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Suetonius: the ‘Change’ in, and the ‘Generosity’ of Titus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

D. Wardle*
University of Cape Town


Suetonius and Cassius Dio give assessments of the emperor Titus which are, at first sight at least, contradictory: for Suetonius he was ‘natura benivolentissimus’, but for Dio . The most recent treatment of Titus’ handling of financial affairs takes issue with earlier commentators who considered Titus extravagant and incompetent and offers a positive conclusion: ‘Titus’ financial acumen must be recognised; the economy did not suffer during his reign … he was well aware of the need to observe the formalities and appear to be generous, and at the same time ensure that he had the funds to be so’. Jones reaches his verdict on the basis of a range of numismatic, epigraphic and literary evidence, without, however, any detailed analysis of Suetonius’ section on Titus’ personal kindness. An examination of this material will strengthen Jones’ conclusions and cast light on Suetonius’ compositional skills.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 2001

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1 Suet. Tit. 8.1; Cassius Dio 66.19.3a=Zonaras 11.18; see Murison, C.L, Rebellion ano Reconstruction, Galba to Domitian. An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Romar, History Books 64-7 (Atlanta 1998) 183Google Scholar.

2 Jones, B.W., The Emperor Titus (London 1984) 140–43Google Scholar. The views dismissed include those of Gsell, S., Essai sur le règne de Domitien (Paris 1894) 333–4Google Scholar, Weynand, RE 6.2725 and Syme, R., ‘The Imperial Finances under Domitian, Nerva and Trajan’, JRS 20 (1930) 6970Google Scholar = Roman Papers 1 (Oxford 1979) 16Google Scholar. Cf. Garzetti, A., From Tiberius to the Antonines (London 1974) 263Google Scholar: ‘the greatest reservation touches the financial administration, but it may have been the subject more of a pose of nonchalence than of real anc culpable negligence’.

3 The most perceptive of Suetonius’ modem critics, at least as far as his literary anc compositional talents are concerned, Steidle, Wolf (Sueton und die antike Biographit [Munich 1963] 106–7)Google Scholar has very little to say about Titus, and nothing about the subject of this note. The best small scale study is Luck, G., ‘Über Suetons Divus Titus’, RhM 107 (1964) 6375Google Scholar, and there is nothing of use in Marastoni, A., ‘La biografia Suetoniana di Tito e il discorso sulla regalità’, in Riposati, B. and Formichetti, G. (edd), Atti congresso internazionale di studi flaviani (Rieti 1983) 1.105–23Google Scholar.

4 Tit. 6.2.

5 Tit. 7.1.

6 7.2. On the idea of a virtual canon, see Dunkle, J.R., ‘The rhetorical tyrant in Roman historiography: Sallust, Livy and Tacitus’, CW 65 (1971/72) 1220Google Scholar.

7 Cf. Luck (n.3) 66.

8 The only divergence from a perfect correspondence occurs in the reversal of IIb and IIc. Even if the division of 3 into 3a and 3b may seem unjustified, Suetonius retains carefully the order of 1 to 4 in both sections.

9 Cizek, E., Structures et idéologies dans les Douze Césars de Suétone (Bucharest 1977) 133–4Google Scholar, suggests that Suetonius arranges the vices in an anticlimax, that the rumour of his being a second Nero is the slightest because it ‘réside seulement dans un avis’. However, this ignores the distancing formulae applied to all the other vices and the apparent progression from private vices to those which might affect the empire.

10 Dio 66.18.1-5.

11 Murison(n.l) 180.

12 Tacitus’ famous summary of Vespasian, ‘et ambigua de Vespasiano fama, solusque omnium ante se principum in melius mutatus est’ (Hist. 1.50.2) does not exclude an improvement for Titus and indeed exhibits the same transformation as Suetonius envisages for Titus.

13 Quint. Inst. 4.1.19; see Jones (n.2) 92-3. It is difficult, for example, to assess the rumour of Titus’ affection for boy eunuchs, which Dio corroborates (67.2.2-3) and underlines a strong contrast with Domitian—indeed he explains Domitian's empire-wide ban on castration by his hatred of Titus.

