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What an Artist the World is Losing

Contributed by David Verne

Vindex, the governor of a province in Gaul, refuses to tax his subjects any further and becomes convinced that Nero has to be overthrown if the Empire is going to survive. In March, he announces that he will no longer obey Nero, but also says that he has no interest in ruling. Instead, he hints very strongly to Galba, a respected governor in Hispana, that he would support a revolt if Galba claimed the thrown. Galba declined since he was 69, and this left Vindex on his own. Nero orders the governor of Upper Germania to capture Vindex, and after being defeated Vindex commits suicide.

Nero is terrified of further revolt and even though Galba refused to revolt, Nero decides to get rid of a rallying point and declares him an enemy of the state. After Galba's arrest warrant was made public, everything began to collapse. Galba, not having any choice, gains the support of the other Spanish governors. Sabinus, a prefect of the Praetorian Guard, declares his support of Galba if civil war breaks out with a large portion of the guard following him after he promises them that Galba would pay them large bonuses. Nero panics and flees from Rome to the nearby port of Ostia, hoping to gather support from the soldiers there.

The soldiers refuse to listen to him and taunt him saying, "Is it so dreadful a thing to die?" Scared even more, Nero returns to Rome and goes to sleep in the palace. He wakes in the middle of the night and finds the palace abandoned by his bodyguards and friends. A loyal freedman offered Nero his villa 4 miles outside of Rome, and Nero flees there with four servants. Upon arriving, he orders them to begin digging a grave and paces nervously saying, "What an artist the world is losing."

A courier brings the news that the Senate had declared Nero an enemy of the state and was sending soldiers to capture him. He stabs himself in the throat and lays dying as the soldiers arrive and try to stop the bleeding. His last words are, "Too late! This is fidelity!" He was 30 years old and had ruled the Empire for 13 years. Nero did have some good qualities, but his cruelty and reckless spending were irredeemable.

He was to concerned with his own entertainment and popularity to rule effectively. In October, Galba marches into Rome and is hailed as the new Emperor. He quickly earns the ire of the Praetorians by refusing to pay them the bonuses that their prefect had promised them. Galba saw it as bribery and believed that soldiers should follow the rightful ruler out of a sense of duty. [1]

My Take by David Verne
The Empire had been ruled through the agreements made between the Senate and Augustus, and after his death, his power passed to his heirs. The problem was that Nero was the last surviving male of the Julio-Claudian family. With no structure in place to appoint a new emperor, some wondered if they would return to a Republic, but that was wishful thinking. Everyone alive at this period and been born under the reign of an emperor, and it was now just the natural way of things.

The Second String Quarterback

Contributed by David Verne

After Nero committed suicide, the Senate sent word to Galba that they were ready to accept him as Emperor. He stays in Hispana to consolidate rule there, and begins to execute any governors or other public officials who didn't immediatly support him. He went even further then that by also executing their wives and children. To the Romans, it was one thing to eliminate political opponents, but going after their families as well crossed a line. Back in Rome, Sabinus, the Praetorian prefect who had supported Galba, decided that he wanted to be emperor and began trying to take control of Rome. He soon lost the support of the Praetorians, who were still feeling guilty after betraying Nero, and they weren't going to abandon Galba as quickly. They lure Sabinus to their camp and kill him.

Galba leaves for Rome, and his army treats the march as a campaign. He orders them to sack any city that doesn't open its doors to him fast enough. The Senate begins to hear rumors about the purge in Spain, and Galba's reputation begins to plunge. He will destroy his remaining reputation when he encounters a new legion that Nero had raised just before his suicide. This legion was made up of former marines and sailors, who were considered second-class to legionaries, and they asked that they remain as a legion. Galba refuses, and when some of them draw their swords, he orders them to be attacked. They are massacred, and the survivors are decimated, every 1 in 10 was killed. Galba's own soldiers are shocked that he would order such an archaic punishment. By the time he reaches Rome in October, he wasn't hailed as a hero saving the city from a tyrant, but greeted as a feared and hated man.

Since Galba was so old, his three advisers held great sway over him, and many suspected that they were ruling thru him. His first policy was to begin repairing the Empires finances, and this took the form of cutting social welfare programs, raising taxes, and seizing property, most of which ended up owned by his advisers. Even more hated, everyone's chief concern was who he would name as heir, since he would probably die soon. Otho, one of Nero's old drinking buddies, had been exiled to a governorship in Hispana, and he tries to get Galba to name him as heir. The frugal and disciplined Galba hated Otho, but Otho was convinced that Galba liked him and spent most of his time befriending and bribing the Praetorians, who were still upset at Galba for not paying them a bonus. [2] [3]

My Take by David Verne
Tacitus writes about Galba that, "All pronounced him worthy of the empire, until he became emperor." This reminds me of people thinking that the second-string quarterback is the better quarterback, until he actually plays. Sometimes people are promoted above their competency level, and I think this is what happened with Galba. He continued to act like a military disciplinarian, when political tact was needed.

See Also


  1. Duncan, Mike (August 30, 2009). What an Artist the World is Losing.
  2. Tacitus, Cornelius. The Histories. 
  3. Duncan, Mike (August 30, 2009). What an Artist the World is Losing.

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