Domitian And The Astrologers

Emperor Domitian has been depicted by senatorial historians and authors as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. According to Suetonius, Domitian had an intense dislike towards astrologers and soothsayers, as they had predicted his exact date and time of death. Shortly before his assassination he had also the goddess Minerva – whom he worshipped with superstitious veneration – declare to him in a dream that she could no longer protect him, since she had been disarmed by Jupiter.

But the fate of a certain astrologer named Ascletarion only deepened the emperors paranoia. The unfortunate man was accused before the emperor and admitted to having spoken about events he had foreseen in the future. Domitian then asked Ascletarion as to what his own fate would be. When he replied that he would shortly savaged by dogs, Domitian ordered him killed at once. But to prove the fallibility of his art, he ordered that his funeral be attended to with the greatest care. As the body of Ascleraton was about to be burned, a sudden storm hit the funeral, and several dogs mangled the partly burned corpse.

On the day of his death, he condemned to death Larginus Proclus – a soothsayer from Germania – who had told him that recent lighting strokes that had hit public buildings in Rome had predicted a change in rulers. After having the man killed he asked the time. By pre-arrangement the sixth hour was announced to him, instead of the fifth, which he feared. Filled with relief and believing he was safe, he was promptly dispatched by a freedman and steward of Domitian’s niece Flavia Domitilla, named Stephanus. In order to avoid suspicion, he had his left arm wrapped in bandages for several days before the planned assassination, using the bandages to conceal a dagger. Stephanus struck the emperor in the groin, with other conspirators joining the struggle and killing he emperor on the exact day and time that astrologers had predicted.

Sources: The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus