(Titus Flavius Vespasianus)


Vespasian was a Roman general who had worked his way up from humble beginnings to the top ranks in the army. He served for many years in Britain, Germany, Africa, and the East under Emperors Claudius and Nero, and took no part in the early rebellions against Nero and his successors. It was not until the year 69 A.D., after the imperial throne had changed hands three times in little more than a year, that he became involved in the struggle for control of the empire. He was in Judea prosecuting the Jewish War, when the legions in Syria and Egypt withdrew their support for Vitellius and proclaimed him emperor. At that point he passed command of the legions fighting in Judea to his son Titus, and marched to Rome to claim the throne.

Vespasian proved to be a most worthy emperor. He had risen through the ranks of the army by merit alone. He was a competent administrator, and thoroughly enjoyed the respect of all of the army. He came to power at a time when the office of the emperor had been degraded by its previous occupants, and the affairs of state were in considerable disarray. He worked hard to reform imperial finances, and removed many corrupt and dissolute senators and replaced them with competent and honorable men. He ushered in an era of long term peace and prosperity, and undertook new public building projects, including the famous Flavian Amphitheatre (the Colosseum), which still stands today. He lived frugally and without hint of scandal or corruption.

There is a famous romantic tragedy that occurred during Vespasian's reign involving Julius Sabinus and his wife Epponina. Sabinus was involved in a revolt against Vespasian that occurred early in his reign. His wife kept him hidden for seven years, and then when he was found out, pleaded for mercy. Vespasian, however, had both husband and wife put to death. His biographers, however, are confounded at this show of cruelty, which they do not consider to be representative of his character. A better epigram is probably his last words, he is said to have uttered as he rose from his death bed: "An emperor should die standing up." Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus.

Key events during the life of Vespasian:

  Served in Germany.
Served in Britain. Conquered the Isle of Wright (Vectis).
Proconsul in Africa under Nero.
Given charge to put down rebellion in Judea.
Captured Josephus, priest of the Jews.
Proclaimed emperor by legions in the East, in opposition to Vitellius.
Titus conquered Jerusalem, destroyed temple.
Put down revolt of the Batavii in northern Gaul.
Reformed empire finances. Replaced corrupt senators.
Began construction of Colosseum.
Executed Julius Sabius and his wife Epponina.
Appointed Agricola governor of Britain.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Of the First Coming of the Romans  in  Last Days of Jerusalem  by  Alfred J. Church
Man of Business  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Story of Epponina  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Man of Business  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Siege of Jerusalem  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Titus in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland
Faithful Eponina  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

 in Pictures from Roman Life and Story

The Coliseum
 in The Story of the Romans

The colosseum as it looks to-day, From a photograph
 in Famous Men of Rome

Rulers of the Early Empire
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

Vespasian Planning the Colosseum
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

The Coliseum at Rome
 in Historical Tales: Roman

Short Biography
Agricola Roman general and statesman. Governor of Britain. Pacified Wales.
Titus Second Flavian emperor. Conquered Jerusalem. Reigned with father Vespasian.
Josephus Jewish historian. Captured by Romans at Jotapata. Wrote the Jewish War.
Vitellius Emperor for nine months in 69 A.D. Known as an incompetent glutton.
Julius Sabinus Led a rebellion in Gaul. Hid for seven years, then killed by Vespasian.
Epponina Faithful wife of Julius Sabinus. Vespasian refused pardon for her husband and herself.
Julius Civilis Led the revolt of the Batavii on the lower Rhine.