December 02: make way for Vespasian

2012/12/02 § Leave a comment


On this day in 69 AD Vitellius concluded his term as Roman emperor.

Aulus Vitellius Germanicus was fifty-four years old when he became Roman Emperor on the 16th of April in 69 AD, and was still fifty-four years old when he was assassinated eight months and seven days after taking office.  His two immediate predecessors, Galba and Otho, had not fared better, also coming and going within the calendar year (the same calendar year).  Just prior to them, Nero had come to an equally horrific end after a more extraordinarily excessive reign (of a whopping four years).

Accounts of Vitellius’ behavior vary, and many are exaggerated accounts.  Even so, he was given to gluttony and excess, certainly a common liability of his position.  But that wasn’t his undoing.  Vitellius was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though he tried to get out.  His death came with the rise of Vespasian (09-79 AD), and at the hands of Vespasian’s solders, who had proclaimed their man emperor in the summertime of the fateful year, 69 AD.  Vitellius might not have been much of a scholar or historian, but he understood the pattern of his predecessors’ sudden exits from office, and made fast to concede.  But before he could surrender the trappings of his office, he was attacked, captured and killed in the Forum with his brother and son.

The brutality was certainly unwarranted, but Vitellius’ removal was necessary.  With him out of office, Vespasian was able to sweep into Rome and show the world how an emperor out to act, at least in terms of the building-part of the job description.  Ignoring the three stooges who so quickly came and then went to their sticky ends, Vespasian sized up the horrific legacy of Nero, directing the continued and thorough demolition of the hated and odious Domus Aurea.  In the midst of Nero’s great expansive pleasure grounds, Vespasian set about building a gift for the people of Rome: a building that would at once contribute to their enjoyment, show Rome to be the great power it was meant to be, and solidify his approval.  All was accomplished in the relatively quick and straightforward matter of constructing the biggest amphitheater the world had ever seen.

Image: ominous maximus: the Colosseum (from this source)


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