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Vespasia'nus, T. Fla'vius Sabi'nus

*ou)espasiano/s, Roman emperor, A. D. 70-79, was born in the Sabine country on the 17th of November, A. D. 9. His father was a man of mean condition, of Reate, 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. On laying aside the toga virilis, Vespasian, with reluctance and at the urgent solicitation of his mother, took the latus clavus. He served as tribunus militum in Thrace, and was quaestor in Crete and Cyrene. He was afterwards Aedile and Praetor. About this time he took to wife Flavia Domitilla, the daughter of a Roman eques, by whom he had two sons, both of whom succeeded him. In the reign of Claudius, and by the influence of Narcissus, he was sent into Germany as legatus legionis; and in A. D. 43 he held the same command in Britain, and reduced the Isle of Wight. (Sueton. Vespas. 4.) He was consul during the last two months of A. D. 51, and Proconsul of Africa under Nero, in which capacity Tacitus says (Hist. 2.97) that he was much disliked. He was at this time very poor. and was accused of getting money by dishonourable means. Love of money indeed is said to have always been one of his faults. But he had a great military reputation, and he was liked by the soldiers. He was frugal in his habits, temperate, and an enemy to all ostentation; of a kind disposition, without the passions of hatred or revenge. He had many great qualities, with some mean ones,--a combination not at all rare. His body was strong and his health good; and it is recorded that he used to fast one day in every month. (Sueton. Vespas. 8.)

Nero, who did not like Vespasian because he was no admirer of Nero's vocal powers, forbade him to appear in his presence; but when he wanted a general for the Jewish war, he thought nobody was fitter than Vespasian, and he sent him to the East at the close of A. D. 66, at the head of a powerful army. [VITELLIUS.] 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 first of July A. D. 69, in Judaea, where he then was, on the third of the same month, and soon after all through the East. He arranged that Mucianus, governor of Syria, should march against Vitellius, and that his son Titus should continue the war against the Jews. Titus, however, did little until the following year; and Antonius Primus defeated or gained over the troops of Vitellius, who was put to death about the 20th of December. Vespasian was in Egypt when he heard the news of the victory which his troops had gained at Cremona on the 25th of October; and he entered Alexandria, where he saw Apollonius of Tyana. Dio Cassius says that he made himself odious to the Alexandrines by increasing the taxes and imposing new ones, and the Alexandrines, according to their fashion, retaliated by satire and sarcasm. His object in going to Egypt was to cut off the supplies of grain from Alexandria to Rome, and so to compel Vitellius to yield; but this was unnecessary, for Domitian, the second son of Vespasian, then at Rome, was proclaimed Caesar upon the death of Vitellius. (Tac. Hist. 3.86.) The Senate conferred on Vespasian the imperial title, with a specific enumeration of powers, and released him from all the laws from which Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius had been released; and the Senatus-consultum was confirmed by a Lex. A fragment of this Lex still remains. Titus was made consul for the following year with his father.

Mucianus, who arrived at Rome the day after the death of Vitellius, acted with full authority, for Vespasian had given him all powers. Domitian, also as Caesar, took a share in public business, and availed himself of his new rank to commit many acts of violence. Mucianus presented Domitian to the soldiers, who gave them a largess or congiarium. Mucianus put several persons to death, and among them Galerianus, the son of C. Piso, who had aspired to the empire in the time of Nero. In A. D. 70 Titus was consul with his father, though neither of them was in Rome on the 1st of January; and Domitian was praetor. Antonius Primus had anticipated Mucianus in the defeat of Vitellius; and as Mucianus did not like Primus, who was also a turbulent man, he compelled his legions, which were much attached to their commander, to quit Rome. Mucianus also deprived Arrius Varus of the charge of Praefectus Praetorio, which he gave to Clemens Aretinus. The first care of the senate after the death of Vitellius was to rebuild the Capitol, which had been recently burnt; and Helvidius Priscus laid the first stone on the 21st of June with great solemnity. (Tac. Hist. 4.53.) Vespasian restored three thousand plates of bronze, which had been consumed in the conflagration, the invaluable records of the Roman state. (Sueton. Vespas. 100.8.) For this purpose all copies of the lost originals were carefully looked for. In this year the Sarmatians invaded Maesia and killed the governor, Fonteius Agrippa. Rubrius Gallus, who was sent by Vespasian, compelled the Sarmatians to retire across the river.

