Domitian was emperor of the Roman Empire
during the years 81 to 96 AD.
He was the younger brother of Titus and son of
Vespasian, his two predecessors on the throne,
and the last member of the Flavian dynasty.
During his 15-year reign, his government
exhibited totalitarian characteristics which put
him at sharp odds with the senate, whose powers
he drastically curtailed.
Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluing
the Roman coinage, expanded the border
defenses of the empire and initiated a massive
building program to restore the damaged city of
Significant wars were fought in Britain and in
Religious, military and cultural propaganda
fostered a cult of personality, and by nominating
himself perpetual censor, he sought to control
public and private morals.
Contemporary historians, including
the biographer Suetonius, being mostly scions of
the senatorial order, have traditionally
regarded Domitian as tyrannical and unjust, often
comparing Domitian to the notoriously
corrupt Emperor Nero. More recently his
reputation has been undergone a positive
reassessment, stressing his efficiency and
beneficial economic policies.
As a consequence, Domitian was rather popular
with the people and the army but was considered
a tyrant by members of the Roman Senate and he
ended being thus assassinated by court officials.
From the time of Augustus onwards, the imperial
family and its circle monopolised official public
statuary. Imperial portraits were displayed in
temples of the imperial cult and along with
coinage, sculpture was the preferred means of
disseminating the emperor’s image. A number of
scholars believes that official portraits were
initially created in the capital city of Rome and
then disseminated across the empire to serve as
prototypes for local workshops. Despite this
attempt at uniformity, local stylistic traits could
not be suppressed and there was great aesthetic
and technical regional variety across the whole of
The sculpture depicts a mature, middle-aged
ruler with thick-set features and small snail-shell
framing his forehead.
The gaze is directed towards the viewer’s left.
The impression is one of an experienced
statesman with great authority.
This imperial portrait head originates from one
of the North African provinces of the Roman