Despite their control of the army and the subservience of the Senate, the average
Emperor quailed before the hoots and ill will of the Roman mob. Thus Domitian (81-96
A.D.), a bad and tyrannical Caesar, tried to win popularity by providing the idle masses
of the capital with their favorite games and arena massacres.
Suetonius (c. 69-after 122 CE): Life of Domitian
(b. 51 - r. 81 - d. 96 CE)
Chap. IV: How Domitian Attempted to Amuse the Roman Populace.
He frequently entertained the people with the most magnificent and costly shows, not
only in the amphitheater, but in the circus; where, besides the usual chariot races, with
two or four horses abreast, he exhibited the imitation of a battle betwixt cavalry and
infantry; and in the amphitheater a sea fight. The people too were entertained with
wild-beast hunts, and gladiator fights even in the night-time, by torchlight. He
constantly attended the games given by the quaestors, which had been disused for some
time, but were revived by him; and upon these occasions, he always gave the people the
liberty of demanding two pair of gladiators out of his own private school, who appeared
last in court uniforms.
He presented the people with naval fights, performed by fleets almost as numerous as
those usually employed in real engagements; making a vast lake near the Tiber, and
building seats around it. And he witnessed these fights himself during a very heavy rain.
Thrice he bestowed upon the people a bounty of 300 sesterces per man, and at a public
show of gladiators a very plentiful feast. At the "Festival of the Seven Hills"
he distributed large hampers of provisions to the Senatorial and Equestrian orders, and
small baskets to the commonalty, and encouraged them to eat by setting the example. The
day after he scattered among the people a variety of cakes and other delicacies to be
scrambled after; and on the greater part of them falling amidst the seats of the lower
classes, he ordered 500 tickets to be thrown into each range of benches belonging to the
Senatorial and Equestrian orders.
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
West, pp. ??
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. No representation is made about texts which are linked
off-site, although in most cases these are also public domain. If you do reduplicate the
document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.