Serviy Galba

Serviy Galba

Roman Emperor in 68-69.
Country: Italy

Biography of Servius Galba

Servius Galba was a Roman emperor from 68 to 69 AD. He came from the famous and wealthy patrician family of the Sulpicii. In his childhood, he was adopted by his stepmother Livia and lived most of his life under the name Lucius Livius.

During the reign of Tiberius, Galba began to be elected to honorary positions, serving as a praetor and becoming governor of Aquitania in 31 AD. In 33 AD, he held the consulship. Emperor Caligula appointed him as a legate to Upper Germany. While leading a legion, Galba showed himself to be a strict and demanding military commander. He achieved a decisive victory over the Chatti, who had almost reached Gaul in 41 AD. When the princeps visited his camp, Galba impressed him with the excellent training of his troops, and even more so by running behind his chariot for a whole 20 miles.

Upon hearing about the assassination of Caligula, many advised Galba to seize power, but he preferred to stay on the sidelines. This earned him the favor of Claudius and he was accepted into his circle of friends, achieving such honor that his campaign to Britain was postponed due to his sudden and severe illness. In 45 AD, he was appointed proconsul of Africa for two years without drawing lots, in order to restore order in the province troubled by internal conflicts and barbarian uprisings. He brought order with great diligence and fairness, even in small matters. For his achievements in Africa and Germany, he received triumphal decorations and was elected to three priestly colleges at once. From then until the middle of Nero's reign, he lived mostly in peace and even went on walks, always having a million gold coins in a neighboring carriage. Finally, in 61 AD, he was appointed to Tarraconensis Spain. He governed this province for eight years, but in an inconsistent and varying manner. Initially, he was severe and strict and did not even know the measure of punishment for offenses. For example, he ordered the hands of a money-changer who cheated during currency exchange to be cut off and nailed to a table. He commanded the guardian who poisoned an orphan to inherit from him to be crucified, and when he appealed to the laws, claiming to be a Roman citizen, Galba, seemingly easing his punishment, ordered him to be moved to another cross, higher than the others and whitewashed. However, gradually, he fell into inactivity and idleness.

In 68 AD, when praetor Galbaius Iunius Vindex raised a rebellion against Nero, a letter from Vindex came to Galba. Galba did not respond, nor did he send it to Rome. But after Vindex began an open war, he wrote to Galba again, urging him to take supreme command and strengthen the rebellion even more - to lead Gaul, which already had 100,000 armed soldiers and could raise even more. Galba called his friends to a council. Some of them believed that they should wait until Rome's response to this coup becomes clear. But Titus Vinius, the commander of the praetorian cohort, without much hesitation, cried out, "What other consultations are needed here, Galba! In fact, by reflecting on whether we should keep our loyalty to Nero, we are already disloyal to him! But if Nero is now our enemy, we cannot miss the friendship of Vindex. Otherwise, we should immediately take action against him with accusations and military force for wanting to rid the Romans of Nero's tyranny and make you their ruler." After this, Galba issued a special decree appointing a day on which he promised to release a significant number of prisoners; rumors and whispers about this spread in advance and a huge crowd of people gathered, eager for a revolution. As soon as Galba appeared on the platform, everyone proclaimed him emperor with one voice. Galba did not accept the imperial title that time; he accused Nero and mourned the most powerful and famous among his victims. He agreed to serve the fatherland, calling himself not Caesar or emperor, but the commander of the Roman Senate and people. Many governors abandoned Nero and almost all sided with Galba, but Verginius, the commander of the German legions in Gaul, declared that he himself would not accept supreme rule and would not allow anyone else to have it without the will and choice of the Senate. He opposed Vindex and defeated him in a fierce battle. After losing 20,000 men, Vindex killed himself.

Concerned about this, Galba returned to Spain and waited to see how everything would end. In June, news came that Nero had taken his own life and the Senate proclaimed Galba as emperor. Galba relinquished his position as legate, took the name Caesar, and set off on his journey, dressed in a military cloak with a dagger hanging on his chest. In Gaul, he was joined by Verginius, who, in accordance with his promise, immediately recognized Galba as emperor and had his legions swear loyalty to him. Thus, everything initially favored Galba. He was eagerly awaited in Rome. When the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Nymphidius Sabinus, attempted to proclaim himself emperor, he was immediately killed. If Galba had shown mercy at that moment, he might have consolidated his power, but instead, he ordered the friends of Sabinus to be killed without trial. This lawlessness aroused suspicion in everyone. Rumors of his severity, cruelty, and stinginess spread. Galba's actions confirmed and multiplied these rumors. One of his first orders was to search for and retrieve all the valuable items given by Nero to his favorites. As these items had already changed hands several times, innocent people had to pay for the insane expenses of the former princeps. The searches seemed endless and they involved an ever-widening circle of people, so that Galba began to be spoken of with contempt.

