Bust of a bald man with an aquiline nose
Head sculpture of Galba
Roman emperor
Reign8 June 68 – 15 January 69
(7 months)
Born24 December 3 BC
Near Terracina, Italy
Died (aged 70)
SpouseAemilia Lepida
IssueLucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus (adopted)
Full name
Servius Sulpicius Galba (birth)
Lucius Livius Ocella Sulpicius Galba
Regnal name
Servius Galba Imperator Caesar Augustus[1]
FatherGaius Sulpicius Galba
MotherMummia Achaica

Galba (/ˈɡælbə/; Servius Galba Caesar Augustus; Latin[ˈsɛr.wɪ.ʊs ˈ ˈkae̯.sar au̯ˈɡʊs.tʊs]; 24 December 3 BC – 15 January AD 69) was Roman emperor from 68 to 69, the first emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors. He was known as Lucius Livius Galba Ocella[note 1] prior to taking the throne as a result of his adoption by his stepmother, Livia Ocellina. The governor of Hispania at the time of the rebellion of Gaius Julius Vindex in Gaul, he seized the throne following Nero's suicide.

Born into a wealthy family, Galba held at various times the offices of praetor, consul, and governor of the provinces Aquitania, Upper Germany, and Africa during the first half of the first century AD. He retired during the latter part of Claudius' reign but Nero later granted him the governorship of Hispania. Taking advantage of the defeat of Vindex's rebellion and Nero's suicide, he became emperor with the support of the Praetorian Guard. His physical weakness and general apathy led to him being dominated by favorites. Unable to gain popularity with the people or maintain the support of the Praetorian Guard, Galba was murdered by Otho, who then became emperor.

Origins and family life

Galba was not related to any of the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, but he was a member of a distinguished noble family. The origin of the cognomen Galba is uncertain. Suetonius offers a number of possible explanations; the first member of the gens Sulpicia to bear the name might have gotten the name from the term galba, which the Romans used to describe the Gauls, or after an insect called galbae.[3] One of Galba's ancestors had been consul in 200 BC, and another of his ancestors was consul in 144 BC; the later emperor's father and brother, both named Gaius, would hold the office in 5 BC and AD 22 respectively.[4][5] Galba's grandfather was a historian and his son was a barrister whose first marriage was to Mummia Achaica, granddaughter of Quintus Lutatius Catulus and great-granddaughter of Lucius Mummius Achaicus;[4] Galba prided himself on his descent from his great-grandfather Catulus. According to Suetonius, he fabricated a genealogy of paternal descent from the god Jupiter and maternal descent from the legendary Pasiphaë, wife of Minos.[6] Reportedly, Galba was distantly related to Livia[7] to whom he had much respect and in turn by whom he was advanced in his career; in her will she left him fifty million sesterces; Emperor Tiberius however cheated Galba by reducing the amount to five hundred thousand sesterces and never even paid Galba the reduced amount.[8]

Servius Sulpicius Galba was born near Terracina on 24 December 3 BC. His elder brother Gaius fled from Rome and committed suicide because the emperor Tiberius would not allow him to control a Roman province. Livia Ocellina became the second wife of Galba's father, whom she may have married because of his wealth; he was short and hunchbacked. Ocellina adopted Galba, and he took the name Lucius Livius Galba Ocella. Galba had a sexual appetite for males, whom he preferred over females;[4] according to Suetonius, "he was more inclined to … the hard bodied and those past their prime".[9] Nevertheless, he married a woman named Aemilia Lepida and had two sons.[10] Aemilia and their sons died during the early years of the reign of Claudius (r. 41–54). Galba would remain a widower for the rest of his life.[11]

