The Romans

GALBA (68 - 69 AD)


Servius Sulpicius Galba: born 24 December 3 BC near Tarracina. Consul AD 33, after which he was governor of Upper Germany, and then, in AD 45 of Africa. Called back from retirement to be governor of Hispania Tarraconensis AD 61 - 8. Became emperor AD 68. Married Lepida (two sons); all three died early in his career. Assassinated on 15 January AD 69.


Galba was the sole surviving descendant of an old republican family, several of whom had been consul. He was old, a cruel disciplinarian, and notoriously mean. (Capitoline Museums, Rome: René Seindal)

Galba’s accession marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty - he assumed the name Caesar when Nero’s death was reported. It also proved that it was feasible for an emperor to emerge from, and be appointed, outside Rome itself.

Galba arrived in Rome in October 68, and committed the solecism of refusing to pay the traditional bonus which the imperial guard had been promised on his behalf. On 2 January AD 69, the legions in Germany proclaimed as emperor Aulus Vitellius, who had been appointed by Galba commander in Lower Germany. To try and avert civil war, Galba named as joint ruler and his successor Marcius Piso Licinianus, who had neither qualifications nor distinction. Otho, former husband of Poppaea, took offence and bribed the imperial guard to support him. On 15 January they swore their allegiance to him and hacked Galba and Piso to death.

Overview of this page [Ref: 3.7]


Galba, an elderly general, was acclaimed as emperor by his troops in Spain and marched on Rome. This showed that it was possible to be made emperor elsewhere than in Rome - a precedent was set. Galba's reign was brief, as he soon antagonised the very troops who had supported him, and he was assassinated by the imperial guard, who had sworn allegiance to Otho. Thus began the “year of the four emperors”.



Pen portrait of Galba

“He was of medium height, almost completely bald, blue-eyed, hook-nosed, and with feet and hands so crippled by arthritis that he could not wear shoes, or hold a book, let alone unroll it. His left side had grown outwards and hung down so far that it could only be held in with difficulty by a truss.” (Suetonius, Galba 21)

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Believe it or not:

Galba always treated Livia, mother of Tiberius, and his own adoptive mother, with the greatest respect, as a result of which she is said to have left him in her will the sum of 500,000 gold pieces. But as the amount was written in figures, not words, Tiberius, as her executor, crossed some of them out, leaving only 5000, and Galba never even got that...

Instrumental in drumming up support for Galba in Rome had been Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus, the son of an imperial freedwoman, Nymphidia, and, it is said, a gladiator. Advanced by Nero to be joint commander of the imperial guard with Ofonius Tigellinus, immediately Nero was dead he “organized” the resignation of Tigellinus, and made out that he was now sole commander. Galba, however, appointed a successor to Tigellinus, whereupon Nymphidius announced that he was the illegitimate son of Caligula, and thus the proper successor to Nero. The imperial guard still preferred to stand by Galba, and put Nymphidius to death.