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Roman Emperor Vespasian: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson goes over the early life and rule of Vespasian. You'll learn about the man's family, his early career, and what he was like as a person and emperor.

A Really Bad Show

Have you ever been to a really bad show before? So much so that you just got up and left? Well, you couldn't do that when Emperor Nero was in the midst of one of his one man shows. One man, Vespasian, fell asleep during one of Nero's concerts. Luckily, he wasn't killed for it. Instead, he thrived partly because of it.

Find out why as we go over a brief biography of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.

Early Life & Career

Vespasian
Vespasian

Vespasian was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus around November 17th, 9 AD in Italy. He was the son of Flavius Sabinus, a Roman tax collector, and Vespasia Polla. In other words, Vespasian's family wasn't noble or powerful family but they also weren't peasants. In fact, Vespasian's older brother, also named Flavius Sabinus, actually gained quite a bit of political prominence.

Before becoming emperor, Vespasian himself had a series of noteworthy military, financial, and political positions. For example, he was a colonel in the Roman Army and served in what is now Northern Greece. He commanded an entire legion in Germany and Britain. He fought in dozens of battles and even took over at least 20 cities.

Besides his military career, Vespasian was also a public revenue official at one point and was part of Nero's inner circle for some time. Remember that story about Vespasian falling asleep during one of Nero's performances? After doing so, Vespasian was shoved aside. Good thing, too.

Nero was eventually replaced as emperor by Galba, a move supported by the Roman Senate and Army. As a result, Nero committed suicide in 68 AD. Vespasian thought he was finished. After all, he was part of Nero's entourage at one point. However, Galba figured Vespasian's connection to Nero was really nothing in the grand scheme of things. Maybe the fact that Vespasian was cast aside by Nero helped seal this judgement and helped save his life.

Emperor

Galba was eventually murdered several months after taking the throne and a man named Otho became Emperor. Otho committed suicide three months after taking power and Vitellius became emperor. This wasn't a very popular move among everyone, so Vespasian sent his troops to Italy and eventually killed Vitellius. And so, Vespasian became the fourth emperor in the year 69 AD.

After taking power, Vespasian set upon numerous reforms. He improved the morale of the army and he commissioned the construction of what is perhaps the most famous building in all of ancient Rome, the Colosseum.

Colosseum
Colosseum

Vespasian was a generally well-liked emperor. He wasn't as cruel as many of his predecessors and even had a sense of humor. He held little ill-will towards those that posed little danger to him, even if they offended him. In fact, unlike the custom at the time, he didn't execute many of his detractors or enemies.

He did a few things people grumbled about, however. For example, he raised taxes all over the place. He even sold official pardons to raise money! Part of the money was to refill the drained Roman treasury and part of it was kept for his successors. Vespasian also sought and gained almost absolute power and even extralegal power for himself.

As emperor, Vespasian continued to exemplify his military might. He ended the Jewish war by capturing Jerusalem in 70 AD, put down revolts and established peace, and gained numerous territories in Germany and Britain.

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