Flavia Domitilla (saint)

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Flavia Domitilla was daughter of Domitilla the Younger by an unknown father, perhaps Quintus Petillius Cerialis. She married her cousin, the consul Titus Flavius Clemens.

In Roman literature[edit]

Quintilian[1] 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.[2]

Dio reports:[3]

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 (ἀθεότης), 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 (Ventotene).

Suetonius also states that Domitilla's steward Stephanus was involved in the final, successful plot against Domitian.[4]

In Jewish tradition[edit]

Some scholars connect Domitilla with a character in Jewish tradition. A Roman Matron in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) and the Deuteronomy Rabbah 2.25. When the emperor had decreed that in 30 days, the Senate would confirm an edict to kill all Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire, the Roman matron convinced her husband to stand up for the Jews. If that identification is correct, her husband Flavius Clemens converted to Judaism, after having contact with the great sage Rabbi Akiva. This may integrate with the tradition of her as a Christian (see below).

As a Christian saint[edit]

Saint Flavia Domitilla
Andrea di Bonaiuto. St. Agnes and St. Domitilla. 1365. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence..jpg
Andrea di Bonaiuto. St. Agnes and St. Domitilla. 1365. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.
Born 1st century
Died 90s
Ponza or Pandateria
Venerated in Greek Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Major shrine Santi Nereo e Achilleo
Feast May 7 (Catholic), May 12 (Orthodox)

Flavia Domitilla is a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church, which celebrates her feast day on 12 May.[5] And 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 from that date in 1969, and is now listed on 7 May in the Martyrology.[6]

Eusebius of Caesarea,[7] the acts of Nereus and Achilles, and St. Jerome[8] 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. These 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).

The Tridentine Calendar had on 12 May a joint feast (semidouble rank) of Nereus, Achilleus and Pancras. The name of Domitilla was added in 1595.[9] The joint celebration of Nereus, Achilleus, Domitilla and Pancras continued with that ranking (see General Roman Calendar of 1954) until the revision of 1960, when it was reclassified as a third-class feast (see General Roman Calendar of 1960).

In the present General Roman Calendar, revised in 1969, Saints Nereus and Achilleus (together) and Saint Pancras have distinct celebrations (optional memorials) on 12 May. Saint Domitilla is not included in the revised calendar, because the liturgical honours once paid to her "have no basis in tradition".[9]


  1. ^ Quintilian, "Institutio Oratoria," iv. 1, § 2
  2. ^ Suetonius, Life of Domitian, 12
  3. ^ Epitome of Cassius Dio, 67.4
  4. ^ Domitian, 17
  5. ^ (Greek) Ἡ Ἁγία Δομιτίλλα ἡ Μάρτυς . 12 Μαΐου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  6. ^ Martyrologium Romanum (Typis Vaticanis, 2nd edition, 2004), p. 274.
  7. ^ Historia Ecclesiae, III, 18; Chron. ad an. Abrahami, 2110
  8. ^ Ep., CVIII, 7.
  9. ^ a b Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), p. 123


  • 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.

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.