14 Cf. Jones (n.l) 115.

15 DA 66.4, of Augustus’ practice in relation to inheritances received in others’ wills; Tib. 55, of the motivation wholly absent from Sejanus; Cal. 3.1, of Germanicus’ ‘benivo-Ientiam singularem conciliandaeque hominum gratiae ac promerendi amoris mirum et efficax Studium’.

16 See Howard, C.N. and Jackson, A.A., Index Suetonianus (Harvard 1922), 134Google Scholar for collected references.

17 See Kloft, H., Liberalitas principis. Herkunft und Bedeutung (Cologne 1970)Google Scholar.

18 Although there are three modern commentaries on Titus with different emphases, none attempts to assess the accuracy of Suetonius’ categorisation rather than catalogue parallels (Mooney, G.W., C. Suetoni Tranquilli De Vita Caesarum Libri VII–VIII [London 1930]Google Scholar; McGuire, M.E., A Historical Commentary on Suetonius’ ‘Life of Titus’ [Diss. Johns Hopkins 1977]Google Scholar; and Martinet, H., C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Titus: Kommentar [Königstein 1981])Google Scholar.

19 See Daube, D., ‘Martial, Father of Three’, AJAH 1 (1976) 145–7Google Scholar. For the sort of language Titus may have employed, see Benner, M., The Emperor Says (Gothenburg 1975) 153–6Google Scholar, commenting on Plin. Ep. 10.58.7-9.

20 Cf. Dio 67.2.1.

21 McGuire (n.17) 118-9. On the problems faced by Vespasian and his revenue raising measures, see Levick, B., Vespasian (London 1999) 95106Google Scholar.

22 (n.l) 182.

23 Millar, F.G.B. (The Emperor in the Roman World [London 1977] 469Google Scholar, cf. 133-8) collects anecdotes scattered throughout literature of the imperial period of imperial generosity to individual petitioners. It seems, though, that the ancients were not overly concerned with the emperor's treatment of petitioners in isolation, cf. Wallace-Hadrill, A.F., ‘Civilis princeps: between citizen and king’, JRS 72 (1982) 35Google Scholar.

24 Cf. Suet. Vesp. 16.1.

25 Grat. Act. 16: ‘celebre fuit quia Vespasiani successor dixerat, cuius nimia parsimonia et austeritas vix ferenda miram fecit filii lenitatem’. See Levick (n.21) 103 for the view that Vespasian was not as parsimonious as Tiberius had been.

26 1.1.

27 Cf. McGuire (n.17) 121: ‘although Titus’ generosity secured public good-will and thus proved to be a sound investment, such a policy could not have been maintained for the long term since obviously the fiscus could not indefinitely support such expenditures’. It is impossible to take Suetonius’ quasi + subjunctive as an author's distancing, because in ‘Silver Latin’ the distinction between indicative and subjunctive in such clauses is not observed (cf. Martinet [n.l7] 49).

28 AE 1962 no. 288. Agennius Urbicus, in Thulin, C. (ed.) Corpus agrimensorum Romanorum (Leipzig 1913) p. 41Google Scholar, Hyginus De generibus controversiarum, ibid. p. 97.

29 Vita Constantini 4.4 (ed. Heikel, J. A., Eusebius I. Die griechischen Schrifsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte [Berlin 1902])Google Scholar.

30 8.1. Cf. Eutropius 7.21.3, Epit. 10.9, Ausonius Grat. Act. 16.72, Eusebius Chron. A. 79 (Helm). Themistius (Oral. 18.274: ; cf. 13.174 and 15.193 where the variant is used) and Zonaras (11.18: ) transmit a variant saying. Also Marcellinus Vita Aristotelis p. 430 = Arist. Fr. 646 R3.

31 See Luschnat, O., ‘Diem perdidf’, Philologus 109 (1965) 297–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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