The Romans had now to carry on a war against the Batavi, who were situated near the mouth of the Rhine. These Batavi furnished soldiers for the Roman armies in Germany and Britain, and were so far in the relation of subjects to Rome. Claudius Civilis, a one-eyed man like Hannibal and Sertorius, and one of the most illustrious of the Batavi, had begun to excite his countrymen to resistance by preventing the march of the new recruits whom Vitellius had ordered to be enlisted. Having induced the Caninefates to join them, the Batavi attacked and defeated the Romans under Aquilius. Hordeonius Flaccus, who commanded the troops in Germany, sent Mummius Lupercus against Civilis with two legions, part of which joined Civilis, and the rest were driven back to Castra Vetera, perhaps Xanten in Cleves. Eight cohorts of Batavi and Caninefates, which Vitellius had ordered to march into Italy, turned back from Mainz and defeated Herennius Gallus near Bonn. (Tac. Hist. 4.19.) Civilis made his troops take the oath to Vespasian, and shortly after he was informed of the defeat of the Vitellians at Cremona, and that he ought now to lay down his arms, if he had taken them up for the cause of Vespasian; but Civilis had no intention to do so, and he declared that his object was to free his country and the Gauls from the Roman yoke. (Tacit. Hist. 4.32.) The history of this war is told under CIVILIS, CLAUDIUS.

Domitian left Rome on the news of the revolt of the Gauls with the intention of conducting the war against Civilis, and Mucianus, knowing his character, thought it prudent to accompany him. On their route the news arrived that Cerealis had ended the war with Civilis, and Mucianus persuaded Domitian to go no farther than Lyon. Domitian returned to Italy before the end of the year to meet his father.

When Vespasian heard at Alexandria of the de feat of the party of Vitellius, his first care was to send vessels to Rome with supplies of corn, which were much wanted. He also forwarded an edict to Rome, by which he repealed the laws of Nero and his three successors as to the crime of laesa majestas. and also banished astrologers, and yet he consulted astrologers himself, for all his good sense had not placed him above this superstition. (Tac. Hist. 2.28.) At Alexandria Vespasian is said to have cured a man who had a disease of the eyes, and a man with a paralysed hand,though probably neither of them was beyond the ordinary means of the healing art. (Tac. Hist. 4.81.) Vespasian, in his voyage from Egypt, visited Rhodes and several cities of Asia Minor. He landed in the south of Italy, and was joyfully received by the Italians on his journey to Rome and on his arrival there.

Vespasian worked with great industry to restore order at Rome and in the empire. He disbanded some of the mutinous soldiers of Vitellius, and maintained discipline among his own. He cooperated in a friendly manner with the senate in the public administration. Many sites in Rome still remained unbuilt since the great conflagration in Nero's time, and Vespasian allowed any person to build on these sites, if the owners did not do so, after a certain lapse of time. (Sueton. Vespas. 100.8.) In this year Vespasian as censor purged the Senate and the Equites of many unworthy members, and made up the deficient members by new nominations. He also raised several persons to the rank of Patrician, and among them Cn. Julius Agricola, afterwards the conqueror of Britain. The simplicity and frugality of his mode of life formed a striking contrast with the profusion and luxury of some of his predecessors, 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. (Sueton. Vespas. 12.) He often visited the villa in which he was born, and would not allow any change to be made in the place. 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. Vespasianus was mainly indebted to Mucianus, governor of Syria, for his imperial title, and he was not ungrateful for the services that Mucianus had rendered him, though Mucianus was of an arrogant and ambitious disposition, and gave Vespasian some trouble by his behaviour. He knew the bad 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 little savings, and for coarse humour, Yet it is admitted that he was liberal in all his expenditure for purposes of public utility. Love of getting money and niggardliness in personal matters are by no means inconsistent with bountiful outlay for great and noble objects.

In A. D. 71 Vespasianus was consul for the third time with M. Cocceius Nerva, the same probably who was afterwards emperor, for his colleague. The senate had decreed a triumph to Vespasian and Titus separately, for the conquest of the Jews ; but Vespasian thought that one triumph was enough for both, and for the first time, it is said, in the history of Rome, a father and a son triumphed together. Vespasian was very weary of the pompous ceremony before it was over. The temple of Janus was closed as the signal of war being ended, and the emperor commenced the erection of a temple of Peace. Titus at this time began to assist his father in the administration, and undertook the important functions of Praefectus Praetorio. In A. D. 72 Caesennius Paetus, whom Vespasian had made governor of Syria in place of Mucianus, informed the emperor that Antiochus, king of Commagene, and his son Epiphanes, were in treaty with the Parthian king and preparing to revolt. Whether the charge was true or false, Vespasian gave Paetus full powers to act, and the governor entered Commagene and took possession of the country. Antiochus was ultimately settled at Rome, where his two sons joined him, and Commagene was made a Roman province. [ANTIOCHUS IV., king of Commagene.]

