[Illustration: PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.]
Titus died the next year, and his son-in-law Tacitus, who wrote the history of those reigns, laid the blame on his brother Domitian, who was as cruel and savage a tyrant as Nero. He does seem to have been shocked at the wickedness of the Romans. Even the Vestal Virgins had grown shameless, and there was hardly a girl of the patrician families in Rome well brought up enough to become one. The blame was laid on forsaking the old religion, and what the Romans called “Judaising,” which meant Christianity, was persecuted again. Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperor, was thus accused and put to death; and probably it was this which led to St. John, the last of the Apostles, being brought to Rome and placed in a cauldron of boiling oil by the Lateran Gate; but a miracle was wrought in his behalf, and the oil did him no hurt, upon which he was banished to the Isle of Patmos.
The Colosseum was opened in Domitian’s time, and the shows of gladiators, fights with beasts, and even sea-fights, when the arena was flooded, exceeded all that had gone before. There were fights between women and women, dwarfs and cranes. There is an inscription at Rome which has made some believe that the architect of the Colosseum was one Gandentius, who afterwards perished there as a Christian.
Domitian affronted the Romans by wearing a gold crown with little figures of the gods on it. He did strange things. Once he called together all his council in the middle of the night on urgent business, and while they expected to hear of some foreign enemy on the borders, a monstrous turbot was brought in, and they were consulted whether it was to be cut in pieces or have a dish made on purpose for it. Another time he invited a number of guests, and they found themselves in a black marble hall, with funeral couches, each man’s name graven on a column like a tomb, a feast laid as at a funeral, and black boys to wait on them! This time it was only a joke; but Domitian did put so many people to death that he grew frightened lest vengeance should fall on him, and he had his halls lined with polished marble, that he might see as in a glass if any one approached him from behind. But this did not save him. His wife found that he meant to put her to death, and contrived that a party of servants should murder him, A.D. 96.
[Illustration: COIN OF NERO.]
THE AGE OF THE ANTONINES.
Domitian is called the last of the twelve Caesars, though all who came after him called themselves Caesar. He had no son, and a highly esteemed old senator named Cocceius Nerva became Emperor. He was an upright man, who tried to restore the old Roman spirit; and as he thought Christianity was only a superstition which spoiled the ancient temper, he enacted that all should die who would not offer incense to the gods, and among these died St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who had been bred up among the Apostles. He was taken to Rome, saw his friend St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, on the way, and wrote him one of a set of letters which remain to this day. He was then thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.