Vespasian (ruled from A.D 69-79) was proclaimed emperor by the army after Nero's successors were overthrown. The first nonpatrican ruler of the empire, Vespasian was a modest, unpretentious commander who rose to fame after his victories in the Jewish War. He launched the construction of the Colosseum and presided over the dissolution of the Jewish state and the destruction of the temple of Solomon (of which the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is a remnant). Vespasian last words reportedly were: “Am I a god yet." Toilets in Pompeii were called Vespasians as he charged a toilet tax.

According to Associated Press: “Vespasian, whose full name was Titus Flavius Vespasianus, brought stability to the empire following turmoil under the extravagant Emperor Nero and a civil war among his successors. “Born in A.D. 9 into a family of low-tier country nobility, Vespasian rose through the army ranks, becoming the general in charge of putting down a Jewish revolt in Judea. After being acclaimed emperor by his troops in A.D. 69 and eliminating his rivals, Vespasian found Rome facing a deep economic crisis and still recovering from the fire that consumed it under Nero. Using riches plundered from Jerusalem and proceeds from increased taxes, he launched a major public works program and started building the Colosseum – the most ambitious and best-preserved of his projects. [Source: Wall Street Journal Associated Press, Aug. 7, 2009]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “ Vespasian showed great moderation and common sense in his dealings as emperor, but he was also known for his greed. One reason was that he needed to increase taxation in order to restore public finances and refill the imperial treasury. He reformed the Senate, whose authority and numbers had diminished under Nero and during the civil wars. Vespasian also recruited equestrian officers, who brought personal wealth, and Italian and provincial members, who brought local knowledge, to the imperial administration and civil service. Furthermore, he guaranteed a stable succession with his sons Titus and Domitian, both able administrators. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, ]

Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: “His 10-year reign was not pivotal in the sense of momentous turning points in history, but it was remarkable for long lasting peace, stabilisation of the imperial finances and attention to the provinces. Vespasian is one of the less remote emperors. He was down to earth with a sense of humour. 'Dear me,' he said when he was dying, 'I seem to be turning into a god.' [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Vespasian’s Early Life

Vespasian medallion

Suetonius wrote: “Vespasian was born in the Sabine country, in a small village beyond Reate, called Falacrina, on the evening of the fifteenth day before the Kalends of December, in the consulate of Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus and Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus, five years before the death of Augustus [November 14, 9 A.D.]. He was brought up under the care of his paternal grandmother Tertulla on her estates at Cosa. Therefore, even after he became emperor, he used constantly to visit the home of his infancy, where the manor house was kept in its original condition, since he did not wish to miss anything which he was wont to see there; and he was so devoted to his grandmother's memory, that on religious and festival days he always drank from a little silver cup that had belonged to her. After assuming the garb of manhood, he for a long time made no attempt to win the broad stripe of senator, though his brother had gained it, and only his mother could finally induce him to sue for it. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“She at length drove him to it, but rather by sarcasm than by entreaties or parental authority, since she constantly taunted him with being his brother's footman [The "anteambulo" was the client who walked before his patron on the street and compelled people to make way for him]. He served in Thrakia as tribune of the soldiers; as quaestor was assigned by lot to the province of Crete and Kyrene; became a candidate for the aedileship and then for the praetorship, attaining the former only after one defeat and then barely landing in the sixth place [38 A.D.], but the latter on his first canvass and among the foremost [39 A.D.]. In his praetorship, to lose no opportunity of winning the favor of Gaius [Arkenberg: i.e., Caligula], who was at odds with the Senate [See Calig. xlviii-xlix], he asked for special games because of the emperor's victory in Germania and recommended, as an additional punishment of the conspirators [Lepidus and Gaetulicus; see Claud. ix.1] that they be cast out unburied. He also thanked the emperor before that illustrious body [The Senate] because he had deigned to honor him with an invitation to dinner.

“Meanwhile, he took to wife Flavia Domitilla, formerly the mistress of Statilius Capella, a Roman eques of Sabrata in Africa, a woman originally only of Latin rank, but afterwards declared a freeborn citizen of Rome in a suit before arbiters, brought by her father Flavius Liberalis, a native of Ferentum and merely a quaestor's clerk. By her he had three children, Titus, Domitian, and Domitilla. He outlived his wife and daughter; in fact lost them both before he became emperor. After the death of his wife he resumed his relations with Caenis, freedwoman and amanuensis of Antonia, and formerly his mistress; and even after he became emperor he treated her almost as a lawful wife.”

In 2009, archaeologists announced that had unearthed a sprawling country villa believed to be the Vespasian’s birthplace. The 2,000-year-old ruins were found about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Rome, near Cittareale, lead archaeologist Filippo Coarelli said. The 150,000-square-feet (14,000-square-meter) complex was at the center of an ancient village called Falacrine, Vespasian's hometown.“Even though there are no inscriptions to attribute it for sure, the villa's location and luxury make it likely it was Vespasian's birthplace, Coarelli said. "This is the only villa of this kind in the area where he most certainly was born," the archaeologist said in a telephone interview from Cittareale. “The 1st-century residence featured "a well-preserved huge floor, decorated with luxurious marble coming from the whole Mediterranean area," he said. "It's clear that such things could only belong to someone with a high social position and wealth. And in this place, it was the Flavians." [Source: Wall Street Journal Associated Press, Aug. 7, 2009]

Vespasian’s Appearance, Interests and Habits

Suetonius wrote: “He was well built, with strong, sturdy limbs, and the expression of one who was straining. Apropos of which a witty fellow, when Vespasian asked him to make a joke on him also, replied rather cleverly: "I will, when you have finished relieving yourself." He enjoyed excellent health, though he did nothing to keep it up except to rub his throat and the other parts of his body a certain number of times in the gymnasion, and to fast one day in every month. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“This was in general his manner of life. While emperor, he always rose very early, in fact before daylight; then after reading his letters and the reports of all the officials, he admitted his friends, and while he was receiving their greetings, he put on his own shoes and dressed himself. After despatching any business that came up, he took time for a drive and then for a nap, lying with one of his concubines, of whom he had taken several after the death of Caenis. After his nap he went to the bath and the dining-room; and it is said that at no time was he more good-natured or indulgent, so that the members of his household eagerly watched for these opportunities of making requests.

