 In Dacia I, 1924, p. 28.

page 55 note 3 ‘Seine Finanzverwaltung war mustergültig,’ P–W, s.v. ‘Cocceius,’ col. 143.

page 55 note 4 Optimus Princeps i, p. 153.

page 55 note 5 At least he also says of Trajan (op.cit. ii, p. 171) that ‘le larghe vedute e le nobili ambizioni di lui segnavano vie più spaziose e più dispendiose alla politica finanziaria dell' impero’. Paribeni then goes on to suggest that Trajan, to meet these expenses, exploited imperial estates more intensively and debased the coinage.

page 56 note 1 Joh. Lyd., De Mag. ii, 28.

page 56 note 2 Carcopino, op. cit., p. 30.

page 56 note 3 Plin. Ep. vi, 31.

page 56 note 4 Cassius Dio (68, 15,3) dates the completion of these works after the Dacian Wars, and the inscription, Dessau 5821, is of the year 109–110. Dessau 280 and 285 expressly record Nerva as beginning, Trajan as finishing, parts of the work. In view of the great activity displayed by Domitian's successors on the Appia before Sinuessa, and in building a road from Puteoli to Naples, the Via Domitiana from Sinuessa to Puteoli should perhaps not be regarded as an isolated fragment. It was completed in 95 (Cassius Dio. 67, 14, 1). It is more than pure chance that not a single one of Domitian's milestones in the whole of Italy has survived, when we possess so many from Nerva's brief reign. Nerva could associate himself with Vespasian on a milestone, just as Trajan could make a dedication to Divus Titus (Dessau 5819; C.I.L. vi, 946). But Domitian's memory had been condemned and his name suppressed. Most of the inscriptions relating to aqueducts, however, are less accessible than milestones, being on lead pipes: so we find that in Lanciani's collection 17 belong to Domitian, 1 to Nerva, 12 to Trajan (I commentari di Frontino, 1880).

page 56 note 5 Dessau 291, 9496, 290.

page 57 note 1 He appears to assume (in any case wrongly, see P–W., s.v. Legio, col. 1485) that the first mention of II Traiana occurs on an inscription of the year 109.

page 57 note 2 So Ritterling, P.-W., s.v. ‘Legio.’

page 57 note 3 Certainly not in Plin. Pan. 62 and Ep. ii, 1, 9, which he cites in his note.

page 57 note 4 It may be mentioned in passing that there are no adequate grounds for taking Pan. 29, 2 as an allusion to this harbour.

page 57 note 5 Pan. 51.

page 57 note 6 Cassius Dio 68, 7, 2; Dessau 286.

page 57 note 7 Martial xii, 2 (3).

page 57 note 8 Paribeni, op.cit. ii, p. 66, n. (Martial x, 28 and 51).

page 58 note 1 As Paribeni suggests, op.cit. ii, p. 45.

page 58 note 2 De Aq. 93.

page 58 note 3 Dessau 5930; C.I.L. vi, 31550.

page 58 note 4 The legend Portus Traiani appears on coins of the dates cos. v (103–III), and cos. vi (112).

page 58 note 5 Dessau 282. This might, however, refer to some other benefaction.

page 58 note 6 See p. 56, n. 4.

page 58 note 7 See the inscriptions quoted by Paribeni, op. cit. ii, pp. 126–7 and 142–144.

page 58 note 8 Pan. 41, ‘nam mihi cogitanti eundem te collationes remisisse, donativum reddidisse, congiarium obtulisse, delatores abegisse, vectigalia temperasse, interrogandus videris, satisne computaveris imperii reditus.’

page 58 note 9 Pan. 25, 3–4.

page 58 note 10 Pan. 26, 3, ‘omnes tamen, antequam te viderent adirentve, recipi, incidi iussisti.’

page 58 note 11 Pan. 28, 4, ‘paulo minus, patres conscripti, quinque milia ingenuorum fuerunt, quae liberalitas principis nostri conquisivit, invenit, adscivit. Hi subsidium bellorum, ornamentum pacis publicis sumptibus aluntur…’

page 59 note 1 Mommsen, , Ges. Schrift. vii, p. 574.

