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The Year of the Four Emperors - 69 A.D.


The Year of the Four Emperors refers to the year 69 A.D. in which the Roman Empire was ruled by a rapid succession of four emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

In June of 68, the Senate declared Nero a public enemy and Galba emperor. Nero committed suicide and Galba was confirmed as emperor when he was welcomed into Rome ahead of his legions.

Galba's popularity was short-lived. He executed a number of senators and equites without trial, reversed a series of reforms enacted by Nero, and refused to pay previously promised rewards to soldiers who had supported him. Meanwhile, the legions in the province of Germania Inferior refused to swear allegiance to Galba and instead acclaimed Vitellius as emperor. Hearing of this, Galba proclaimed a successor, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus, to the offense of many. One hopeful in particular, Marcus Salvius Otho, had desired the honor himself. Otho bribed the Praetorian Guard to support him and shortly they killed Galba in the Forum.

On the same day as Galba's death (January 15, 69), the Senate recognized Otho as emperor and he was expected to be a fair leader. However, Vitellius was marching from Germany to Rome with an army to seize power. Otho sent emissaries to Vitellius to negotiate peace to no avail. Otho was eventually defeated at the First Battle of Bedriacum and killed himself on April 16. Vitellius was then recognized as emperor by the Senate and made his way to Rome.

Vitellius proceeded to celebrate his victory with a series of feasts and parades which nearly bankrupted the imperial treasury. Vitellius ordered the torture and execution of any money-lenders who demanded payment. The new emperor also pursued rivals by luring them to his palace where he would have them assassinated.

As Vitellius murdered his rivals in Rome, the legions in Egypt, Judaea, and Syria acclaimed Vespasian as emperor. Vespasian, who had been put in charge of a special command in Judaea by Nero in 67, made his way to Alexandria where he had been acclaimed as emperor on July 1. The legions of the Danube provinces of Raetia and Moesia acclaimed him emperor in August and then they invaded Italy under the leadership of Marcus Antonius Primus. In October, Primus's legions defeated Vitellius and his army at the Second Battle of Bedriacum. Vitellius attempted to negotiate peace by bribery and force but he could not garner the necessary alliances. Vitellius prepared to flee but was captured in his palace by Vespasian's troops who executed him. The Senate recognized Vespasian as emperor on December 21, 69.

Vespasian ruled as the first emperor of the Flavian dynasty until he died of natural causes on June 23, 79.

References

"Year of the Four Emperors." Wikipedia. Retrieved on August 7, 2011.
"Vespasian." Wikipedia. Retrieved on August 7, 2011.