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  • Roman Emperor Vespasian dies on June 24, 79.

    Beatriz Camino

    Roman Emperor Vespasian dies on June 24, 79.

    Vespasian (17 November 9 AD– 23 June 79) was Roman emperor from 69 to 79 AD. He was the last emperor to rule during the Year of the Four Emperors and established the Flavian dynasty, which governed the Empire for 27 years. His fiscal reforms, consolidation of the empire, and extensive building program contributed significantly to political stability.

    Early Life & Career

    Titus Flavius Vespasianus was born into a family of little distinction in the small town of Falacrina, just north of Rome, on November 17, 9. Raised by his paternal grandmother, Tertulla, he was the son of Sabinus, a customs supervisor in Asia, and Vespasia Polla. He had an older brother, also named Sabinus, who became a consul and governor. The future emperor married Flavia Domitilla, who bore him three children: Titus, Domitian, and Domitilla (who died in infancy). After his wife’s death, he married his ex-mistress Caenis, though the marriage was never official due to her social standing as a slave.

    Despite his lack of noble lineage, Vespasian served as a general in Thrace and as a quaestor (financial official) on the island of Crete and in Cyrenaica. He also commanded a legion in Germany and Britain, participating in over thirty battles and capturing at least twenty cities. Throughout his time away from Rome during the reigns of Caligula and Claudius, Vespasian found political success but struggled financially, always in need of money. Although part of Emperor Nero’s “inner circle”, he temporarily disappeared from public service after supposedly falling asleep during one of Nero’s long concerts. However, when rebellions broke out in Judea in 66, Vespasian was sent with his son Titus to quell the unrest due to his command abilities.

    The Year of the Four Emperors

    After the death of Nero in 68, Rome experienced a succession of short-lived emperors and a year of civil wars. Galba was murdered by supporters of Otho, who was subsequently defeated by Vitellius. Seeking another candidate, Otho’s supporters settled on Vespasian.

    Throughout the early months of 69 AD, Vespasian frequently convened with Eastern generals, notably Gaius Licinius Mucianus, a key ally with extensive political connections to powerful Roman military commanders. In May 69, Mucianus formally urged Vespasian to challenge Vitellius, leading to Vespasian’s official proclamation as Emperor in early July. Acting under the instructions of the prefect Tiberius Alexander, the legions in Alexandria swore loyalty to Vespasian on July 1. They were swiftly followed by Vespasian’s Judaean legions on July 3, and Mucianus’ Syrian legions on July 15.

    Vitellius, who then occupied the throne, had the veteran legions of Gaul and the Rhineland. However, support for Vespasian quickly gathered momentum, and the armies of Moesia, Pannonia, and Illyricum soon declared for him, effectively making him the de facto master of half the Roman world.

    While Vespasian was in Egypt securing its grain supply, his troops entered Italy from the northeast under the command of Marcus Antonius Primus. They defeated Vitellius’ army at Bedriacum and advanced to Rome. Vitellius hastily arranged a peace with Antonius, but the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard forced him to retain his position. After intense fighting, Antonius’ army entered the capital and defeated Vitellius’ army.


    Vespasian was declared emperor by the Senate while he was in Egypt on 21 December 69, following his proclamation by the Egyptians in the summer. In the interim, the administration of the empire was given to Mucianus, assisted by Vespasian’s son, Domitian.

    Vespasian and Mucianus renewed old taxes and introduced new ones, increasing the tribute of the provinces and closely monitoring treasury officials. In fact, the Latin proverb Pecunia non olet “Money does not stink” originated from Vespasian’s urine tax on public toilets. This tax, initially imposed by Emperor Nero but later abolished, was reinstated by Vespasian around 70 to replenish the treasury.

    During this time, the empire faced continued unrest. In Judea, Titus quelled the rebellion with the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. In Gaul and Germany, the second Batavian Rebellion led by Gaius Julius Civilis and Julius Sabinus was suppressed by Vespasian’s son-in-law, Quintus Petillius Cerialis, by the end of 70.

    Upon arriving in Rome in mid-70, Vespasian embarked on efforts to secure his rule and prevent future revolts. He offered gifts to the military and public, dismissed or punished soldiers loyal to Vitellius, and restructured the Senatorial and Equestrian orders, removing enemies and adding allies. Regional autonomy of Greek provinces was revoked, and significant attempts were made to control public perception through propaganda. He then focused on rebuilding many homes and buildings that had been burned during the final days of Vitellius’ reign. Among his significant construction projects were new temples and the massive Colosseum, also known as the "Flavian Amphitheatre."

    Death & Legacy

    While visiting outside Rome, Vespasian contracted "undulant fever." However, he avoided proper care and travelled to his summer residence in Rieti, where he died on June 23, 79, at the age of 69. His son Titus succeeded him but served only two years before being succeeded by Domitian.

    Vespasian’s reign marked significant consolidation of power, financial reforms, and propaganda efforts that stabilised the empire after a tumultuous period, laying the foundation for the Flavian dynasty.


    Vespasian AV Aureus. Rome, AD 70.Judaea, First Jewish War. Jerusalem, 66-73 CE. Year 2 = April 67 - March 68 CE, AR Shekel. Ex NFA XXVIII, 23 April 1992, lot 161 (plate coin)Vespasian, Gold Aureus

    Vespasian, Temple of Vesta Gold Aureus, NGC Choice VF, 5/5, 4/5, fine style.Roman Empire Vespasian AV Aureus (Lugdunum, AD 71)VESPASIAN (69-79). GOLD Aureus. Rome.


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