The Romans

VESPASIAN (69 - 79 AD)

Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus: born 17 November AD 9 at Reate. Served in Thrace, Crete, Cyrene, Germany, Britain, and Africa. Military commander in Judaea AD 66 - 9. Became emperor AD 69. Married Flavia Domitilla, who died c. AD 65 (two sons, Titus and Domitian, and one daughter, Domitilla). Died at Reate on 24 June AD 79. Deified in AD 79.


Vespasian, a contemporary likeness: even the loss of the nose cannot detract from the impression of a tough but inherently kindly man. (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: René Seindal)

Vespasian was almost 61 when he arrived back in Rome in October AD 70, but he was still fit and active, and he had two sons, Titus (29), who was left to continue the Jewish campaign, and Domitian (19). Titus took Jerusalem, and on his return to Rome was made Vespasian’s associate in government, also with the title of Caesar, and appointed commander of the imperial guard.

Vespasian - Judaea Capta

Brass sestertius (AD 71) with the head of Vespasian. This coin was issued to celebrate the victory in the Jewish war, which was not yet, however, quite over. The reverse depicts a captive Jew and a mourning Jewish woman under a palm tree, with the legend, IVDAEA CAPTA (Judaea subjugated). The letters underneath stand for S[enatus] C[onsulto], by decree of the senate. (Photo © Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow )

Vespasian was a professional soldier who as a legionary commander had served with distinction during the first assault on Britain by Aulus Plautius. He was consul suffectus in AD 51, and subsequently governor of Africa, before being sent by Nero to conduct the war against the Jews. He had neither the time nor the liking for extravagant living, and was a first-rate administrator with a talent for picking the right man for a job. Such a one was Gnaeus Julius Agricola (AD 40 - 93), whom he appointed governor of Britain in AD 78. Though the destruction of Jerusalem and retaliation against the Jews were carried out with unnecessary severity, Jews were excused Caesar-worship.


The final Jewish pocket of resistance held out until AD 74, when the rock fortress of Masada was overcome and the inmates, 960 men, women, and children, committed mass suicide. To take Masada, the Romans, who had had to carry over the desert all the materials, as well as provisions and water, constructed a ramp (seen here from the top) rising 140 metres to the summit. Archaeological evidence gathered in the 1960s largely confirms the account of Josephus (AD 37 - c. 100), who wrote a history of the Jewish wars at Vespasian’s behest. (Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University, Canada)

Vespasian took a sensible and enlightened course in other matters, too. He instituted the first salaried public professorship when he appointed Quintilian (AD 35 - 95) to a chair of literature and rhetoric. He exempted doctors and teachers of grammar and rhetoric from paying taxes, and created a new class of professional civil servants, drawn largely from the business community.

Funerary relief

Funerary relief from the end of the first century BC. The central figure and the one on the left are freedmen with the term medicus (doctor) inscribed under each of their names. Doctors were almost exclusively Greek, slaves, or freedmen. The freedwoman on the right has no such descriptive term, but female doctors were not unknown. (VRoma: Louvre, Paris: Barbara McManus)

Vespasian died of natural causes in the family home in the Sabine mountains. There were no doubts or worries about the succession.

Overview of this page [Ref: 3.10]


After the chaos of the year of the four emperors (69 AD), Vespasian introduced 10 years of stability and sensible government. The conquest of Judaea was complete with the capture of Masada.


A detailed timeline for Agricola can be found if you click on "Timelines" above.



Pen portrait of Vespasian

“This was his usual daily routine while emperor. He rose early, even when it was still dark. Then, after reading his letters and abstracts of official reports, he let in his friends, and while they chatted to him put on his shoes and got dressed. When he had dealt with any business that cropped up, he would find time for a drive and then a lie down with a concubine, of whom he had several to take the place of his dead mistress, Caenis. Ater that he had a bath and then went through to dinner; it is said that he was at his most approachable and amenable at this time, so his household were eager to seize the opportunity of asking him something then.” (Suetonius, Vespasian 21)


Consul suffectus

Suffectus in this context means “deputy” or “substitute”. Julius Caesar instituted the procedure whereby an elected consul was invited or required to stand down during his term of office in favour of a suffect consul, who would serve in his place. Especially when emperors appropriated for themselves successive consulships (a policy begun by Augustus) this device was subsequently used to increase the number of men qualified for the most senior administrative or military posts in the provinces of the empire.


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Believe it or not:

According to Suetonius, while Vespasian was in Britain, where we know he commanded the Second Legion during the governorship of Aulus Plautius, he fought thirty battles, defeated two tribes, and captured over twenty towns as well as the whole of the Isle of Wight.