December 21


69 AD Vespasian becomes Roman Emperor

The Julio-Claudian family had ruled Rome since 31 BC and in that century only the dynastic founder Caesar Augustus was a success. His heir Tiberius started off well but became a corrupt and murderous tyrant. He was followed by Caligula, a corrupt and murderous madman. Next came Claudius, a well-meaning idiot poisoned by his wife to pave the succession of her son Nero. Nero’s crimes include the murder of his step-brother, mother, two wives and a host of Christians. In the year 68 the armies of Rome rebelled. Nero committed suicide, lamenting that Rome was losing a great poet in him, but no clear successor emerged. This brought about The Year of Four Emperors, as general after general claimed the imperial crown and was defeated by the next army leader. So hail and farewell to Vitellius, Otho, and Galba in short order. Surviving this round of civil wars was Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus, the founder of the Flavian dynasty.

Vespasian came from a new-money family with few influential connections. He rose slowly through political office but did better as a general, winning fame in the invasion of Britain and later in putting down the Jewish revolt in 68. The coin above reads “Judea Conquered”. Watching the civil war back in Rome, Vespasian believed that he should try his luck and he moved his army to seize the Egyptian grain supply which fed Rome while other armies of his supporters moved on the capital. On this date in 69 the Senate declared him Emperor.

Vespasian is known as a sane man and careful with money. His tax on urine (used in the tanning business) prompted the charge that an emperor should be above making money out of piss. His reply was pecunia non olet — money has no smell — and to this day urinals in France are called vespasiennes. Loot from Israel and the Jerusalem Temple helped him build the Colosseum, with the help of thousands of Jewish slaves who were killed in celebration of the arena’s opening.

When he was dying, aware that defunct Roman emperors were routinely deified, he cried, “Oh dear. I think I’m becoming a god.”

One thought on “December 21”

  1. So is this where the expression ‘piss poor’ comes from?
    Although I doubt it’s accurate that these were his hyping words, it’s a great quote!!

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