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Emperor Domitian: God on Earth

Emperor Domitian: God on Earth

14 December 2021

‘God on Earth. Emperor Domitian’ – exhibition open from 17 December

This winter the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden) will be turning the spotlight on the Emperor Domitian, in an exhibition featuring more than 275 artefacts from a range of international museums. Co-curated by the School of History, Classics and Archaeology's Dr Claire Stocks, this exciting project aims to shine a light on one of the lesser know Roman Emperors. 

What is the exhibition about?

Domitian ruled the Roman empire from 81 AD to 96 AD. Although this period is often seen as a golden age, few people today know his name. His reputation in the ancient world was chiefly that of a tyrant and a bad emperor; an emperor so bad that he had to be erased from history. Almost 2000 years after Domitian’s death, the exhibition ‘God on Earth’ will examine his turbulent life, from his youth on Pomegranate Street in Rome, through his rise to the top and merciless fall. Superb archaeological objects, spectacular animations, films and walls filled with vistas of Domitian’s Rome will introduce visitors to this ‘forgotten emperor’ and seek to answer the question of who he really was, as a politician, military commander, lover and self-declared ‘god on earth’.

The exhibition will bring to Leiden a rich selection of outstanding pieces from the first century AD, the heyday of the Roman Empire. These include portraits and statues of Domitian, members of the imperial family, gods and goddesses and elite funerary monuments. Fragments of frescoes from temples, villas and palaces, mosaics and gold jewellery set with precious gems attest to the luxury at the imperial court. Also on show will be everyday items such as shoes worn by Domitian’s soldiers and their writing implements. Projections and walls filled with reconstructions, some 3D, provide an impression of life in Rome during Domitian’s reign, when spectacular new buildings rose from the ground. Journalist Mustafa Marghadi (NOS- the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation) visits these monuments in the exhibition film, using texts by the ancient poets Martial and Statius as his travel guide. Dutch and foreign specialists present the latest academic research on Domitian in a series of short videos, combining archaeology, history, art and literature.

How did a man who marketed himself as a ‘God on Earth’ fall so far?

Dr Claire Stocks

Details of those involved

‘God on Earth. Emperor Domitian’ is a co-production with the Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali, Museo dei Fori Imperiali - Mercati di Traiano (Rome) and Radboud University (Nijmegen). After its run in Leiden, part of the exhibition will travel to Rome, for a Domitian exhibition in Trajan’s Market. 

The exhibition was produced with support from the Mondriaan Fund, Stichting Zabawas, Labrys Reizen and a contribution from the 'Anchoring Innovation' research agenda run by OIKOS, the National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands (financially supported with a 'Gravity Grant’ by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2017-2027). The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) has granted the museum an indemnity guarantee on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

This exhibition puts a spotlight back on a forgotten Emperor. Despite overseeing an administrative and cultural revolution in Rome, on a scale not seen since the days of Augustus, Domitian was condemned to be forgotten by the Roman Senate after his death.

Dr Claire Stocks

Information and ticket reservations through 

God on Earth. Emperor Domitian can be seen from 17 December 2021 to 22 May 2022.