The Reign of Emperor Galba
Born on December 24, 3 BC, as Servius Sulpicius Galba, Galba was born in Terracina, Italy, 76 kilometres southeast of Rome.
The Ancestry of Emperor Galba
Through his paternal grandfather, Galba was descended from Servius Sulpicius Galba, who had been a Legionary commander under Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars. Galba’s father had served as Consul. Even though he was short, hunchbacked and only an average speaker, Galba’s father was nevertheless remembered as an effective advocate and an industrious pleader at the bar.
Galba’s mother, Mummia Achia, was the granddaughter of Catulus, a Consulare who had survived the purges of Sulla. Galba also had an older brother named Gaius. Gaius left Rome after squandering a large part of his inheritance. He committed suicide a few years later after Emperor Tiberius refused to grant him a province
Galba’s wife, Lepida, was connected to the Julio-Claudians through the marriages of a number of relatives. Galba and Lepida had two sons, Galba Major and Galba Minor. Galba Major was born in 25 AD and is thought to have been engaged to his step-sister, Augusta Postumous. The fact that it is not known whether or not he actually married Augusta has led some modern historians to believe that Galba Major died shortly afterward. Galba Minor was born sometime between 25 and 30 AD. He eventually became a Quaestor, but like his older brother, died relatively young, in 60 AD.
Galba became Praetor in 20 AD and eventually became Consul in 33 AD. In the intervening time, Galba served in Gaul, Germania, Africa and Hispania, where he earned a reputation for strictness and impartiality, as well being a competent general on the battlefield. Following the death of Emperor Caligula, Galba refused the invitation of his friends to seize control of the Empire, loyally serving Emperor Claudius instead. During the first half of the reign of Emperor Nero, Galba lived in retirement. In 61 AD, Galba was given the province of Hispania Terraconensis.
Galba and the Revolt of Vindex
In the spring of 68 AD, Galba learned that Nero intended to have him put to death. Around the same time, he also learned of the rebellion of Gaius Julius Vindex. Galba was initially willing to follow Vindex, but became hesitant following his defeat at the Battle of Vesontio and subsequent suicide. Galba seems to have gained renewed courage, however, upon receiving news that Nymphidius Sabinus, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, had come out in support of Galba. Up to this point, Galba had only claimed the title of Legate of the Roman Senate. Following Nero’s suicide, Galba assumed the title of Caesar and in June, 68, marched on Rome. At the same time, Sabinus tried to seize power and was assassinated. Upon approaching the city, Galba was met with a contingent of soldiers, who presented a list of demands. Galba’s response was to have them all killed.
Galba’s primary concern during his brief reign was to restore the stability of the state coffers. In order to do this Galba undertook a number of unpopular measures, including a refusal to pay the Legions the now customary bonus expected of a new Emperor. Galba was scornful of the idea that soldiers should be bribed for their loyalty. He further alienated the Roman people with his dislike of displays of ceremony. Galba was also entirely reliant on his advisors, depending on them to run the Empire. He was particularly dependant on Titus Vinius, his Co-Consul, Cornelius Laco, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, and his freedman Icelus Marcianus, who became known as the Three Pedagogues.
On January 1, 69 AD, two Legions in Germania Superior refused to swear loyalty to Galba, toppling his statues and demanding the selection of a new Emperor. The following day Legions in Germania Inferior, which consisted of Luxebourg, Belgium and the southern Netherlands also rebelled, declaring their loyalty to Aulus Vitellius Germanicus, the Governor of Germania Inferior. In response to this sudden outbreak of hostility, Galba adopted Lucius Calpurnius Piso as his heir, in an attempt to solidify his position. However, this made the situation worse and was interpreted as a sign of fear.
Around the same time, Marcus Salvius Otho, the former Governor of Lusitania, now southern Portugal, formed an alliance with the Praetorian Guard, who proclaimed him Emperor. Upon learning of these events, Galba arranged a meeting with Otho. However, upon coming into contact with Otho’s troops, Galba was immediately killed. According to Suetonius, Galba had put on a corset, remarking that it would provide little protection against swords. Following Galba’s death, his head was brought to Otho, who gave it to his camp followers. They proceeded to mock it, parading it through the camp. Galba’s head was bought by a freedman and eventually made its way to Galba’s steward, who buried it with Galba’s body.
Overall, more than 120 people claimed responsibility for Galba’s death. Many of these people hoped to win the favour of Otho, who was now Emperor. A copy of this list fell into the hands of Aulus Vitellius Germanicus, who had everyone on it executed.
Servius Sulpicius Galba died on January 15, 69 AD.