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Vitellius

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Vitellius, Museo Nazionale della Civit Romana, Rome

Aulus Vitellius Germanicus (September 24 AD 15December 22 69) was Roman Emperor from April 17 69 to December 22 of the same year, one of the emperors in the "Year of the four emperors".

He was the son of Lucius Vitellius, who had been consul and governor of Syria under Tiberius. Vitellius the son was consul in 48, and (perhaps in 60-61) proconsul of Africa, in which capacity he is said to have acquitted himself with credit. At the end of 68 Galba, to the general astonishment, selected him to command the army of Germania Inferior, and here Vitellius made himself popular with his subalterns and with the soldiers by outrageous prodigality and excessive good nature, which soon proved fatal to order and discipline.

Far from being ambitious or scheming, he was lazy and self-indulgent, fond of eating and drinking, and owed his elevation to the throne to Caecina and Valens, commanders of two legions on the Rhine. Through these two men a military revolution was speedily accomplished, and early in 69 Vitellius was proclaimed emperor at Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne), or, more accurately, emperor of the armies of Germania Inferior and Superior.

In fact, he was never acknowledged as emperor by the entire Roman world, though at Rome the senate accepted him and decreed to him the usual imperial honours. He advanced into Italy at the head of a licentious and rough soldiery, and Rome became the scene of riot and massacre, gladiatorial shows and extravagant feasting. As soon as it was known that the armies of the East, Dalmatia, and Illyricum had declared for Vespasian, Vitellius, deserted by many of his adherents, would have resigned the title of emperor.

It is said that he awaited Vespasian's army at Mevania. It was said that the terms of resignation had actually been agreed upon with Primus, one of Vespasian’s chief supporters, but the praetorians refused to allow him to carry out the agreement, and forced him to return to the palace, when he was on his way to deposit the insignia of empire in the Temple of Concord. On the entrance of Vespasian's troops into Rome he was dragged out of some miserable hiding-place, driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, and there struck down. "Yet I was once your emperor," were the last and, as far as we know, the noblest words of Vitellius.

During his brief administration Vitellius showed indications of a desire to govern wisely, but he was completely under the control of Valens and Caecina, who for their own ends encouraged him in a course of vicious excesses which threw his better qualities into the background.

External Links

Primary Sources

  • Life of Vitellius (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Vitellius*.html) (Suetonius; English translation and Latin original)
  • Cassius Dio, Book 64 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/64*.html)
  • Vitellius (http://www.livius.org/vi-vr/vitellius/vitellius.html) Large biography





Preceded by:
Otho
Roman Emperor
69
Succeeded by:
Vespasian

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