Suetonius Vespasianus 3: the status of Flavia Domitilla

Michael B Charles, Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The citizenship status of Flavia Domitilla, the wife of the emperor Vespasian, has frequently been the subject of scholarly comment, but has never been explained adequately. In his Vitae, Suetonius merely spares a few lines for this unlikely imperial wife, who came from a seemingly obscure and indeed disadvantaged background. Flavia Domitilla is generally regarded as having been a freedwoman or born in captivity and is, therefore, an implausible choice of wife for a member of the senatorial order. However, a closer examination of the case indicates that she may well have been freeborn, yet was also born into Junian Latin status. The article draws on legislation regarding Junian Latins in imperial Rome and discusses the legal as well as customary marital prerequisites for Roman senators.

inter haec Flaviam Domitillam duxit uxorem, Statili Capellae equitis R. Sabratensis ex Africa delicatam olim Latinaeque condicionis, sed mox ingenuam et civem Rom. reciperatorio iudicio pronuntiatam, patre asserente Flavio Liberale Ferenti genito nec quicquam amplius quam quaestorio scriba. ex hac liberos tulit Titum et Domitianum et Domitillam. uxori ac filiae superstes fuit atque utramque adhuc priuatus amisit.

Meanwhile he took to wife Flavia Domitilla, formerly the lover of Statilius Capella, a Roman equestrian of Sabrata in Africa, a woman originally only of Latin rank, but afterwards declared a freeborn citizen of Rome in a suit before arbiters, brought by her father Flavius Liberalis, a native of Ferentinum and merely a quaestor’s clerk. By her he had three children, Titus, Domitian, and Domitilla. He outlived his wife and daughter; in fact he lost them both before he became emperor.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-143
Number of pages19
JournalActa Classica: Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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