from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Restored original portrait of Vespasian made in the early years of his reign. The head, which originally belonged to a statue, is on display in the Vatican Museums (Inv. 1291)

Vespasian (born November 17, 9 in Falacrinae , † June 23, 79 in Aquae Cutiliae ) was Roman emperor from July 1, 69 until his death . His birth name was Titus Flavius ​​Vespasianus , as emperor he was called Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus . He won the civil war and the disputes over the imperial office in the year of the four emperors in 69 AD and became the first Roman emperor from the Flavian dynasty .

Vespasian was a realpolitician . During his ten-year rule he managed to stabilize the empire both politically and financially. He placed his rule in the Julian-Claudian tradition and in particular tied in with Augustus , which at the same time clearly differentiated himself from Nero . A pax Flavia joined the pax Augusta . His financial policy offset the national debts of Nero's reign and allowed him a lively building program; the budgetary position has been improved primarily through the reintroduction of taxes , tax increases and new taxes. Vespasian promoted art and literature and the integration of high-ranking Italian families into the Senate . Because of his military experience and connections, skillful propaganda and a largely compensatory relationship with the Senate, he was a popular and successful emperor.

Life until the assumption of power

Youth and first offices

Vespasian was born near what is now Rieti . His father Titus Flavius ​​Sabinus was a knight and tax collector in the province of Asia ; later he ran banking in Aventicum , where he died. Vespasian was thus the first emperor who did not come from the Senate aristocracy. His mother's brother Vespasia Polla , Vespasius was, however, already as Praetor in the senatorial been raised. His maternal grandfather, Vespasius Pollio, was Praefectus Castrorum , his paternal grandfather, Titus Flavius ​​Petro, was Evocatus or Centurio , both grandfathers were wealthy. Among the patrons and patrons of the Flavian family were the Plautier , Pomponier , Vitellier and Petronier, who in turn were related and related by marriage since the beginning of the 1st century. Contact with the four families was intensified through Vespasian's relationship with Antonia Caenis , whom he met around the year 30.

Vespasian and his brother Sabinus were the first members of this branch of their family to receive senatorial posts. Vespasian grew up temporarily with his paternal grandmother, Tertulla, on an estate near Cosa . The admission of the brothers to the senatorial class, which had to go hand in hand with a fortune of one million sesterces each, was primarily due to their mother's wishes and encouragement. His career brought Vespasian under Tiberius as a military tribune to Thrace , probably between 29 and 31. In 34/35 or 35/36 he held the first office of Quaestur of the province of Creta et Cyrene , before 38 in the second attempt and on the last Place was chosen as the plebeian aedile . In 40 he was praetor at the first attempt in one of the first places . In this function he demanded extraordinary games in honor of Caligula and his - less successful - Germanic expedition 39.

Rise under Claudius

In 42 Vespasian went to Germania and took over the command of the legio II Augusta as legionary legate . 43/44 he commanded them under the command of Aulus Plautius during the conquest of Britain by Claudius . His military successes, in particular in the conquest of the island of Vectis , earned him the insignia of a triumphant and subsequently two priesthoods. He stayed in Britain until 47 and then returned to Rome; however, he only became a suffect consul for two months at 51 .

His wife, Flavia Domitilla , was the former mistress of a knight and initially did not have full Roman citizenship . With her he had three children: Titus and Domitian , who became his successors, and Domitilla , who died before Vespasian's reign began. Flavia Domitilla also died before he took office. After Domitilla's early death, Vespasian lived with Antonia Caenis , a freedman of the imperial mother Antonia . Due to the difference in class, he chose the form of concubinage for this connection , which was recognized in Roman law as the second form of monogamous heterosexual relationship alongside marriage . As the former private secretary of the imperial mother, Caenis had great influence at the court of Claudius and was thus able to support the rise of her partner; when Vespasian became emperor, she appeared in public as his wife. She is described by Cassius Dio as loyal and with an extremely good memory, in addition, she was wealthy and business-minded, for example she supported the emperor in selling civil rights. Caenis died in the early 1970s.

