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Domitian: An Innovative Emperor?

January 2023 (127.1)

Museum Review

Domitian: An Innovative Emperor?

The exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden God on Earth: Emperor Domitian (December 2021–May 2022) presented an overview of Domitian’s life in objects to demonstrate the significance and impact of his 15-year reign. The show focused on how he legitimized and shaped his rule, and it challenged the viewer to rethink the assessment of Domitian in ancient sources and his branding as one of the “bad” emperors. The Flavian dynasty, by forging a connection to Augustus, the most popular ruler before them, “anchored innovation” by linking new ideas to familiar ideas already established. The great achievement of the exhibition lay in the quality and scope of the 275 objects from more than 20 museums; the Flavian era emerged as equally artistically rich as that of the Julio-Claudians. Although the exhibition explicitly did not aim to recast Domitian as a “good” ruler but rather invited the viewer to consider all aspects of his image and reputation, at the same time it seemed to rehabilitate Domitian, presenting him as an important emperor in his own right and in a more positive light.

More articles like this: 

Domitian: An Innovative Emperor?
By Saskia Stevens
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 127, No. 1 (January 2023), pp. 141–147
DOI: 10.1086/723402
© 2023 Archaeological Institute of America