GALBA (68 - 69 AD)



The year of the four emperors

Galba, an elderly general, was acclaimed as emperor by his troops in Spain and marched on Rome. This showed that it was possible to be made emperor elsewhere than in Rome - a precedent was set. Galba's reign was brief, as he soon antagonised the very troops who had supported him, and he was assassinated by the imperial guard, who had sworn allegiance to Otho. Thus began the “year of the four emperors”.


Servius Sulpicius Galba: born 24 December 3 BC near Tarracina. Consul AD 33, after which he was governor of Upper Germany, and then, in AD 45 of Africa. Called back from retirement to be governor of Hispania Tarraconensis AD 61 - 8. Became emperor AD 68. Married Lepida (two sons); all three died early in his career. Assassinated on 15 January AD 69.

Galba’s accession marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty - he assumed the name Caesar when Nero’s death was reported. It also proved that it was feasible for an emperor to emerge from, and be appointed, outside Rome itself.

Galba arrived in Rome in October 68, and committed the solecism of refusing to pay the traditional bonus which the imperial guard had been promised on his behalf. On 2 January AD 69, the legions in Germany proclaimed as emperor Aulus Vitellius, who had been appointed by Galba commander in Lower Germany. To try and avert civil war, Galba named as joint ruler and his successor Marcius Piso Licinianus, who had neither qualifications nor distinction. Otho, former husband of Poppaea, took offence and bribed the imperial guard to support him. On 15 January they swore their allegiance to him and hacked Galba and Piso to death.


Galba was the sole surviving descendant of an old republican family, several of whom had been consul. He was old, a cruel disciplinarian, and notoriously mean. (Capitoline Museums, Rome: René Seindal)