Monday, 28 September 2009

The Year of the Four Emperors....

In AD68 the Roman Empire hit a slight snag when the death of Nero brought the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to an end. This created all sorts of problems as to who would rule...

Between June 68AD and December 69AD there were 4 occupants of the imperial throne, as Rome witnessed the rise and fall of Galba, Otho and Vitellius before Vespasian finally managed to hold the throne. This raised a few very important questions about how the prinipate system really worked.

1) There is no legal system to determine a successor. How then is the next princeps chosen in this type of situation?

2) The princeps main powerbase is no longer the people but actually the army.

3) The troops actually have the real power as they decide who they acclaim emperor.

This is clearly a far cry from the founding ideals of the Roman Republic; which seems to be what the coinage of Galba, Otho and Vitellius promise. For example Galba struck coins with legends promising "LIBERTAS POPVLI ROMANI" (freedom to the Roman people) or "ROMA RENASCENS" (Rome Reborn) yet any change in the system can't have been his main focus given that he so quickly apponted Piso as his successor.

What happened next displays exactly the problems I mentioned above. The praetorian guard turned against Galba, as they never recieved the usual donative after the adoption of Frugi, and without the support of the military Galba was defenceless. He was murdered by the supporters of the new favorite of the Praetorians, Otho, in the Forum Romanum after a reign of only 221 days.

Here we see how crazy a situation the principate had caused. The Senate was not even consulted until after Otho had been raised to the purple, the power had shifted and it would never be returned.

Why does this interest me, as a Severan enthusiast?

Well because it shows the signs of the slippery slope that explains the propaganda of the Severan dynasty...

That however is another nights writing. so I'll end with a few new coins of Vespasian I just received for my shop.

Vespasian Fouree Denarius. 77-78 AD.

Obverse: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG laureate head right
Reverse: COS VIII in Exergue, yoke of oxen left

RIC II 107, 2.66g, 19mm

Vespasian Denarius. 71 AD.Tarraco

Obverse: IMP CAES VESP AVG PM laureate bust right
Reverse: TRI POT II COS III P P Pax seated l., holding branch and cornucopia

BMC 354, 17mm, 3.14g