Vespasian under Nero

Allegedly through the influence of Agrippina , Nero's mother, Vespasian did not hold any political or military offices during the first years of the new emperor's rule. In fact, until 61 he was in a kind of waiting state for his proconsulate; Since the number of suffect consuls was high, the incumbents usually had to wait a long time until a province was available to take over. Meanwhile Vespasian presumably attended the regular Senate meetings and exercised his priesthood. Probably in the year 63/64 he became proconsul of the province of Africa . Unlike most of his predecessors, he did not use the function for his own benefit and did not get rich. The statement by Suetonius that after his return he had to pledge his goods to his brother and run dodgy business is presented as a rumor by Tacitus .

Nero made Vespasian one of his official companions, who had to accompany him on his trip to Greece, which began in September 66. Vespasian is said to have fallen asleep when Nero appeared as an actor and fell out of favor with the emperor, after which he briefly withdrew. Soon he was taken back by Nero and was given command of the Jewish War , as Nero needed an unsuspecting military leader for the East in order to reduce the risk of a military revolt against his increasingly unpopular rule. Obviously, the Flavian continued to be seen as loyal, his military experience making him indispensable.

So Vespasian took command of the suppression of the Jewish uprising. He moved 67 at the head of three legions - including one under the command of Trajan's father Marcus Ulpius Traianus and one under the command of his son Titus - and strong auxiliary troops, a total of around 60,000 men, in the province of Iudaea . Vespasian and his legions took massive action against the civilian population to break the resistance, including plundering and pillaging. Vespasian distinguished himself as a good general and capable commander. The fighting dragged on for years, but initially was not very successful for the Romans. It was only when Vespasian was already emperor that the rebellion was bloodily suppressed by his son Titus.

The year of the four emperors

The news of the revolt of Gaius Iulius Vindex reached Vespasian in April 68; it is not known when he learned that Galba had had himself proclaimed emperor. After the news of Nero's suicide, he sent Titus to Rome to have his command confirmed, thereby implicitly recognizing the new emperor. On the journey, Titus in Corinth received news of Galba's murder and Otho's proclamation, at the same time Vitellius rose with the Rhine legions and was proclaimed emperor. Titus broke off his journey and went back to Judea, Vespasian officially recognized neither Otho nor Vitellius, although his legions had taken the oath on Otho. This hesitation in showing loyalty can be seen as the first sign of Vespasian's own hope for rule. At this point, however, it was not yet clear whether he would find enough support: apart from the governor of Syria , Gaius Licinius Mucianus , he had no allies, in Rome his brother Sabinus had been deposed as Praefectus urbi . At the end of June 69 Vespasian met with Mucianus to discuss how to proceed. With the support of the governor of Egypt , Tiberius Iulius Alexander , Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the Egyptian legions on July 1, the Syrian legions joined on July 7, and his own on July 11. Vespasian was thus able to dispose of the bulk of the army and at the same time had sufficient financial means due to the homage of the client kings , including Agrippa II , Antiochus von Kommagene and Sohaemus von Emesa .

A Flavian legion under Mucianus was to march on Italy, while Vespasian went to Egypt to control the grain supply; in July 69 the grain deliveries from Egypt to Rome were stopped. He placed the end of the siege of Jerusalem in the hands of his son Titus. In order to prevent possible uprising intentions by the Parthians and to secure his eastern front, he sent a delegation to Vologaeses I , who did not promise any direct support, but showed no war intentions either. When Vitellius could not pay the donative to his soldiers in mid-July 69 , the Danube regions under Marcus Antonius Primus marched into Italy at the beginning of August to secure Vespasian's throne. This happened on his own initiative and against Vespasian's directive to wait for Mucianus and to bribe the legions of Vitellius. In September 69 the Second Battle of Bedriacum took place, in October the fleet with the base of Ravenna ran over to Vespasian under Sextus Lucilius Bassus , with which he now also controlled the sea route.

