previous next

Vespasiānus, Titus Flavius Sabīnus

A Roman emperor from A.D. 70 to A.D. 79. He was born in the Sabine country on the 17th of November, A.D. 9. His father was a man of mean condition, of Reaté, in the country of the Sabini. His mother, Vespasia Polla, was the daughter of a praefectus castrorum, and the sister of a Roman senator. She was left a widow with two sons, Flavius Sabinus and Vespasian. Vespasian served as military tribune in Thrace, and was quaestor in Crete and Cyrené. He was afterwards aedile and praetor. About this time he married Flavia Domitilla, the daughter of a Roman eques, by whom he had two sons, both of whom succeeded him. In the reign of Claudius he was sent into Germany as legatus legionis, and in 43 he held the same command in Britain, and reduced Vectis (Isle of Wight). He was consul in 51, and proconsul of Africa under Nero. He was at this time very poor, and was accused of getting money by dishonourable means; but he had a great military reputation, and was liked by the soldiers. Nero afterwards sent him to the East (A.D. 66), to conduct the war against the Jews. His conduct of the Jewish War had raised his reputation, when the war broke out between Otho and Vitellius after the death of Galba. He was proclaimed emperor at Alexandria on the 1st of July, 69, and soon after all through the East. He reached Rome in the following year (A.D. 70), leaving his son Titus to continue the war against the Jews. Titus took Jerusalem after a siege of five months; and a formidable insurrection of the Batavi, headed by Civilis, was put down about the same period. Vespasian, on his arrival at Rome, worked with great industry to restore order in the city and in the Empire. He disbanded some of the mutinous soldiers of Vitellius, and maintained discipline among his own. He co-operated in a friendly manner with the Senate in the public administration. The simplicity and frugality of his mode of life formed a striking contrast with the profusion and luxury of some of his predecessors,

Vespasian. (Naples Museum.)

and his example is said to have done more to reform the morals of Rome than all the laws which had ever been enacted. He lived more like a private person than a man who possessed supreme power: he was affable and easy of access to all persons. The personal anecdotes of such a man are some of the most instructive records of his reign. He was never ashamed of the meanness of his origin, and ridiculed all attempts to make out for him a distinguished genealogy. When Vologeses, the Parthian king, addressed to him a letter commencing in these terms, “Arsaces, king of kings, to Flavius Vespasianus,” the answer began, “Flavius Vespasianus to Arsaces, king of kings.”

If it be true, as it is recorded, that he was not annoyed at satire or ridicule, he exhibited an elevation of character almost unparalleled in one who filled so exalted a station. He knew the evil character of his son Domitian, and as long as he lived he kept him under proper restraint. The stories that are told of his avarice and of his modes of raising money, if true, detract from the dignity of his character; and it seems that he had a taste for petty saving and coarse humour. Yet it is admitted that he was liberal in all his expenditure for purposes of public utility. In 71 Titus returned to Rome, and both father and son triumphed together on account of the conquest of the Jews. The reign of Vespasian was marked by the conquest of North Wales and the island of Anglesey by Agricola, who was sent into Britain in 78. Vespasian also busied himself in securing the German frontier: he fortified the Agri Decumates and strengthened the defences of the Limes Germanicus. (See Germania.) In Italy he reorganized the Praetorian Guard, forming one of nine cohorts composed of Italians only. His financial management was marked by great economy; but he was the author of some remarkable public works at Rome, the building of the magnificent Temple of Peace, and the rebuilding of the Temple of Iupiter Capitolinus. In the summer of 79, Vespasian, whose health was failing, went to spend some time at his paternal house in the mountains of the Sabini, but derived no benefit from treatment. He still attended to business, just as if he had been in perfect health, and, on feeling the approach of death, he said that an emperor should die standing; and in fact he did die in this attitude, on the 24th of June, 79, being sixty-nine years of age. His last words were characteristic of his somewhat cynical humour, “Methinks I am becoming a god” (Ut puto, deus fio) (Suet. Vesp. 23; Dio Cass. cxvi.). See the account of Vespasian in Merivale's History of the Romans under the Empire (1865).

hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 23
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: