Head Sculpture of Galba
|Emperor of the Roman Empire|
9 June 68 – 15 January 69|
24 December 3 BC|
Near Terracina, Italy
15 January 69 (aged 72)|
|Dynasty||Year of the Four Emperors|
|Father||Gaius Sulpicius Galba|
|Roman imperial dynasties|
|Year of the Four Emperors|
Born into a wealthy family, Galba was a capable military officer during the first half of the first century AD. He retired during Nero's reign but was later granted the governorship of Hispania Tarraconensis. Taking advantage of the defeat of Vindex's rebellion and Nero's suicide, he became emperor with the support of the Praetorian Guard.
Galba was the oldest emperor to date when he became Emperor and his physical weakness and general apathy led to his being dominated by favorites. Unable to gain popularity with the people or maintain the support of the Praetorian Guard, Galba was killed by Otho, who rebelled when Galba passed him over as his successor.
He was the first emperor of the Year of the Four Emperors, and the last to be born in the first century BC.
Origins and family life
Through his paternal grandfather ("more eminent for his learning than for his rank — for he did not advance beyond the grade of praetor" and who "published a voluminous and painstaking history", and, according to Suetonius, predicted his rise to power), he was descended from Servius Sulpicius Galba. Galba's father attained the consulship, and although he was short, hunchbacked and only an indifferent speaker, was an industrious pleader at the bar.
His mother was Mummia Achaica, the granddaughter of Lutatius Catulus (cos. 78 BC) and great-granddaughter of Lucius Mummius Achaicus. They only had one other child, an elder son called Gaius who left Rome after squandering the greater part of his estate, and committed suicide because Tiberius dishonored him by preventing him from taking part in the allotment of the provinces in his year. His father married a second wife, Livia Ocellina, a distant kinswoman of the empress Livia. She later adopted Galba, so he took her names, remaining Lucius Livius Ocella Sulpicius Galba until becoming emperor.
His was a noble family, and he was a man of great wealth, but was unconnected by birth and only very, very remotely by adoption with any of the first six Caesars. Despite this, in his early years he was regarded as a youth of remarkable abilities, and it is said that both Augustus and Tiberius prophesied his future eminence (Tacitus, Annals, vi. 20; Suet. Galba 4; Dio 57.19.4).
His wife, Aemilia Lepida, however, was connected by the marriages of some of her relatives to some of the Julii-Claudii. They had two sons, probably Gaius and Servius (most likely Livius Ocella Galba), who died during their father's life. The elder son was born circa 25 AD, and hardly anything is known about his life, as he died young. He was engaged to his step-sister Antonia Postuma, but they never wed, which leads modern historians to believe that he died during this time. Their engagement is dated to 48, and that is generally believed to be his time of death.
The date of birth of the younger son occurred later than 25 but before 30. This Galba outlived his older brother. He was a quaestor in 58, but he was never seen in politics after that. His time of death is generally believed to be around 60 AD. Galba Minor was never married and had no children.
Additionally, Suetonius's description of Galba was that "In sexual matters he was more inclined to males, and then none but the hard bodied and those past their prime". This seems to be the only case in Roman history where a named individual male is stated to prefer adult males.
He became Praetor in 20, and consul in 33; he earned a reputation in the provinces of Gaul, Germania, Africa and Hispania for his military capability, strictness and impartiality in judging disputes. On the death of Caligula, he refused the invitation of his friends to make a bid for the empire, and loyally served Claudius. For the first half of Nero's reign he lived in retirement, until 61, when the emperor bestowed on him the province of Hispania Tarraconensis.
In the spring of 68, Galba was informed of Nero's intention to put him to death, and of the insurrection of Julius Vindex in Gaul. He was at first inclined to follow the example of Vindex, but the defeat at Vesontio (Besançon) and suicide of the latter renewed Galba's hesitation. It was said that the courtier Calvia Crispinilla was behind his defection from Nero.
The news that Nymphidius Sabinus, the Praetorian Prefect, had given him his favour revived Galba's spirits. Until now, he had only dared to call himself the legate of the senate and Roman people; after Nero's suicide, he assumed the title of Caesar, and marched straight for Rome.
Following Nero's death, Nymphidius Sabinus sought to seize power prior to the arrival of Galba, but he could not win the loyalty of the Praetorian guard and was killed. Upon Galba's approach to the city in October, he was met by soldiers presenting demands; Galba replied by killing many of them.
Emperor (June 68)
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Galba's primary concern during his brief reign was restoring state finances, and to this end he undertook a number of unpopular measures, the most dangerous was his refusal to pay the praetorians the reward promised in his name. Galba scorned the notion that soldiers should be "bribed" for their loyalty. He was notoriously cruel throughout the Empire; according to the historian Suetonius, Galba levied massive taxes against areas that were slow to receive him as Emperor.
