was daughter of Domitilla the Younger
by an unknown
father. She married her cousin, the consul
In Roman literature
reports that he had been
entrusted with the tutelage of two of Domitian's grandsons. These
should be the children of this Domitilla and Clemens.
Suetonius states that Domitian designated Clemens' children his
successors whilst they were still very young, before their parents'
fall, and renamed them Domitianus and Vespasianus.
- Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the
consul, although he was a cousin and married to Flavia Domitilla,
who was also a relative of the emperor's. The charge brought
against them both was that of atheism (αθεοτση), a charge on which
many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of
these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of
their property. Domitilla was merely banished to Pandateria
Suetonius also states that Domitilla's steward Stephanus was
involved in the final, successful plot against Domitian.
In Jewish tradition
According to the Talmud
, both she and her
husband converted to Judaism
, after having
contact with the great Rabbincal Sage Rabbi Akiva (Akiba ben Joseph
). This may integrate with
the tradition of her as a Christian (see below).
As a Christian saint
Flavia Domitilla is a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church
celebrates her feast day on 12 May
for some time treated also as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, which honoured
her on 12 May together with Saints Nereus and
Achilleus, in whose church of Santi Nereo e Achilleo in Rome, her supposed relics were housed.
Her name was not linked with theirs in the Tridentine Calendar
of Pope Pius V
. It was added in 1595, and was
removed in 1969 on the grounds that the honours paid to her had no
basis in tradition.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the spurious acts
of Nereus and Achilles, and St. Jerome represent Flavia Domitilla
as the niece, not the wife of the consul Flavius Clemens, and say
that her place of exile was Pontia (now Ponza),
an island also situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
statements have given rise to the opinion that there were two
Domitillas (aunt and niece) who were Christians, and latter
generally referred to as Flavia Domitilla the Younger. Lightfoot
has shown that this opinion, adopted by Tillemont
and De Rossi and still maintained by
many writers (among them Allard and Duchesne), is derived entirely
from Eusebius who was led into this error by mistakes in
transcription, or ambiguity of expression, in the sources which he
used. He mentions only the conversion of Domitilla, saying that she
was the daughter of Clemens' sister, and that she was deported to
the island of Pontia (compare also his "Chronicle," year 98).
Eusebius must refer to some other Flavia Domitilla.
When Domitian had decreed that in 30 days, the Senate would confirm
an edict to kill all Jews
in the Roman Empire, Domitilla
convinced her husband to stand up for the Jews. When there were 5
days left until the edict would be voted on by the Senate, she
convinced him to commit suicide in order to postpone the Senate
vote, in hopes that God would bring a miracle in the extra time.
Since Clemens was the Roman Consul
, if he
were to die, another Consul would have to be elected before the
Senate could pass any decisions. It took a long time to elect a new
, so this was one way he could help
save the Jews. Domitian
Flavius Clemens the next day. She had two sons by him, whom
Domitian made his own heirs, but they died as young teenagers. The
plan worked, and her steward Stephanus was able to assassinate
before the decree was finalized.
She was banished by her uncle Domitian
the island Pandataria, where she died mourning her husband.
- Heinrich Grätz, Die
Jüdischen Proselyten im Römerreiche, pp. 28 et seq.
- idem, Gesch. 3d ed., iv. 403
- Lebrecht, in Geiger's Jüd. Zeit. xi. 273
- Berliner, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, p. 39
- Kraus, Roma Sotterranea, p. 41, Freiburg-in-Breisgau, 1873
- Reinach, Fontes Rerum, Judaicaram, i. 195
- Prosopographia Imperii Romani, ii. 81.