69 A.D: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan | Go to book overview

2
The Reign of Galba
(June 68 to January 69)

The moment Galba was recognized as emperor, people began dusting off stories to prove that he had long been destined for the principate. Suetonius has several examples, among them claims—liberally sprinkled with circumstantial detail—that Augustus and Tiberius had each foreseen this outcome. The reality was more prosaic, but Servius Sulpicius Galba was justly proud of his ancestry. The Sulpicii, a patrician clan, had held office in Rome since the early republic, and as Suetonius observes, to give a detailed account would be a long and tedious business. The branch that bore the surname Galba came to the fore during the Hannibalic War, and was the dominant line thereafter. Its members were some of them heroes and some of them scoundrels, some of them gifted and some of them mediocrities—like Galba's father, Gaius. He reached the consulship in 5 B.C., but spent most of his life as an industrious but ineffective advocate. What people remembered was his being a hunchback. This fascinated his second wife, Livia Ocellina, more rather than less “after he responded to her repeated advances by taking off his robe in private and revealing his physical disfigurement to her.” It also elicited jokes from Augustus and other prominent men. Having developed an aesthetic that regarded physical defects as fit subjects for ridicule, Romans readily made fun of the handicapped. This indeed is why Suetonius reports that Livia Ocellina was beautiful as well as rich, leaving his readers to draw the appropriate conclusions about what an ill-assorted couple the marriage produced.1

Over the years dynastic marriages must have produced links between the Sulpicii Galbae and other leading families, but the value of these alliances faded as each generation passed. Galba himself prized only two. First, through his mother Mummia Achaica, there was the relationship with Quintus Lutatius Catulus, the consul of 78 B.C. and grand old man among the politicians of the late republic. Galba apparently saw him as a role model, especially in his own old age. The second was his relationship with his stepmother, Livia Ocellina. In her will she adopted Galba as her own child, leaving him considerable wealth so long as he took her

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