page 59 note 2 Paribeni takes it to be that of 103 (op.cit. i, p. 268), Carcopino that of 106 (op.cit., p. 31).

page 59 note 3 Paribeni, op. cit. i, p. 176.

page 59 note 4 Pan. 41, 3 ‘nunquam principibus defuerunt qui fronte tristi et gravi supercilio utilitatibus fisci contumaciter adessent… sed ad tuas aures cum ceteris omnibus tum vel maxirae avaris adulationibus obstructus est aditus.’

page 59 note 5 Pan. 40.

page 59 note 6 Cassius Dio 68, 2, 3. Zonaras (xi, 19) alleges that gladiatorial contests were done away with.

page 60 note 1 Cassius Dio 68, I, I, μίσει δὲ τοῦ Δομιτιανοῦ αἱ εἰκόνες αὐτοῦ, πολλαὶ μὲν ἀργυραῖ πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ χρυσαῖ οὖσαι, συνεχωνεύθησαν, καὶ ὲξ αὐτῶν μεγάλα χρήματα συνελέγη.

page 60 note 2 68, 2, 2.

page 60 note 3 Cassius Dio 68, 2, 2. Trajan also gave much away— ‘nec vero emendi tantum civibus tuis copiam praebes, sed amoenissima quaeque largiris et donas, ista, inquam donas, in quae electus, in quae adoptatus es’ (Pan. 50, 7).

page 60 note 4 Pan. 47, 4.

page 60 note 5 x, 72, 8.

page 60 note 6 Dessau 1627.

page 60 note 7 C.I.L. vi, 31213 = 953.

page 60 note 8 For the details see P.-W., s.v. ‘Cocceius’ col.148.

page 60 note 9 De Aq. 88, ‘sentit hanc curam imperatoris piissimi Nervae principis sui regina et domina orbis in dies et magis sentiet salubritas eiusdem aucto castellorum operum lacuum numero….’

page 60 note 10 See Merlin, Les revers monétaires de l'empereur Nerva, or P.-W., s.v. ‘Cocceius.’

page 61 note 1 Aur. Victor Ep. de Caes. 12, 4, ‘iste quicquid ante poenae nomine tributis accesserat, indulsit, afflictas civitates relevavit, etc.’

page 61 note 2 Plin. Ep. ii, 1.

page 61 note 3 Cf. Cassius Dio 55, 6, 6; Tac. Annals xv, 18.

page 61 note 4 Verginius' illness was long, and he died when Tacitus was suffect consul (Plin., l.c.), at some time or other in 97, perhaps even in 98. There is no definite evidence. Another statement of Pliny (Pan. 58, 1), ‘erat in senatu ter consul, cum tu tertium consulatum recusabas,’ may, indeed, refer not to Verginius but to A. Didius Callus Fabricius Veiento, and is therefore inconclusive.

page 61 note 5 Henderson, B. W., Five Roman Emperors, p. 170. Nerva is a universal favourite with historians. Paribeni can even speak of the indulgence that Nerva must have felt for the caprices of Nero, and of his devotion to his eminent patron (op. cit. i, p. 124).

page 61 note 6 Cassius Dio 68, 1, 3.

page 62 note 1 Pan. 6,3, ‘ruens imperium super imperatorem.’

page 62 note 2 With all deference to what Tacitus has told us of the prophetic insight of Agricola (Agr., 44), to what Pliny has proclaimed and posterity has believed of Trajan's virtues and of his predestination to the purple, it may none the less be pointed out that there was another factor—he commanded the army of Upper Germany and the quickest route into Italy: within the preceding thirty years two men, Vitellius and Antonius Saturninus, had been proclaimed Emperors at Mainz. In these critical days of the year 97 a civil war like that of the year 69 was a prospect far from remote (cf. Pliny Ep. ix, 13, 11).

page 62 note 3 Suet. Dom. 23.

page 62 note 4 Mattingly, and Sydenham, , The Roman Imperial Coinage ii, p. 221.

page 62 note 5 Cf. Cassius Dio 69, 6, 1, τοῦτο δὴ τὸ Δομιτιανοῦ κηρυχθῆναι ‘σιωπήσατε.’

