Reading through Revelation – Chapter 7:1-8, The 144,000 bond-servants of our God


Meme Generator - Revelation 7.4


Thoughts

These commentaries offer a non-literal or figurative interpretation of the identity of the 144,000. I had planned as before to include commentary offering the literal approach – Bible.org – but decided to limit this post to the figurative view. 


Quote addressing figurative and literal views

“Each passage of Scripture must be interpreted according to its literary genre. We cannot arbitrarily interpret figurative passages literally. Genre analysis must be practiced.”

Dr. Sam Waldron, “Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things“, Lecture 9: The Eschatological Kingdom (Continued), Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary free to audit online course.


Revelation 7:1-8

NASB

1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were  sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.


Related passages

Ezekiel 9:3-6

Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the [c]temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. [d]Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”  

Revelation 14:1-3

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they *[a]sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.  

This passage from Ezekiel is both frightening and wonderful. The protective mark seems to be visible only to angels and the Lord. What might this mean in reference to the mark of the Beast? Invisible to humans perhaps?


Commentaries

Early Commentators cited by E. B. Elliott

“Edward Bishop Elliott (24 July 1793, Paddington – 30 June 1875) was an English clergyman and premillennarian writer. . . Unknown to many Baptists today, Elliott, a most eminent Baptist preacher, held to the historicist view of eschatology that the book of Revelation covers history from the time of the apostle John up to the second advent of Christ.”  ~ Wikipedia

Horae Apocalypticae, E. B. Elliott. 4 Volumes: Vol. I; Vol. 2; Vol. 3; Vol. 4 From Google Books

“5. Jerome. [28]

The Apocalyptic 144,000 seen by St. John with Christ on Mount Zion, or sealed ones out of each and all of the tribes of the Apocalyptic Israel, are sometimes expounded by Jerome of the Christian apostles, martyrs, and saints generally, sometimes of Christian virgins or celibates more especially; [32] never of an election distinctively out of the Jews, or natural Israel. . .”

“6. Augustine.

“2. That the 144,000 of the sealing vision (as also of Apoc. xiv.) depicted distinctively (not the earthly professing visible Church, but) the Church of the saints, or elect,[61] the constituency of what he calls the City of God, ultimately united into the heavenly Jerusalem: [62] while the appended palm-bearing vision figured the blessed and heavenly issue assured to them of their earthly trials and pilgrimage. [63]“. . .

“7. To which expositor, Tichonius, last of this æra, now proceed we.

“So arrived at the sealing and palm-bearing visions he expounds the one of the Church’s ingathering of its mystical number, the 144,000; [86] the other of Church privileges enjoyed by them under the present dispensation: [87] for he regarded the 144,000, and palm-bearing company, as one and the same body, [88] constituted of the elect out of both Jews and Gentiles.”

It’s wonderful to have a view back in time to what earlier Christians believed and taught. I’m fairly certain that they believed they were being Biblical and faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Probably, all true Christians believe this. 


A Post-Reformation Commentator

A Key to the Apocalypse, Discovered and Demonstrated from the Internal and Inserted Characters of the Visions.
Joseph Mede (1586-1638)
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids

Mede’s Clavis Apocalyptica[5] (1627 in Latin, English translation 1643,[6] Key of the Revelation Searched and Demonstrated[7]) was a widely influential work on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It projected the end of the world by 1716: possibly in 1654.[8] The book also posited that the Jews would be miraculously converted to Christianity before the second coming.[9]  ~ Wikipedia

“For as in the beginning, we saw the theatre of the visions, or the Apocalyptical Assembly, described according to the image and state of the ancient synagogue, and great part of this book of types has a reference to the same; so that, as false Christians in the epistles to the churches may on that account be spoken of as false Jews, so likewise here, the universal church of the Gentiles, secured by the seal of God, is figured under the type of Israel, the twelve apostles of the former aptly corresponding with the same number of the patriarchs in the latter.”

Joseph Mede, a student of God’s Word, stumbled by setting dates for the Lord’s Return, a fault among some teachers of prophecy in our day as well.


Later Commentators

Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 1965, p. 714

“144,000 is the square of 12, multiplied a thousandfold, and is thought to be understood, not numerically, but symbolically, representing the Sum Total of the Elect of Israel, the Firstfruits of the Gospel, or the Sum Total of Christians. . .

“‘The Sealing of God’s Servants’ (7:3), seems to refer to the process of Evangelization going on, in the Roman Empire, before it fell, or, in the Whole World, throughout the Whole Course of History, before the Final Day of the Lamb’s Wrath.”

Meme Generator - William Hendriksen

More than Conquerors, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 110-111

John hears the number of the sealed. He does not see their exact number for these sealed ones are still on earth. Only God knows how many truly sealed people there are on earth. The number is 144,000. This, of course, is symbolical. First, the number three, indicating the Trinity, is multiplied by four, indicating the entire creation, for the sealed ones shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south. Three times four makes twelve. This number there indicates: the Trinity (3) operating in the universe (4). When the Father through the Son in the Spirit performs His saving work on earth—the divine (3) operating in the universe (4)—we see in the old dispensation the twelve (3 x 4) patriarchs and in the new the twelve apostles. In order to arrive at the conceptions of the Church of the old and of the new dispensation we shall have to multiply this twelve by twelve. This gives us 144.

“Entirely in harmony with this representation we read in Revelation that the holy city Jerusalem has twelve gates and twelve foundations. On these twelve gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:9-14). We also read that the wall is 144 cubits in height (2:17).

It is very clear, therefore, that the seal multitude of Revelation 7 symbolizes the entire Church militant of the old and new dispensations. In order to emphasize the fact that not a small portion of the Church is meant but the entire Church militant, this number 144 is multiplied by one thousand. One thousand is 10 x 10 x 10, which indicates a perfect cube, reduplicated completeness. (See Rev. 21:16). The 144,000 sealed individuals out of the twelve tribes of literal Israel symbolize spiritual Israel, the church of God [of both dispensations] on earth. . . 

“. . . in chapter 14 we again see this same multitude, the 144,000. Here we are plainly told that they are those who have been purchased out of the earth. They represent those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and entire Church militant, therefore, as is also clearly taught in Revelation 22:4. Christ, having purchased them by His own precious blood, owns them, and the Faith (through Christ, in the Spirit) protects them. Let the winds blow; they will not harm God’s people. Let the judgments come; they will not hurt His elect!”

Revelation 22:4 – “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

Biblical numbers are significant. In Revelation, numbers are especially significant. Everything in God’s Word is significant – everything!