In mid-December 69 the Flavian troops were 18 kilometers from Rome. Mucianus and Sabinus offered Vitellius the abdication with a security guarantee and payment of 100 million sesterces . Vitellius hesitated to accept the offer. Meanwhile in Rome there was heavy fighting between supporters of Vespasian and supporters of Vitellius. Sabinus, who holed up on the Capitol , was killed, Domitian was able to hide in the Capitol and flee in the morning. On December 20, 69, Primus' troops stormed Rome, Vitellius himself had hidden after the dissolution of his troops, which had surrendered to the Flavian troops at Carsulae north of Rome, but was found and finally brutally killed. Vespasian was the winner of the year of the four emperors , who had not shed blood, his governors in Rome were Primus and Mucianus as well as Domitian, who formally took over the city prefecture. Vespasian arrived in Rome in the mid-70s; with the so-called lex de imperio Vespasiani he was given all the powers of a princeps . Titus was made consul and Domitian praetor.

Vespasian as emperor

Vespasian as emperor, colossal portrait in the Neues Museum (Berlin) , inv. 348

Military and defense policy

After the civil war, Vespasian faced a problem similar to that of Augustus before him - there were too many legions . Like Augustus, he gradually dismissed them, but also set up three new ones; in the end there were 29 legions under arms. Vespasian showed great sensitivity and provided the necessary financial cushion without exaggerating. Veterans were settled in colonies , particularly in the Balkans and the province of Africa , which proved helpful in Romanizing these regions.

The army was also reorganized. Vespasian overthrew the Rhine legions by breaking up the large camps on the Rhine and distributing the troops to smaller camps along the borders. Care was taken to keep the troops as inhomogeneous as possible so that no ethnic group within a unit gained the upper hand. This drove the Romanization of the areas on the left bank of the Rhine and ensured Vespasian the loyalty of the troops. Unlike Vitellius, he also made it important to mark the day on which the troops proclaimed him ruler as his first in office (dies imperii) . In order to shorten the border on the Rhine, the area between the Danube and the Upper Rhine , known as the decumatland ( agri decumates ) , was incorporated into the empire. Several legionary camps were also repaired, including Mogontiacum , Bonn and Neuss . With the establishment of the first limits it also became clear that Vespasian preferred a defensive policy to conquest. After the revolt of the Batavers Iulius Civilis (69/70) the strength of the Rhine Army was reduced and its composition changed. Some legions, considered unreliable due to their involvement during the civil war, were even disbanded entirely. The Germanic auxiliary units were also dissolved and reorganized, and troops from client groups were now subordinate to Roman officers.

In Britain , Vespasian became active in securing the border: he initiated the final conquest of the island up to the border of today's Scotland . There is relatively good information about this, as the historian Tacitus also discusses Roman politics in Britain in his work Agricola , dedicated to his father-in-law of the same name . The conquest of the island was not completed during Vespasian's lifetime.

Vespasian also rounded off the borders in the east. After the suppression of the Jewish uprising, several clientele such as Kommagene were annexed and troops stationed in Asia Minor : the legio XVI Flavia company moved into quarters in Samosata , while the legio XII Fulminata moved into a garrison in Melitene . Obviously Vespasian, who knew the East quite well from his own experience, expected a conflict with the Parthians , Rome's eastern neighbors, and made arrangements in the event of a confrontation. The straightening of the border in the east should in any case be of use to Rome in the future and should not be regarded as the least credit to the Flavians. In addition, the infrastructure was also improved by building additional roads.