“Not only at dinner but on all other occasions he was most affable, and he turned off many matters with a jest; for he was very ready with sharp sayings, albeit of a low and buffoonish kind, so that he did not even refrain from obscene expressions. Yet many of his remarks are still remembered which are full of fine wit, and among them the following. When an ex-consul called Mestrius Florus called his attention to the fact that the proper pronunciation was plaustra ["Plaustra" was the original form of the word for "wagons," but there was also a plebeian form "plostra"; see Hor. Serm. 1.6.42, and cf., Claudius, Clodius] rather than plostra, he greeted him next day as Flaurus. When he was importuned by a woman, who said that she was dying with love for him, he took her to his bed and gave her four hundred thousand sesterces for her favors. Being asked by his steward how he would have the sum entered in his accounts, he replied: "To a passion for Vespasian."

“He also quoted Greek verses with great timeliness, saying of a man of tall stature, and monstrous parts: "Striding along and waving a lance that casts a long shadow," [Iliad 7.213], and of the freedman Cerylus, who was very rich, and to cheat the privy purse of its dues at his death had begun to give himself out as freeborn, changing his name to Laches: "O Laches, Laches, When you are dead, you'll change your name at once to Cerylus again" [Menander, Fr. 223.2]. But he particularly resorted to witticisms about his unseemly means of gain, seeking to diminish their odium by some jocose saying and to turn them into a jest. Having put off one of his favorite attendants, who asked for a stewardship for a pretended brother, he summoned the candidate himself, and after compelling him to pay him as much money as he had agreed to give his advocate, appointed him to the position without delay. On his attendant's taking up the matter again, he said: "Find yourself another brother; the man that you thought was yours is mine." On a journey, suspecting that his muleteer had got down to shoe the mules merely to make delay and give time for a man with a lawsuit to approach the emperor, he asked how much he was paid for shoeing the mules and insisted on a share of the money.”

Vespasian’s Military Career

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “The Claudian invasion of A.D. 43 was the making of several Roman careers, not least that of a young legionary commander called Vespasian. At the decisive Battle of Medway it was he who crossed the river at the head of both his legion and a band of 'Celtic' auxiliaries, and routed the Britons. Whilst Claudius arrived to gather his laurels on the back of an elephant in Colchester, Vespasian marched west to storm Maiden Castle and Hod Hill with such ruthless efficiency that the catapult bolts used to subdue them can still be dug out of the ground to this day. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011]

“Claudius sent four legions across the sea to invade Britain. They landed at Richborough and pushed towards the River Medway, where they met with stiff resistance. However, the young general Vespasian forced the river with his legion. Hod Hill contains a tiny Roman fort from this time, tucked into one corner of its massive earthworks. Meanwhile, Claudius arrived in Britain to enter the Catuvellaunian capital of Colchester in triumph. He founded a temple there, containing a fine bronze statue of himself, and established a legionary fortress. He remained in Britain for only 16 days. |::|

Suetonius wrote: “In the reign of Claudius he was sent in command of a legion to Germania, through the influence of Narcissus; from there he was transferred to Britannia [See Claud. xvii], where he fought thirty battles with the enemy. He reduced to subjection two powerful nations, more than twenty towns, and the island of Vectis [The Isle of Wight], near Britannia, partly under the leadership of Aulus Plautius, the consular governor, and partly under that of Claudius himself. For this he received the triumphal regalia, and shortly after two priesthoods, besides the consulship, which he held for the last two months of the year [51 A.D.]. The rest of the time up to his proconsulate he spent in rest and retirement, through fear of Agrippina, who still had a strong influence over her son and hated any friend of Narcissus, even after the latter's death. The chance of the lot then gave him Africa [63 A.D.], which he governed with great justice and high honor, save that in a riot at Hadrumetum he was pelted with turnips. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“Certain it is that he came back none the richer, for his credit was so nearly gone that he mortgaged all his estates to his brother, and had to resort to trading in mules to keep up his position; whence he was commonly known as "the Muleteer." He is also said to have been found guilty of squeezing two hundred thousand sesterces out of a young man for whom he obtained the broad stripe against his father's wish, and to have been severely rebuked in consequence. On the tour through Graecia, among the companions of Nero [See Nero, xxii], he bitterly offended the emperor by either going out often while Nero was singing, or falling asleep, if he remained. Being in consequence banished not only from intimacy with the emperor but even from his public receptions, he withdrew to a little out-of-the-way town, until a province and an army were offered him while he was in hiding and in fear of his life. There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world.

“This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome, as afterwards appeared from the event, the people of Judaea took to themselves; accordingly they revolted and after killing their governor, they routed the consular ruler of Syria as well, when he came to the rescue, and took one of his eagles. Since to put down this rebellion required a considerable army with a leader of no little enterprise, yet one to whom so great power could be entrusted without risk, Vespasian was chosen for the task, both as a man of tried energy and as one in no wise to be feared because of the obscurity of his family and name. Therefore there were added to the forces in Judaea two legions with eight divisions of cavalry and ten cohorts. He took his elder son as one of his lieutenants and as soon as he reached his province he attracted the attention of the neighboring provinces also; for he at once reformed the discipline of the army and fought one or two battles with such daring, that in the storming of a fortress he was wounded in the knee with a stone and received several arrows in his shield.

Vespasian During the Year of Three Emperors

Vitellius, last emperor in the Year of Three Emperors

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: The reputation Vespasian established on his campaign in Britain “overrode his disgrace at having fallen asleep during one of the new Emperor Nero's recitals later in his career and it bought him the command of three legions in the Jewish war of A.D. 66. This placed him in a perfect position to challenge for the imperial purple during the civil war of A.D. 69, known as the Year of the Four Emperors. His two main rivals were Otho (supported by the ex-governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus) and Vitellius (supported by the British legions). Otho was killed by Vitellius who was in turn killed by Vespasian, who became emperor.” [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 ]

