69AD Vitellius: 10TH ROMAN "KING" since Rome possessed Jerusalem but never possessed her himself, Jerusalem enjoying freedom through revolt

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Vitellius

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Vitellius
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Image:Aulo vitelio germanico.JPG
Emperor Vitellius
Reign17 April 6922 December 69
Full nameAulus Vitellius
Born24 September 15(15-09-24)
Died22 December 69 (age 54)
Rome
PredecessorOtho
SuccessorVespasian
DynastyNone
FatherLucius Vitellius
MotherSextilia

Aulus Vitellius (September 24, 15December 22, 69), also called Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus, was Roman Emperor from April 17, 69 to December 22 of the same year, one of the emperors in the "Year of the Four Emperors" (the others being Galba, Otho, and Vespasian). He was the son of Lucius Vitellius and his wife Sextilia, and had one brother, Lucius Vitellius the younger. Suetonius records that there were two differnt legends of the Vitelli-that at one time they were rulers of Latium-or that their beginings were shameful; Suetonius also recorded that when Vitellius was born his horoscope so horrified his parents that his father tried to prevent Aulus from becoming a consul.

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[edit] Life

[edit] Pre-throne career

He was consul in 48, and (perhaps in 60-61) proconsul of Africa, in which capacity he is said to have acquitted himself with credit. At the end of 68 Galba, to the general astonishment, selected him to command the army of Germania Inferior, and here Vitellius made himself popular with his subalterns and with the soldiers by outrageous prodigality and excessive good nature, which soon proved fatal to order and discipline.

[edit] As emperor

Vitellius on a coin.
Vitellius on a coin.

He owed his elevation to the throne to Caecina and Valens, commanders of two legions on the Rhine. Through these two men a military revolution was speedily accomplished; they refused to renew their vows of allegiance to Emperor Galba on January 1, 69, and early in 69 Vitellius was proclaimed emperor at Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne) More accurately, he was proclaimed emperor of the armies of Germania Inferior and Superior. The armies of Gaul, Brittania and Raetia sided with them shortly afterwards. By the time that they marched on Rome, however, it was Otho, and not Galba, whom they had to confront.

In fact, he was never acknowledged as emperor by the entire Roman world, though at Rome the Senate accepted him and decreed to him the usual imperial honours. He advanced into Italy at the head of a licentious and rough soldiery, and Rome became the scene of riot and massacre, gladiatorial shows and extravagant feasting. To reward his victorious legionaries, Vitellius disbanded the existing Praetorian Guard and installed his own men instead.

In July 69, Vitellius learnt that the armies of the eastern provinces had proclaimed a rival emperor; their commander, Titus Flavius Vespasianus. As soon as it was known that the armies of the East, Dalmatia, and Illyricum had declared for Vespasian, Vitellius, deserted by many of his adherents, would have resigned the title of emperor.

It is said that he awaited Vespasian's army at Mevania. It was said that the terms of resignation had actually been agreed upon with Marcus Antonius Primus, the commander of the sixth legion serving in Pannonia and one of Vespasian’s chief supporters, but the praetorians refused to allow him to carry out the agreement, and forced him to return to the palace, when he was on his way to deposit the insignia of empire in the Temple of Concord. On the entrance of Vespasian's troops into Rome he was dragged out of some miserable hiding-place (according to Tacitus a door-keeper's lodge), driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, and there struck down. His body was thrown into the Tiber.{Suetonius} {According to Cassius Dio Vitellius was beheaded and his head paraded around Rome; his wife attended to his burial}. "Yet I was once your emperor," were the last and, as far as we know, the noblest words of Vitellius. His brother and son were also killed.

During his brief administration Vitellius showed indications of a desire to govern wisely, but he was completely under the control of Valens and Caecina, who for their own ends encouraged him in a course of vicious excesses which threw his better qualities into the background. It should be noted that one of the key accounts of Vitellus's cruelty and his being entirely under 'control' by Valens and Caecina is the historian Suetonius, given that Suetonius's own father was a military officer loyal to Otho we must be somewhat skeptical of his account, especially when other biographers namely Tacitus and Cassius Dio disagree with some of Suetonius assertions, even though their own accounts of Vitellus are scarcely positive ones.

Despite his short reign he made two important contributions to Roman government which outlasted him. Tacitus describes them both in his Histories:

Firstly Vitellus ended the practice of Centurions selling furloughs and exemptions of duty to their men, a change Tacitus describes as being adopted by 'all good emperors'.

He also expanded the offices of the Imperial Administration beyond the imperial pool of Freedmen allowing those of the Equites to take up positions in the Imperial Civil service.

[edit] Against the astrologers

In her book Ancient Astrology, Tamsyn Barton relates one story while explaining the dangers of practicing astrology in the Roman Empire:

"Thus astrologers were wise to act as an anonymous group. In the turbulent year of 69 CE, in response to Vitellius’ decree banning them from Rome and Italy from 1 October, they posted an announcement with their own edict:

"Decreed by all astrologers
In blessing on our State
Vitellius will be no more
On the appointed date."

In response Vitellius executed any astrologers he came across, according to Suetonius. He did not have long to enjoy the satisfaction of proving them wrong, for he only survived three months afterwards. (Tamsyn Barton, Ancient Astrology, pgs. 47-48.)

[edit] In fiction

Vitellius is also an antagonist in Simon Scarrow's Eagle novels, based around Vespasian and the Legio II Augusta's exploits during the Roman conquest of Britain.

[edit] Sources

The surviving sources, particularly Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, give an unfavourable picture of Vitellius; however it should be remembered that Suetonius' father was an army officer who had fought for Otho and against Vitellius at the first Battle of Bedriacum.

Far from being ambitious or scheming, he was lazy and self-indulgent, fond of eating and drinking, and was considered to be an obese glutton, eating banquets four times a day. Sources report that one banquet included 2,000 fish and 4,000 birds, and that his favorite dishes included pike livers, pheasant brains, and flamingo tongues — which rare ingredients he would send the Roman navy to procure. It was even said that he starved his own mother to death- to fulfill a prophecy that he would rule long if his mother died first.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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[edit] Primary sources

[edit] Secondary Sources

Preceded by
Claudius and Lucius Vitellius
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Lucius Vipstanus Publicola Messalla
48
Succeeded by
Quintus Veranius and Gaius Pompeius Longus Gallus
Preceded by
Otho
Roman Emperor
69
Succeeded by
Vespasian
Preceded by
Otho
Year of the Four Emperors
69, in competition with Vespasian
Succeeded by
Vespasian