Who was Galba?
Servius Sulpicius Galba was an Emperor of Rome who held the position for seven months between June 68 and January 69. Despite having corrupt advisers, he has gone down in history for his priggishly upright administration. Originally from a locality near the city of Terracina, Galba was not a relative of any of the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty but hailed from a distinguished noble family. Throughout his political career, he served as praetor, consul, and governor of the provinces of Aquitania, Upper Germany, and Africa. He left public service during the reign of Claudius, but Nero later appointed him the governor of Hispania. Following the defeat of Vindex's rebellion and Nero's assisted suicide, he ascended the Roman throne with the help of the Praetorian Guard and was the first emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors. He was a physically weak man and issued several orders that were extremely apathetic during his reign. Galba failed to gain any popularity among his subjects and squandered away the support he had from the Praetorian Guard. He was eventually killed by his successor, Otho.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 24, 3 BC, in a locality near the city of Terracina, Galba was the son of Gaius Sulpicius Galba and Mummia Achaica. While he was not a relative of any of the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he hailed from a renowned noble family.
Galba’s father and brother, also named Gaius, both served as senators. While the former was a suffect consul in 5 BC, the latter was a consul in 22 AD. Galba’s paternal grandfather was a historian.
His mother also came from a highly distinguished family. Her grandfather was politician Quintus Lutatius Catulus and great-grandfather was the statesman and general Lucius Mummius Achaicus.
It is not known from where the ancient Roman cognomen Galba came. According to historian Suetonius, there could be a number of possibilities, including that the first member of the gens Sulpicia to have the name might have received it from the term galba, a Roman word for Gauls. He also speculated that it could have come from an insect called galbae.
Two of Galba’s ancestors had served as consuls in the past, in 200 BC and 144 BC. He was extremely proud of being the progeny of his maternal great-grandfather Catulus.
Suetonius writes that Galba made up a genealogy, according to which he descended from Jupiter through his father and from the legendary Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, through his mother.
Galba’s mother passed away not long after his birth, and his father subsequently wedded Livia Ocellina. Noted for her beauty and wealth, she apparently married Gaius, who was short and hunchbacked, for his high rank. Livia subsequently adopted Galba, who began using the name Lucius Livius Galba Ocella.
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In 30, Galba was made a praetor. He then served as the governor of Aquitania for about a year before becoming a consul in 33.
In 39, Emperor Caligula came to know about a conspiracy against himself in which Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, the general of the Upper German legions, was involved. He subsequently replaced Gaetulicus with Galba. In that position, Galba became known for his disciplinary methods.
After Caligula was assassinated in 41, Suetonius writes that Galba was reportedly asked to take the throne, but he declined and chose to faithfully serve under Caligula’s uncle and successor Claudius (reign 41–54). This story is not probably true.
He became the governor of Africa in 44 or 45. He quit public service at a time during Claudius’ reign when Rome was afflicted with political turmoil, likely in 49. Emperor Nero requested his return in 59 or 60 and made him the governor of Hispania.
Rebellion Against Nero
Gaius Julius Vindex plotted a rebellion against Nero in Gaul in 68 on the anniversary of the death of Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger. Not long after, Galba rebelled as well, declining the title "General of Caesar" and choosing to accept "General of the Senate and People of Rome" instead.
He had the support of Tigellinus, a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard. Tigellinus was previously a loyal subordinate of Nero, but after the emperor began losing popularity, he switched sides and joined Galba.
Vindex’s rebellion was put down by Lucius Verginius Rufus, the governor of Germania Superior. However, before that happened, Vindex convinced Galba to declare himself the emperor in opposition of Nero.
In the next few months, Nero managed to maintain some control over the situation, but Galba’s influence and power rapidly grew. The emperor made the senate declare Galba as a public enemy.
The emperor’s lavish lifestyle and extravagant, empire-wide program of public and private works were hated by the upper classes, as they were the ones who paid for these projects. On the other hand, the lower classes loved him and the projects, as they were the ones who benefited from them. Galba, being a member of the upper class, was forced to pay his share of taxes.
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On June 8, 68, another imperial official, Nymphidius Sabinus, made the fraudulent declaration that Nero had escaped to Egypt. On the same day, the senate appointed Galba the emperor.
On June 9, 68, Nero compelled his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to assist him in his suicide. With his demise, the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Julius Caesar and Augustus ceased to exist. When the news of his death arrived in Rome, the senate posthumously dubbed him a public enemy to placate the fast-approaching Galba.
Accession & Reign
After his accession to the Roman throne, Galba encountered the rebellion of Nymphidius, who had his own ambition of becoming the emperor. However, the Praetorians murdered him before he secured the throne for himself.
During his travel back to Rome, Galba was accompanied by the Lusitanian governor Marcus Salvius Otho. While they were still on the road, his men were forced to engage a legion that was still loyal to Nero. In the ensuing fight, many of his men were killed.
Emperor Galba had chronic gout and was surrounded by corrupt officials like the Spanish general Titus Vinius, the praetorian prefect Cornelius Laco, and Icelus, a freedman of Galba.
In the next few months, the emperor was subjected to severe criticism due to his unpopular policies, including confiscating the properties of Roman citizens, dissolving the German legions, not giving due payments to the Praetorians and the soldiers who took part in the battle against Vindex.
On January 1, 69, Galba and Vinius became consuls. On the same day, the fourth and twenty-second legions of Upper Germany declared that they would not swear loyalty to Galba.
They vandalised his statues and campaigned for a new emperor. On 2 June 69, the soldiers of Lower Germany also announced that they would not be swearing loyalty to Galba and declared Governor Aulus Vitellius as the emperor.
Galba attempted to placate the military by adopting the nobleman Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus and naming him his successor. This irked Otho, who had expected to be selected. He then had Galba murdered by the Praetorians on 15 January. Lucius and Vinius were also killed, and the heads of all three were mounted on poles.
Otho became the next emperor, but his reign would only last three months before he committed suicide.
Family & Personal Life
According to Suetonius, Galba liked older males as his sexual partners over females. Despite this, he wedded a woman named Aemilia Lepida. They had two sons. His wife and children passed away at some point between 41 and 54, while Claudius was on the Roman throne. Galba spent the rest of his life as a widower.