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Meme Generator Rev. 7.4

Temple Institute

The Final Prophecy of Jesus, Oral Edmond Collins, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007, pp. 165-166

The number of those who were sealed: 144,000, is as nearly all commentators recognize, a symbolic number, the square of the 12, times 1000. It is also the number by which the tribes of Israel were conventionally counted—that is, by ‘thousands’. . . The number of the sons of Jacob, the number 12, became in Israel a sacred number, reiterated by our Lord in the naming of twelve apostles. In the New Jerusalem, the names of the patriarchs were written on the twelve gates (21:12), and the names of the apostles were written on the twelve foundations (21:14). . . All the tribes of Israel in the list of verses 5-8 do not include Dan (as does Ezekiel 48) and Joseph is named in place of Ephraim. The omission of Dan whereas it is included in the prophecy of Ezekiel argues for the symbolic nature of this list in Revelation.”

Oral Collins isn’t the first to notice that the tribe of Dan is missing from the listing of “all the tribes of Israel” (verse 4). Its absence must have meaning we should explore.

May God be praised! 


 

Reading through Revelation – Chapter 6, The Lamb opens the sixth seal


 


Revelation 6:12-17

NASB

The Sixth Seal – Terror

12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”


Thoughts

Below, I’ve given some history related to the sixth seal when it’s interpreted historically, expositions by historicists and futurists, and a passage from Eusebius describing what it was like when centuries of persecution came to an end in the Roman Empire. 


History related to the Sixth Seal when interpreted historically

Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965, pp. 713-714

The Day of Wrath at Hand

“Revolution. Upheaval. Convulsion. Consternation. Sun Darkened. Stars Falling. Heavens Rolled Up. Mountains and Island Removed. Kings and Peoples Frightened. . . Jesus had used similar language, in speaking of the Time of His Coming Again (Mathew 24:29,30; Luke 21:26). . . So had Isaiah, in predicting the Fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13:10). And Ezekiel, in predicting the Fall of Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7). . . Whatever else this Seal may refer to, it seems like a prediction of 4th century Upheavals in the Roman Empire.

“The Empire Ceased its Persecution of the Church. Emperor Constantine became a Christian (A.D. 312). Issued an Edict of Toleration (A.D. 313). Made Christianity the religion of his court. In A.D. 325 he issued a general exhortation to all to embrace Christianity. Moved his Capital to Constantinople. Theodosius (A.D. 378-395) made Christianity the State Religion of the Empire, and Church Membership Compulsory. A.D. 395 the Empire was Divided: the West with Rome its Capital, the East with Constantinople its Capital. This was the beginning of the break-up of the Mighty World Empire that had for 300 years tried so hard to destroy Christianity.”

Matthew 24:29-30

29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from [a]the sky, and the powers of [b]the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.

Isaiah 13:10

10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.

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Western Roman Empire Timeline [Decline]

Ancient History Encyclopedia

285 CE – The Roman empire is split into the Western and Eastern Roman empires.

367 CE – Picts, Scots, Saxons, and Franks attack the Roman Empire. 
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378 CE – Eastern Roman Emperor Valens defeated at the Battle of Adrianople. Historians mark this as the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.
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391 CE – Emperor Theodosius closes pagan temples.
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402 CE – Ravenna becomes the capital of the Western Roman empire.
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410 CE – Alaric of the Visigoths sacks Rome.
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451 CE – Aetius defeats Attila of the Huns at the Catalaunian Fields, together with Rome’s allies.
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455 CE – Vandals sack Rome.
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476 CE – Emperor Romulus Augustus is deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer. This is the ‘official’ end of the Roman Empire.
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476 CE – Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor, deposed by Odoacer and sent into forced retirement in Campania.
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480 CE – Julius Nepos, the last Western Roman emperor, dies. This is the ‘unofficial’ end of the Western Roman Empire. . .

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Total Solar Eclipse, 9 March 2016, from Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, Ezagren ~ Lunar eclipse September 27 2015 greatest Alfredo Garcia Jr

Commentaries

Historicist

Adam Clarke Commentary

Verse 12 

“A great earthquake – A most stupendous change in the civil and religious constitution of the world. If it refer to Constantine the Great, the change that was made by his conversion to Christianity might be very properly represented under the emblem of an earthquake, and the other symbols mentioned in this and the following verses.

“The sun – the ancient pagan government of the Roman empire, was totally darkened; and, like a black hair sackcloth, was degraded and humbled to the dust.

“The moon – the ecclesiastical state of the same empire, became as blood – was totally ruined, their sacred rites abrogated, their priests and religious institutions desecrated, their altars cast down, their temples destroyed, or turned into places for Christian worship.

Verse 17

“. . . Dr. Dodd observes that the fall of Babylon, Idumea, Judah, Egypt, and Jerusalem, has been described by the prophets in language equally pompous, figurative, and strong. ‘Now,’ says he, ‘it is certain that the fall of any of these cities or kingdoms was not of greater concern or consequence to the world, nor more deserving to be described in pompous figures, than the fall of the pagan Roman empire, when the great lights of the heathen world, the sun, moon, and stars, the powers civil and ecclesiastical, were all eclipsed and obscured, the heathen emperors and Caesars were slain, the heathen priests and augurs were extirpated, the heathen officers and magistrates were removed, the temples were demolished, and their revenues were devoted to better uses. . . Maximin, Galerius, Maxentius, Licinius, etc., with all their adherents and followers, were so routed and dispersed that they hid themselves in dens, etc.; expressions used to denote the utmost terror and confusion. This is, therefore, a triumph of Christ over his heathen enemies, and a triumph after a severe persecution; so that the time and all the circumstances, as well as the series and order of the prophecy, agree perfectly with this interpretation.'” 

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The Final Prophecy of Jesus: An Introduction, Analysis, and Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Oral Edmond Collins, ©2007, pp. 154-157 

Excursus on Celestial and Terrestrial Signs

The language obviously intends to indicate a great revolution—a decisive and terrifying act of Divine judgment. Nevertheless, this text should derive its specific meaning from the use of such apocalyptic language in the Bible. What this implies may best be seen by examining the Old Testament occurrences of the symbols which describe this seal. . . As Joseph Mede in his ground breaking analysis of Apocalyptic structure indicated in 1632 (and many after him), such symbolism is a common way of referring to ‘the ruin of states and. . . their entire subversion’. . .”

Fulfillment

“. . . when we look for the fulfillment of this seal, we should look for a nation or government central to the unfolding revelation of this book which falls in consequence of a Divine judgment. Moreover, the chronology of the seal prophecies indicates that this judgment should have occurred soon after the persecutions of Diocletian predicted by the fifth seal. . . Just such an event did in fact occur, an event historians are unanimous in identifying as a major turning point in history—the fall about A.D. 325 of the pagan Roman Empire. Contemporary historians recorded with great wonder this unanticipated and revolutionary event.”


