Year of Four Emperors: Chaotic Times of Roman Empire

Last of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty emperors of Rome was Nero. Nero was a ruler disdained by the people due to his vanity and inadequacies as a ruler. During his rule, he had one wife executed and murdered the other with a fatal kick. His policies were against the general populace of Rome and inspired revolution against the Crown. On June 9, 68 AD Nero committed suicide to escape execution dictated by the Roman Senate. Senate was expecting to end the tyrannical rule of Nero in hopes of a bright future, but what followed next was utter chaos. In a single year four different men with high social standings and power declared themselves emperor of Rome. They clashed against one another, leading to an immense loss of life.

Death of Nero

Death of Nero


First Emperor: Galba

Frustrated with Nero’s extravagance and in light of Galba’s approach towards the capital the Roman Senate declared Nero public enemy in April, 68 AD. Galba who was then the governor of Spain wasted no time in declaring himself the emperor. Galba’s announcement made it possible for an emperor to be declared outside the city of Rome. And this in turn led to further future complications. Galba was the first emperor of Rome who did not belong to the Julio-Claudian bloodline. But he belonged to a notable and affluent family and this was adequate for him to rule. Roman historians note that Galba was strict and miserly. He withheld pay of the troops, angering them. One of Galba’s loyal supporters was senior statesman Vitellius, who too belonged to a prominent family. He was elected governor of Lower Germany. As a part of his responsibilities in Germany, Vitellius had power over a large contingent of soldiers. These soldiers were angry over their non-payments by the emperor. Vitellius quickly sided the soldiers to his own goal.

Emperor Galba

Galba – First of Four Emperors


In Rome, Galba was already in his seventies when he ascended the throne. There were discussions everywhere whom Galba would nominate as his successor. Otho, who was the governor and ardent supporter of Galba hoped to be named the heir. Otho held good positions during Nero’s reign too. In the year 69, Galba overlooked Otho and named Lucius Calpurnius Piso as his successor. As soon as the news spread across the capital, there were sever repercussions. Some of Otho’s loyal supporters declared him the emperor of Rome. There was severe unrest in Rome, but it did not take long before Glaba was killed by a Praetorian Guard posted to protect him. Galba’s reign lasted for only seven months.

Second Emperor: Otho

Emperor Otho

Otho – Second of Four Emperors


Following the assassination of Galba, Otho ascended the Roman throne. But it was a crown of thorn for him. Vitellius, the governor had already organized a coup and he had declared himself the emperor, following Galba’s example. With his power and soldier strength Vitellius even stole the sword of Julius Caesar. When Otho knew of Vitellius he amassed a force by gathering enforcements from gladiators and other places. But Otho’s army was defeated at Bedriacum in Northern Italy. Otho understood that he could not stop the approach of Vitellius and gave in to his fate. He wrote farewell letters to his loved ones and then committed suicide in April, 69 AD.

Third Emperor: Vitellius

Emperor Vitellius

Vitellius – Third of Four Emperors


Vitellius marched to the capital and took on his responsibilities as an emperor. Roman historians claim that Vitellius was gluttonous and indulged in pleasures. He lost faith of the supporters very quickly with his attitude. Three months into his reign, in the month of July, armies in Judaea, Egypt and Syria declared their allegiance for Vespasian. Soon the armies located close to Rome sided with the commander too. In November, Vitellius was willing to resign from his post. He wanted to negotiate with Vespasian. But the army was against such an agreement. In December, when Vespasian marched his way to Rome, Vitellius was dragged out of his hiding and killed by the soldiers.

Fourth Emperor: Vespasian

Emperor Vespasian

Vespasian brought stability


After the death of Vitellius, senate agreed to declare Vespasian as the new emperor of Rome. He was the first ruler of the Flavian Dynasty and ruled successfully. He brought political stability to Rome.


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