Thursday 6 June 2013

Collector Coins from the Year of the Four Emperors

Snapped a quick pic of these in the British Museum. They're coins from the year of the four emperors: Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

I'm shocked they had time to mint them all. I have more vacation days than three did sitting on the throne. The Roman mint worked fast. And I mean fast. With emperors playing muscial chairs, they had to.

How'd The Game of Chairs get started?


Nero, the original Elvis, was driven out (along with his fiddle) by the prefect of the Imperial Guard, Nymphidus Sabinus. On the run and without friends, he eventually committed suicide.

Back in Rome, Senator Galba saw an opportunity too good to pass up, bought off the Imperial Guard, and took the throne for himself.

This didn't sit well with ol' Otho, who wanted to be emperor too. He just happened to have enough petty cash on hand to bribe the Praetorians. Again. They double-crossed Galba, stabbed the old senator a few dozen times, and declared for ol' Otho. If the Roman Empire hadn't fallen, today the Praetorian Guard would have their own TV game show: Who Wants to be Emperor?

In the meantime, two governors in the provinces (Vitellius in Germany and Vespasian in Israel) both declared themselves emperor and marched on Rome.

Vitellius arrived first. Backed by the Rhine legions, he defeated Otho's forces at the battle of Bedriacum. The Praetorian Guard was much better at stabbing emperors and parades than actual fighting.

Once safely ensconced in Rome, Vitellius proceeded to party down, throwing lavish feasts, toga parties, wild banquets, and festivals so massive and bad ass they bankrupted the treasury. This emperor lived by the motto 'live fast and die hard'.
Nero and Galba
Vitellius and Vespasian
This turned out to be a very wise policy, for a few months later Vitellius' army was defeated by Vespasian, who'd finally arrived with his legions from the Middle East. Vespasian was the Roman dude who led the siege of Masada.

He knew how to fight.

And he stuck around for awhile and founded the Flavian dynasty.
Nero giving the thumbs down.
Remember Nero? He wasn't done. Not by a long shot. After his supposed 'death', he popped up all over the Mediterranean world. Or people pretending to be him. Unlike Elvis, he wasn't content to be a fast fry cook. He wanted his throne back. Or at least to rule an island of pirates. This didn't sit too well with Vespaian, and the Nero impersonators all came to a sad end.

The Histories by Tacitus make modern politics sound boring. Then again, boring politics is one of the things that makes Canada such a great place to live.

Happiness writes white on the page.