Compelling, whatever your view!

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 10, Chapter 1, (4) through (7)

“(4) Thus, as the Scriptures command upon us to sing a new song, we shall accordingly show that after those dreadful and gloomy spectacles and events, we have been privileged to see such things, and to celebrate such things as many of the pious and martyrs of God before us ardently craved to see and did not see them and to hear and did not hear them. (5) But they, indeed, hastening on their course, obtained ‘what was far better,’ being transferred to the heavens themselves and to celestial pleasures. Freely acknolwedging this state of things in our day as better than what we could expect, we have been astonished at the magnifitude of the grace manifested by the Author of our mercies and justly do we admire and adore him with all the powers of our mind. We bear witness to the truth of those declarations recorded, where it is said, (6) ‘Come hither and behold the works of God, the wonders that he hath done upon the earth; he removeth wars until the ends of the earth, he breaketh the bow and snappeth the spear asunder, and burneth the shields in fire’ (Ps. 46:8-9). Rejoicing in these things fulfilled in our day, we shall pursue the tenor our history. (7) All the race of the enemies of God were destroyed in the manner we have stated and were thus suddenly swept away from the sight of men, as the divine word again declares: ‘I saw the wicked lifted up and exalted like the cedars of Lebanon, and I passed by, and lo, he was not; and I sought, and his place was not found’ (Ps. 37:35).”


Commentaries

Futurist

Got Questions: What are the seven seals of Revelation? 

“. . . John writes, ‘I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals’ (Revelation 5:1). This scroll contains the judgments of God; the fact that it is written on both sides indicates the extensive nature of the judgment pending. . .”

Arno Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible

Arno Gaebelein was a dispensationalist and an evangelist to the Jewish people.

“Are the things mentioned under this seal to be taken in a literal sense or symbolically? Most of it is symbolical, yet at the same time great physical phenomena are also involved. The earthquake possibly means a literal earthquake. Earthquakes in diverse places’ our Lord predicted. And they increase as the age draws to its close. But the language is symbolical. Everything is being shaken in this poor world. The civil and governmental powers on earth all go to pieces; every class from kings to slaves is affected by it and terrorized. The political and ecclesiastical world is going to pieces. And when these shaking times have come, when thrones fall and anarchy reigns, when the great collapse of civilization and human society has come with signs on earth and in heaven, the earth-dwellers will see in anticipation the approaching day of wrath. Terror fills every breast and those who sneered at prayer, as the Christ-rejectors do now, will gather for a prayer-meeting to appeal to the rocks to cover them. Read the following Old Testament passages in connection with this seal: Isaiah 24:1-23Isaiah 34:2-4Joel 2:30-31; Zephaniah 1:1-18; Haggai 2:6-7.”

Isaiah 34:2-4

And all the host of heaven will wear away,
And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;
All their hosts will also wither away
As a leaf withers from the vine,
Or as one withers from the fig tree.

The Sixth Seal: The Day of Divine Wrath (6:12-17)

John F. Walvoord

“There are a number of reasons for preferring to take this passage in its literal meaning. While this is not the final breakup of the world as described later in Revelation, when a further period of terrible judgments will be poured on the world, it does seem to indicate that beginning with the sixth seal God is undertaking a direct intervention into human affairs. The judgments of war, famine, and death, and the martyrdom of the saints have largely originated in human decision and in the evil heart of man. The judgment described here, however, originates in God as a divine punishment inflicted upon a blasphemous world.

“In view of the catastrophic and climactic character of the period, there is no good reason why there should not be precisely the elements mentioned here, namely, disturbances in the heavens and earthquakes on the earth. This is borne out by the effect upon the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the chief captains, the mighty men, bondmen, and freemen mentioned in verse 15, who hide themselves in dens and in the rocks of the mountains. The events are of such character that all are impressed with the fact that the day of the wrath of the Lord has come and their judgment is now about to take place. . .

“The day of wrath is at the beginning of the day of the Lord, that extended period when God is going to deal directly in governing the entire world. It is significant that early in the book of Revelation the day of wrath is declared as having already come. It is another evidence that the great tribulation is already under way.

“The day of wrath is in contrast to the day of grace. Though God in every dispensation deals with believers and saves them by grace, the present age is supremely designed to manifest grace not only as the way of salvation but as the way of life. Today God is not attempting to bring divine judgment to bear upon sin. Though there may be some forms of immediate retribution, for the most part God is not settling accounts now. Neither the righteous are rewarded nor the wicked judged in a final sense today. This day of grace will be followed by the day of the Lord which features early in its progress the day of wrath. . .”


 

Reading through Revelation – Chapter 6, The Lamb opens the fifth seal

 


A Bible study


Revelation 6:9-11

GNV

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were killed for the word of God, and for the testimony which they maintained.

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, Lord, which art holy and true! dost not thou judge and avenge our blood on them, that dwell on the earth?

11 And long white robes were given unto every one, and it was said unto them, that they should rest for a little season until their fellow servants, and their brethren that should be killed even as they were, were fulfilled.


Thoughts

Much trouble – tribulation – is happening right now and will most certainly happen in the future, but we must remember that much suffering and tribulation lies in our past also. 

Paulicians

Waldenses in France

Lollards

Scottish Covenanters

Reformation martyrs under Henry VIII and his descendants

Anabaptists of the 16th and 17th century

Nate Saint and other martyrs of the Ecuadoran Mission

Christians around the world in our day, of whom the world is not worthy.

Hebrews 11

35 The women received their dead raised to life: others also were racked, and would not be delivered, that they might receive a better resurrection.

36 And others have been tried by mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover by bonds, and imprisonment.

37 They were stoned, they were hewn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword, they wandered up and down in sheep’s skins, and in goats’ skins, being destitute, afflicted,  and tormented:

38 Whom the world was not worthy of: they wandered in wildernesses and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth.


Related Scriptures

Revelation 12:11

11 But they overcame him by that blood of that Lamb, and by that word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.

Revelation 14:13

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, The dead which die in the Lord, are fully blessed. Even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labors, and their works follow them.


Letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna

Revelation 2:8-11

And unto the Angel of the Church of the Smyrnians write, These things saith he that is first and last, which was dead and is alive.

I know thy works and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them, which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan.

10 Fear none of those things, which thou shalt suffer: behold, it shall come to pass, that the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto the death, and I will give thee the crown of life.

11 Let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.


History related to the Fifth Seal

Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965, pp. 712-713

Chapter 6:9-11.    The Fifth Seal

“There were Ten Imperial Persecutions of the Church, from Nero, A.D. 64, to Diocletian, A.D. 305. The vision may also be a prophetic hint of the Papal Persecutions of the Middle Ages, and perhaps also of the Persecutions of the Tribulation Period of the Last Days.”

