Nero

The last Roman emperor elected by the Senate.

Marcus Claudius Tacitus Augustus, known as Tacitus, was the last Roman emperor elected by the Roman Senate, and served only for a short period of time, between 275 and 276 AD. Little is known about Tacitus´ career before his reign. Some sources suggest he served in the Danube Legions before becoming a senator. We do know he held the office of Senate consul, rising to the highest Senate rank, princeps senatus, an office he held at the time he reluctantly accepted to be the next emperor by acclaim of the Senate. After the assassination of Aurelian, an eight-month long interregnum took place. During this time, the army, who normally would proclaim the next emperor,  decided to cede their right to the Senate, due to their remorse over the death of the popular emperor, Aurelian, who had died wi...

The Revolt of the Batavi. August 1, 69 AD.

The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between the years 69 and 70 AD. The revolt was led by the Batavi and other tribes from Germania and by the heir apparent Julius Civilis from Gaul, an official from the auxiliary troops. The revolt took advantage of the instability that was taking place in the Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors, with the Batavi managing to defeat two Roman legions and infringed humiliating defeats to the Roman army. The Batavi were highly skilled in war. Warriors were excellent horsemen, also were adept at swimming and boat managing (they were renowned for developing a technique of swimming in rivers while carrying all of their armour and weapons), so they became a desirable source for recruiting soldiers for the Empire....

The Great Fire of Rome. July 19, 64 AD.

The apocryphal image of Nero fiddling as Rome burned has long been burned into our minds, as well, but the lack of historical eyewitnesses has always made this event a controversial matter. The Great Fire of Rome took place, according to Tacitus, on the night of the 18th to the 19th of July 64 AD (he was only at the time seven years old at the time, but the date is not in dispute). What is known is the fire started in the Circus Maximus in the shops that sold flammable goods like ointments, spreading quickly, and burned for six days. The only living historiographer of that time who recorded the incident was Pliny the Elder, although he only mentioned it briefly, probably because he considered it “one of many” fires that blighted the city. Other contemporary writers, included the philosophe...

Galba Emperor. June 8, 68 AD.

Servius Sulpicius Galba was Roman Emperor from June 8, 68 until his death. He was the first of the four emperors that reigned during 69, known as “the year of the four emperors“. He had an outstanding political career: he was consul in 33, governor of Germania in 45, and proconsul of Africa in 46. In 45, he was sent by Caligula to Germania to replace Gaetulicus, of whom the emperor had grown suspicious. Galba achieved his reputation by developing efficient military policies and imposing strict discipline among his men. During his reign in Germania, he repelled barbarian invasions that had taken Gaul. Caligula was so happy with Galba´s achievements that he rewarded generously the troops under his command. In the turmoil after Caligula´s death, Galba declined taking the throne, e...

Vespasian, pecunia non-olet. December 21, 69 AD.

Throughout the early months of 69, Vespasian convened frequently with the Eastern generals. Gaius Licinius Mucianus was a notable ally. Governor of Syria and commander of three legions, Mucianus also held political connections to many of the most powerful Roman military commanders from Illyricum to Britannia by virtue of his service to the famous Neronian general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. In May 69, Mucianus formally implored Vespasian to challenge Vitellius. His appeal was followed by Vespasian’s official proclamation as Emperor in early July. Under instructions from the prefect Tiberius Alexander, the legions at Alexandria took an oath of loyalty to Vespasian on 1 July. They were swiftly followed by Vespasian’s Judaean legions on 3 July and thereafter by Mucianus’ Syrian...

The Second Battle of Bedriacum. October 24, 69 AD.

News of the defeat of Otho was brought to Brixellum, many of Otho’s troops urged him to fight on, pointing out that more troops were on the way, but the emperor chose suicide rather than cause more deaths. Vitellius continued his march on Rome, where he made a triumphal entry and was recognized as emperor by the Senate. Meanwhile, the legions stationed in the Middle East provinces of Judaea and Syria had acclaimed Vespasian as emperor. Vespasian had been given a special command in Iudaea by Nero in 67 with the task of putting down the Great Jewish Revolt. He gained the support of the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus and a strong force drawn from the Judaean and Syrian legions marched on Rome under the command of Mucianus. Before the eastern legions could reach Rome, the Dan...

