Year of the Four Emperors
The death of the tyrant Nero signaled the end of the domination of the Julian dynasty over the Roman world. This led to the Flavian Dynasty starting around 69 AD according to the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History. As the rule of one dynasty ended, competition rose among Roman factions once again to see who would dominate this vast empire. One of those who were successful (temporarily) was the ex-consul Galba, who also had the backing of Roman troops. He was supported by Otho, the governor of Lusitania and the ex-husband of Nero’s wife Poppaea, who offered his own troops in addition to Galba’s.
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Galba was removed from the position of Imperator when Roman soldiers who supported him switched sides to Otho. This was due to Galba’s failure to pay them for their support. He was killed in the Roman Forum, and he was replaced with his former ally Otho, whom the Senate immediately confirmed as princeps as well as imperator. However, it seemed that Otho was never destined for happy endings. As soon as he came to rule, a rebellion brewed within the troops stationed in the German territory of the empire under the command of a general named Vitellius. After a reign of just three months as emperor, Otho’s troops were defeated at the Battle of Cremona, and he committed suicide to avert a full-scale civil war. Otho was replaced by Vitellius, who, unfortunately for Rome, was cut from the same cloth as the overindulgent emperors before him. He dissolved the Praetorian Guard and installed his own loyal men to protect him, which earned the anger of those who lost their positions. Like Galba and other Julian emperors, he also indulged in vice excessively which earned resentment of the soldiers who fought for him. The unhappy Roman legions from the east decided to support Vespasian, then governor of Syria, to replace Vitellius as imperator.
Meanwhile, as governor, Vespasian succeeded in putting down a rebellion in Judaea led by the Jewish rebels called the Zealots. He and his son Titus had driven the rebels into Jerusalem, and his troops (without Vespasian himself) marched to Rome to help him to the throne. Vitellius’ troops were defeated in Cremona by Vespasian’s troops, and they later caught up with Vitellius and killed him. Vespasian was proclaimed as princeps by the Roman Senate. However, he waited until the rebellion in Judaea was successfully quashed before he traveled to Rome to accept his new position. Before he left for Rome in 70 AD, Jerusalem was only a shadow of its former glory; the city walls were broken down and the Second Temple was destroyed by fire.
Vespasian showed his shrewdness when he reshuffled the commanders of the troops to prevent them from banding against him. Additionally, he lowered taxes and did not use treason trials to condemn his enemies. These strategies were so effective that the Roman empire was generally peaceful and stable under his rule. With the exception of the province of Judaea where a revolt reached its climax in the fortress of Masada. The members of the Sicarii, an extremist branch of the Zealots, were besieged by the Romans in the fortress of Masada for years. When the fortress was finally breached, the rebels (along with their families) committed mass suicide. Judaea and the whole of Palestine became provinces of Syria soon after.
Vespasian died of natural causes in 79 AD, and his son Titus was confirmed as heir immediately.
Titus was the commander of Roman troops during the time of the First Jewish-Roman War. He had a reputation for ruthlessness in dealing with his enemies. This cruelty was probably out of necessity as he made a complete turnaround when he was proclaimed as princeps. His administration was orderly, and Rome was stable during the first few months of his reign. Unfortunately, disaster after disaster struck Rome during Titus’ short reign.
First was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which killed more than two thousand people. Then the fire which ravaged a great section of Rome, and finally, an epidemic which took the lives of what remained of the refugees. Titus had reigned for three short, yet tragic years before he died of a fever at the age of forty-two in 81 AD.
The Praetorian Guard and the Roman Senate had no choice but proclaimed Domitian as imperator and princeps upon the death of his brother Titus. He was a just ruler who weeded out corruption in the government. He also policed public morals to the point of severity (he had a Vestal Virgin buried alive when he discovered her affairs). He proclaimed that he was now “Lord and God” of the Romans and issued an order that he should be addressed in both titles. Although he was not as cruel as the emperors that came before him, this rigidity choked the Roman citizens who gradually resented his tight-fisted administration.
This resentment would finally push his own chamberlain, his niece, and the leader of the Praetorian Guard to conspire against him. In 96 AD, Domitian was stabbed to death by Stephanus, the steward of his niece Flavia Domitilla whose husband Domitian executed for atheism.
Picture By Lawrence Alma-Tadema – http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/image.asp?id=108, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2334600
Tranquillus, Gaius Suetonius, and John Carew. Rolfe. Suetonius: In Two Volumes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997
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