Emperor Galba

Life: 3 BC – AD 69

Servius Sulpicius Galba
  • Name: Servius Sulpicius Galba
  • Born on 24 December 3 BC near Terracina.
  • Governor of Hispania Tarraconensis AD 61-68.
  • Become emperor in AD 68.
  • Married Lepida (two sons); all three died early in his career.
  • Assassinated on 15 January AD 69.

Early Life

Servius Sulpicius Galba was born on 24 December 3 BC, in a country villa near Tarracina, the son of patrician parents, Gaius Sulpicius Galba and Mummia Achaica. Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius all held him in great esteem, and so he held successive offices as governor of Aquitania, consul (AD 33), military commander in Upper Germany, proconsul of Africa (AD 45).

He then made himself an enemy of Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger. And so, when she became Claudius’ wife in AD 49, he retired from political life for a decade. Shortly after Agrippina’s death, he returned and, in AD 60, was made governor of Hispania Tarraconensis.

He was an old disciplinarian whose methods owed much to cruelty, and he was notoriously mean. He was almost completely bald, and his feet and hands were so crippled by arthritis that he could not wear shoes or even hold a book. Further, he had a growth on his left side, which could only be held in with difficulty by a kind of corset.

Becoming the Representative of the Roman People

When in AD 68, Gaius Julius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, revolted against Nero, he did not intend to take the throne for himself, for he knew that he didn’t command widespread support. That is why he offered the throne to Galba.

At first, Galba hesitated. Alas, the governor of Aquitania appealed to him, urging him to help Vindex. On 2 April AD 68, he took the great step at Carthago Nova and declared himself the ‘representative of the Roman people.’ This didn’t lay claim to the throne, but it made him the ally of Vindex.

Galba was then joined by Otho, now the governor of Lusitania and the jilted husband of Poppaea. However, Otho had no legion in his province, and Galba, at that time, only possessed control of one. Galba quickly began raising an additional legion in Spain. When, in May AD 68, Vindex was defeated by the Rhine armies, a despairing Galba withdrew deeper into Spain. No doubt he saw his end coming. However, roughly two weeks later, news reached him that Nero was dead – and that he had been pronounced emperor by the senate (8 June AD 68). The move also enjoyed the support of the praetorian guard.

Galba’s accession was notable for two reasons. It marked the end of what is known as the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, and it proved that it was not necessary to be in Rome in order to win the title of emperor.

Emperor Galba

Dealing With the Enemies

He moved into Gaul with some of his troops, where he received the first deputation from the senate in early July. During the autumn, Galba then disposed of Clodius Macer, who had risen against Nero in North Africa and most likely wanted the throne for himself.

But before he had even reached Rome, things began to start going wrong. Had the commander of the praetorian guard, Nymphidius Sabinus, bribed his men to abandon their allegiance to Nero, then Galba had always found the promised amount too high. So, instead of honoring Nymphidius’s promise to the praetorians, he simply dismissed him and replaced him with a good friend of his own, Cornelius Laco. Nymphidius’ revolt against this decision was quickly put down, and Nymphidius himself was killed.

Galba’s Internal Issues

Did the disposal of their leader not endear the praetorians to their new emperor, and then the next move ensured that they hated him. The officers of the praetorian guard were all exchanged by favorites of Galba’s, and following this, it was announced that the original bribe promised by their old leader, Nymphidius, was not to be reduced but simply not to be paid at all. Not merely the praetorians but the regular legions, too, should not receive any bonus payment to celebrate a new emperor’s accession. His words were, “I choose my soldiers. I do not buy them.”

But Galba, a man of enormous personal wealth, soon displayed other examples of dire meanness. A commission was appointed to recover Nero’s gifts to many of the leading figures of Rome. His demands were that of the 2.2 billion sesterces Nero had given away – he wanted at least ninety percent to be returned.

This contrasted wildly with the blatant corruption among the officials Galba himself appointed. Many greedy and corrupt individuals in his new government soon destroyed any goodwill towards Galba that might have existed among the senate and the army.

The worst of these corrupt officials was said to be the freedman Icelus. He was not only rumored to be Galba’s homosexual lover, but rumors told of him having stolen more in his seven months in office than all of Nero’s freedmen had embezzled in 13 years.

Emperor Galba

The Revolt of the Army

With this sort of government in Rome, it was not long before the army revolted against Galba’s rule. On 1 January AD 69, the commander of Upper Germany, Hordeonius Flaccus, demanded his troops to renew their oaths of allegiance to Galba. But the two legions based at Moguntiacum refused. They instead swore allegiance to the senate and the people of Rome and demanded a new emperor.

The very next day, the troops of Lower Germany joined the rebellion and appointed their commander, Aulus Vitellius, as emperor.

Death of Emperor Galba

He tried to create the impression of dynastic stability by adopting the thirty-year-old Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his son and successor. This choice, however, greatly disappointed Otho, one of the emperor’s very first supporters. Otho no doubt had hoped for the succession himself. Refusing to accept this setback, he conspired with the praetorian guard to rid himself of Galba. On 15 January AD 69, several praetorians set upon Galba and Piso in the Roman Forum murdered them, and presented their severed heads to Otho in the praetorian camp.

People Also Ask:

What is Galba most known for?

He was the first Roman emperor installed to the throne with the help of the legions. He would not be the last. His demise plunged Rome into a civil war. In a single year – “Year of the Four Emperors” – four men, four military commanders, starting with Galba, fought for the throne.

What caused the Year of the Four Emperors?

To say that AD 68/69 was an eventful one would be a spectacular understatement. The year is now known as the ‘Year of the 4 Emperors’ kicked off in AD 68 when the reign of the much-maligned Emperor Nero ended in his suicide – apparently lamenting ‘what an artist dies in me.’

Who was Nero’s successor?

The suicide of Emperor Nero was followed by a brief period of civil war. Then, between June 68 and December 69, four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. Galba was recognized as emperor following Nero’s suicide, but he did not remain popular for long.

Who was the emperor after Galba?

He then made matters worse by ignoring his faithful supporter, Marcus Otho, and naming Lucius Piso as his successor. Otho was furious. He gained the support of the Praetorian Guard, who assassinated both Galba and Piso – just seven months after Galba had been named emperor. Now, it was Otho’s turn to rule.

What is a fun fact about Galba?

Interesting facts about Emperor Galba: – He was born in 3 BC in Terracina, Italy. – He was a member of the Roman nobility and served in the military for many years. – He was appointed governor of Hispania Tarraconensis in AD 68.