Financial policy

Vespasian's denarius from 72

Vespasian's ingenuity in increasing government revenues is well known. So he had introduced a latrine tax because of the high debts that Nero had left behind. When his son Titus complained to him about this, Vespasian held out a coin to Titus that came from this tax. Titus had to admit that it did not stink, whereupon Vespasian countered: "And yet it comes from the urine." This is where the phrase Pecunia non olet ("Money doesn't stink") originated.

In fact, Vespasian took over a state that, after the antics of his predecessors and through the turmoil of the Four Emperor's Year, was as good as bankrupt. Vespasian restructured the public finances with great success , immediately revoking the tax exemption of Achaea , which Nero had granted due to his philhellenism . He also set up three special cash registers : fiscus Iudaicus , fiscus Alexandrinus and fiscus Asiaticus . The booty from the Jewish War certainly helped to clean up the finances, but he also opened up new sources of taxation in Italy. His measures demonstrated the sensitivity that he also demonstrated when dismissing the troops. He raised taxes, but initially had tax evaders prosecuted and arrears collected. He also sold public offices to the highest bidder, but unlike his predecessors, he never expropriated a political opponent out of sheer greed for money.

At the beginning of his term of office he had identified a high need for restructuring, but when he died he left an orderly coffers and no debts. His fiscal policy was also praised by Suetonius and Tacitus .

Political reforms and securing power

Vespasian, who publicly claimed to be guided by the Augustan policy, was in fact practicing Claudius' centralistic policy. He was concerned with sole rule, which can already be seen from the fact that he reintroduced the office of censor in 73 , which he initially held himself and which helped him to control the senators; he also held the consulate several times. At the same time, he flattered the Senate that he regularly attended its meetings, but without granting it more rights or foregoing cautiously removing opponents of its policy from the body. Overall, however, he had good relations with the Senate. A side effect of his policy was that the recruitment base for the Senate was broadened and more and more senators came from the provinces, which made possible intrigues of long-established senators difficult from the outset. Vespasian also carried out clever propaganda by contrasting the state of the empire in Nero's time with the new beginning under his rule. Vespasian was celebrated on coins as the defender of the freedom of the Roman people.

Vespasian countered the process backlog that had formed as a result of the civil war because the Senate could no longer cope with its tasks by accelerating the process. As mentioned above, the Romanization of the empire made some progress under Vespasian. Hispania even received Latin citizenship (ius Latii) , a preliminary stage to Roman citizenship. Over the years, Vespasian placed more and more tasks in the hands of his son Titus to administer the empire, who he systematically built up to become his successor. Although this approach provoked some resistance, after Titus had become Praetorian prefect and also censor, Vespasian had created facts against which real resistance was no longer possible. With this, Vespasian created a rule base secured by family ties and did not have to fear of being overthrown by an ambitious Praetorian prefect, especially since Titus, who was militarily gifted, behaved loyally, but also revealed some human weaknesses before he himself after the death of Vespasian in 79 Became emperor. Only Domitian, Vespasian's second son, evidently saw himself neglected, but nevertheless behaved faithfully towards his father.

Vespasian was conscientious and hardworking when it came to government business, but was also popular with the people. He was considered to be close to the citizen and indecent, especially since he did not react to criticism with the paranoia usual with his predecessors, but mostly accepted it calmly. There was resistance from philosophical and intellectual circles, who particularly disliked the recognizable centralistic tendency of the state. The opposition manifested itself primarily in the person of Helvidius Priscus , who upheld the (admittedly now anachronistic) ideal of the res publica libera . At first he was only banished, but later executed (either 71, when several Cynical philosophers were expelled from Rome, or 74, when there was a wave of expulsions from Rome and probably all of Italy as well). It is possible that the execution was due to Titus, who was not particularly fond of Helvidius. Nevertheless, Vespasian also promoted numerous scholars. The first chair for rhetoric was established in Rome during his reign .

All in all, only one conspiracy is known from Vespasian's time (namely that of Titus Clodius Eprius Marcellus and Aulus Caecina Alienus ), which aimed to eliminate him. This was discovered in 79. In his private life, too, which differed significantly from that of Nero or Caligula, he was considered a reserved and modest man.

