69 A.D: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan | Go to book overview

3
Adoption and Assassination
(January 69)

Since Galba was old and childless, everybody recognized that if he was given time to pick a successor, he would have to adopt the man of his choice. Even when Romans appeared to abandon dynastic succession, they believed in grafting the next emperor onto the family tree of the incumbent. When Galba began thinking seriously about the matter is uncertain, since Tacitus states only that it was “some time before” he announced his choice on 10 January 69. But as he had not pursued the idea of adopting an heir in the years immediately following the deaths of his two children in the 40s, it seems likeliest that his proclamation as emperor on 9 June 68 was what started him thinking about the issue, and not solely because he had achieved the traditional aristocratic aim of surpassing the achievements of all his ancestors. This timing suggests that we should give him credit for worrying about the welfare of the state as well. He may not have cared who inherited his personal effects, but he recognized that he could not show this indifference when it came to the question who would succeed him as emperor.

Galba's refusal to name that heir publicly for another six months was smart politically, in that it limited the intrigue bound to swirl around the man he picked, and it foreclosed discussion on the wisdom of his choice. But it was ill advised, in that it did nothing to limit gossip. It was in the nature of Roman society that prominent senators would each consider themselves an ideal choice for heir, and that their friends and dependents would seize every chance to talk up their man. And nothing fascinated the people more than trying to identify whom Galba would choose. Under the young and childless Nero it had been unsafe as well as unwise to discuss so sensitive a topic in public. Galba's old age made speculation inevitable, and the sheer delight of being able to gossip generated still more talk. Yet since our sources name only two men as the objects of this chatter, Otho and Cornelius Dolabella, it looks as though every other potential contender failed to break through the lines drawn round the emperor by his pedagogues.1

-57-

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