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: The Ten Primitive Persecutions

The First Persecution, under Nero:

“This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.

“To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and Trophimus, an Ephesian, converted by St. Paul, and fellow-laborer with him, Joseph, commonly called Barsabas, and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the Seventy.”

Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome

HT: Meg, The Antipas Chronicles

The Annals (Latin: Annales) by Roman historian and senator Tacitus is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years AD 14–68″ (Wikipedia). John received and wrote the Book of Revelation toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81–96 A.D.) Tacitus wrote The Annals in 109 A.D. The Annals address events of the first of the “Ten Primitive Persecutions” – Nero’s – and recount his efforts to shift the blame from himself to Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The following excerpt shows how the world viewed us in Tacitus’ day. Is this how it sees us now?
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“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. . .

“Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

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Colosseum Innen Rom - Stefan Bauer, http://www.ferras.at

Colosseum In Rome – Stefan Bauer, http://www.ferras.at

Colosseum

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Mark Cartwright

Under Domitian [14 September 81 – 18 September 96], dramas were also held in the Colosseum but with a bloodthirsty realism. . . [It] was also the scene of many executions during the lunch-time lull (when the majority of spectators went for lunch), particularly the killing of Christian martyrs. Seen as an unacceptable challenge to the authority of Pagan Rome and the divinity of the Emperor, Christians were. . . killed in a myriad of cruelly inventive ways.

The Martyrdom Of Polycarp, or The Letter Of The Smyrnaeans

Early Christian Writings – ©Peter Kirby

[Polycarp, A.D. 69 – 155]

“13:3  Immediately then the instruments that were prepared for the pile were placed about him. As they were going likewise to nail him to the stake, he said: ‘Leave me as I am; for He that has granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved, even without the security which you seek from the nails.’

“14:1  So they did not nail him, but tied him. Then he, placing his hands behind him and being bound to the stake, like a noble ram out of a great flock for an offering, a burnt sacrifice made ready and acceptable to God, looking up to heaven said: ‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Your presence;

“14:2  ‘I bless You because You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that art the faithful and true God.

“14:3  For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom, with Him and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and ever and for the ages to come. Amen.’

“15:1  When he had offered up the Amen and finished his prayer, the firemen lighted the fire.”

Diocletian

[20 November 284 – 1 May 305 A.D.]

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Donald L. Wasson

“Aside from the continued problems with finance and border security, Diocletian was concerned with the continuing growth of Christianity, a religion that appealed to the both the poor and the rich. The Christians had shown themselves to be a thorn in the side of an emperor since the days of Nero. The problem grew worse as their numbers increased. Diocletian wanted stability and that meant a return to the more traditional gods of Rome, but Christianity prevented this. To most of the emperors who preceded Diocletian, Christians offended the pax deorum or ‘peace of the gods.’ Similarly, since the days of Emperor Augustus, there existed the imperial cult – the deification of the emperor – and Jews and Christians refused to consider any emperor a god.

“However, part of the problem also stemmed from Diocletian’s ego. He began to consider himself a living god, demanding people prostrate themselves before him and kiss the hem of his robe. He wore a jeweled diadem and sat upon a magnificent, elevated throne. In 297 CE he demanded that all soldiers and members of the administration sacrifice to the gods; those who would not were immediately forced to resign. Next, in 303 CE he ordered the destruction of all churches and Christian texts. All of these edicts were encouraged by Galerius. However, throughout this Great Persecution the Christians refused to yield and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Leading members of the clergy were arrested and ordered to sacrifice or die and a bishop in Nicomedia who refused was beheaded. Finally, any Christian who refused was tortured and killed. At long last, the persecution came to an end in 305 CE.”


Commentaries

Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete)

“Observe, (1.) Even the spirits of just men made perfect retain a proper resentment of the wrong they have sustained by their cruel enemies; and though they die in charity, praying, as Christ did, that God would forgive them, yet they are desirous that, for the honour of God, and Christ, and the gospel, and for the terror and conviction of others, God will take a just revenge upon the sin of persecution, even while he pardons and saves the persecutors. (2.) They commit their cause to him to whom vengeance belongeth, and leave it in his hand; they are not for avenging themselves, but leave all to God. (3.) There will be joy in heaven at the destruction of the implacable enemies of Christ and Christianity, as well as at the conversion of other sinners. When Babylon falls, it will be said, Rejoice over her, O thou heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her, ch. 18:20 .3. He observed the kind return that was made to this cry (v. 11), both what was given to them and what was said to them. (1.) What was given to them—white robes, the robes of victory and of honour; their present happiness was an abundant recompence of their past sufferings. (2.) What was said to them—that they should be satisfied, and easy in themselves, for it would not be long ere the number of their fellow-sufferers would be fulfilled. This is a language rather suited to the imperfect state of the saints in this world than to the perfection of their state in heaven; there is no impatience, no uneasiness, no need of admonition; but in this world there is great need of patience. Observe, [1.] There is a number of Christians, known to God, who are appointed as sheep for the slaughter, set apart to be God’s witnesses. [2.] As the measure of the sin of persecutors is filling up, so is the number of the persecuted martyred servants of Christ. [3.] When this number is fulfilled, God will take a just and glorious revenge upon their cruel persecutors; he will recompense tribulation to those who trouble them, and to those that are troubled full and uninterrupted rest.”

The Final Prophecy of Jesus: An Introduction, Analysis, and Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Oral Edmond Collins, 2007, pp. 146-147

“So severe were Diocletian’s edicts of extermination that his reign has come to be known as the Era of the Martyrs. Churches were razed, libraries of sacred books were burned, and believers were tortured to death. Prior persecutions had been local and spasmodic – generally inconsequential against the spread of the Christian faith. Diocletian’s war against the Church is the outstanding exemplar of pagan fear and hatred of the true Faith.* At least two conclusions are implied by this text. First, the chronological sequence of the seal prophecies appropriately targets Diocletian’s persecution. Second, the message of the fifth seal also focuses more generally on suffering and martyrdom, a phenomenon which occurred in various locations and with various intensities throughout the entire earlier period of the seals, as well as after Diocletian until Constantine became sole emperor. The completion of the number of martyrs mentioned in verse 11 was to await yet another era foretold in Revelation 13. The symbolic “Beast,” an apostate church, was to conduct a war against the true faith which would dwarf the persecutions of the pagan Emperors. . .” 

* “Eusebius believed that the tragedy was God’s judgment against excesses of the Church.” 


 

Reading through Revelation – Chapter 6 – The Lamb opens the first seals

The Four Horsemen


Revelation 6:1-8

GNV

6 1 The Lamb openeth the first seal of the book. 3 The second, 5 the third, 7 the fourth. . .

1 After I beheld when the Lamb had opened one of the seals, and I heard one of the four beasts say, as it were the noise of thunder, Come and see.

Therefore I beheld, and lo, there was a white horse, and he that sat on him, had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering that he might overcome.

And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.

And there went out another horse, that was red, and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another, and there was given unto him a great sword.

5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. Then I beheld, and lo, a black horse, and he that sat on him, had balances in his hand.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, and oil, and wine hurt thou not.

7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed after him, and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with beasts of the earth.


Thoughts

Here are various views of this passage and study helps. A question for us is – does Revelation also deal with the long and important history of the Church or only with the End of the Age?


Insight from other bloggers: General

And Then Messiah Shall Come

Jerry Parks, in a comment

“The Revelation in my thinking, only reaffirms the oneness of Jew and Gentile as taught in scripture. It exposes the world totally corrupted by the fall of Satan, and covers a time period from that fall through the birth of Messiah; and extends through to the end of this age and beyond. . . Revelation is historic, and it is specific to future events. It is allegorical and it is literal to His plan for His creation and, more specifically, for His people in creation. It is awesome in its revealing of His judgments and final wrath, and of His love and final rewards.”


Commentaries

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, The Moody Bible Institute, 1962

“Note that in these first four scenes there are no names of individuals, human or superhuman, no geographical terms, and no specific events. The judgments are, as it were, of a general nature: wars have occurred often on earth, and they are often accompanied by pestilence and by scarcity of food, if not famine conditions. This would seem to be, then, just a preliminary phase of the more terrible judgments to follow.” [p. 1506]

pexels-photo-273936.jpeg

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Revelation 6

The opening of the first six of the seven seals.

“. . . [Many] hold that all these seals have been fulfilled, the sixth having been so by the overthrow of paganism and establishment of Christianity under Constantine’s edict, A.D. 312. There can, however, be no doubt that at least the sixth seal is future, and is to be at the coming again of Christ. The great objection to supposing the seals to be finally and exhaustively fulfilled (though, probably, particular events may be partial fulfillments typical of the final and fullest one), is that, if so, they ought to furnish (as the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ’s prophecy, does) a strong external evidence of Revelation. . . Probably not isolated facts, but classes of events preparing the way for Christ’s coming kingdom, are intended by the opening of the seals.”

pexels-photo-272337.jpeg

The Final Prophecy of Jesus, Oral Edmond Collins, 2007

“The Revelation provides in apocalyptic symbols a general guide to the faithful who look to see the hand of Providence in history. . . for the original readers the vision would relate to the immediate future and then lead to Christ’s victory over Antichrist and the glorious return of the Lord Jesus to establish His Kingdom. . . [p. 119] 

“Because of the function of seals and because they appear only in the beginning of the book, the seal prophecies should be understood as introductory to the other prophecies which follow. Some ancient documents used multiple seals to provide the means of reading a preliminary copy of a text while preserving as unread and protected the official text. . . Similarly here, the several seals introduce six brief sequences. When the seventh seal is opened the larger part of the book remains to be read. These pertain to the subjects of principal concern – the coming war of Antichrist against the church, Christ’s victory in that war, and the glorious consummation of this age. The details of the six seal prophecies correspond so well with events of the first three Christian centuries that the reader familiar with that history should immediately see the correlation. . .” [p. 120]

A Bible study

Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete)

Chapter 6

“The book of the divine counsels being thus lodged in the hand of Christ, he loses no time, but immediately enters upon the work of opening the seals and publishing the contents; but this is done in such a manner as still leaves the predictions very abstruse and difficult to be understood. Hitherto the waters of the sanctuary have been as those in Ezekiel’s vision, only to the ankles, or to the knees, or to the loins at least; but here they begin to be a river that cannot be passed over. The visions which John saw, the epistles to the churches, the songs of praise, in the two foregoing chapters, had some things dark and hard to be understood; and yet they were rather milk for babes than meat for strong men; but now we are to launch into the deep, and our business is not so much to fathom it as to let down our net to take a draught. We shall only hint at what seems most obvious. The prophecies of this book are divided into seven seals opened, seven trumpets sounding, and seven vials poured out. It is supposed that the opening of the seven seals discloses those providences that concerned the church in the first three centuries, from the ascension of our Lord and Saviour to the reign of Constantine; this was represented in a book rolled up, and sealed in several places, so that, when one seal was opened, you might read so far of it, and so on, till the whole was unfolded. Yet we are not here told what was written in the book, but what John saw in figures enigmatical and hieroglyphic; and it is not for us to pretend to know ‘the times and seasons which the Father has put in his own power.’”


 A little Greek

Verse 2:

Therefore I beheld, and lo, there was a white horse, and he that sat on him, had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering that he might overcome.

Strong’s Concordance

stephanos: that which surrounds, i.e. a crown
Original Word: στέφανος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: stephanos
Phonetic Spelling: (stef’-an-os)
Short Definition: a crown, garland
Definition: a crown, garland, honor, glory.

HELPS Word-studies

4735 stéphanos – properly, a wreath (garland), awarded to a victor in the ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics); the crown of victory (versus 1238 /diádēma, “a royal crown”).

[4735 (stéphanos) is used of a plaited wreath (“crown”), like the one made of thorns placed on the head of Christ at His trial (Mt 27:29, Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2,5).]


Devotional Commentary

James Nisbet’s Church Pulpit Commentary
Revelation 6

Verse 8

DEATH

‘Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.’

There are times when the near presence and the invincible power of death are felt with peculiar solemnity. What St. John saw in apocalyptic vision we see in solemn and often startling reality.

I. The ride of death.

(a) It is long. Death has been with us as long as man has been on the globe.

(b) It is powerful. Death triumphs now over everything and everybody. The sovereign on the throne; the peasant in the cottage must alike come under its power.

II. The fight with death. — Yet for the Christian death has lost its terrors because of the resurrection of the Lord of life. He confers on all that freely and fully accept Him as their Saviour and Lord a life —

(a) Which is spiritual and therefore real.

(b) Which is holy and therefore noble and blessed.

(c) Which is eternal. What we call death is only the passage into a brighter and ampler life.

III. The final overthrow of death. — That glorious time will come when Jesus Christ shall reign, and when all enemies shall be subdued beneath His feet. And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.


 


 

Reading through Revelation – Background: The Man whose persecution banished the Apostle John to Patmos


Revelation 2:9

NASB

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.


