Domitius was born Gaius Domitius Castor in the year 16, the younger son of Sestus Domitius Castor, the emperor's nephew. When Gaius was nine years old, his father was named the emperor's heir, eventually becoming the Emperor Castor five years later. The family's name was changed and Gaius became Gaius Domitius Caesar, commonly referred to as Domitius.
Domitius gained military experience very quickly, and by age 22 was serving as the legate of Noricum. Emperor Castor was a firm believer in the "Testament of Augustus" and maintained the empire at its "natural borders" in the north: the Rhine and the Danube. Domitius, however, disagreed with his father, and regularly led his troops across the Danube to fight the Germans, a practice for which he received numerous reprimands.
In the year 40, Domitius was called back to Rome, stripped of his command, and (at Castor's request) selected by the Senate to serve as aedile of the ports in Ostia, where he supervised grain shipments. Three months later, however, his elder brother Tiberius disappeared while pursuing bandits in the deserts of Mauretania Tingitana. With Domitius now the most likely heir to the throne, his supporters in the Senate convinced the emperor to give him another command. Castor gave him the Elegacian Legion in Moesia, possibly the most dangerous posting in the empire due to the increasingly daring raids from the fierce and organized Dacian kingdom to the north. Domitius was under firm orders not to cross the Danube.
Upon arriving in Moesia, Domitius's first order was to march the troops north into Dacia. Before winter ended, the Dacian king had surrendered to the empire. Domitius didn't stop. Over the next few years he kept going north, conquering tribe after tribe of Germans and Sarmatians. As a general, Domitius became famous for his brilliant military strategy and his attention to detail; a tenacious "micromanager", he was obsessed with every detail of the battle. His freocity in battle was unmatched, and among his men Domitius was said to be a son of Mars.
Back in Rome, the emperor was furious with his sons actions, but was prevented from going after him by declining health. His messages were sent back unopened, though always accompanied by trains of booty and slaves, much of it earmarked for key senators who supported Domitius's aggressive stance. Twice the emperor sent legions to hunt down his son and bring him back, by force if necessary. The first legion got lost in the wilds of Germania; they lost a third of their men during the winter and never found him. The second ended up joining Domitius.
In the year 46 Domitius reached the Baltic Sea and turned west into the heart of Germania. His reputation preceded him, and many tribes surrendered to the empire as soon as he appeared in their lands. Those that didn't were crushed. In Rome, Domitius's exploits were famous, while Castor became less and less popular. Now bedridden and unable to appear in public, he relied increasingly on his secret police and the invocation of the treason laws to enforce his orders. In 47 the emperor sent a recall order to which Domitius finally responded, though he took his time coming back, marching through Gaul.
Domitius marched into Rome in 48 at the head of his legion and a tremendous triumphal parade. Summoned before the emperor, he was formally named Castor's heir, a foregone conclusion in the minds of many. Two weeks later Castor died and Domitius was proclaimed emperor by the Senate. Domitius didn't stay for the funeral, but immediately marched north to quench a rebellion in Massilia.
Domitius's first year of imperium was marred by tragedy when a measles epidemic killed his son, Tiberius Domitius, and his eldest daughter, Domitia Minor. His youngest daughter, six-year-old Domitria, survived. When she was twelve he married her to his cousin Germanicus, whom he adopted and named heir.
After conslidating his rule, Domitius embarked on a major campaign to expand the legions. Where Augustus had reduced the legions from 60 to under 30, Domitius raised them back up to their pre-imperial levels. He spent the majority of his reign on the frontiers, conquering new lands and peoples for the empire. In addition to numerous smaller actions, he oversaw two major campaigns, one in Britannia and Hibernia (55-57) and one in Germania, Sarmatia, and Armenia (58-59). Many of the newly acquired provinces were only nominally pacified, and revolts had to be regularly suppressed. Domitius himself could not be everywhere, and his generals pushed the others frontiers outward on his behalf, primarily in the East, where the forced absorption of the various buffer client kingdoms led to a state of almost continuous warfare with the powerful Parthian Empire, whose elite mounted archers were a match for the Roman legions.
While his conquests made Domitius immensely popular with the legions and the citizens of Rome, his need to raise revenues to pay for these conquests made him increasingly unpopular in the provinces, where most of the tax increases were made. Minor uprisings grew in frequency until the year 60, when widespread revolts sprouted up in Greece and Asia Minor. Domitius sent in the legions, who supressed the revolts with ruthless efficiency. The cities of Tarsus and Argos were razed, while in Pergamum, Nicomedia, and Halicarnassus every tenth male was slain. Domitius himself led the legions which occupied the strategic Thracian Chersonese peninsula, where he ejected the Greek citizens of Sestos and Kallipolis and replaced them with transplanted Roman colonists. The fiercest fighting occured in prosperous Pamphylia, where the local aristocrats organized the populace into effective military units. The Pamphylian armies were eventually layed low by an epidemic of war fever, which also slew half the civilian population and the XXth legion.
About the same time, rioting against tax officials broke out in Syracuse, other cities in Sicilia, and across the straits in Neapolis. With the legions occupied by the revolts in the east and simply holding down all of the newly conquered provinces, Domitius was forced to negotiate with the local officials and lower taxes in Sicilia. The next year, when the legions in Greece were available, he ordered four of them to Sicilia, where they were quartered, at the local's expense, in the townhouses and villas of the island's upper classes. Taxes in Sicilia were raised back to their previous levels and, for a one year period, doubled beyond that. There was no resistance.
Another round of tax rebellions broke out last year in distant Lusitania, which the emperor rushed to suppress. Taking advantage of the emperor's absence, the Sicilians, led by the city of Syracuse, again revolted, successfully defeating the undermanned IXth Legion which had been left in garrison. Leaving half his troops to mop up in Lusitania, Domitius rushed back to Sicilia, picking up extra legions in Tarraconensis on the way. They landed in September of 62 and proceeded to lay waste to the island, including a grueling six-month siege of Syracuse which only ended a few weeks ago. In the process, much of Sicilia was ravaged and the once wealthy cities of Syracuse, Messina, and Palermo were completely destroyed.
The emperor returned from Sicilia four days ago, only to learn upon his arrival that his adopted son Germanicus had died fighting rebellious tribesmen in Germania. Concerned about the possibility of a succession crisis, key members of the Senate have asked Domitius to name a new heir as soon as possible. It is suspected that he plans to do so this evening.
As emperor, Domitius has clients throughout the empire. However, his true power lies in the legions, which are almost fanatically loyal to him. In contrast, the provinces, hit by ever-increasing taxes, have come to abhor him, with the exception of Germania, where many of the residents, both native tribesmen and retired legionnaires, venerate him as the living god of war. (Of course that doesn't mean the Germans don't regularly revolt. Germania's a big place, and most of the barbarians are used to direct personal leadership. Even those who idolize Domitius don't necessarily see a corollary between their admiration for him and any need to respect Roman officials or Roman law.) The citizens in Rome and Italy lie somewhere between these extremes: their dislike of the new taxes (which have been raised only mildly in comparison to those of the provincials) is balanced by the glory which Domitius has brought to the empire. The people of Rome itself are treated to a regular parade of triumphs and ovations as legions return from new conquests.
Domestically, Domitius is known to be on bad terms with his wife, Merrinia. Four years ago he had her publicly whipped for unspecified "acts of licentiousness".
Page updated 7/12/99, Scott Martin