Petilius Cerealis, who had terminated the war with the Batavi at the close of A. D. 70, was afterwards sent into Britain, and reduced to subjugation a large part of the Brigantes. Julius Frontinus, after him, subdued the Silures, or people of South Wales. Frontinus was succeeded by Julius Agricola in the command in Britain.

A great disturbance at Alexandria (A. D. 73) is recorded by Eusebius, but little about it appears in other writers. It was at this time that Achaea, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium, Cilicia, and other places, which were up to this time either considered as free states or governed by kings, were all subjected to a Roman governor, on the ground that their liberty was only used for the purposes of disturbance. (Paus. 7.17.4.)

The execution of Helvidius Priscus [PRISCUS] took place under the reign of Vespasian, and by his order; but the extravagant behaviour of Priscus and the mild temper of Vespasian justify us in concluding that the emperor's conduct in this affair may have had a reasonable justification. Priscus was a Stoic, who carried his doctrines to an absurd excess; and he and others of the same sect seem to have aimed at exciting insurrection. Vespasian banished the philosophers, as they were called, from Rome, with the exception of Musonius Rufus. Demetrius, one of these rabid sages, tried the emperor's patience by insulting him in the streets of Rome. (Sueton. Vespas. 13.) In A. D. 74 Vespasian and Titus made a census or enumeration of the Roman citizens, the last that was made. The conversation which is the subject of the Dialogus de Oratoribus [TACITUS] is represented as having taken place in the sixth year of Vespasian, A. D. 75.

In the year A. D. 77, the eighth consulship of Vespasianus and the sixth of Titus Caesar, Plinius addressed to Titus his great compilation, intitled Naturalis Historia. In the same year Eusebius records a pestilence at Rome.

In A. D. 78 Agricoia was sent to Britain, and he reduced to submission North Wales and the island of Anglesey, which had before been subjected by the Romans, but had revolted under the administration of Suetonius Paullinus. The following year (A. D. 79)Vespasian was guilty of an act of cruelty which marks his character with a stain. Julius Sabinus, who had assumed the title of Caesar in Gaul at the beginning of A. D. 70, was at last discovered, after nine years' concealment, and brought to Rome with his wife Epponina. The faithful devotion of Epponina during these years of concealment and alarm, has immortalised her name. When she was carried before Vespasian, she threw herself at his feet with the two children whom she had borne to her husband, whom she used to visit in his hiding-place. Vespasian, though moved to tears, condemned both Sabinus and his wife to die. The two children were preserved. (Tac. Hist. 4.55, 67.) The story is told at length by Plutarch. [SABINUS, JULIUS.]

Alienus Caecina and Marcellus, both of whom had received favours from Vespasian, conspired against him. The evidence was said to be complete. Titus invited Caecina, against whom he had some cause of complaint, to sup with him, and as he was leaving the palace, he ordered him to be put to death. This irregular proceeding, whatever may have been the guilt of Caecina, is a reproach to the memory of Titus and his father. Marcellus was tried by the Senate and condemned. He cut his throat.

In the summer of this year Vespasian, whose health was failing, went to spend some time at his paternal house in the mountains of the Sabini. By drinking to excess of cold water he damaged his stomach, which was already disordered. But 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 A. D. 79, being 69 years of age, seven months and seven days. He reigned ten years all but six days, for his reign is dated from his proclamation as emperor at Alexandria on the first of July A. D. 69.

The wife of Vespasian died before her husband's elevation to the imperial dignity, and also her daughter Domitilla. After his wife's death he cohabited with a freed woman named Caenis, whom, after he became emperor, he had, says Suetonius, almost as a lawful wife. A marriage with Caenis would not have been a Roman marriage, and she was a concubine, in the Roman sense. Caenis is accused of selling places under the emperor. (Suetonius, Vespasianus ; Tacitus, Hist. ; Dio Cassius, lxvi.; Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs, vol. ii.)


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    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.17.4
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.28
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.19
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.53
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