Suetonius wrote: “While Otho and Vitellius were fighting for the throne after the death of Nero and Galba, he began to cherish the hope of imperial dignity, which he had long since conceived because of the following portents. On the suburban estate of the Flavii an old oak tree, which was sacred to Mars, on each of the three occasions when Vespasia was delivered, suddenly put forth a branch from its trunk, obvious indications of the destiny of each child. The first was slender and quickly withered, and so too the girl that was born died within the year; the second was very strong and long and portended great success, but the third was the image of a tree. Therefore, their father Sabinus, so they say, being further encouraged by an inspection of victims, announced to his mother that a grandson had been born to her who would be a Caesar. But she only laughed, marveling that her son should already be in his dotage, while she was still of strong mind. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“Later, when Vespasian was aedile, Gaius Caesar, incensed at his neglect of his duty of cleaning the streets, ordered that he be covered with mud, which the soldiers accordingly heaped into the bosom of his fringed toga; this some interpreted as an omen that one day in some civil commotion his country, trampled under foot and forsaken, would come under his protection and as it were into his embrace. Once when he was taking breakfast, a stray dog brought in a human hand from the cross-roads and dropped it under the table [The hand was typical of power, and "manus" is often used in the sense of "potestas"]. Again, when he was dining, an ox that was ploughing shook off its yoke, burst into the dining-room, and after scattering the servants, fell at the very feet of Vespasian as he reclined at table, and bowed its neck as if suddenly tired out. A cypress tree, also, on his grandfather's farm was torn up by the roots, without the agency of any violent storm, and thrown down, and on the following day rose again greener and stronger than before. He dreamed in Greece that the beginning of good fortune for himself and his family would come as soon as Nero had a tooth extracted; and on the next day it came to pass that a physician walked into the hall [Of Nero's lodging], and showed him a tooth which he had just then taken out. When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were highly encouraging, promising that whatever he planned or wished, however great it might be, would come to pass; and one of his highborn prisoners, Josephus by name, as he was being put in chains, declared most confidently that he would soon be released by the same man, who would then, however, be emperor. Omens were also reported from Rome: Nero in his latter days was admonished in a dream to take the sacred chariot of Jupiter Optimus Maximus from its shrine to the house of Vespasian and from there to the Circus. Not long after this, too, when Galba was on his way to the elections which gave him his second consulship, a statue of the Deified Julius of its own accord turned towards the East; and on the field of Betriacum, before the battle began, two eagles fought in the sight of all, and when one was vanquished a third came from the direction of the rising sun and drove off the victor.

Vespasian Road to the Emperorship

Vespasian was the first emperor not related to the family of Augustus. He achieved imperial power by the support of the armies and the help of a special law enacted to confer authority on him.Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: “Vespasianus owed his early appointments to the emperor Claudius’s imperial freedman Narcissus. But even then his career was undistinguished until he incurred imperial displeasure by nodding off while Nero recited poems and was sent to quell the rebellion in Judaea. [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“By 68 A.D. he had almost succeeded, but more pressing matters had erupted in the west. Even sane, moderate Romans had turned against Nero, who committed suicide in that year. The armies now declared three different men as emperor in quick succession, Galba, Otho and Vitellius, who fought each other until only Vitellius was left. Meanwhile Vespasian had engineered his own proclamation as emperor, and arrived in Rome in 70 AD. |::|

“Tradition was broken with Vespasian’s accession. Since he was not related to any of Augustus’s Julio-Claudian family, he could not inherit the imperial powers of his predecessors. A law was passed conferring authority on him (lex de imperio Vespasiani), providing important documentary evidence for historians.” |::|

Vespasian Becomes Emperor

Suetonius wrote: “Yet he made no move, although his followers were quite ready and even urgent, until he was roused to it by the accidental support of men unknown to him and at a distance. Two thousand soldiers of the three legions that made up the army in Moesia had been sent to help Otho. When word came to them after they had begun their march that he had been defeated and had taken his own life, they none the less kept on as far as Aquileia, because they did not believe the report. There, taking advantage of the lawless state of the times, they indulged in every kind of pillage; then, fearing that if they went back, they would have to give an account and suffer punishment, they took it into their heads to select and appoint an emperor, saying that they were just as good as the Army of Hispania which had appointed Galba, or the Praetorian Guard which had elected Otho, or the Army of Germania which had chosen Vitellius. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

Accordingly, the names of all the consular governors who were serving anywhere were taken up, and since objection was made to the rest for one reason or another, while some members of the third legion, which had been transferred from Syria to Moesia just before the death of Nero, highly commended Vespasian, they unanimously agreed on him and forthwith inscribed his name on all their banners. At the time, however, the movement was checked and the soldiers recalled to their allegiance for a season. But when their action became known, Tiberius Alexander, prefect of Egypt, was the first to compel his legions to take the oath for Vespasian on the Kalends of July, the day which was afterwards celebrated as that of his accession; then the army in Judaea swore allegiance to him personally on the fifth day before the Ides of July [July 11; according to Tac. Hist. 2.79, it was the fifth day before the Nones, July 3]. The enterprise was greatly forwarded by the circulation of a copy of a letter of the late emperor Otho to Vespasian, whether genuine or forged, urging him with the utmost earnestness to vengeance, and expressing the hope that he would come to the aid of his country; further, by a rumor which spread abroad that Vitellius had planned, after his victory, to change the winter quarters of the legions and to transfer those in Germania to the Orient, to a safer and milder service; and finally, among the governors of provinces, by the support of Licinius Mucianus [Governor of the neighboring province of Syria], and among the kings, by that of Vologaesus, the Parthian. The former, laying aside the hostility with which up to that time jealousy had obviously inspired him, promised the Syrian army, and the latter forty thousand bowmen.

“Therefore beginning a civil war and sending ahead generals with troops to Italia, he crossed meanwhile to Alexandria, to take possession of the key to Egypt [The strategic importance of Egypt is shown by Tac. Ann. 2.59; cf. Jul. xxxv.1 (at the end); Aug. xviii.2]. There he dismissed all his attendants and entered the Temple of Serapis alone, to consult the auspices as to the duration of his power. And when after many propitiary offerings to the god he at length turned about, it seemed to him that his freedman Basilides [The freedman's name, connected with the Greek "Basileus", or "King", was an additional omen] offered him sacred boughs, garlands and loaves, as is the custom there; and yet he knew well that no one had let him in, and that for some time he had been hardly able to walk by reason of rheumatism, and was besides far away. And immediately letters came with the news that Vitellius had been routed at Cremona and the emperor himself slain at Rome.”