Beloved brethren, these verses are all that is uplifting about this post, which is limited to facts and information about a sad and selfish man who once had absolute rule over God’s children – life and death. He is only one of many throughout history. May we stay sober and wide awake for the purpose of prayer. 

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!



Arki (Patmos) Strongyli - Photo: Waldviertler

Arki (Patmos) Strongyli – Photo: Waldviertler


. . . Because of its desolate and barren nature, Patmos was used by the Romans as a place to banish criminals, who were forced to work at hard labor in the mines and quarries of the island. Because Christians were regarded as criminals by the Roman emperor Domitian (ruled A.D. 81-96), the apostle John probably suffered from harsh treatment during his exile on Patmos. An early Christian tradition said John was in exile for 18 months.

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

PATMOS


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An Online Encyclopedia of Roman EmperorsmapDIR Atlas

Titus Flavius Domitianus (A.D. 81-96)

John Donahue
College of William and Mary

Early Career

Domitian was born in Rome on 24 October A.D. 51, the youngest son of Vespasian, Roman emperor (A.D. 69-79) and Domitilla I, a treasury clerk’s daughter.[[1]] Despite a literary tradition that associated Domitian with Flavian poverty, the family’s status remained high throughout his early years: Vespasian was appointed to the prestigious proconsulship of North Africa in A.D. 59, and seven years later was granted a special command in the East by the emperor Nero (A.D. 54-69) to settle a revolt in Judaea; Titus, Domitian’s older brother by at least ten years and Vespasian’s eventual successor as emperor, had married well in the 60’s and was chosen as a legionary legate under Vespasian in the East.[[2]]

Unlike Titus, Domitian was not educated at the emperor’s court, yet he received sound training in Rome in the same way as any member of the senatorial elite of his day. The imperial biographer Suetonius records that Domitian gave public recitals of his works, conversed elegantly, and produced memorable comments; as emperor, he would write and publish a book on baldness.[[3]] Domitian’s adolescence was also marked by isolation. His mother had long been dead, he was considerably younger than his brother, and his father was away for much of his teenage years, first in Africa and then in Judaea.[[4]] An obvious outcome of all of this was his preference for solitude, a trait that would contribute significantly to his difficulties with various constituents as emperor.[[5]]

Little is known about Domitian in the turbulent 18 months of the three emperors, but in the aftermath of the downfall of Vitellius in A.D. 69 he presented himself to the invading Flavian forces, was hailed as Caesar, and moved into the imperial residence.[[6]] Guided by Gaius Licinius Mucianus, Vespasian’s chief advisor, Domitian represented the family in the senate and suggested that other issues be postponed until Vespasian’s arrival from the East. Eager for military glory himself, Domitian soon led reinforcements to Germany, where the Batavian auxiliaries of the Rhine legions had revolted. The uprising failed before he could arrive, however, and the literary accounts of his achievements are not to be trusted.[[7]] It was also during this period, perhaps in late A.D. 70, that he married Domitia Longina, daughter of the highly regarded general, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, whom Nero had forced to commit suicide in A.D. 66. For all appearances, it was an excellent choice. The name of Corbulo was synonymous with military achievement, and the general had left behind a substantial clientela. Even so, the marriage was troubled. An only child died young, and Domitia was probably exiled by her husband c. A.D 83. Later, she would be recalled to the palace, where she lived with Domitian until his death.[[8]]

Domitian’s role in the 70’s was determined largely by Vespasian’s choice of Titus as his successor. To him fell a series of ordinary consulships, the tribunician power, the censorship, and the praetorian prefecture. Domitian, on the other hand, was named six times to the less prestigious suffect consulship, retained the title of Caesar, and held various priesthoods. He was given responsibility, but no real power. Nothing changed when Titus acceded to the throne, as Domitian received neither tribunician power nor imperium of any kind. The brothers were never to become close, and as Titus lay dying in September 81, Domitian hastened to the praetorian camp, where he was hailed as emperor. On news of Titus’ death, the senate chose first to honor the dead emperor before elevating his brother, an early indication perhaps of Domitian’s future troubles with the aristocracy. At any rate, after waiting an extra day, Domitian received imperium, the title Augustus, and tribunician power along with the office of pontifex maximus and the title pater patriae, father of his country.[[9]]

Titus Flavius Domitianus - A.D. 81-96

Administration

As emperor, Domitian was to become one of Rome’s foremost micromanagers, especially concerning the economy. Shortly after taking office, he raised the silver content of the denarius by about 12% (to the earlier level of Augustus), only to devaluate it in A.D. 85, when the imperial income must have proved insufficient to meet military and public expenses.[[10]] Confiscations and the rigorous collection of taxes soon became necessary. On another front, he sought to promote grain production by calling for empire-wide limitations on viticulture, but the edict met with immediate opposition and was never implemented.[[11]] On the other hand, there were notable successes. The great fire of A.D. 64, the civil wars of A.D 68-69, and another devastating fire in A.D. 80 had left Rome badly in need of repair. Domitian responded by erecting, restoring, or completing some 50 structures, including the restored Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol and a magnificent palace on the Palatine. The building program, ambitious and spectacular, was matched by hardly any other emperor.[[12]] He was also able to maintain the debased currency standard of A.D. 85, which was still higher than the Vespasianic one, until the end of his reign. The economy, therefore, offered a ready outlet for Domitian’s autocratic tendencies. There were failures, but he also left the treasury with a surplus, perhaps the best proof of a financially sound administration.

Domitian’s reach extended well beyond the economy. Late in A.D. 85 he made himself censor perpetuus, censor for life, with a general supervision of conduct and morals. The move was without precedent and, although largely symbolic, it nevertheless revealed Domitian’s obsessive interest in all aspects of Roman life. An ardent supporter of traditional Roman religion, he also closely identified himself with Minerva and Jupiter, publicly linking the latter divinity to his regime through the Ludi Capitolini, the Capitoline Games, begun in A.D.86. Held every four years in the early summer, the Games consisted of chariot races, athletics and gymnastics, and music, oratory and poetry. Contestants came from many nations, and no expense was spared; the emperor himself awarded the prizes.[[13]] In the same manner, Domitian offered frequent and elaborate public shows, always with an emphasis on the innovative: gladiator contests held at night; female combatants and dwarves; food showered down upon the public from ropes stretched across the top of the Amphitheater.[[14]] Thus did the emperor seek to underscore not only Rome’s importance but also his own and that of the Flavian regime.