Furthermore, it soon became apparent that he blindly trusted his advisors - friends and freedmen - and did everything according to their instructions. And all of them, as if on cue, turned out to be greedy and cruel individuals. Galba allowed them to do whatever they wanted for a bribe or on a whim - to impose and exempt from taxes, execute the innocent and pardon the guilty. Thus, Vinius saved Tigellinus, one of Nero's most despised henchmen, for a huge bribe. Galba's appearance and habits also harmed him in the eyes of the common people and soldiers. He was short and completely bald, with a hooked nose, and his hands and feet were disfigured by gout to such an extent that he could not wear shoes for long, read, or even hold a book. On his right side, he had a fleshy growth that hung down so much that it was difficult to keep it in place with a bandage. In his youth, Galba was married, but after the early death of his wife, he never attempted to enter into marriage again, although many women (including Agrippina, Nero's mother) sought his favor. He had more lust for men, especially adults and strong ones. For many years, his favorite and companion was a freedman named Icelus, whom he showered with immense honors and wealth after coming to power.

Only a few months into Galba's reign, he had already sown the seeds of dissatisfaction in all classes. But the most dangerous was the hatred of the soldiers and the Praetorian Guard. Many of them had participated in the rebellion against Nero, enticed by the generous promises of their commanders. However, Galba did not pay them for their betrayal. There were no distributions or gifts under his rule. When rumors spread that the soldiers were dissatisfied and angered by his stinginess, he responded by saying that he was used to recruiting, not buying soldiers. This turned all the legions in the provinces against him. However, the Germanic troops were ready to support Galba, but they did not have time to do anything. In January of 69 AD, they openly rebelled and proclaimed Vitellius, the prefect of Lower Germany, as emperor. When Galba learned of the uprising, he announced to his associates that a successor must be appointed without delay. This idea had long been discussed in his inner circle, as they hoped to strengthen the position of the princeps in this way. Galba knew that few of his friends stood for Dolabella, and all the others supported Marcus Otho. However, he did not approve of either of them. He told his friends that the common good was more important than their own interests and that he wanted to name as his successor not the one who would be most pleasing to him, but the one who would bring the most benefit to Rome. It is believed that he rejected Otho, who had done him a great service during the seizure of power, because Otho was known as a spendthrift and a debauchee, having debts of fifty million. Therefore, without listening to anyone's advice, Galba sent for Piso, a young man naturally endowed with all moral virtues, but especially known for his purity and austerity of life, and adopted him. Then he went to the camp of the Praetorian Guard and declared Piso his successor. The news of this shocked Otho the most. Seeing the collapse of all his hopes, he turned from a fervent supporter of Galba into his bitterest enemy. However, after considering his situation, he decided that by acting quickly and decisively, he could still achieve his goal. On the same day, he entered into negotiations with the Praetorian Guard and in four days managed to prepare a conspiracy against Galba. On the appointed day for the uprising, Galba performed a sacrifice on the Palatine Hill in the presence of his friends. When he heard that the sacrifices were very unfavorable for the princeps, Otho left the temple. The Praetorian Guard brought him to their camp, and there he was proclaimed emperor. The news of what had happened was immediately reported to Galba on the Palatine Hill. For a while, he hesitated, not knowing what to do. The city was filled with the most conflicting rumors. Some said that the rebellion was growing and that all the troops in the capital supported Otho, while others reported that, on the contrary, the troops remained loyal to Galba. Then, suddenly, they reported that Otho had been killed in the Praetorian camp. One of the bodyguards of the princeps even showed him the bloodied sword with which he allegedly killed Otho. Even after he was dead, the soldiers continued to hack and stab at the disfigured body. Some soldiers cut off Galba's head and, holding it by the jaw (since he had no hair on his head), presented it to Otho. Otho handed it over to the baggage handlers and cooks, and they, jokingly, carried it on a spear through the camp.