Legions Proclaim Vespasian Emperor

Vespasian emerged victorious from the "Year of Four Emperors". He was created emperor by the legions, and away from Rome. Eventually this was to become a pattern. On the Legion’s Proclaiming Vespasian Emperor in A.D. 69, Tacitus (b.56/57-after 117 A.D.) wrote: “The initiative in transferring the Empire to Vespasian was taken at Alexandria under the prompt direction of Tiberius Alexander, who on the 1st of July made the legions swear allegiance to him. That day was ever after celebrated as the first of his reign, though the army of Judaea on July 3rd took the oath to Vespasian in person with such eager alacrity that they would not wait for the return of his son Titus, who was then on his way back from Syria, acting as the medium between Mucianus and his father for the communication of their plans. All this was done by the impulsive action of the soldiers without the preliminary of a formal harangue or any concentration of the legions. [Source: Tacitus: “Histories,” Book I1., 49-51, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb]

“While they were seeking a suitable time and place, and for that which in such an affair is the great difficulty, the first man to speak, while hope, fear, the chances of success or of disaster, were present to their minds, one day, on Vespasian quitting his chamber, a few soldiers who stood near, in the usual form in which they would salute their legate, suddenly saluted him as Emperor. Then all the rest hurried up, called him Caesar and Augustus, and heaped on him all the titles of Imperial rank. Their minds had passed from apprehension to confidence of success. In Vespasian there appeared no sign of elation or arrogance, or of any change arising from his changed fortunes. As soon as he had dispelled the mist with which so astonishing a vicissitude had clouded his vision, he addressed the troops in a soldier-like style, and listened to the joyful intelligence that came pouring in from all quarters. This was the very opportunity for which Mucianus had been waiting. He now at once administered to the eager soldiers the oath of allegiance to Vespasian. Then he entered the theatre at Antioch, where it is customary for the citizens to hold their public deliberations, and as they crowded together with profuse expressions of flattery, he addressed them. He could speak Greek with considerable grace, and in all that he did and said he had the art of displaying himself to advantage. Nothing excited the provincials and the army so much as the assertion of Mucianus that Vitellius had determined to remove the legions of Germany to Syria, to an easy and lucrative service, while the armies of Syria were to have given them in exchange the encampments of Germany with their inclement climate and their harassing toils. On the one hand, the provincials from long use felt a pleasure in the companionship of the soldiers, with whom many of them were connected by friendship or relationship; on the other, the soldiers from the long duration of their service loved the well-known and familiar camp as a home.

“Before the 15th of July the whole of Syria had adopted the same alliance. There joined him, each with his entire kingdom, Sohemus, who had no contemptible army, and Antiochus, who possessed vast ancestral wealth, and was the richest of all the subject-kings. Before long Agrippa, who had been summoned from the capital by secret despatches from his friends, while as yet Vitellius knew nothing, was crossing the sea with all speed. Queen Berenice too, who was then in the prime of youth and beauty, and who had charmed even the old Vespasian by the splendour of her presents, promoted his cause with equal zeal. All the provinces washed by the sea, as far as Asia and Achaia, and the whole expanse of country inland towards Pontus and Armenia, took the oath of allegiance. The legates, however, of these provinces were without troops, Cappadocia as yet having had no legions assigned to it. A council was held at Berytus to deliberate on the general conduct of the war. Thither came Mucianus with the legates and tribunes and all the most distinguished centurions and soldiers, and thither also the picked troops of the army of Judaea. Such a vast assemblage of cavalry and infantry, and the pomp of the kings that strove to rival each other in magnificence, presented an appearance of Imperial splendour.

Vespasian as Emperor

The first duty of Vespasian was to suppress a revolt in Gaul which, under Claudius Civilis, threatened to deprive Rome of that province. After three defeats Civilis was obliged to give up his ambitious scheme, and Gaul again was pacified. Nowhere in the West, outside of Italy, did the civilization of Rome take a firmer hold. Gaul became the seat of Roman colonies; its cities were united by Roman roads; and the Roman language, literature, law, manners, and art found there a congenial home. The ruins which we find to-day in France, of the ancient buildings, baths, aqueducts and amphitheaters, show how completely the province of Gaul was Romanized. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

toilets like these in Ephesus were taxed by Vespasian

By the strictest economy Vespasian was able to replenish the treasury; and by the means thus obtained he spent large sums upon the public buildings of Rome. He restored the Capitoline temple, which had been destroyed during the late civil war. He laid out a new Forum which bore his name. He built a temple to Peace, the goddess whom he delighted to honor. But the most memorable of his works was the Flavian Amphitheater, or as it is sometimes called, the Colosseum. This stupendous building occupied about six acres of ground, and was capable of seating nearly fifty thousand spectators. The sports which took place in this great structure were the most popular of all the Roman amusements.

Suetonius wrote: “Vespasian as yet lacked prestige and a certain divinity, so to speak, since he was an unexpected and still new-made emperor; but these also were given him. A man of the people who was blind, and another who was lame, came to him together as he sat on the tribunal, begging for the help for their disorders which Serapis had promised in a dream; for the god declared that Vespasian would restore the eyes, if he would spit upon them, and give strength to the leg, if he would deign to touch it with his heel. Though he had hardly any faith that this could possibly succeed, and therefore shrank even from making the attempt, he was at last prevailed upon by his friends and tried both things in public before a large crowd; and with success. At this same time, by the direction of certain soothsayers, some vases of antique workmanship were dug up in a consecrated spot at Tegea in Arcadia and on them was an image very like Vespasian. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“Returning to Rome under such auspices and attended by so great renown, after celebrating a triumph over the Jews, he added eight consulships to his former one [70-72, 74-77, 78 A.D.]; he also assumed the censorship, and during the whole period of his rule he considered nothing more essential than first to strengthen the State, which was tottering and almost overthrown, and then to embellish it as well. The soldiery, some emboldened by their victory, and some resenting their humiliating defeat, had abandoned themselves to every form of licence and recklessness; the provinces, too, and the free cities, as well as some of the kingdoms, were in a state of internal dissension. Therefore, he discharged many of the soldiers of Vitellius and punished many; but so far from showing any special indulgence to those who had shared in his victory, he was even tardy in paying them their lawful rewards. To let slip no opportunity of improving military discipline, when a young man reeking with perfumes came to thank him for a commission which had been given him, Vespasian drew back his head in disgust, adding the stern reprimand: "I would rather you had smelt of garlic"; and he revoked the appointment. When the marines who march on foot by turns from Ostia and Puteoli to Rome [They were stationed at Ostia and Puteoli as a fire brigade (see Claud. xxv.2), and the various divisions were on duty now in one town, now in the other, and again in Rome], asked that an allowance be made them under the head of shoe money, not content with sending them away without a reply, he ordered that in future they should make the run barefooted; and they have done so ever since. He made provinces of Achaia, Lykia, Rhodes, Byzantium and Samos, taking away their freedom, and likewise of Trachian Cilicia and Commagene, which up to that time had been ruled by kings. He sent additional legions to Cappadocia because of the constant inroads of the barbarians, and gave it a consular governor in place of a Roman eques. As the city was unsightly from fires and fallen buildings, he allowed anyone to take possession of vacant sites and build upon them, in case the owners failed to do so. He began the restoration of the Capitol in person, was the first to lend a hand in clearing away the debris, and carried some of it off on his own head. He undertook to restore the three thousand bronze tablets which were destroyed with the temple, making a thorough search for copies: priceless and most ancient records of the empire, containing the decrees of the Senate and the acts of the People almost from the foundation of the city, regarding alliances, treaties, and special privileges granted to individuals.