Public service

Galba became praetor in about 30,[10] then governor of Aquitania for about a year,[12] then consul in 33.[10] In 39 the emperor Caligula learned of a plot against himself in which Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, the general of the Upper German legions, was an important figure; Caligula installed Galba in the post held by Gaetulicus.[13] According to one report Galba ran alongside Caligula's chariot for twenty miles.[14] As commander of the legions of Upper Germany, Galba gained a reputation as a disciplinarian.[12] Suetonius writes that Galba was advised to take the throne following the assassination of Caligula in 41, but loyally served Caligula's uncle and successor Claudius (r. 41–54); this story may simply be fictional. Galba was appointed as governor of Africa in 44 or 45. He retired at an uncertain time during the reign of Claudius, possibly in 49. He was recalled in 59 or 60 by the emperor Nero (r. 54–68) to govern Hispania.[13]

A rebellion against Nero was orchestrated by Gaius Julius Vindex in Gaul on the anniversary of the death of Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, in 68. Shortly afterwards Galba, in rebellion against Nero, rejected the title "General of Caesar" in favor of "General of the Senate and People of Rome". He was supported by the imperial official Tigellinus. On 8 June 68 another imperial official, Nymphidius Sabinus, falsely announced to the Praetorian Guard that Nero had fled to Egypt, and the Senate proclaimed Galba emperor. Nero then committed assisted suicide with help from his secretary.[15]

Emperor (June 68)


Obverse Portrait of Galba, AD 68-69, Roman Mint. Obverse: Laureate haed right; IMP. SER. GALBA CAESAR AVG. Reverse: Victory standing on globe left, holding wreath and palm branch; VICTORIA P. R.

Upon becoming emperor, Galba was faced by the rebellion of Nymphidius Sabinus, who had his own aspirations for the imperial throne. However, Sabinus was killed by the Praetorians before he could take the throne. While Galba was arriving to Rome with the Lusitanian governor Marcus Salvius Otho, his army was attacked by a legion that had been organized by Nero; a number of Galba's troops were killed in the fighting.[16] Galba, who suffered from chronic gout by the time he came to the throne,[4] was advised by a corrupt group which included the Spanish general Titus Vinius, the praetorian prefect Cornelius Laco, and Icelus, a freedman of Galba. Galba seized the property of Roman citizens, disbanded the German legions, and did not pay the Praetorians and the soldiers who fought against Vindex. These actions caused him to become unpopular.[16]

Mutiny on the frontier and assassination

On 1 January 69, the day Galba and Vinius took the office of consul,[17] the fourth and twenty-second legions of Upper Germany refused to swear loyalty to Galba. They toppled his statues, demanding that a new emperor be chosen. On the following day, the soldiers of Lower Germany also refused to swear their loyalty and proclaimed the governor of the province, Aulus Vitellius, as emperor. Galba tried to ensure his authority as emperor was recognized by adopting the nobleman Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his successor. Nevertheless, Galba was killed by the Praetorians on 15 January. [18] According to Suetonius, Galba put on a linen corset although remarking It was little protection against so many Swords; when a soldier claimed to have killed Otho, Galba snapped "On what authority?". He was lured out to the scene of his assassination by a false report of the conspirators. Galba either tried to buy his life with a promise of the withheld bounty or asked that he be beheaded. The only help for him was a centurion in the Praetorian Guard named Sempronius Densus who was killed trying to defend Galba with a pugio; 120 persons later petitioned Otho that they had killed Galba; they would be executed by Vitellius.[19] A company of German soldiers to whom he had once done a kindness rushed to help him; however they took a wrong turn and arrived too late. He was killed near the Curtius Lake.[20] Vinius tried to run away, calling out that Otho had not ordered him killed, but was run through with a spear.[21] Laco was banished to an island where he was later murdered by soldiers of Otho. Icelus was publicly executed.[22] Piso was also killed; his head along with Galba's and Vinius' were placed on poles and Otho was then acclaimed as emperor.[18]Galba's Head was brought by a soldier to Otho's camp where camp boys mocked it on a lance - Galba had angered them previously by remarking his vigor was still unimpeded. Vinius' head was sold to his daughter for 2500 drachmas; Piso's head was given to his wife.[23] Galba's head was bought for 100 gold Pieces by a freeman who threw it at Sessorium where his master Patrobius Neronianus had been killed by Galba. The body of Galba was taken up by Priscus Helvidius with the permission of Otho; at night [24] Galba's steward Argivus took both the head and body to a tomb in Galba's Private Gardens on the Aurelian Way.[25]
Seutionius wrote the following descriptions of Galba's character and physical description:
"Even before he reached middle life, he persisted in keeping up an old and forgotten custom of his country, which survived only in his own household, of having his freedmen and slaves appear before him twice a day in a body, greeting him in the morning and bidding him farewell at evening, one by one"
"His double reputation for cruelty and avarice had gone before him; men said that he had punished the cities of the Spanish and Gallic provinces which had hesitated about taking sides with him by heavier taxes and some even by the razing of their walls, putting to death the governors and imperial deputies along with their wives and children. Further, that he had melted down a golden crown of fifteen pounds weight, which the people of Tarraco had taken from their ancient temple of Jupiter and presented to him, with orders that the three ounces which were found lacking be exacted from them. This reputation was confirmed and even augmented immediately on his arrival in the city. For having compelled some marines whom Nero had made regular soldiers to return to their former position as rowers, upon their refusing and obstinately demanding an eagle and standards, he not only dispersed them by a cavalry charge, but even decimated them. He also disbanded a cohort of Germans, whom the previous Caesars had made their body-guard and had found absolutely faithful in many emergencies, and sent them back to their native country without any rewards, alleging that they were more favourably inclined towards Gnaeus Dolabella, near whose gardens they had their camp. The following tales too were told in mockery of him, whether truly or falsely: that when an unusually elegant dinner was set before him, he groaned aloud; that when his duly appointed steward presented his expense account, he handed him a dish of beans in return for his industry and carefulness; and that when the flute player Canus greatly pleased him, he presented him with five denarii, which he took from his own purse with his own hand.

Accordingly his coming was not so welcome as it might have been, and this was apparent at the first performance in the theatre; for when the actors of an Atellan farce began the familiar lines "Here comes Onesimus from his farm" all the spectators at once finished the song in chorus and repeated it several times with appropriate gestures, beginning with that verse.

Thus his popularity and prestige were greater when he won, than while he ruled the empire, though he gave many proofs of being an excellent prince; but he was by no means so much loved for those qualities as he was hated for his acts of the opposite character. "

Particularly bad was his becoming under the influence of Vinius; Laco and Icelus:"...To these brigands, each with his different vice, he so entrusted and handed himself over as their tool, that his conduct was far from consistent; for now he was more exacting and niggardly, and now more extravagant and reckless than became a prince chosen by the people and of his time of life.

He condemned to death distinguished men of both orders on trivial suspicions without a trial. He rarely granted Roman citizenship, and the privileges of threefold paternity to hardly one or two, and even to those only for a fixed and limited time. When the jurors petitioned that a sixth division be added to their number, he not only refused, but even deprived them of the privilege granted by Claudius, of not being summoned for court duty in winter and at the beginning of the year."[26]

In regard to his appointment of Vitellius to Lower Germany: "Galba surprised everyone by sending him to Lower Germany. Some think that it was due to Titus Vinius, who had great influence at the time, and whose friendship Vitellius had long since won through their common support of the Blues. But since Galba openly declared that no men were less to be feared than those who thought of nothing but eating, and that Vitellius's bottomless gullet might be filled from the resources of the province, it is clear to anyone that he was chosen rather through contempt than favour." [27]

"He was of average height, very bald, with blue eyes and a hooked nose. His hands and feet were so distorted by gout that he could not endure a shoe for long, unroll a book, or even hold one. The flesh on his right side too had grown out and hung down to such an extent, that it could with difficulty be held in place by a bandage.
It is said that he was a heavy eater and in winter time was in the habit of taking food even before daylight, while at dinner he helped himself so lavishly that he would have the leavings which remained in a heap before him passed along and distributed among the attendants who waited on him.....
He met his end in the seventy-third year of his age and the seventh month of his reign. The senate, as soon as it was allowed to do so, voted him a statue standing upon a column adorned with the beaks of ships, in the part of the Forum where he was slain; but Vespasian annulled this decree, believing that Galba had sent assassins from Spain to Judaea, to take his life."[28]

Tacitus (Histories 1.49) comments on the character of Galba: "He seemed too great to be a subject so long as he was subject, and all would have agreed that he was equal to the imperial office if he had never held it." [29]

See also


  1. ^ As Pharaoh of Egypt, Galba adopted the titulary Autokrator Servios Galbas ("Emperor Servius Galba").[2]



  1. ^ Salmon, Edward T. (1968) [1944]. A History of the Roman World from 30 B.C. to A.D. 138 (6th ed.). London: Methuen. p. 333. ISBN 0-416-10710-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ The Royal Titulary of Ancient Egypt.
  3. ^ Suetonius & Rolfe 2018, Life of Galba, p. 193.
  4. ^ a b c d Greenhalgh 1975, p. 11.
  5. ^ Morgan 2005, p. 31.
  6. ^ Morgan 2005, pp. 31–32.
  7. ^ Suetonius Life of Galba Chapter 23
  8. ^ Suetonius Life of Galba Chapter 3
  9. ^ Suetonius & Rolfe 2018, Life of Galba, p. 227.
  10. ^ a b c Lendering 2006.
  11. ^ Morgan 2005, p. 32.
  12. ^ a b Greenhalgh 1975, p. 15.
  13. ^ a b Morgan 2005, pp. 33–34.
  14. ^ [Suentonius "Life of Galba" Chapter 6]
  15. ^ Greenhalgh 1975, pp. 7–11.
  16. ^ a b Donahue 2009.
  17. ^ Wellesley 1989, p. 1.
  18. ^ a b Greenhalgh 1975, pp. 30, 37, 45, 47–54.
  19. ^ Plutarch "Life of Galba" Chapters 26-27
  20. ^ Seutionius "Life of Galba"Chapters 19-20
  21. ^ Cornelius Tacitus (1770). The Works of Tacitus. J. and F. Rivington. pp. 12–.
  22. ^ [Tacitus p.46]
  23. ^ Plutarch "Life of Galba" Chapter 28
  24. ^ Plutarch "Life of Galba" Chapter 28
  25. ^ [Seutionius "Life of Galba" Chapters 20-21]
  26. ^ [Seutionius "Life of Galba" Chapters 4; 12-14]
  27. ^ [Suetonius "Life of Vitellius" Chapter 7]
  28. ^ [Seutionius "Life of Galba" Chapters 21-23]
  29. ^ Tacitus Histories 1.49


  • Donahue, John (7 August 1999). "Galba". De Imperatoribus Romanis. Retrieved 25 March 2019.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Galba". The Royal Titulary of Ancient Egypt. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  • Greenhalgh, P. A. L. (1975). The Year of the Four Emperors. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780297768760.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Morgan, Gwyn (2006). 69 A.D.: The Year of the Four Emperors. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195124682.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Lendering, Jona (2006). Galba. Livius. Retrieved 30 June 2019.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Tranquillus, C. Suetonius (2018) [121]. De Vita Caesarum [The Lives of the Twelve Caesars] (in Latin). Translated by Rolfe, J. C. DOVER PUBNS. ISBN 9780486822198.
  • Wellesley, Kenneth (1989). The Long Year A.D. 69. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 9781853990496.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links

Primary sources

  • Galba Conservation Project: researching Galba's heritage
  • Life of Galba (Plutarch; English translation)
  • Cassius Dio, Book 63

Secondary sources

  • Galba at RomansOnline
Political offices
Preceded by
Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus,
and Aulus Vitellius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix
Succeeded by
Lucius Salvius Otho,
and Gaius Octavius Laenas
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Gaius Bellicius Natalis, and
Publius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus

as Suffect consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Titus Vinius

Succeeded by
Otho, and
Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus II