Your RDA of Irony

Roman Nostalgia

Nero was the last of the Caesars; kicking to death a pregnant wife is not good for a dynasty. His uncle Caligula had merely thought himself a God; Nero was less modest and insisted on a career in show business. The entire Empire was a captive audience to this aspiring Homer. In fact, he did put on a good–and free–show with lavish spectacles that the audience enjoyed. Nero may have terrorized the patrician class and some obscure Jewish sect, but the public generally liked him.

However, the Emperor was not an elective position, and the pudgy, melodramatic Nero did not command the respect or loyalty of the generals, each of whom fancied himself a more suitable emperor. Rebellion was inevitable, and Nero’s response was to kill himself. He was succeeded by Galba, a man everyone respected but no one really liked. The cheap and charmless bureaucrat quickly inspired a wave of nostalgia for Nero. A playboy patrician named Otho exploited this popularity as well as the Praetorian guards’ susceptibility to bribes. In less than a year, Galba was dead and Otho was emperor, a reign beginning on this day in A.D. 69.

Unfortunately, Otho was less impressive than Nero. People tended to remember Otho for his wig, so he was not likely to have a long reign. Within a few months, he was overthrown by a Roman general named Vitellius. People tended to remember Vitellius for his gluttony; he didn’t last long either. Within a few months, he was overthrown by a Roman named Vespasian. (The year A.D. 69 would have an exhausting time for whomever was supposed to update the emperor’s portrait on the coinage.) People tended to remember Vespasian for his ability; he lasted ten years and had the originality to die of natural causes.

Born of more modest origins than a Caesar and conscious of his blood-stained inauguration, Vespasian sought to ingratiate himself with the Roman populace. His gift to the city is still standing: the Colosseum.

  1. But apparently the Romans had problems keeping its stadia (plural of stadium) maintained. Sort of like the Super Dome after Katrina.

  2. Bob Kincaid says:

    And Vespasian checked out just in time, with the slow season impending at Pompeii and Herculaneum and a restive volcano sending ominous puffs into the air during the early months of 79.

  3. Rey:

    True, in the Dark Ages, some marble was burned for the lime. It is a rather extravagant way to make cement, but there was so much marble that no one really missed a few columns or even an entire temple.

    However, a great deal of marble was simply reincorporated into other buildings, especially the outlets of that hot medieval franchise: the Church. (Think of it as Crossbucks.) So, you could say that Jesus not only saves but recycles.

  4. Bob:

    Vespasian also had a sense of humor, even on his death bed. Ridiculing the Roman practice of deifying dead Emperors, Vespasian quipped, “I think that I am becoming a God.”

    His son and successor Titus was left with the little problem of Pompeii and Herculaneum. To his credit, he did not blame it on the Parthians or those annoying Nazarenes. On the other hand, he did nothing in the way of reconstructing the cities, either. Titus may be the role model of FEMA.

  5. David says:

    Damn. All this history on demand from guys that do this stuff right off the tops of their heads. But hey, smart guys, y’all forgot one thing. Ole Vespasian helped bring forth one fine motor scooter. So there!

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