18 September AD 96 – Domitian is Stabbed

Domitian

Domitian

Disaffected aristocrats conspire to have the Roman emperor assassinated

The Roman emperor Domitian had been ruling the empire for over 15 years by September 96, the longest reign of a Roman emperor since Tiberius. His skills as an administrator had earned him a good reputation as although he concentrated power in his own hands he managed to maintain popularity through building works, bread and circuses.




It is not easy to please everyone though, and certainly there were some people who were not at all impressed with the way Domitian was ruling Rome. He was known to have a contempt for the Senate and for the aristocrats of Rome, this was not at all tolerable, and a group of them, as Domitian’s 15th anniversary of his rule was fast approaching decided they must take action.

The emperor was in a restless mood on the 18th September, as, according to the historian Suetonius, an astrologer had warned him that he would die around midday. Consequently, Domitian was never at his best before or during lunchtime. At some point on that day, the emperor asked a servant boy what time it was, who advised him that it was well after noon. At this news, Domitian visibly relaxed and he sat down to work on some state papers. At this moment, he was approached by a servant called Stephanus.

Stephanus had been wearing bandages for a number of days after an apparent accident. However, the bandages were a ruse and their real purpose was to conceal a dagger, which, as he approached the emperor was now in his hand behind his back. He handed another document to Domitian and as he began to read Stephanus stabbed him in the groin. At this point, more servant gathered around and more blows fell on the emperor. In the confusion, the man who drew first blood, Stephanus, was himself mortally wounded, but the objective had been achieved, Domitian, the last of the Flavian emperors lay dead, wrapped in robes dyed scarlet with blood.