He also sentenced many to death without trial, and rarely accepted requests for citizenship. He further disgusted the populace by his meanness and dislike of pomp and display. Aged 69 at the time he became emperor, he would be the oldest person to become emperor until Gordian I in 238. Advanced age destroyed his energy, and he was entirely in the hands of favourites.
Three of these — Titus Vinius, who became Galba's colleague as consul, Cornelius Laco, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, and Galba's freedman Icelus Marcianus — were said to virtually control the emperor. The three were called "The Three Pedagogues" because of their influence on Galba. All this made the new emperor gravely unpopular.
During the later period of his provincial administration, Galba was indolent and apathetic, but this was due either to a desire not to attract Nero's notice or to the growing infirmities of age. Tacitus says all pronounced him worthy of the empire, until he became emperor ("omnium consensū cāpax imperiī nisi imperāsset"). As Pharaoh of Egypt, Galba adopted the titulary Autokrator Servios Galbas (“Emperor Servius Galba”).
Mutiny on the frontier
On 1 January 69, two legions in Germania Superior refused to swear loyalty to Galba. They toppled his statues, demanding that a new emperor be chosen. On the following day, the soldiers of Germania Inferior also rebelled and took the decision of who should be the next emperor into their own hands, proclaiming the governor of the province, Vitellius, as Emperor.
This outbreak of revolt made Galba aware of his own unpopularity and of the general discontent. In order to check the rising storm, he adopted as his heir and successor L. Calpurnius Piso. The populace regarded the choice of successor as a sign of fear and the Praetorians were indignant, because the usual donative was not forthcoming. Furthermore, M. Salvius Otho, who was expecting to be adopted, was alienated by the choice of Piso.
Assassination (January 69)
While Otho had governed Lusitania and was one of Galba's earliest supporters, he was disappointed at the selection of Piso and entered into communication with the discontented Praetorians, who hailed him as their emperor on 15 January 69. Galba at once set out to meet the rebels, though he was so feeble that he had to be carried in a litter. According to Suetonius, Galba prior to his death had put on a linen corset—although remarking that it had little protection against so many swords. He was met by a troop of Otho's cavalry and was killed near Lacus Curtius. One guard, centurion Sempronius Densus, died defending him. Piso was killed shortly afterwards. According to Plutarch, during Galba's last moments he offered his neck, and said, "Strike, if it be for the good of the Romans!"
After his death, Galba's head was brought to Otho, who gave it to his camp followers who paraded and mocked it—the camp followers' mocking was their angry response to a remark by Galba that his strength was unimpaired. The head was then bought by a freedman so he could throw it on the place where his former master had been executed on Galba's orders. Galba's steward buried both head and trunk in a tomb by the Aurelian Road.
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Galba's regal name has an equivalent meaning in English as "Commander Servius Galba Caesar, the Emperor".
- Classical Latin spelling and reconstructed Classical Latin pronunciation:
- SERVIVS SVLPICIVS GALBA CAESAR AVGVSTVS
- IPA: [ˈsɛr.wi.ʊs sʊɫˈpɪ.ki.ʊs ˈgaɫ.ba ˈkae̯.sar au̯ˈgʊs.tʊs]
- Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives Of The Caesars
- Suetonius, 4
- The following quote is NOT in Suetonius and has been removed to a footnote until the citation can be corrected and/or verified. ... Suetonius mentions that "Galba Minor had discovered his father's affair with a male slave and threatened to tell his step-mother, which led to death of him."
- Suetonius, Galba, 22
- Richlin, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, Oxford, 1992
- Plutarch Galba 6.4
- "Calvia Crispinilla". Women of History. A Bit of History. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
- Suetonious. The Twelve Caesars. Penguin. pp. 242–254. ISBN 978-0-14-045516-8.
- "Galba". The Royal Titulary of Ancient Egypt. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Suetonius "Galba" Chapter 19
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Galba, Servius Sulpicius (emperor)". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Galba|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Galba.|
- Galba.net: researching Galba's heritage
- Life of Galba (Suetonius; English translation and Latin original)
- Life of Galba (Plutarch; English translation)
- Cassius Dio, Book 63
Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus,
and Aulus Vitellius
| Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix
Lucius Salvius Otho,
and Gaius Octavius Laenas
| Roman Emperor
Gaius Bellicius Natalis, and
Publius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus
as Suffect consuls
| Consul of the Roman Empire
with Titus Vinius
Otho II, and
Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus II