The Year of the Four Emperors & the Flavian Dynasty

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  • 0:05 Year of the Four Emperors
  • 1:42 Vespasian as Victor
  • 3:08 The Tragedies of Titus
  • 4:07 Domitian Dominates
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the famous Flavian emperors: Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. It will explain how this dynasty came to power during the Year of the Four Emperors. It will also highlight the details of each emperor's reign.

Year of the Four Emperors

Other than Caesar Augustus, the most famous emperors of Rome are arguably the Flavian Emperors. These famous Flavians, Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian, reigned during some of Rome's greatest triumphs and tragedies. Before we get to the details of these famous Flavians, let's see how they came to power in the year known to history as the Year of the Four Emperors.

When Emperor Nero was deposed without an heir in the year 68 CE, the position of emperor was up for grabs. What ensued was a bloody year in which four men claimed, then tried to hold, the crown. The first man to begin the Year of the Four Emperors was Galba. As a respected general, Galba seemed to have what it took to be emperor. Unfortunately, he was old, and when he chose his heir, a man named Otho challenged this decision. When a supporter of Otho assassinated Galba, Otho took the throne as the year's second emperor.

Sadly for Otho, he lacked the military might to hold the throne. When Vitellius, another military man, challenged the throne, Otho actually committed suicide, handing the crown to Vitellius, the year's third emperor. Ironically, Vitellius proved to be as weak as his predecessor. Within a very short time, his generals had more power than he did, and Vitellius was actually dragged into the streets and murdered.

Vespasian as Victor

Enter Titus Flavius Vespasianus, a conquering general, who claimed the throne as the year's fourth and final emperor. Known to history as Vespasian, he took and held the crown, beginning the Flavian Dynasty of emperors. Since Vespasian sort of won the Year of the Four Emperors, we're giving him the nickname, Vespasian the Victor. This is especially fitting since he restored stability to the Empire after a year of chaos. As the victor, he also suppressed several rebellions throughout the Empire, the most famous being the Jewish rebellion, centered in Judea.

Adding to these victories, Vespasian won the heart of Rome by creating a well-oiled propaganda machine. For example, when his son, Titus, sacked Jerusalem, Vespasian organized an extravagant ceremony, or triumph, in which they showed off their spoils of war. Not content with only showing off the spoils of war, Vespasian won public opinion by beginning the construction of one of Rome's greatest treasures, the Colosseum, known to ancient Rome as the Flavian Amphitheatre. Winning the game of public opinion, Vespasian ruled until his death by illness, not assassination, in the year 79 CE. Upon his death, his eldest son, Titus, took his crown.

The Tragedies of Titus

As emperor, Titus held great promise. After all, it was he who commanded the Roman legions that conquered Jerusalem. It was he who marched through Rome in victorious triumph. One of Rome's greatest monuments, the Arch of Titus, commemorates his fame. Despite this illustrious resume, Titus' reign was short. It was also filled with some of Rome's greatest tragedies. For this reason, we'll remember him as Titus the Tragic.

It was within Titus' reign that Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under volcanic ash. Adding to this tragedy, a fire ravaged Rome in the year 80 CE. As if this wasn't enough to earn him the nickname Titus the Tragic, his reign also saw the outbreak of the plague within the Empire. On top of all these ill-fated events, Titus himself succumbed to illness, dying in 81 CE.

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