Roman Emperor - Vespasian
AD 9 - 79
Vespasian (full name Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus) born at Reate in central Italy in 9 AD, was the son of a tax collector.
He rose to prominence in the Roman army and served in high military and civil posts in the East, Britain and Africa.
In Thrace he served as a military tribune in 36 AD. Elected as a quaestor the following year he served in Cyrene and Crete. Under the reign of Caligula he rose swiftly through the ranks with being elected aedile in 39 AD and then on to praetor in 40 AD.
When Claudius became emperor in 41 AD Vespasian was appointed a legate in Germania.
In 43, as legatus legionis in Britain, he conquered the Isle of Wright. In 66 AD he was sent by Nero (Nero became emperor in 54 AD) to put down the Jewish rebellion in the province of Judea.
Nero disliked him, but could not dispense with his services, and when Vespasian was still in Judaea, where he had been sent in 66 to conquer the Jews, when news reached him of his proclamation as emperor after an eventful year following the death of Nero (Galba, Otho and Vitellius all taking the position consecutively yet short lived).
Vitellius, his rival for imperial honours, was defeated by Antonius Primus in a brief civil war, and, largely owing to the support of Mucianus, Vespasian was soon firmly established on the throne.
Coming from a humble background, Vespasian rose through his military competence to command the Roman army and proclaimed emperor.
Why was the Colosseum built?
The Colosseum, the ruins of which still stand proudly in Rome, was built in the first century after Christ by the Emperors Vespasian and Titus. It is a large amphitheatre, rather like our football stadiums but much grander, and was built mainly by Jewish prisoners captured by the Romans in the battle for Jerusalem. Beautiful though it is, the Colosseum was the scene of some dreadful happenings. Its purpose was, like our football grounds, to provide entertainment for the people of Rome. But their idea of entertainment was very different: inside the Colosseum fights to the death took place between gladiators, or between wild beasts and Christian prisoners.
The Reign of Vespasian AD 69-79
Proclaimed emperor by his soldiers while he was campaigning in Palestine. Roman legions from Pannonia and Illyricum (central Europe) marched on Rome and defeated Vitellius, who had gained control. Vespasian entered Rome in triumph early in 70 AD.
He immediately began to restore order, out of the chaos of a year of civil war. He reorganized the eastern provinces, and was a capable administrator. He was responsible for the construction of the Colosseum in Rome, which was completed by his son Titus.
An honest, straightforward administrator, he stabilized Rome's finances. He set up new taxes and imposed heavy taxes, thereby restoring the empire's financial condition. He used the income to promote education and build public works. The economy was strengthened by Vespasian's own example of frugality. Rome prospered under his rule.
As well as the Colosseum, a new temple on Capitoline Hill were started during his rule. Vespasian restored the army's morale, strengthened the defense of the empire's frontiers, and reorganized provinces in the East.
As emperor, Vespasian retained the soldierly virtues of common sense, lack of pretence and straightforwardness. He saw his task as restoring confidence and stability to the Roman Empire after a period of serious dissension.
He was succeeded by his son Titus, who had helped him govern the empire.
Other important events of Vespasian's reign include:
- He built a new forum, the famous Colosseum and other buildings.
- The suppression of a formidable revolt by the Germanic Batavians led by Julius Civilis in 69 to 70 AD.
- After the capture and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD the world was at peace for nine years.
- Conquests in Britain by the Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola.
- The development of a more extensive educational system. He founded professorships to encourage education.
- Founder of the Flavian dynasty.