page 62 note 6 As the Chronographer of the Year 354 tersely records, ‘cong. promisit sed non dedit… decollatus foro iacuit.’

page 62 note 7 The coin with the legend Fisci Iudaici calumnia sublata appears already in 96.

page 62 note 8 Pan. 46. Trajan abolished them again, as Pliny says in his own happy phrase, ‘utrumque recte; nam et restitui oportebat, quos sustulerat malus princeps, et tolli restitutos.’

page 62 note 9 Mommsen (Die röm. Tribus, 1843, p. 193) thought that this referred to a restoration by Nerva of the frumentationes which he had (conjecturally) abolished: this is not likely.

page 63 note 1 And, as such, would have been properly denounced by historians, had it been the work of one of the ‘bad Emperors.’

page 63 note 2 Cf. Gsell, op. cit., p. 131, ‘le gouvernement de Domitien eut des effets bienfaisants en Italic.’

page 63 note 3 See p. 56, n. 4. There may be something in Asbach's suggestion that it was Domitian who really began the system of alimenta (Römisches Kaisertum und Verfassung, Beilage i, ‘Domitian als Begründer der Alimentationen’).

page 63 note 4 Henderson, op.cit., p. 174.

page 63 note 5 The evidence is conveniently summarised in P–W., s.v. ‘Cocceius,’ cols. 144–6.

page 63 note 6 Cf. Gsell, op. cit., p. 155. Domitian's munificence is attested by the rebuilding of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (Dessau 8905), and by the repairing of the Stoa of Megalopolis (L' année épigraphique 1893, n. 128).

page 63 note 7 Or. Sibyll. xii, 126.

page 63 note 8 Suet. Dom. 8, ‘magistratibus quoque urbicis provinciarumque praesidibus coercendis tantum curae adhibuit ut neque modestiores unquam nec iustiores extiterint; e quibus plerosque post illum omnium criminum reos vidimus.’ Another passage, which panegyrists of Trajan's administration do not always quote, is S.H.A. Alexander, 64, 5.

page 63 note 9 We may instance the scandalous leniency with which Marius Priscus was treated (Juv. i, 49). Compare Kahrstedt's vigorous protest, Gnomon 1930, p. 415.

page 64 note 1 Tac. Hist. i, 8, ‘tarde a Nerone desciverant.’

page 64 note 2 Eutrop. viii, I, 1; Aur. Vict. Ep. 12, 2.

page 64 note 3 Philostratus, , Vit. Soph. i, 7.

page 64 note 4 Plin. Ep. ix, 13, 11. Merrill dates this incident as late as the middle of the year 97 (A.J.P. xxiii, 1902, p. 404).

page 64 note 5 Pan. 25, 2. Paribeni (op. cit., i, p. 141) states that Trajan reduced the donative: this is misleading.

page 64 note 6 Vegetius ii, 20.

page 64 note 7 In P.–W., s.v. ‘Cocceius,’ col. 139, we learn of the ‘Unmut der Praetorianer gegen die Mörder Domitians, dessen Tod ihre Hoffnungen auf ein ausgiebiges Donativum zu nichte gemacht hatte.’ Similarly Paribeni, op.cit. i, p. 128. Yet Domitian's assassination made them certain of a donative from his successor !

page 65 note 1 Cassius Dio 66, 26, 3.

page 65 note 2 S.H.A. Ant. Phil., 7. 9.

page 65 note 3 Suet. Dom., 3.

page 66 note 1 Suet. Dom. 10, ‘sed neque in clementiae neque in abstinentiae tenore permansit, et tamen aliquanto celerius ad saevitiam descivit quam ad cupiditatem.’

page 66 note 2 Suet. Dom. 10, ‘verum aliquanto post civilis belli victoriam saevior.’

page 66 note 3 It is explicit in Cassius Dio (67, 4, 5), ἃ δὴ τοῖς μὲν πολλοῖς ὲν ἡδονῇ, ὡς εἰκός, ἦν, τοῖς δέ δυνατοῖς ὀλέθρου αἴτια καθίστατο. οὐ γὰρ ἔχων ὁπόθεν ἀναλώσει, συχνοὺς ἐφόνευσε—to say nothing of more recent writers.

