Joe Clark is studying on the MRes Humanities course at Newman University. He is currently researching the reasons why Emperor Domitian was subject to damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory) by the Senate following his reign. The Senate attempted to wipe a ‘bad’ emperor’s reign from history, and he is interested in the intentions behind the Senate’s move as well as the effectiveness of damnatio memoriae. You can find him on twitter @Joe96Clark.
I visited Rome for the first time in 2015 on a Newman University field trip. It was the first opportunity I had as an undergraduate to travel abroad with my cohort, and I made sure I seized every opportunity to visit as many historical sites as I possibly could. We visited sites such as the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (although just our luck it was closed for that summer), the Roman Capitol Building and the St Peter’s Basilica. Though seeing Rome from what felt like the top of the world at the top of St Peter’s Basilica was incredible, the highlight of the trip was well and truly the Flavian Amphitheatre.
I stood inside the Colosseum in awe, appreciating the history that it held with the huge number of gladiatorial shows, and it was at this point that I knew I wanted to study its history further. I explored for two hours, reading descriptions on models of how the Colosseum once stood upon its completion and I had so many questions that needed answering. I spent a great deal of time admiring the amphitheatre from all different angles on both the ground and the upper floor. I was completely encapsulated by the scale of the building work and appreciated how well preserve the amphitheatre was – considering it is nearly 1,950 years old. Henceforth, it became one of the focusses in my undergraduate dissertation just over a year later when preparing for my final year. I knew the Colosseum had to play a role. Eventually, my dissertation’s focus was on the Emperor Domitian. He was the second son of Emperor Vespasian (who commissioned the Colosseum’s construction) and the third of the Flavian Dynasty to become Emperor.
The consensus amongst both ancient and modern historians alike is that Domitian had a bad reputation. That he ran a largely tyrannical regime and he forced the Senate to take a position against his rule. However, thanks to my research, I put forward the case in my undergraduate dissertation that Emperor Domitian was in fact, not a ‘bad’ emperor, and instead his reign was a continuation of his Flavian predecessors’ successful reigns before him. Both Emperor Vespasian and Emperor Titus had successful and popular reigns, and I found that Emperor Domitian had an equally successful reign in most aspects of his reign.
I decided to continue with postgraduate study because I felt that more had to be done to prove that Domitian was in fact a successful emperor. This has led me to research further the concept of a ‘bad’ emperor across Roman history. My MRes dissertation will be looking at the impact damnatio memoriae had on various emperors including Domitian. I will be arguing that Domitian did not deserve the treatment he posthumously received when comparing his reign to other emperors who also succumbed to damnatio memoriae such as Commodus, Elagabalus and Caracalla. I chose these emperors as they ruled across each of the first three centuries and this will emphasise changes in patterns for how Roman emperors suffered damnatio memoriae, as sanctioned by the Roman Senate.
The link between studying the Colosseum through primary and secondary literature and visiting the Colosseum just a couple of years ago is a strong reason behind why I chose to study ancient history for my undergraduate dissertation. I originally struggled to choose a specific period to study when choosing my undergraduate dissertation topic, and often felt uncomfortable talking to my peers about it. However, the university trip to Rome and visiting the Colosseum inspired me and helped me to decide the direction I want to take in my studies. Furthermore, it is the reason why I am studying on the MRes course at Newman University for the next year.