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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Titus Flavius Vespasianus was Roman Emperor from 1st July a.d. 69 to 24th June (other authorities, 23rd July) 79, and ruled under the style Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (sometimes Imperator Vespasianus Caesar Augustus). He sprang from an obscure family, his grandfather having been a citizen of the Sabine country-town Reate, who served as a centurion on the side of Pompey against Julius Caesar in the Civil War till the battle of Pharsalus (48 b.c.), after which he returned home.

Vespasian was brought up by his grandmother Tertulla on her estate at Cosa in Etruria. Flavius Sabinus, the father of Vespasian, was a highly respected revenue official in Asia Minor, who afterwards removed to Switzerland, where he died. Vespasian’s mother, Vespasia Polla, was of better family than her husband, for her father, a citizen of Nursia in the Sabine country, had been a military tribune, and her brother was a senator.

Vespasian was born on 17th November a.d. 9, at Falacrine, a place near Reate. His elder brother, Flavius Sabinus, had attained senatorial rank, and Vespasian was ambitious to follow in his footsteps. As quaestor he was allotted to the province Crete and Cyrene. He held the office of aedile under Caligula, probably in 38, and the praetorship in 39. In this year, on 30th December, his eldest child, the future Emperor Titus (see articleTitus), was born, his mother’s name being Flavia Domitilla. In the year 41-42 Vespasian was sent to Germany in command of a legion, at that time stationed at Argentoratum (Strasbourg), and fought against the Germans. With this legion, the Legio II. Augusta, he crossed to Britain in the expedition of 43, and conquered two powerful tribes, twenty towns, and the Isle of Wight. In consequence he obtained ornamenta triumphalia in the triumph of 44, and further honours later. On 24th October 51, in November and December of which year Vespasian was consul suffectus , his second son Domitian was born. After this date Vespasian was in temporary retirement. His patron Narcissus, the powerful freedman of Claudius, died in 54, and Agrippina, widow of Claudius and mother of Nero, pursued his former friends with hatred. She also perished in 59, when Vespasian was proconsul of Africa. In favour of his rule in Africa this at least can be said, that he returned from the province in financial embarrassment. In the year 66 he accompanied Nero on his theatrical and musical tour to Greece, but incurred the Emperor’s disfavour through his lack of interest in the performances.

The Jewish War provided Vespasian with an opportunity which he was not slow to seize. Judaea had always been a hot-bed of dissension, more particularly since the commencement of Roman rule. There were disputes between the Jews and the Syrians, risings, Messianic expectations, and dissatisfaction with the procuratorial administration. All these causes contributed to the colossal rebellion against Rome. Gessius Florus, who became procurator of Judaea in 64, outraged Jewish feeling in every possible way, particularly by robbery and massacre. Cestius Gallus, governor of Syria, after a short success against Jerusalem, was forced to retire. War could not then be avoided. Nero felt compelled to recall Vespasian to Court as the only suitable man to inflict the deserved punishment on the Jews. The precise status conferred upon Vespasian is uncertain; he was to co-operate with Licinius Mucianus, the competent but ambitious governor of Syria. Sending his son Titus very early in 67 to bring a legion from Alexandria, he himself went from Nero’s quarters in Achaia over the Hellespont by land to Syria, and collected the Roman forces there. From Antioch he marched to Ptolemais, where Titus joined him. Their combined forces amounted to three legions, twenty-three cohorts, six squadrons, and a large number of Asiatic auxiliary troops, or a total of 60,000 men. His first aim was to subdue Galilee, and in this campaign the most important phase was the stubborn siege of Jotapata. Jaffa was taken about 26th June, and Jotapata, after about 40 days’ resistance, was captured about 2nd July. Among the captives taken was Josephus, the commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee, and the future historian of the war, who was kindly treated by Vespasian. On 5th July Vespasian left for Ptolemais, and thence he went to Caesarea on the coast. There he put two legions into winter quarters, and sent the third to Scythopolis. Certain of the troops were sent to besiege Joppa, the headquarters of the Jewish pirates. Vespasian himself joined Herod Agrippa at Caesarea Philippi, and after twenty days marched against the cities Tarichea and Tiberias, which had revolted from him. Titus brought the army from Caesarea and met his father at Scythopolis. The Roman party in the city surrendered Tiberias to Vespasian. Vespasian came to Tarichea after Titus had besieged it. A small naval victory was won by the Romans. After the capture of Tarichea, Gamala and Gischala were also taken, and the rebellion, so far as Galilee was concerned, was crushed.