page 66 note 4 Suet. Dom. 21, ‘condicionem principum miserrimam aiebat, quibus de coniuratione comperta non crederetur nisi occisis.’

page 66 note 5 Suet. Dom. 10.

page 67 note 1 Ges. Schrift. vi, p. 544.

page 67 note 2 Likewise are to be regarded the stern penalties that provided the sanction of his religious and social legislation. The ruthless exaction of the Fiscus Iudaicus (Suet. Dom. 12) is not a mere by-product of financial straits, but is rather something very much like persecution.

page 67 note 3 Tac. Agr. 44, ‘postremum illud tempus….’

page 67 note 4 He says to Trajan, utqui exhaustum non sis innocentium bonis repleturus’ (Pan. 55, 5). And, to be sure, the Treasury did profit under Domitian— ‘locupletabant et fiscum et aerarium non tam Voconiae et Iuliae leges quam maiestatis singulare et unicum crimen eorum, qui crimine vacarent’ (Pan. 42, 1). But Domitian was as serious and sincere in his political theory as he was in his religious and social legislation.

page 67 note 5 Pan. 90, 5.

page 67 note 6 Pan. 50, 5.

page 67 note 7 Pan. 50, 2, ‘quae priores principes occupabant, non ut ipsi fruerentur sed ne quis alius.

page 67 note 8 Pan. 41, 2, ‘aliis quidem cum omnia raperent et rapta retinerent.’

page 67 note 9 Pan. 50, 3. This property was restored, sold, or given away by Nerva and by Trajan.

page 67 note 10 Dig. xlviii, 22, I, ‘caput ex rescripto Divi Traiani ad Didium Secundum: scio relegatorum bona avaritia superiorum temporum fisco vindicata; sed aliud clementiae meae convemt.’

page 67 note 11 Zon. xi, 19; Jord. Get. xiii, 76, ‘Domitiano imperatore regnante eiusque avaritiam metuentes …’ That is to say, these passages are not safe evidence for fiscal policy in the provinces.

page 68 note 1 Suet. Dom. 12.

page 68 note 2 Like the story of Caligula's intention of making his horse consul.

page 68 note 3 V Alaudae and XXI Rapax, at least in the writer's opinion.

page 68 note 4 Suet. Dom. 12.

page 68 note 5 See the Chronographer of the Year 354.

page 69 note 1 Martial viii, 15, 4, ‘et ditant Latias tertia dona tribus.’

page 69 note 2 So Gsell, op. cit., p. 95.

page 69 note 3 It is first mentioned in Martial, Bk. ix.

page 69 note 4 So at least Martial viii, 65, has usually been interpreted. But I doubt whether it can be certainly established from the epigram that this arch was erected after Domitian's return (in January, 93) from his Suebo-Sarmatian War. Just such an arch, surmounted by two quadrigae of elephants, appears already on a bronze of the year 85, and again in 90–91. But an arch more or less is neither here nor there—especially in Domitian's reign (cf. the jest on the word ἀρκεῖ, Suet. Dom. 13).

page 69 note 5 It is possible that they were completed or restored by Trajan: but another explanation could quite well be given of the Passage in Cassius Dio (69, 4, 1), τὸν δ᾿ Ἀπολλόδωρον τὸν ἀρχιτέκτονα τὸν τὴν ἀγορὰν καὶ τὸ ᾠδεῖον τό τε γυμνάσιον, τὰ τοῦ Τραιανοῦ ποιήματα, ἐν τῇ Ῥώμη κατασκευάσαντα as of that in Pausanias which clearly ascribes to Trajan the Odeum—θέατρον μέγα κυκλοτερὲς πανταχόθεν (v, 12, 6). This would not be the only sphere in which Trajan has usurped more than his due.

page 69 note 6 Dessau 1998.

page 70 note 1 Suet. Dom. 9, ‘cupiditatis quoque atque avaritiae vix suspicionem ullam aut privatus unquam aut princeps aliquandiu dedit, immo e diverso magna saepe non abstinentiae modo sed etiam liberalitatis experimenta.’

page 70 note 2 Provinces of the Roman Empire (1886) i, p. 108.

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