Beyond Rome, Domitian taxed provincials rigorously and was not afraid to impose his will on officials of every rank. Consistent with his concern for the details of administration, he also made essential changes in the organization of several provinces and established the office of curator to investigate financial mismanagement in the cities. Other evidence points to a concern with civic improvements of all kinds, from road building in Asia Minor, Sardinia and near the Danube to building and defensive improvements in North Africa.[[15]] Less easy to gauge is Domitian’s attitude toward Christians and Jews, since reliable evidence for their persecution is difficult to find. Christians may have been among those banished or executed from time to time during the 90’s, but the testimony falls short of confirming any organized program of persecution under Domitian’s reign. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that Jews were made to feel uneasy under Domitian, who scrupulously collected the Jewish tax and harassed Jewish tax dodgers during much of his rule. As with Christians, such policies did not amount to persecution, but it does help to explain the Jewish fears of expulsion present in the sources.[[16]] On balance, the tradition of Domitian as persecutor has been greatly overstated, yet given his autocratic tendencies and devotion to Roman pagan religion, it is easy to see how such stories could have evolved and multiplied.

Military Affairs

While the military abilities of Vespasian and Titus were genuine, those of Domitian were not. Partly as an attempt to remedy this deficiency, Domitian frequently became involved in his own military exploits outside of Rome. He claimed a triumph in A.D. 83 for subduing the Chatti in Gaul, but the conquest was illusory. Final victory did not really come until A.D. 89. In Britain, similar propaganda masked the withdrawal of Roman forces from the northern borders to positions farther south, a clear sign of Domitian’s rejection of expansionist warfare in the province.[[17]] The greatest threat, however, remained on the Danube. The emperor visited Moesia in A.D. 85 after Oppius Sabinus, the Moesian governor, had been killed by invading Dacians. In the First Dacian War, initial success against the aggressors by Domitian’s praetorian prefect, Cornelius Fuscus, allowed the emperor to celebrate his second triumph at Rome in A.D. 86. Fuscus was subsequently killed trying to avenge Sabinus’ death, however, and Domitian soon returned to the Danube, where Roman forces, under the newly appointed governor of Upper Moesia, Tettius Julianus, defeated the Dacians at Tapae in the Second Dacian War, most likely in A.D. 88. Matters remained far from settled. In January, A.D. 89, the governor of Upper Germany, L. Antonius Saturninus, mutinied at Mainz. The revolt was promptly suppressed and the rebel leaders brutally punished. Later that same year, Domitian attacked the Suebian Marcomanni and Quadi in the First Pannonian War, while offering the Dacian king Decebalus a settlement to avoid conflicts on two fronts. Compelled to return to the Danube three years later, Domitian fought the combined forces of the Suebi and the Sarmatians in the Second Pannonian War. Few other details are available beyond the fact that a Roman legion was destroyed in a campaign that lasted about eight months. By January, A.D. 93, Domitian was back in Rome, not to accept a full triumph but the lesser ovatio, a sign perhaps of unfinished business along the Danube. In fact, during the final years of Domitian’s reign, the buildup of forces on the middle Danube and the appointment and transfer of key senior officials suggest that a third Pannonian campaign directed against the Suebi and Sarmatians may have been underway. Even so, there is no testimony of actual conflicts and the evidence does not extend beyond A.D. 97.[[18]]

The Emperor’s Court and His Relationship with the Aristocracy

Domitian’s autocratic tendencies meant that the real seat of power during his reign resided with his court. The features typically associated with later courts – a small band of favored courtiers, a keen interest in the bizarre and the unusual (e.g., wrestlers, jesters, and dwarves), and a highly mannered, if somewhat artificial atmosphere, characterized Domitian’s palace too, whether at Rome or at his Alban villa, some 20 kilometers outside of the capital.[[19]] Courtiers included family members and freedmen, as well as friends (amici), a group of politicians, generals, and praetorian prefects who offered input on important matters.[[20]] Reliance upon amici was not new, yet the arrangement underscored Domitian’s mistrust of the aristocracy, most notably the senate, whose role suffered as Domitian deliberately concentrated power in the hands of few senators while expanding the duties of the equestrian class. Senatorial grievances were not without basis: at least 11 senators of consular rank were executed and many others exiled, ample attestation of the emperor’s contempt for the body and its membership.[[21]] The senate’s enthusiastic support for the damning of Domitian’s memory, therefore, came as no surprise. Nevertheless, the situation must be placed in its proper context. By comparison, the emperor Claudius A.D. 41-54) executed 35 senators and upwards of 300 equestrians, yet he was still deified by the senate![[22]] Domitian’s mistake was that he made no attempt to mask his feelings about the senate. Inclined neither by nature nor by conviction to include the body in his emperorship, he treated the group no differently than any other. Revenge would come in the form of an aristocratically based literary tradition that would miss no opportunity to vilify thoroughly both emperor and his rule.

Death and Assessment

On 18 September, A.D. 96, Domitian was assassinated and was succeeded on the very same day by M. Cocceius Nerva, a senator and one of his amici. The sources are unanimous in stressing that this was a palace plot, yet it is difficult to determine the level of culpability among the various potential conspirators.[[23]]

In many ways, Domitian is still a mystery – a lazy and licentious ruler by some accounts, an ambitious administrator and keeper of traditional Roman religion by others.[[24]] As many of his economic, provincial, and military policies reveal, he was efficient and practical in much that he undertook, yet he also did nothing to hide the harsher despotic realities of his rule. This fact, combined with his solitary personality and frequent absences from Rome, guaranteed a harsh portrayal of his rule. The ultimate truths of his reign remain difficult to know.

Bibliography

The bibliography on Domitian is too vast for thorough treatment here. The works listed below are either main accounts of the emperor or pertain directly to issues raised in the entry above. For a comprehensive listing of sources, see Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 238-255.

Anderson, J.C.”Domitian’s Building Program. Forum Julium and Markets of Trajan.” ArchN 10 (1981):41-48.

Atti congresso internazionale di studi Flaviani, 2 vols. Rieti, 1983.

Breeze, D. J. The Northern Frontiers of Roman Britain. London, 1982.

Carradice, I.A. “Coinage and Finances in the Reign of Domitian, AD 81-96”, BAR International Series, 178, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1983.

Coleman, K. M. “The Emperor Domitian and Literature.” ANRW II.32.5: 3087-3115.

Friedländer, L. Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire (trans. of Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms in der Zeit von August bis zum Ausgang der Antonine, 7th ed. by L. A. Magnus), London, 1968.

Garnsey, P. and Saller, R. The Early Principate: Augustus to Trajan, [Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics No. 15], Oxford, 1982.

Girard, J-L. “Domitien et Minerve: une prédilection impériale.” ANRW II.17.1: 233-245.

Griffith, J. G. “Juvenal, Statius and the Flavian Establishment.” Greece and Rome 16 (1969): 134-150.

Heintz, Florent. “A Domitianic Fleet Diploma.” ZPE 120 (1998): 250-252.

