Capable Men of History: Vespasian

Vespasian was a Roman emperor who was in power from 69 AD to 79 AD. He was the fourth and last Emperor who reigned during the Year of the Four Emperors. Vespasian also founded the Flavian dynasty, which remained an important ruling dynasty for 27 years.

Vespasian was a successful emperor who brought about fiscal reforms that were extremely helpful in consolidating the empire. Furthermore, he managed to generate political stability, and his reforms also generated a vast Roman building program.

The great Roman emperor, Vespasian, was also the first emperor who could be called a self-made man. He was from an equestrian family and was the only member of his family to rise to the senatorial rank later in his lifetime.

Vespasian’s fame comes mainly from his military success. He was among the legate of Legio II Augusta when Romans invaded British territory in 43 AD. During this time, Romans managed to subjugate Judaea during the 66 AD Jewish rebellion.

After Vespasian managed to besiege Jerusalem during the Jewish rebellion, emperor Nero commuted suicide. This event caused Rome to enter a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

After the suicide, there was a quick succession as Galba and Otho died one after another. Afterward, Vitellius became the Emperor in 69. The Roman legions of Roman Egypt and Judaea were quick to react and named Vespasian their leader.

Thus, Vespasian, their commander, became their Emperor on July 1, 69 AD. Very little information exists about Vespasian and his almost ten-year rule. He made reforms to the financial system of Rome and even started several construction projects.

These projects were ambitious, but Vespasian was determined to have the Flavian Amphitheater built. He was successful, and the building was made. Currently, this building is better known as the Roman Colosseum.

Vespasian had a coarse manner that reminded people of his humble beginnings. He was popular amongst his people because of the amount of hard work he put in and the overall simplicity of his daily life.

The Roman Emperor was also known to be ambitious as he was humble. He built a powerful part around him and managed to rival all who stood against him. In his last illness, before he passed away, he said Vae, puto deus fio, which translates to Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god.

Early Life 

Vespasian was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus on November 17, 9 AD, in a village northeast of Rome called Falacrine. His family was not the noblest in town but was relatively undistinguished and lacked pedigree.

His father was Titus Flavius Sabinus, who was a moneylender, tax collector, and debt collector. His mother was Vespasia Polla, who was a part of the equestrian order in society. Her own father rose to the spot of the prefect of the camp, and her brother became a Senator.

His paternal grandfather was the first to make himself a distinguished member of society in his family. His rank was that of a centurion, and he also fought at Pharsalus for Pompey in 48 BC. Afterward, he became a debt collector.

Vespasian’s father, Titus Flavius Sabinus, worked as a customs official in Asia and became a small-scale moneylender amongst the people of Helvetii. He was well respected in society and was known to be an honest tax farmer.

Vespasian’s mother and father had three children. The oldest was a girl who passed away in infancy. The elder of their two boys was Titus Flavius Sabinus, who entered public life and pursued the curious honorum.

The younger son, Vespasian, seemed not as likely to be successful. Initially, he did not want to pursue a position in high public office. Still, due to his mother’s constant taunts, he had no choice but to follow along in his brother’s footsteps.

Due to this, he was constantly overshadowed by his elder brother. Vespasian gained his education in the countryside in Costa, which is near today’s Ansedonia, Italy. He was under the guidance of his paternal grandmother.

It is reported that even after becoming Emperor, he often returned to the places of his childhood. The villa is one of the places he visited most often, and he left it exactly as it was. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Vespasian served in the army as a military tribune in Thrace in 36AD.

The following year, he was elected as a quaestor and then served in Creta et Cyrenaica. From there, he rose through the ranks of the Roman public office. He was quite successful and was elected as aedile on his second attempt in 39 AD.

He also managed to become praetor on his first attempt in 40 AD, just a year later. He thus took the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the Emperor, Caligula.



Vespasian would eventually become a praetor, but before that, he needed two periods of service in the minor magistracies. One of them had to be military and the other public. For his public service, he served in the military for three years in Thracia.

When Vespasian returned, he got the post in the minor magistracies of the vigintivirate. This post is most likely about cleaning the streets. However, Vespasian’s performance was unsuccessful, and Emperor Caligula had to reportedly stuff handfuls of much down his toga to clean the uncleaned Roman streets as it was his responsibility as Emperor.

Vespasian became the legate of Legio II Augusta upon the accession of Claudius, who became Emperor in 41 AD. He was stationed in Germania, and his position was all thanks to the influence of the Imperial freedman Narcissus.

A few years later, in 43, Vespasian and II Augusta took part in the Roman invasion of Britain. Here, Vespasian managed to distinguish himself while he was under the overall command of Aulus Plautius.

His capabilities as the legate of the legion and his overall success earned Vespasian a consulship in 51 AD. Afterward, he retired from public life as he had incurred the enmity of Claudius’ wife, who was one of the most powerful and influential figures while her husband was in power.

However, Vespasian could not stay away for long, and in 63 AD, he came out of retirement and was sent as a governor to the African province. Vespasian used this time in Africa wisely. While other governors saw the opportunity of becoming governor to siphon money into their pockets, Vespasian looked to make friends.

Although Vespasian faced financial difficulties and had to mortgage his estate to his brother, the friendships he made in Africa proved to be extremely useful in the future. To earn back his money, he turned to mule trade.

Becoming Emperor


Vespasian was named the Emperor at Alexandria on July 1, 69 AD, during the year of four emperors. Vespasian asserted his control over the whole empire through Egyptian grain harvest, which was extremely important.

Therefore, Vespasian was the first emperor and Pharoah since Agustus in Egypt. He was hailed as a pharaoh at the hippodrome of Alexandria. Vespasian was also declared to be the son of Amun, the creator deity. This declaration was how it was done for ancient pharaohs.

The Pharaonic precedent demanded that Vespasian demonstrate his divine election. This demonstration was done by the traditional method that included spitting on and trampling a blind and crippled man. Through the power of the pharaoh, he would be miraculously healed.

Vespasian was declared the Emperor by the senate on December 21, 69 AD, when he was in Egypt despite being declared Emperor by the Egyptians in the summer. Mucianus, aided by Vespasian’s son Domitian, was handed over the administration of the empire.

To start Vespasian’s rule, Mucianus brought about tax reforms that were to help restore the empire’s finances. After Vespasian arrived in Rome, Mucianus pressed him to collect as many taxes as possible since it was vital for the empire’s finances.

Vespasian and Mucianus reinstated old taxes and even introduced new ones to recover from the civil war. They also agreed to increase the tribute of the province and kept an eye on the treasury officials to ensure that they stayed in line.

During the early 70s, Vespasian was still in Egypt, which continued to serve as the source of Rome’s grain supply. He was set to leave for Rome; however, according to Tacitus, his trip was delayed due to bad weather. Many modern historians believe that maybe Vespasian stayed so long in Egypt because he was trying to consolidate support from the Egyptians before he left.

During his stay in Egypt, many protests erupted because of the tax policies which increased taxes. Due to this, grain shipments were held up. However, Vespasian restored order, and Rome’s grain shipments were restored.

There are few reports of what went on during Vespasian’s reign from 71 to 79. According to historians, Vespasian ordered buildings to be built all around Rome, and he helped rebuild Rome after the civil war.

He is known to have built the temple of Peace and the temple of Defied Claudius. In 75 AD, he also added a massive statue of Apollo that was begun under Nero.



Vespasian was ill when he was in Campania, and upon returning to Rome, he left once again for Aquae Cutiliae, where he was known to spend every summer. However, his illness worsened there, and he developed severe diarrhea and died on June 23, 79 AD.

After his death, he was succeeded by his son Titus and then Domitian.


Vespasian was a popular emperor. He was well known for his wit and amicable manner. He also had a commanding personality to compliment his wit and military prowess, allowing him to rise among the ranks quickly.

He is one of history’s most capable men as he managed to rise from an undistinguished family to become an emperor that founded an entire dynasty and ruled the Roman Empire.