First Among Equals: 7 Great Western Roman Emperors

2 – Vespasian (69 – 79 AD)

Vespasian belongs on the list because he did exceedingly well in turbulent times. He was the last ruler at the end of the chaotic Year of Four Emperors in 69 AD. Titus Flavius Vespasianus was born in Rieti in 9 AD. He enjoyed a reasonably successful military career where he distinguished himself during the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD. His political career began with a consulship in 51 AD and, after retiring from public life, Vespasian returned to the scene as a governor in the Africa Province.

Ancient historians disagree as to his conduct in Africa. Suetonius claims he was an odious leader whereas Tacitus wrote that Vespasian was an honorable man. Upon his return, he was briefly part of the imperial retinue but fell out of favor after allegedly falling asleep during one of Nero’s musical performances. After a spell fighting a Jewish revolt in Judea, Vespasian became embroiled in the chaos that followed the death of Nero in 68 AD.

Galba, Otho, and Vitellius reigned in quick succession. The supporters of Otho looked for a new leader and settled on Vespasian. He ultimately became emperor upon the death of Vitellius in December 69 AD. It is fair to say that the new ruler inherited a mess, but he slowly managed to turn things around. Vespasian was known as a fair emperor who regularly issued writers with financial rewards. You could say this was an exceedingly smart move as it ensured that favorable accounts were written about him!

Nonetheless, it does appear as if Vespasian did an excellent job as leader of Rome. As well as restoring discipline in the army after the civil wars, he bolstered the empire’s treasury. This enabled him to construct numerous buildings in the capital. Notable structures include the completion of the huge statue of Apollo (work began during Nero’s reign) and the Temple of Peace. Work also commenced on the Colosseum. Despite being a good emperor regarding achievements and temperament, there were a number of conspiracies against him. He survived assassination and died from illness in 79 AD. Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus who reigned for just two years. Domitian was another one of Vespasian’s sons, and he reigned as emperor for 15 years until his assassination in 96 AD. His death marked the end of the brief Flavian dynasty.