Construction activity

The Colosseum
Two reverse sides of Denarii Vespasians with reference to the establishment of colony

With huge public investments, especially in the building sector, Vespasian boosted the economy of the Roman Empire, especially since a princeps building project in the capital was expected. So he had the Capitol rebuilt, which had been destroyed during the fighting in 69, and a temple of peace built, which Pliny the Elder classified among the wonders of the world. The best known, however, is probably the Flavian amphitheater ( Amphitheatrum Flavium ), the construction of which he initiated and which is now known as the Colosseum . The building, which was extraordinarily large at the time, was symbolically placed by Vespasian as a public building in Nero's private gardens, an area that Nero had expropriated for private purposes in the city center at the expense of the state and on which an artificial private lake was to be located on the site of today's Colosseum. But also in the provinces, where new roads and bridges were built, Vespasian developed a brisk construction activity. Denarii with two oxen under a yoke or a sow with piglets on the back are associated with the establishment of a colony.

Death and succession

Unlike most of his predecessors, Vespasian died of natural causes. He was in Campania in 79 when he fell ill and went to a spa near his home town for a cure. There he suffered severe diarrhea on June 23, 79, which almost passed out. He tried to straighten up, but he couldn't. He was succeeded without difficulty by his son Titus , who was soon considered to be an exemplary ruler - similar to his father, who had stabilized and consolidated the empire again after the turmoil of the four-emperor year.


Suetonius and Tacitus describe Vespasian as a modest man of medium height and strong appearance with an always tense expression on his face. With their reign, the images of the rulers also changed - the 70-year-old Augustus was still depicted in statues as a youthful hero. In contrast, Vespasian's images show much more realism and less idealization. Vespasian was considered down-to-earth and close to the people, as well as humorous to the point of cynicism, which is illustrated by the quotes attributed to him by Suetonius. The historical scholarship of the 20th century around the important ancient historian Alfred Heuss saw, as he wrote in his Roman History , published in 1960 , in Vespasian a simple, modest and sober character that never gave rise to ambition. He owes the success of his political career to the initiative of others.

When Vespasian noticed the first signs of a serious illness that would eventually cost him his life, he is said to have made fun of the divinization mania of the Romans ( divinization = raising a dead man among the gods) and said: “Woe, I think I'll become one God! "( Uae, puto deus fio! )


The most important sources on Vespasian's life are Sueton's biography of Vespasian and Cassius Dio's historical work, which covers the period from the Jewish uprising to Vespasian's death, as well as the surviving inscriptions and coins. The surviving parts of the Histories of Tacitus and the Jewish War of Flavius ​​Josephus are important for the early days of the rule .

  • Cassius Dio: Roman History . Translated by Otto Veh , Artemis-Verlag, Zurich 1985 ( English translation by LacusCurtius ); books 63–66 are particularly relevant for Vespasian.
  • Flavius ​​Josephus: De bello Iudaico . Greek / German, ed. and with an introduction and annotations by Otto Michel and Otto Bauernfeind, 3 vol., 1959–1969.
  • Suetonius: Vespasian . Extensive ancient biography from the collection of the emperor's biographies from Caesar to Domitian . Numerous editions, for example with a German translation in: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus: All preserved works . Magnus, Essen 2004, ISBN 3-88400-071-3 ( Latin text , English translation )
  • P. Cornelius Tacitus: Historiae (Histories) . Multiple issues, e.g. E.g .: Latin-German. Edited by Joseph Borst with the collaboration of Helmut Hross and Helmut Borst. 4th edition Munich 1979.