Jones, B. W. The Emperor Domitian. London, 1992.

Levi, M.A. “I Flavi.” ANRW II.2: 177-207.

Levick, B. M. “Domitian and the Provinces.” Latomus 41 (1982): 50-7.

Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G. Continuity and Change in Roman Religion. Oxford, 1979.

McGinn, Thomas A. J. “Feminae Probosae and the Litter” CJ 93 (1998): 241-250.

McCrum, M. and Woodhead, A. G. Select Documents of the Principates of the Flavian Emperors, Including the Years of Revolution, AD 68-96. Cambridge, 1966.

Millar, F. The Emperor in the Roman Word. Ithaca, 1992.

Platner, M. and Ashby, T. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Oxford, 1929.

Southern, Pat. Domitian: Tragic Tyrant. Indiana University Press, 1997.

Syme, R. Tacitus. Oxford, 1958.

________. “Domitian, the Last Years.” Chiron 13 (1983): 121-146.

________. The Augustan Aristocracy. Oxford, 1986.

Talbert, R. J. A. The Senate of Imperial Rome. Princeton, 1984.

Vinson, M. “Domitia Longina, Julia Titi, and the Literary Tradition.” Historia 38 (1989): 431-450.

Wallace-Hadrill, A. Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars. London, 1983.

Waters, K. H. “The Character of Domitian.” Phoenix 18 (1964): 49-77.

Notes

[[1]] Ancient sources: Tac. Agr.; Cass. Dio 67; Plin. Pan.; Statius, Silv.; McCrum, M. and Woodhead, A.G. Select Documents of the Principates of the Flavian Emperors (Cambridge, 1966).

[[2]] Compare, however, Suetonius’ claim at Dom.1: “He is said to have spent a poverty-stricken and rather degraded youth: without even any silver on the table.” The passage is typical of the hostility directed toward Domitian in the literary sources.

[[3]] Suet. Dom. 18, 20; in praise of his literary talents, see also: Plin. NH Praef 5; Statius, Achil. 1.15; Silius Italicus, Pun.3.621. But there were just as many hostile accounts of his literary prowess: Tac. Hist. 4.86; Suet. Dom. 2.2. Since none of this evidence survives, there is no way to judge the validity of these conflicting assessments. That the controversy even exists, however, helps to confirm that Domitian was well educated.

[[4]] Domitian was likely left in the care of his uncle, Sabinus II. See Tac. Hist. 3.75. Whether he resided in Rome with his uncle during this period is less clear.

[[5]] Domitian’s preference for solitude finds particularly cruel expression in Suetonius, who portrays him as spending hours alone every day catching flies and stabbing them with a needle-sharp pen while emperor. See Dom.3. Dio (66.9.5) also cites Domitian’s predilection for his own company.

[[6]] Tac. Hist. 4.86; 4.2.

[[7]] Poetic embellishment of Domitian’s military achievements: Statius, Theb. 1.21; Martial, 9.101.13; 9.10.15-16; Jos. BJ 7.85; Silius Italicus, Pun.3.608.

[[8]] Long after Domitian’s memory had been damned, Domitia still referred to herself as the emperor’s wife, perhaps an indication that she maintained at least some degree of affection for her husband. The evidence is preserved on brick stamps datable to A.D. 123; CIL 15.548a-9d.

[[9]] On honoring of Titus: Suet. Tit. 11.

[[10]] On the raising of the currency standard: Walker, D.R. , “The Metrology of the Roman Silver Coinage. Part I; From Augustus to Domitian,” BAR Supplementary Series 5, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 120, 115; Carradice, I.A. “Coinage and Finances in the Reign of Domitian, AD 81-96,” BAR International Series 178, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 9-56.

[[11]] Suet. Dom. 7.2; 14.2.

[[12]] For an excellent discussion of Domitian’s building program, see Jones, B. W. The Emperor Domitian London, 1992, 79-98.

[[13]] Capitoline Games: Censorinus, De Die Natali 18.5. In A.D. 93, Domitian also established the Ludi Saeculares (Secular Games), a celebration under the supervision of the quindecimviri sacris faciundis, an aristocratic priestly college. See Suet. Dom. 4.3; Stat. Silv. 1.4.17; 4.1.37; Martial, 4.1.7; 10.63.3.

[[14]] Night time shows and unusual combatants: Dio 67.8.4; Amphitheater celebration: Stat. Silv. 1.6.75-78.

[[15]] On improvements in the different provinces: Garzetti, A. From Tiberius to the Antonines: A History of the Roman Empire, 14-192 (London, 1974),278, 652; Leglay, M. “Les Flaviens et l’Afrique,” MEFR 80 (1968):221-22, 230-232.

[[16]] For a careful and balanced treatment of difficult evidence: Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 114-119.

[[17]] That the Chatti were not subdued in A.D. 83 is revealed by their role in Saturninus’ revolt (Suet. Dom. 6.2) and by their interference with the Cherusci (Dio 67.5.1). On the Roman withdrawal to the south in Britain, see Hobley, A.S. “The Numismatic Evidence for the Post-Agricolan Abandonment of the Roman Frontier in Northern Scotland,” Britannia 20 (1989): 69-74. Numismatic evidence (ibid., 73) indicates that the arch at Richborough was erected at this same time. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the monument served to mask the Roman retreat.

[[18]] The presence of five Roman legions in Pannonia, for example, is unusual and points to genuine Roman concern with the region. See Dusanic, S. and Vasic, M. R. “An Upper Moesian Diploma of AD 96,” Chiron 7 (1977): 291-304; Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 153-155.

[[19]] Domitian did not hesitate to conduct a variety of imperial duties outside of the domus Flavia in Rome. For some of his activities at Alba: Plin. Ep. 4.11.6; Suet. Dom 4.4; Dio 67.1.2; Juv. 4.99. Tacitus (Agr. 45) and Juvenal (4.145) refer to it as the arx Albana, “the Alban fortress,” implying the residence of a despot.

[[20]] On the emperor’s amici, Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 50-71.

[[21]] On the execution of ex-consuls: Suet. Dom.10 and Jones, The Emperor Domitian, 182-188; exiles: ibid., 188-192.

[[22]] Claudius and executions: Suet. Claud. 29.2; Apocol. 13.

[[23]] For a collection of the ancient sources stressing a palace plot: Gephardt, R. F. C. “C. Suetonii Tranquilli Vita Domitiani: Suetonius’ Life of Domitian with Notes and Parallel Passages,” dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1922, 89. For the most complete account: Suet. Dom. 14.

[24]] Domitian as lazy and lustful: Suet. Dom. 19; 22.


Copyright (C) 1997, John Donahue. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: John Donahue.

Updated: 10 October 1997

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