Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus the Younger (A.D. 39-81)—known simply as Titus—was the elder son of the general who in A.D. 69 emerged victorious after a year-long civil war and became Emperor Vespasian. A decade later, following Vespasian’s death in A.D. 79, Titus assumed the throne… establishing the first family dynasty other than the Julio-Claudian.
Vespasian and Titus were men of generally good character who stand out to this day for their leadership and the stability they brought to the empire.
They also happen to play important supporting roles in Rubies of the Viper.
Researching the historical Titus for my novel was an enjoyable experience. While Vespasian and others fretted over his immature foolishness—including numerous sexual escapades—history also remembers him as a handsome young man with an engaging personality and a drive to achieve military greatness that fully matched his father’s. I worked hard to capture the essence of his character and feel confident that I succeeded.
The first major challenge of Titus’ life came in A.D. 70, when he was thirty. His father—a former general now in his first year as emperor—was dealing at once with the after effects of civil war and with an uprising in Judea that had preoccupied him as a professional soldier since A.D. 67. Titus had been at his father’s side in Judea throughout that time, commanding one of his legions. Once Vespasian returned to Rome to claim the throne that his loyal legions had won for him, Titus assumed full responsibility for suppressing the Jewish revolt.
And suppress it he did. Under Titus, the Roman legions not only defeated the rebellions Jews, they crushed them and destroyed their city (Jerusalem) and temple. Reprisals were brutal. Clearly, Titus and his emperor-father wanted to make an example that would deter other would-be rebels. Vespasian was so pleased with the results and proud of his son that he erected the Arch of Titus—which still stands in Rome—to commemorate his great victory.
During his father’s reign, Titus occupied several major positions in the imperial government… becoming virtually co-emperor. Vespasian groomed his son to be his successor, and when the emperor died in June 79, Titus was prepared.
Good thing, too, because the second great challenge of his life came quickly… just two months later in August 79. When the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the coastal towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the villages of Stabiae and Oplontis, Titus was just getting a handle on his new job. Still, his efforts on multiple fronts—ranging from appointing skilled leaders to direct the recovery to giving large amounts of his personal funds to aid the survivors—won him widespread praise. First-century historian Suetonius dubbed him “Mankind’s Darling.”
Titus is also remembered for his aggressive building program. His most lasting legacy was the completion of the Flavian Amphitheater (aka Colosseum), which his father had begun a decade earlier.
It’s interesting to contemplate how great Titus might have become had he enjoyed as long a time as emperor as his father did. But he died suddenly in 81, a mere two years into his reign… possibly by poison administered by his brother. His cryptic last words— “I have made but one mistake.” —were widely taken to mean that he should have executed Domitian when he had the chance.
Domitian subsequently ruled the empire for fifteen years until he too was murdered.
—text copyright © Martha Marks—