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Damnatio memoriae

Statue of Julia Aquilia Severa, damaged after her death. National museum, Athens (Greece). Photo Jona Lendering.
Statue of Julia Aquilia,
damaged after her death.
(National museum, Athens)
Damnatio memoriae: modern name for the official condemnation of the memory of a Roman emperor by the Senate. It is the opposite of apotheosis, which means that a deceased emperor is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The balance of a reign was made up after the death of an emperor, when the Senate convened and decided whether the ruler had become a god and deserved a public cult (a practice that was known from the Hellenistic world and was introduced in Rome after the death of Julius Caesar). When there was not doubt about the succession, the apotheosis was self-evident. When Hadrian died in 138 and the Senate hesitated, his successor Antoninus Pius made sure that the dead man was recognized as a god.

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Inscription from Matilo. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
An inscription from which the name of the emperor Geta has been eased (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden; full text)

On other occasions, however, debate was more serious. In 54, Nero had some difficulty to obtain the deification of his stepfather Claudius. After a rule that was considered to have been a bad one, the ruler was officially condemned, and his name was erased from inscriptions (abolitio nominis). His portraits were sometimes destroyed and even mints could be restamped. Several rulers were not officially condemned, but received this treatment anyhow, and other emperors were rehabilitated after an initial damnatio memoriae.

The custom is not recorded in the Palmyrene Empire and the Gallic Empire. Apotheosis and damnatio memoriae are still known from the end of the fourth century and were, therefore, considered to be religious practices no longer; otherwise, the practice would have been abandoned after Constantine's conversion to Christianity.

Condemned and consecrated emperors

Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE Consecrated
Livia wife of Augustus, died 29 Consecrated 42
Tiberius 14 - 37 -
Caligula 37 - 41 Damnatio memoriae?
Julia Drusilla wife of Caligula Consecrated 38
Claudius 41 - 54 Consecrated
Agrippina Minor wife of Claudius; died 59 Damnatio memoriae
Nero 54 - 68 Damnatio memoriae
Poppaea Sabina wife of Nero; died 65 Consecrated
Galba 68 - 69 Damnatio memoriae
Vitellius 69 Damnatio memoriae
Otho 69 Damnatio memoriae
Vespasian 69 - 79 Consecrated
Titus 79 - 81 Consecrated
Domitian 81 - 96 Damnatio memoriae
Nerva 96 - 98 Consecrated
Trajan 98 - 117 Consecrated
Plotina wife of Trajan; died 123 Consecrated
Hadrian 117 - 138 Consecrated
Sabina wife of Hadrian; died 137 Consecrated
Antoninus Pius 138 - 161 Consecrated
Faustina I wife of Pius; died 141 Consecrated
Marcus Aurelius 161 - 180 Consecrated
Faustina II wife of Marcus; died 176 Consecrated
Lucius Verus 161 - 169 Consecrated
Avidius Cassius 175 Damnatio memoriae
Commodus 180 - 192 Damnatio memoriae
Bruttia Crispina wife of Commodus; died 192 Damnatio memoriae
Pertinax 193 Consecrated
Didius Julianus 193 Damnatio memoriae
Pescennius Niger 193 - 194 Damnatio memoriae
Clodius Albinus 193 - 197 Damnatio memoriae
Septimius Severus 193 - 211 Consecrated
Julia Domna
wife of Severus; died 217 Consecrated
Caracalla 211 - 217 -
Geta 211 Damnatio memoriae
Macrinus 217 - 218 Damnatio memoriae
Heliogabalus 218 - 222 Damnatio memoriae
Julia Soaemias mother of Heliogabalus; d.222 Damnatio memoriae
Julia Aquilia Severa wife of Heliogabalus; d.222 Damnatio memoriae
Severus Alexander 222 - 235 Consecrated
Julia Mamaea mother of Alexander; d.235 Damnatio memoriae
Julia Maesa sister of Julia Domna; d.224 Consecrated
Maximinus Thrax 235 - 238 Damnatio memoriae
Gordian I 238 Consecrated
Gordian II 238 Consecrated
Pupienus 238 Damnatio memoriae
Balbinus 238 Damnatio memoriae
Gordian III 238 - 244 Consecrated
Philippus Arabs 244 - 249 ?
Decius 249 - 251 Consecrated
Trebonianus Gallus 251 - 253 Damnatio memoriae
Aemilianus 253 Damnatio memoriae
Valerian 253 - 260 Consecrated?
Gallienus 253 - 268 Consecrated
Claudius II 268 - 270 Consecrated
Aurelian 270 - 275 Consecrated
Tacitus 275 - 276 -
Florianus 276 -
Probus 276 - 282 Consecrated
Carus 282 - 283 Damnatio memoriae
Numerianus 283 - 284 Damnatio memoriae
Carinus 283 - 285 Damnatio memoriae
Diocletian 284 - 305 Concecrated 313
Maximianus 285 - 310 Damnatio memoriae
Constantius I Chlorus 305 - 306 Consecrated
Galerius 305 - 311 Consecrated
Maximinus Daia 305 - 313 Damnatio memoriae
Severus II 305 - 307 -
Maxentius 306 - 312 Damnatio memoriae
Licinius 308 - 324 Damnatio memoriae
Constantine I 306 - 337 Canonized
Fausta wife of Constantine; died 326 Damnatio memoriae
Crispus son of Constantine; died 326 Damnatio memoriae
Constantine II 337 - 340 Damnatio memoriae
Constans 337 - 350 Consecrated
Constantius II 337 - 361 Consecrated
Julian the Apostate 361 - 363 Consecrated
Jovian 363 - 364 Consecrated
Valentinian I 364 - 375 Consecrated
Valens 364 - 378 Consecrated
Gratian 375 - 383 Consecrated
Valentinian II 375 - 392 Consecrated
Theodosius I 378 - 395 Consecrated
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 5 September 2006
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