Overview works


Web links

Commons : Vespasian  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ↑ In some cases, June 24th is also found as the day of death, among others in Hermann Bengtson: Die Flavier , p. 289. This information goes back to Cassius Dio 66,17,3 ; see. also Brian W. Jones, Robert D. Milns: Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors. A Historical Commentary, with Translation and Introduction. Bristol Classical, Bristol 2002, p. 89.
  2. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 1 , 2–4 ; see also the family tree of the Flavians in Barbara Levick, Vespasian .
  3. ^ Brian W. Jones: The Emperor Domitian. Routledge, London et al. 1992, p. 3 f.
  4. Suetonius, Vespasian 2,1 .
  5. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 8.
  6. ^ Brian W. Jones, Robert D. Milns: Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors. A Historical Commentary, with Translation and Introduction. Bristol Classical, Bristol 2002, p. 45.
  7. Tacitus, Historien 4,15.
  8. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 2,3 .
  9. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 4, 1–2 .
  10. Epitome de Caesaribus 10.1 calls her a “freedwoman”. Barbara Levick, Vespasian , p. 12 deduces that she was the daughter of a freedman who had Latin citizenship.
  11. ^ Brian W. Jones: The Emperor Domitian. Routledge, London et al. 1992, p. 4 f.
  12. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 3 .
  13. Cassius Dio 65:14 ; Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 102, Levick calls the sale of offices on p. 182 “stories”.
  14. ^ Cassius Dio 55.3
  15. See Brian W. Jones, Robert D. Milns: Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors. A Historical Commentary, with Translation and Introduction. Bristol Classical, Bristol 2002, p. 49.
  16. Ursula Vogel-Weidemann : The governors of Africa and Asia in the years 14–68 AD. An investigation into the relationship between Princeps and Senate. Dr. Rudolf Habelt, Bonn 1982, ISBN 3-7749-1412-5 , pp. 205-214.
  17. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 4,3 .
  18. ^ Tacitus, Historien 3.65.
  19. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 4,4 .
  20. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 4,5.
  21. Flavius ​​Josephus, Jewish War 3, 3–8. It is questionable whether the "insult" Nero was actually an affront and whether Vespasian was excluded; see. Brian W. Jones, Robert D. Milns: Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors. A Historical Commentary, with Translation and Introduction. Bristol Classical, Bristol 2002, p. 50 f.
  22. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 4,6.
  23. Flavius ​​Josephus, Jewish War 3.60.
  24. Tacitus, Historien 2,5 and Flavius ​​Josephus, Jüdischer Krieg 3,115 ff.
  25. Flavius ​​Josephus, Jüdischer Krieg 4,491–498.
  26. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 5,1 .
  27. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 44 f.
  28. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 6,3 .
  29. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 47.
  30. Flavius ​​Josephus, Jüdischer Krieg 4,630 and 7,21-24.
  31. On the intentions of the Parthians see Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 48; Suetonius, Vespasian , 6.4, speaks of 40,000 archers as Parthian support.
  32. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 49.
  33. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 50 f.
  34. Cassius Dio 64.18 to 21 .
  35. ^ Suetonius, Domitian 1,2 .
  36. Barbara Levick, Vespasian p. 53.
  37. ^ Suetonius, Domitian 1,3.
  38. ^ Cassius Cio 65.1 .
  39. Atqui, e lotio est. Suetonius , Vespasian 23.3.
  40. On the “Flavian ideology” see Barbara Levick, Vespasian pp. 65–78.
  41. Helmut Eisenlohr, Bernhard Pinsker, Helmut Schubert: Backsides - Political events in the mirror of Roman coins. Taunusstein 1991, p. 37.
  42. Quotation: imperatorem ait stantem mori oportere ("An emperor must die while standing"). Suetonius, Vespasian 24
  43. ^ Alfred Heuss: Roman history. 10th edition. Paderborn 2007, p. 340.
  44. ^ Suetonius, Vespasian 23
  45. See the very critical review Werner Eck : Hermann Bengtson: Die Flavier. Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. In: Gnomon . Volume 53, 1981, pp. 343-347.
predecessor Office successor
Vitellius Roman emperor