“He also undertook new works, the Temple of Peace hard by the Forum and one to the Deified Claudius on the Caelian mount, which was begun by Agrippina, but almost utterly destroyed by Nero; also an amphitheatre [The Colosseum, known as the Flavian amphitheater until the Middle Ages] in the heart of the city, a plan which he learned that Augustus had cherished. He reformed the two great orders, reduced by a series of murders and sullied by long standing neglect, and added to their numbers, holding a review of the Senate and the equites, expelling those who least deserved the honor and enrolling the most distinguished of the Italians and provincials. Furthermore, to let it be known that the two orders differed from each other not so much in their privileges as in their rank, in the case of an altercation between a senator and a Roman eques, he rendered this decision: "Unseemly language should not be used towards senators, but to return their insults in kind is proper and lawful" [That is, a citizen could return the abuse of another citizen, regardless of their respective ranks].

Pecunia non Olet (Roman Urine Tax)

In the first century A.D., Emperor Vespasian enacted what came to be known as the urine tax. At the time, urine was considered a useful commodity. It was commonly was used for laundry because the ammonia in the urine served as a clothes. Urine was also used in medicines. Urine was collected from public bathhouses and taxed. [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013]

According to Listverse: “Pecunia non olet means “money does not smell”. This phrase was coined as a result of the urine tax levied by the Roman emperors Nero and Vespasian in the 1st century upon the collection of urine. The lower classes of Roman society urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools. The liquid was then collected from public latrines, where it served as the valuable raw material for a number of chemical processes: it was used in tanning, and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woollen togas. [Source: Listverse, October 16, 2009]

“There are even isolated reports of it being used as a teeth whitener (supposedly originating in what is now Spain). When Vespasian’s son, Titus, complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father showed him a gold coin and uttered the famous quote. This phrase is still used today to show that the value of money is not tainted by its origins. Vespasian’s name still attaches to public urinals in France (vespasiennes), Italy (vespasiani), and Romania (vespasiene).”

Vespasian’s Governing Style

Suetonius wrote: In some matters “he was unassuming and lenient from the very beginning of his reign until its end, never trying to conceal his former lowly condition, but often even parading it. Indeed, when certain men tried to trace the origin of the Flavian family to the founders of Reate and a companion of Hercules whose tomb still stands on the Via Salaria, he laughed at them for their pains. So far was he from a desire for pomp and show, that on the day of his triumph, exhausted by the slow and tiresome procession, he did not hesitate to say: "It serves me right for being such a fool as to want a triumph in my old age, as if it were due to my ancestors or had ever been among my own ambitions." He did not even assume the tribunician power at once nor the title of Father of his Country until late. As for the custom of searching those who came to pay their morning calls, he gave that up before the civil war was over. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“He bore the frank language of his friends, the quips of pleaders, and the impudence of the philosophers with the greatest patience. Though Licinius Mucianus, a man of notorious unchastity, presumed upon his services to treat Vespasian with scant respect, he never had the heart to criticize him except privately and then only to the extent of adding to a complaint made to a common friend, the significant words: "I at least am a man." When Salvius Liberalis ventured to say, while defending a rich client, "What is it to Caesar if Hipparchus has a hundred millions," he personally commended him. When the Cynic Demetrius met him abroad after being condemned to banishment, and without deigning to rise in his presence or to salute him, even snarled out some insult, he merely called him "cur."

“He was not inclined to remember or to avenge affronts or enmities, but made a brilliant match for the daughter of his enemy Vitellius, and even provided her with a dowry and a house-keeping outfit. When he was in terror at being forbidden Nero's court, and asked what on earth he was to do or where he was to go, one of the ushers put him out and told him to "go to Morbovia" [A made-up name from "morbus", or "illness"; the expression is equivalent to "go to the devil."]; but when the man later begged for forgiveness, Vespasian confined his resentment to words, and those of about the same number and purport. Indeed, so far was he from being led by any suspicion or fear to cause anyone's death, that when his friends warned him that he must keep an eye on Mettius Pompusianus, since it was commonly believed that he had an imperial horoscope, he even made him consul, guaranteeing that he would one day be mindful of the favor.

Legal Reforms Under Vespasian

Suetonius wrote: “Lawsuit upon lawsuit had accumulated in all the courts to an excessive degree, since those of longstanding were left unsettled though the interruption of court business [During the civil wars] and new ones had arisen through the disorder of the times. He therefore chose commissioners by lot to restore what had been seized in time of war, and to make special decisions in the Court of the Hundred, reducing the cases to the smallest possible number, since it was clear that the lifetime of the litigants would not suffice for the regular proceedings. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“Licentiousness and extravagance had flourished without restraint; hence he induced the Senate to vote that any woman who formed a connection with the slave of another person should herself be treated as a bond-woman; also that those who lend money to minors [In the legal sense; "filii familiarum" were sons who were still under the control of their fathers, regardless of their age; cf., Tib. xv.2] should never have a legal right to enforce payment, that is to say, not even after the death of the fathers.

“It cannot readily be shown that any innocent person was punished save in Vespasian's absence and without his knowledge, or at any rate against his will and by misleading him. Although Helvidius Priscus was the only one who greeted him on his return from Syria by his private name of "Vespasian," and moreover in his praetorship left the emperor unhonored and unmentioned in all his edicts, he did not show anger until by the extravagance of his railing Helvidius had all but degraded him. But even in his case, though he did banish him and later order his death, he was most anxious for any means of saving him, and sent messengers to recall those who were to slay him; and he would have saved him, but for a false report that Helvidius had already been done to death. Certainly he never took pleasure in the death of anyone, but even wept and sighed over those who suffered merited punishment.

