Your RDA of Irony

Roman Nostalgia

January XV, LXIX:  The Glorious Reign of the Emperor Otho

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.

Leave a Reply