Thursday, 5 May 2005

Vespasian, the Sensible Emperor (A.D. 69-79)

Vespasian was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus on 17th November of A.D. 9. He was a practical leader who gave Rome some much needed stability. His father was a banker and was often away froim home on business, taking Vespasian's mother with him as well. As a result of this he was pretty much brought up by his grandmother, Tertulla.

As soon as he was legally of age and had received the toga virilis Vespasian embarked on his career, occupying various positions in public office. Around this time he married Flavia Domitilla, an ex mistress of an African knight. The marriage went well and they had three children together, out of which two, Titus and Domitian were to be future Emperors. However, before he had got married, Vespasian had started a passionate affair with a young freedwoman (ex-slave) by the name of Antonia Caenis. She had been secretary to Antonia, the mother of the Emperor Claudius and that must have been how they met. Now, there is no evidence that he and Caenis carried on even while he was married, but not long after his wife died Vespasian got back together with Caenis and they even moved in together. As Suetonius tells us, "[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." Caenis was a clever woman and as Cassius Dio says, "[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."

As Emperor, Vespasian increased taxation of the wealthy provinces, granted state salaries to teachers for the first time ever, reduced the backlog of pending court-cases and had many old cities restored.

He died peacefully on 23d June A.D. 79.

Information on women working as secretaries in Ancient Rome and the status of women and women slaves, can be found on:


Light said...

He was definitely a good emperor, but I'm not sure about "sensible". His insistence on making his natural-born sons his heirs meant that his dynasty didn't last (as opposed to the Julio-Claudians who adopted those who were felt to have merit). Titus turned out to be a decent, if short lived, emperor. But Domitian was a disaster.

As a side note, I think I'm right in saying that many of the accounts of Tiberius we have are from Romans historians who lived through Domitians reign. Couldn't it be that they ascribe a lot of the terrors of Domitian to Tiberius?

Sharon said...

This has intrigued me. You say that Antonia Caenis had been a secretary (presumably when she was still a slave?) to Claudius's mother. Was it common for women to be employed as secretaries, or was this something exceptional?

Alterior said...

Hi Sharon,

Caenis was a secretary to Claudius's mother Antonia while she was a slave. I can't say it was common for women to do this sort of thing, as women were not really employed in those days.
There is a good book about Caenis and Vespasian, (part fiction but based on the truth) by Lyndsey Davis, called The Course of Honour.
I will do some more research on this and get back to you. :-)))


Alterior said...


I have found out that it was not unusual for a woman slave to act as secretary to a man of influence (eg. Tiro was secretary to Cicero). However, these women were not employees but slaves. I have found no mention of women receiving wages for acting as secretaries.

You may want to have a look at the links I have just added to this post, regarding this topic.