Law Concerning the Power of Vespasian

Vespasian inscription from Mtskheta in the Caucasus, thanking King Mithridates for his help

The Roman Legal Inscription — “Lex De Imperio Vespasiani" (“The Law Concerning the Power of Vespasian" — an inscription in bronze dated to A.D. 69 or 70. Only the following portion, which is the end of the document survives. It reads: 1) . . . that he shall have the right, just as the deified Augustus(1) and Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus(2) and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus(3) had, to conclude treaties with whomever he wishes; 2) And that he shall have the right, just as the deified Augustus and Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus had, to convene the senate, to put and refer proposals to it, and to cause decrees of the senate to be enacted by proposal and division of the house; [Source: document designation: ILS 244. (A.D. 69/70), Internet Archive, from Iowa State]

“3) And that when the senate is convened [in special session] pursuant to his wish, authorization, order, or command, or in his presence, all matters transacted shall be considered and observed as fully binding as if the meeting of the senate had been regularly convoked and held; 4) And that at all elections especial consideration shall be given to those candidates for a magistracy, authority, imperium, or any post whom he has recommended to the Roman senate and people or to whom he has given and promised his vote; 5) And that he shall have the right, just as Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus had, to extend and advance the boundaries of the pomerium(4) whenever he deems it to be in the interest of the state;

“6) And that he shall have the right and power, just as the deified Augustus and Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus had, to transact and do whatever things divine, human, public and private he deems to serve the advantage and the overriding interest of the state; 7) And that the Emperor Caesar Vespasian shall not be bound by those laws and plebiscites which were declared not binding upon the deified Augustus Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus or Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, and the Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus shall have the right to do whatsoever it was proper for the deified Augustus or Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus or Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus to do by virtue of any law or enactment; 8) And that whatever was done, executed, decreed, or ordered before the enactment of this law by the Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, or by anyone at his order or command, shall be as fully binding and valid as if they had been done by order of the people or plebs.

“9 Sanction: If anyone in consequence of this law has or shall have acted contrary to laws, enactments, plebiscites, or decrees of the senate, or if he shall have failed to do in consequence of this law anything that it is incumbent on him to do in accordance with a law, enactment, plebiscite, or decree of the senate, it shall be with impunity, nor shall he on that account have to pay any penalty to the people, nor shall anyone have the right to institute suit or judicial inquiry concerning such matter, nor shall any [authority] permit proceedings before him on such matter.

Vespasian, Money and Control of the Roman Treasury

Suetonius wrote: “The only thing for which he can fairly be censured was his love of money. For not content with reviving the imposts which had been repealed under Galba, he added new and heavy burdens, increasing the amount of tribute paid by the provinces, in some cases actually doubling it, and quite openly carrying on traffic which would be shameful even for a man in private life; for he would buy up certain commodities merely in order to distribute them at a profit. He made no bones of selling offices to candidates and acquittals to men under prosecution, whether innocent or guilty. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“He is even believed to have had the habit of designedly advancing the most rapacious of his procurators to higher posts, that they might he the richer when he later condemned them; in fact, it was common talk that he used these men as sponges, because he, so to speak, soaked them when they were dry and squeezed them when they were wet. Some say that he was naturally covetous and was taunted with it by an old herdsman of his, who on being forced to pay for the freedom for which he earnestly begged Vespasian when he became emperor cried: "The fox changes his fur, but not his nature." Others, on the contrary, believe that he was driven by necessity to raise money by spoliation and robbery because of the desperate state of the treasury and the privy purse; to which he bore witness at the very beginning of his reign by declaring that forty thousand millions were needed to set the State upright. This latter view seems the more probable, since he made the best use of his gains, ill gotten though they were.

“He was most generous to all classes, making up the requisite estate for senators [This had been increased to 1,200,000 sesterces by Augustus], giving needy ex-consuls an annual stipend of five hundred thousand sesterces, restoring to a better condition many cities throughout the empire which had suffered from earthquakes or fires, and in particular encouraging men of talent and the arts.

“He was the first to establish a regular salary of a hundred thousand sesterces for Latin and Greek teachers of rhetoric, paid from the privy purse. He also presented eminent poets with princely largess and great rewards, and artists, too, such as the restorer of the Venus of Cos [Doubtless referring to the statue of Venus consecrated by Vespasian in his Temple of Peace, the sculptor of which, according to Pliny, was unknown. The Venus of Cos was the work of Praxiteles], and of the Colossus [The colossal statue of Nero; see Nero, xxxi.1]. To a mechanical engineer, who promised to transport some heavy columns to the capitol at small expense, he gave no mean reward for his invention, but refused to make use of it, saying: "You must let me feed my poor commons."

“When Titus found fault with him for contriving a tax upon public toilets, he held a piece of money from the first payment to his son's nose, asking whether its odor was offensive to him. When Titus said "No," he replied, "Yet it comes from urine." On the report of a deputation that a colossal statue of great cost had been voted him at public expense, he demanded to have it set up at once, and holding out his open hand, said that the base was ready. He did not cease his jokes even then in apprehension of death and in extreme danger; for when among other portents the Mausoleum [Of Augustus] opened on a sudden and a comet appeared in the heavens, he declared that the former applied to Junia Calvina of the family of Augustus, and the latter to the king of the Parthians, who wore his hair long; and as death drew near, he said: "Woe's me. Methinks I'm turning into a god."”

Jewish Wars and Destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70)

The most unfortunate event in the reign of Vespasian was the revolt of the Jews, which finally resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. There had been many changes in the government of Judea since its first conquest by Pompey. Some of these changes had been made to reconcile the Jews to the Roman sway. But there had been many things to awaken the opposition of the people; for example, the unreasonable prejudice against them at Rome, the insane attempt of Caligula to place his statue in their temple, as well as the harsh government of Nero. At last the Jews were provoked into a general rebellion. Vespasian was conducting the war against them when he was proclaimed emperor by his legions. The war was then left in the hands of his son Titus, who, in spite of desperate resistance, captured and destroyed the sacred city. The Jews were left without a national home; and Judea became a separate province of the empire. The representation of the golden candlestick cut upon the arch of Titus is a striking memorial of this unfortunate war. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

There were many uprisings by the Jews during the period of Roman rule. In the A.D. 1st century there were conflicts between the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Hellinized priests that ruled the Temple. Messianic fervor led to several uprisings that eventually forced the Romans to put down two major Jewish revolts, in A.D. 70 and A.D. 125, the destroy the Jewish Temple and disperse the Hebrew population. It has been suggested that if the Jews hadn't revolted there would have been no Jewish diaspora and history would have been very different.

