69 - 79 CE
|Buoyed by the prophecy of his Jewish prisoner, Josephus, that he would become emperor, Vespasian left the Judaean campaign in his son's hands and marched off to make it happen.|
|Vespasian "Judaea Capta" Denarius|
|About this coin: To celebrate the victory of the mighty Roman Empire over the tiny Jewish nation, Vespasian issued a massive series of coinage. This is probably the most common variety, featuring a dejected Jewish woman seated in front of a Roman victory trophy, and the caption "IVDAEA" (Judaea) beneath her.|
Some speculate that Nero sent Vespasian to Judaea to punish him for falling asleep during one of Nero's interminable public performances. Be that as it may, that's where he was when he heard that Nero had committed suicide, and that Galba had been named the new Emperor. He did not declare support for Galba, but neither did he move against him. When Galba was killed and Otho donned the Imperial Purple, though, Vespasian did declare his support and prepared to come to Otho's aid against the usurper Vitellius.
But the Vitellian troops moved so fast that Otho was already dead before Vespasian could get his troops on the road. Upon hearing Otho was dead, Vespasian's troops proclaimed him Emperor. He accepted, though with some reluctance, some say. Otho's supporters quickly came over to him. Vitellius's reign was precipitously and ignominiously ended, and the Senate announced that Rome had its fourth new emperor in just over a year.
Vespasian was a new style of emperor, a product of the middle classes rather than a patrician. He had quite a sense of humor (the historian Suetonius described it as being "... of a low and buffoonish kind"). As often as not, he was the butt of his own jokes, and he would encourage others to tell jokes at his expense as well.
With the treasury depleted by Nero's greed and war, Vespasian raised taxes extensively. Probably his most infamous was his tax on public urinals. His son, Titus, declared that this was undignified, to which Vespasian offered him some gold coins to sniff, commenting: "See, my son, if these have any smell." When Titus assured him that they had no odor, he replied, "and yet, they come from urine!" But he didn't resort to executions and confiscations, as several of his predecessors had.
Also in contrast to his predecessors, Vespasian did not take revenge upon the supporters and families of his defeated enemies. He even helped Vitellius's daughter make a good marriage and supplied her with a dowry. Vespasian was known for his public building projects, including the Colosseum (built on the site of the lake outside of Nero's "Golden House") and his finishing the Temple to the Deified Claudius, which Nero had begun to demolish as part of his plans for the grounds of his personal residence.
In his eleventh year as emperor, Vespasian fell ill. Near death, he couldn't resist a final joke, stating: "Methinks I'm becoming a god!" He then declared that "... an emperor should die standing" and struggled to his feet before collapsing and dying. He left an empire that was enjoying peace and prosperity, and with a well stocked treasury. Not bad, considering the state of the empire when he started.