The Pisonian Conspiracy. April 19, 65 AD.

Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of literature, and orator, intended to have Nero assassinated, and replace him as Emperor through acclamation by the Praetorian Guard. He enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and soldiers with a loosely conceived plan. Nero had been Emperor since 54 AD, and the ruling class had grown weary of his tyrannical reign. Although the conspiracy ended a failure, it sowed the seeds for the downfall of Nero, his suicide and the ensuing chaos of the Year of Four Emperors. The fact that senators, soldiers, and equestrians were willing to work together outlines the widespread hatred of Nero. It seems as if only Piso and perhaps Plautius Lateranus were driven to participate for the love of Rome. Others plotters, such as...

Caligula Emperor. March 28, 37 AD.

When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, his estate and the titles of the principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius’s own grandson, Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. Although Tiberius was 77 and on his death bed, some ancient historians still conjecture that he was murdered. Tacitus writes that the Praetorian Prefect, Macro, smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula’s accession, much to the joy of the Roman people. Seneca the Elder and Philo, who both wrote during Tiberius’s reign, record Tiberius as dying a natural death. Backed by Macro, Caligula had Tiberius’s will nullified with regard to Gemellus on grounds of insanity, but otherwise carried out Tiberius’s wishes. Caligula accepted the powers of the principate as conferred by the sena...

The death of Septimius Severus. February 4, 211.

By 210, Septimius Severus‘ campaigning had made significant gains in Britain, despite Caledonian guerrilla tactics and heavy Roman casualties. The Caledonians sued for peace, which Severus granted on condition they gave up control of the Central Lowlands. The Caledonians, short on supplies and feeling their position was becoming desperate, revolted later that year along with the Maeatae. Severus prepared for another protracted campaign within Caledonia. He was now intent on exterminating the Caledonians, telling his soldiers: “Let no-one escape sheer destruction, no-one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother, if it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction”. Severus’ campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill. He withdrew to Eboracum a...

Otho, Emperor of Rome. January 15, 69 AD.

Galba was childless and far advanced in years, and Otho, encouraged by the predictions of astrologers, aspired to succeed him. He came to a secret agreement with Galba’s favourite, Titus Vinius, agreeing to marry Vinius’ daughter in exchange for his support. However, in January 69 AD, his hopes were dashed by Galba’s formal adoption of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus. Desperate as Otho was because of the state of his finances, he found the money needed to purchase the services of some twenty-three soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. On the morning of 15 January, Otho attended as usual to pay his respects to Galba, and then hastily excused himself and hurried from the Palatine Hill to meet his accomplices. He was then escorted to the Praetorian camp, where he was saluted a...

Roman Provinces

The Roman Empire was sprawling and massive as they assimilated regions they conquered and mostly kept the population and cultures intact to a degree. In order to keep all of the provinces running smoothly, local mints were established to produce (mostly) base-metal coins. Over the course of the empire, more than 600 provincial mints provided the means for those not living in the large cities to conduct trade, while showcasing important themes, buildings or religious icons. Some large provincial mints, such as Tyre in Phoenicia, were allowed to strike silver coins. But mostly the provincial cities and towns featured their flavor on copper and bronze. This is the Roman Provincial Coinage. Interestingly, some Roman provincial issues are the only way to collect some of the family members, such...

Great Fire in Rome – July 18/19, 64 AD

Written by Publius Cornelius Tacitus c.116 AD, “Ab Excessu divi Augusti Historiam Libri” includes this account of the devastating fire which consumed most of the capital of the Roman Empire in 64 AD (translated by Michael Grant in his 1989 edition of “The Annals of Imperial Rome”): “…Now started the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced. It began in the Circus, where it adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills. Breaking out in shops selling inflammable goods, and fanned by the wind, the conflagration instantly grew and swept the whole length of the Circus. There were no walled mansions or temples, or any other obstructions, which could arrest it. First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the hills – but returned to r...

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