In A.D. 64, Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Jews. Shortly afterwards there was a Jewish revolt that lasted from A.D. 66 to 73. Six Roman legions (35,000 men), Rome's most modern weaponry and siegecraft, and the leadership of two future Roman emperors to put down. In A.D. 66, there was a Jewish revolt at Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. At that time bandit-guerrillas were at the height of their power and they were everywhere. A leader named Manahem took control of the temple area by driving out the Roman troops and executing the high priests. The same year there was also a major revolt in Caesara that led to the death of 20,000 people, nearly all of the Jews that lived in the city.

Seige and destruction of Jerusalem

Nero dispatched Vespasian and a large Roman force to Judea (Israel) to put down the rebellion. Halfway through the war Nero was overthrown and Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the Roman army. Nero died in A.D. 68, when the Jewish revolt had escalated. Vespasian didn't last long. He was succeeded by his son Titus.

Triumph for Vespasian and Titus after the Jewish War

In “The Jewish War”, Book VII Josephus describe the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war: “So Titus took the journey he intended into Egypt, and passed over the desert very suddenly, and came to Alexandria, and took up a resolution to go to Rome by sea. And as he was accompanied by two legions, he sent each of them again to the places whence they had before come; the fifth he sent to Mysia, and the fifteenth to Pannonia: as for the leaders of the captives, Simon and John, with the other seven hundred men, whom he had selected out of the rest as being eminently tall and handsome of body, he gave order that they should be soon carried to Italy, as resolving to produce them in his triumph. So when he had had a prosperous voyage to his mind, the city of Rome behaved itself in his reception, and their meeting him at a distance, as it did in the case of his father. But what made the most splendid appearance in Titus's opinion was, when his father met him, and received him; but still the multitude of the citizens conceived the greatest joy when they saw them all three together, (i.e. Vespasian, and his sons Titus and Domitian) as they did at this time; nor were many days overpast when they determined to have but one triumph, that should be common to both of them, on account of the glorious exploits they had performed, although the senate had decreed each of them a separate triumph by himself. So when notice had been given beforehand of the day appointed for this pompous solemnity to be made, on account of their victories, not one of the immense multitude was left in the city, but every body went out so far as to gain only a station where they might stand, and left only such a passage as was necessary for those that were to be seen to go along it. [Source: Flavius Josephus: (A.D. 37- after 93), “An Imperial Triumph”, “The Jewish War”, Book VII. 3-7 A.D. 71), translated by William Whiston]

“Now all the soldiery marched out beforehand by companies, and in their several ranks, under their several commanders, in the night time, and were about the gates, not of the upper palaces, but those near the temple of Isis; for there it was that the emperors had rested the foregoing night. And as soon as ever it was day, Vespasian and Titus came out crowned with laurel, and clothed in those ancient purple habits which were proper to their family, and then went as far as Octavian's Walks; for there it was that the senate, and the principal rulers, and those that had been recorded as of the equestrian order, waited for them. Now a tribunal had been erected before the cloisters, and ivory chairs had been set upon it, when they came and sat down upon them. Whereupon the soldiery made an acclamation of joy to them immediately, and all gave them attestations of their valor; while they were themselves without their arms, and only in their silken garments, and crowned with laurel: then Vespasian accepted of these shouts of theirs; but while they were still disposed to go on in such acclamations, he gave them a signal of silence. And when every body entirely held their peace, he stood up, and covering the greatest part of his head with his cloak, he put up the accustomed solemn prayers; the like prayers did Titus put up also; after which prayers Vespasian made a short speech to all the people, and then sent away the soldiers to a dinner prepared for them by the emperors. Then did he retire to that gate which was called the Gate of the Pomp, because pompous shows do always go through that gate; there it was that they tasted some food, and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

20120224-Titus destruction of Temple Nicolas_Poussin_082.jpg
Destruction of Temple by Nicolas Poussin

“Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; such indeed as a man could not easily think of as performed, either by the labor of workmen, or the variety of riches, or the rarities of nature; for almost all such curiosities as the most happy men ever get by piece-meal were here one heaped on another, and those both admirable and costly in their nature; and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, contrived into all sorts of things, and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. Some parts were composed of the rarest purple hangings, and so carried along; and others accurately represented to the life what was embroidered by the arts of the Babylonians. There were also precious stones that were transparent, some set in crowns of gold, and some in other ouches, as the workmen pleased; and of these such a vast number were brought, that we could not but thence learn how vainly we imagined any of them to be rarities. The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made very artificially, and with great skill of the workmen; nor were any of these images of any other than very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought, every one in their own natural ornaments.

“The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; those that were chosen for carrying these pompous shows having also about them such magnificent ornaments as were both extraordinary and surprising. Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: rivers also, after they came out of a large and melancholy desert, ran down, not into a land cultivated, nor as drink for men, or for cattle, but through a land still on fire upon every side; for the Jews related that such a thing they had undergone during this war. Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken. Moreover, there followed those pageants a great number of ships; and for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; and the last of all the spoils, was carried the Law of the Jews. After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. After which Vespasian marched in the first place, and Titus followed him; Domitian also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration.

Triumphal Entry of Vespasian into Rome

“Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans' ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there. Accordingly, when it was related that there was an end of him, and all the people had set up a shout for joy, they then began to offer those sacrifices which they had consecrated, in the prayers used in such solemnities; which when they had finished, they went away to the palace. And as for some of the spectators, the emperors entertained them at their own feast; and for all the rest there were noble preparations made for feasting at home; for this was a festival day to the city of Rome, as celebrated for the victory obtained by their army over their enemies, for the end that was now put to their civil miseries, and for the commencement of their hopes of future prosperity and happiness.”

