Galba (Latin: Servius Sulpicius Galba Caesar Augustus; 24 December 3 BC
– 15 January 69), was Roman Emperor for seven months from 68 to 69. Galba
was the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, and made a bid for the throne
during the rebellion of Julius Vindex. He was the first emperor of the
Year of the Four Emperors and the last emperor born in the First Century
Origins and family life
He was born as Servius Sulpicius Galba near Terracina, "on the left as
you go towards Fundi" in the words of Suetonius.
Through his paternal grandfather ("more eminent for his learning than for
his rank — for he did not advance beyond the grade of praetor" and who
"published a voluminous and painstaking history", and, according to Suetonius,
predicted his rise to power), he was descended from Servius Sulpicius Galba.
Galba's father attained the consulship, and although he was short, hunchbacked
and only an indifferent speaker, was an industrious pleader at the bar.
His mother was Mummia Achaica, the granddaughter of Lutatius Catulus (cos.
78) and great-granddaughter of Lucius Mummius Achaicus. They only
had one other child, an elder son called Gaius who left Rome after squandering
the greater part of his estate, and committed suicide because Tiberius
dishonored him by preventing him from taking part in the allotment of the
provinces in his year. His father married a second wife, Livia Ocellina,
a distant kinswoman of the empress Livia. She later adopted Galba,
so he took her names, remaining Lucius Livius Ocella Sulpicius Galba until
His was a noble family, and he was a man of great wealth, but was unconnected
by birth and only very, very remotely by adoption with any of the first
six Caesars. In his early years he was regarded as a youth of remarkable
abilities, and it is said that both Augustus and Tiberius prophesied his
future eminence (Tacitus, Annals, vi. 20; Suet. Galba 4; Dio 57.19.4).
His wife, Aemilia Lepida, however, was connected by the marriages of some
of her relatives to some of the Julii-Claudii. They had two sons,
probably Gaius and Servius (most likely Livius Ocella Galba), who died
during their father's life. The elder son was born circa 25 AD.
Hardly anything is known about his life as he died young. He was
engaged to his step-sister Antonia Postuma, but they never wed, which leads
modern historians to believe that he died during this time. Their
engagement is dated to 48, and that is generally believed to be his time
The date of birth of the younger son occurred later than 25 but before
30. This Galba outlived his older brother. He was a quaestor
in 58, but he was never seen in politics after that. His time of
death is generally believed to be around 60 AD. Galba Minor was never
married and had no children.
In addition, Suetonius's description of Galba was that "In sexual matters
he was more inclined to males, and then none but the hard bodied and those
past their prime". This seems to be the only case in Roman history
where a named individual male is stated to prefer adult males.
He became Praetor in 20, and consul in 33; he earned a reputation in the
provinces of Gaul, Germania, Africa and Hispania for his military capability,
strictness and impartiality. On the death of Caligula, he refused
the invitation of his friends to make a bid for the empire, and loyally
served Claudius. For the first half of Nero's reign he lived in retirement,
until 61, when the emperor bestowed on him the province of Hispania Tarraconensis.
In the spring of 68, Galba was informed of Nero's intention to put him
to death, and of the insurrection of Julius Vindex in Gaul. He was
at first inclined to follow the example of Vindex, but the defeat at Vesontio
(Besançon) and suicide of the latter renewed Galba's hesitation.
It was said that the courtier Calvia Crispinilla was behind his defection
The news that Nymphidius Sabinus, the Praetorian Prefect, had given him
his favour revived Galba's spirits. Until now, he had only dared
to call himself the legate of the senate and Roman people; after Nero's
suicide, he assumed the title of Caesar, and marched straight for Rome.
Following Nero's death, Nymphidius Sabinus sought to seize power prior
to the arrival of Galba, but he could not win the loyalty of the Praetorian
guard and was killed. Upon Galba's approach to the city in October,
he was met by soldiers presenting demands; Galba replied by killing many
Emperor (June 68)
Galba - Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon:
Galba's primary concern during his brief reign was restoring state finances,
and to this end he undertook a number of unpopular measures, the most dangerous
was his refusal to pay the praetorians the reward promised in his name.
Galba scorned the notion that soldiers should be "bribed" for their loyalty.
He was notoriously cruel throughout the Empire; according to the historian
Suetonius, Galba levied massive taxes against areas that were slow to receive
him as Emperor.
He also sentenced many to death without trial, and rarely accepted requests
for citizenship. He further disgusted the populace by his meanness
and dislike of pomp and display. Advanced age destroyed his energy,
and he was entirely in the hands of favourites.
Three of these — Titus Vinius, who became Galba's colleague as consul,
Cornelius Laco, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, and Galba's freedman
Icelus Marcianus — were said to virtually control the emperor. The
three were called "The Three Pedagogues" because of their influence on
Galba. All this made the new emperor gravely unpopular.
During the later period of his provincial administration, Galba was indolent
and apathetic, but this was due either to a desire not to attract Nero's
notice or to the growing infirmities of age. Tacitus says all pronounced
him worthy of the empire, until he became emperor.
Military mutiny on the frontier:
On 1 January 69, two legions in Germania Superior refused to swear loyalty
to Galba. They toppled his statues, demanding that a new emperor
be chosen. On the following day, the soldiers of Germania Inferior
also rebelled and took the decision of who should be the next emperor into
their own hands, proclaiming the governor of the province, Vitellius, as
This outbreak of revolt made Galba aware of his own unpopularity and of
the general discontent. In order to check the rising storm, he adopted
as his heir and successor L. Calpurnius Piso. The populace regarded
the choice of successor as a sign of fear and the Praetorians were indignant,
because the usual donative was not forthcoming. Furthermore, M. Salvius
Otho, who was expecting to be adopted, was alienated by the choice of Piso.
Assassination (January 69):
While Otho had governed Lusitania and was one of Galba's earliest supporters,
he was disappointed at the selection of Piso and entered into communication
with the discontented Praetorians, who hailed him as their emperor on 15
January 69. Galba at once set out to meet the rebels, though he was
so feeble that he had to be carried in a litter. According to Suetonius,
Galba prior to his death had put on a linen corset—although remarking that
it had little protection against so many swords. He was met by a
troop of Otho's cavalry and was killed near Lacus Curtius. One guard,
centurion Sempronius Densus, died defending him. Piso was killed
shortly afterwards. According to Plutarch, during Galba's last moments
he offered his neck, and said, "Strike, if it be for the good of the Romans!"
After his death, Galba's head was brought to Otho, who gave it to his camp
followers who paraded and mocked it—the camp followers' mocking was their
angry response to a remark by Galba that his strength was unimpaired.
The head was then bought by a freedman so he could throw it on the place
where his former master had been executed on Galba's orders. Galba's
steward buried both head and trunk in a tomb by the Aurelian Road.
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