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The Bid for Rome: From Galba’s Failure to Vespasian’s Success

Sarah E. Cox

Independent Scholar

This paper examines the Flavians’ infrequently discussed (e.g. E. Ramage, Historia 32.2 [1983]) exploitation of select coin types of Galba, who despite the brevity of his reign was so important to them – as last legitimate emperor, bridge to the Julio-Claudians, and advocate for dynastic succession – that Titus later included Galba in his restoration series.

Galba revolted to restore libertas and traditional values, stressing his connections to the Julio-Claudians and emulating their method of dynastic succession through his adoption of Piso. Shortly after both were murdered by the Praetorian Guard, there were alarming prodigies: Julius Caesar’s statue on Tiber Island turning round to face East instead of West and a sudden, disastrous inundation of the Tiber.  When Otho, complicit in the double murder, committed suicide rather than suffer certain death at the hands of Vitellius, people in Rome rejoiced and paraded Galba’s portraits, hopeful Vitellius would reinstate the “old order.”  A few months later, when he swept into northern Italy, Vespasian’s commander Primus capitalized on this sentiment by ordering the restoration of Galba’s portraits.  By the end of 69 he had moved on Rome, the Vitellians were defeated, and Vespasian was emperor.

Vespasian moved quickly to appropriate themes from Galba’s coins. Libertas and restitution were potent concepts in the anti-Neronian policies of both men, but Vespasian utilized them more skillfully, taking, for example, Galba’s image of the emperor raising a kneeling woman, formerly paired with the legend libertas restitva, and using it with the legend roma resvrges to promote his restoration of city and empire, such as his repairs to the urban infrastructure and particularly the Capitolium, the symbol of empire, which had burned in the war.  Vespasian discontinued Galban types after a few years, but Titus’s inclusion of Galba in his “restored” bronze coins again emphasized his critical transitional role.

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Usurpers Rivals and Regime Change: The Evidence of Coins

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