Games and Amusements in Vespasian's Time

The chief public amusements of the Romans were those which took place in the circus, the theater, and the amphitheater. The greatest circus of Rome was the Circus Maximus. It was an inclosure about two thousand feet long and six hundred feet wide. Within it were arranged seats for different classes of citizens, a separate box being reserved for the imperial family. The games consisted chiefly of chariot races. The excitement was due to the reckless and dangerous driving of the charioteers, each striving to win by upsetting his competitors. There were also athletic sports; running, leaping, boxing, wrestling, throwing the quoit, and hurling the javelin. Sometimes sham battles and sea fights took place. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Romans were not very much addicted to the theater, there being only three principal structures of this kind at Rome, those of Pompey, Marcellus, and Balbus. The theater was derived from the Greeks and was built in the form of a semicircle, the seats being apportioned, as in the case of the circus, to different classes of persons. The shows consisted largely of dramatic exhibitions, of mimes, pantomimes, and dancing. It is said that the poems of Ovid were acted in pantomime. \~\

The most popular and characteristic amusements of the Romans were the sports of the amphitheater. This building was in the form of a double theater, forming an entire circle or ellipse. Such structures were built in different cities of the empire, but none equaled the colossal building of Vespasian. The sports of the amphitheater were chiefly gladiatorial shows and the combats of wild beasts. The amusements of the Romans were largely sensational, and appealed to the tastes of the populace. Their influence was almost always bad, and tended to degrade the morals of the people. \~\

gladiators from the Ziten mosaic

On the games during Vespasian's rule, Suetonius wrote: “At the plays with which he dedicated the new stage of the theater of Marcellus he revived the old musical entertainments. To Apelles, the tragic actor, he gave four hundred thousand sesterces; to Terpnus and Diodorus, the lyre-players, two hundred thousand each; to several a hundred thousand; while those who received least were paid forty thousands and numerous golden crowns were awarded besides. He gave constant dinner-parties, too, usually formally and sumptuously, to help the marketmen. He gave gifts to women on the Kalends of March [The Matronalia, or Feast of Married Women; see Hor. Odes, 3.8, 1], as he did to the men on the Saturnalia. Yet even so he could not be rid of his former ill-repute for covetousness. The Alexandrians persisted in calling him Kybiosactes [Meaning, "dealer in square pieces of salt fish"], the surname of one of their kings who was scandalously stingy. Even at his funeral, Favor, a leading actor of mimes, who wore his mask and, according to the usual custom, imitated the actions and words of the deceased during his lifetime, having asked the procurators in a loud voice how much his funeral procession would cost, and hearing the reply "Ten million sesterces," cried out: "Give me a hundred thousand and fling me into the Tiber!" [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

Vespasian, and the Roman Colosseum

The Colosseum was begun by Vespasian in A.D. 70 and completed a decade later by his son Titus. It was erected on land once taken for private parkland by the odious and was said to have been built by thousands of Jewish slaves brought from Palestine after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It had a capacity of 50,000 to 75,000 people (depending on who's doing the counting) and was in use for almost 500 years.

The Colosseum is an egg-shaped amphitheater. When full, Tom Mueller wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “a crowd of 50,000 Roman citizens sat according to their place in the social hierarchy, ranging from slaves and women in the upper bleachers to senators and vestal virgins — priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth — around the arena floor. A place of honor was reserved for the editor, the person who organized and paid for the games. Often the editor was the emperor himself, who sat in the imperial box at the center of the long northern curve of the stadium, where his every reaction was scrutinized by the audience."

When the Colosseum opened it must have been an even more impressive sight than it is today. It was originally covered in blocks white marble, which have been scavenged piece by piece over the centuries for the construction of other buildings, often under the auspices of the Popes, who insisted the Colosseum be preserved as symbol of Christian martyrdom. The only original marble pieces that remain are a few scattered pedestals and pillars. What viewers see today are remains of the concrete core, the brick superstructure and with miles of vaulted corridors.

In Roman times, spectators gathered in the Colosseum to watch gladiators battle each other to the death and unarmed men duel starved lions. In the latter the odds were tipped in favor of the lions, which were more difficult to replace than people. The wooden floor of the Colosseum was covered with sand so the combatants wouldn't slip on the blood. Contrary to the popular misconception almost all of the men who perished in the bloody battles were pagan slaves not Christians.

Sometimes the floor of the Colosseum was filled with wild animals for staged hunts or was flooded for mock sea battles complete with galleys and navies. One grand 100-day celebration in A.D. 2nd century left 5,000 wild animals dead. When Rome became christianized around the A.D. 5th century bloody spectacles were banned and replaced with church dramas and passion plays.

Some scholars have said that descriptions of a flooded Colosseum for these mock battles were exaggerations because no evidence of large waterworks capable of bringing enough water to stage such events had been discovered. Then in 2003, archeologists and spelunkers found that below the simple drains used to drain off rain water that predated the Colosseum were large conduits constructed by Emperor Nero to change the water in the artificial lake in his gardens. The conduits bore signs of having been originally used at the Colosseum, perhaps to pipe large quantities of water in and out for water spectacle like mock naval battles.

Books: The Colosseum (Wonders of the World) by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard (Harvard University Press, 2005); The Roman Games: A Sourcebook by Alison Futrell (Blackwell Publishing, 2006)

interior of the ruined Colosseum

Vespasian’s Death

Suetonius wrote: “In his ninth consulship [79 A.D.] he had a slight illness in Campania, and returning at once to the city, he left for Cutilae and the country about Reate, where he spent the summer every year. There, in addition to an increase in his illness, having contracted a bowel complaint by too free use of the cold waters, he nevertheless continued to perform his duties as emperor, even receiving embassies as he lay in bed. Taken on a sudden with such an attack of diarrhoea that he all but swooned, he said: "An emperor ought to die standing," and while he was struggling to get on his feet, he died in the arms of those who tried to help him, on the ninth day before the Kalends of July [June 23, 79 A.D.], at the age of sixty-nine years, one month, and seven days. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian” (“Life of Vespasian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.281-321]

“All agree that he had so much faith in his own horoscope and those of his family, that even after constant conspiracies were made against him he had the assurance to say to the Senate that either his sons would succeed him or he would have no successor. It is also said that he once dreamed that he saw a balance with its beam on a level placed in the middle of the vestibule of the Palace, in one pan of which stood Claudius and Nero and in the other himself and his sons. And the dream came true, since both houses reigned for the same space of time and the same term of years.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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