One legion being sent to Scythopolis, with the other two he marched again to Caesarea on the coast. Jamnia and Azotus were besieged, and thus in the end of 67 Jerusalem was cut off from the sea. In the winter of 67-68 Vespasian made arrangements for the government of the besieged district, and began to employ his army against the capital. His plan was to destroy all opposition elsewhere before proceeding to the siege of the capital, a plan necessitated by due regard for his communications. So he took Gadara, 27th February 68, and left the rest of Peraea to be conquered by a subordinate, Placidus. Having heard reports of the rising of Vindex in Gaul, he returned hurriedly from Caesarea by Antipatris, Thamna, Lydda, and Jamnia to Ammaus, where he established one of his legions. Proceeding to Idumaea, he left troops there, and marched by Ammaus through Samaria to Jericho, where he arrived about 24th June 68. The city fell into his hands. After a visit to the Dead Sea, he established various camps in Judaea , in order to surround Jerusalem on all sides.

On returning to Caesarea he learned of Nero’s murder. The news delayed his advance on Jerusalem. When the further news of Galba’s accession came, it was necessary for him to await Galba’s orders, because Nero’s arrangements had by his death become null and void. He sent Herod and Titus to Rome to obtain these orders. Titus’ departure followed in the first half of 69. In Corinth he learned of the murder of Galba, of the arming of Vitellius, and of the accession of Otho. Leaving Herod to go on his way, Titus returned to Vespasian at Caesarea. The armies of Mucian and Vespasian had already taken the oath of allegiance to Otho. Meanwhile the war languished. On returning to Caesarea from a short journey to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, Vespasian learned that Vitellius had become Emperor, having been recognized as such by the senate on 19th April. Vespasian and Vitellius were personal enemies, and the former was not ready to submit to the elevation of the latter without a struggle, in spite of his distance from the centre of the Empire and the consequent difficulty of operations. Vespasian’s hesitation was removed by the attitude of his troops, who were jealous that the German legions had been able to create an Emperor. They received with absolute silence Vespasian’s proposal that they should take the oath to Vitellius. The support of Mucian removed the last trace of Vespasian’s hesitation. The charm of Titus had brought the two erstwhile jealous governors into friendly relations; so that it may be said that Titus got the Empire for his father. Vespasian had made sure of the support of the prefect or Egypt, Tiberius Julius Alexander, and now wrote to tell him that he was making a bid for the Empire, and counted on his support. It was this Alexander who in Alexandria on 1st July 69 proclaimed Vespasian Emperor, and made the two legions in Egypt take the oath to him. It was not till 22nd December that the senate conferred all the titles and privileges of Emperor upon him, such as the tribunicia potestas , the title ‘pater patriae,’ the supreme pontificate, etc. As Emperor, Vespasian held the ordinary consulship eight times. The censorship was held by Vespasian and Titus together in 73.

The year 69 was notable chiefly for the continued prosecution of the Jewish War. Before 15th July all the troops in Judaea and Syria as well as Egypt, and certain client-princes, had taken the oath to Vespasian. The necessary military and financial preparations were made to assert his claim against Vitellius. Vespasian marched to Antioch and, after entering into relations with the Parthians and Armenians, accompanied Titus to Alexandria. The aim of this visit was to occupy Egypt, as it was one of the chief centres of the corn supply, a rich province, and a suitable base of operations. Dispatches were sent to all the generals and armies, and Mucian undertook the campaign against Vitellius. Anicetus, a freed-man of the last Pontic king Polemo, attempted to create a rising in favour of Vitellius, but he was crushed and put to death. About the end of November Vespasian heard that Mucian had fought a decisive battle at Cremona in N. Italy (29th October). Early in November Mucian had also sent a legion to put down the Dacians, who took advantage of the unsettled state of the Empire to attack the Roman military camps in Mœsia. Mucian’s army numbered about 20,000 men, and with him the Byzantine fleet co-operated. The army crossed Asia Minor by Cappadocia and Phrygia. Meanwhile the Illyrian army had declared for Vespasian. The result of this was that in all six legions were added to his forces. A number of other legions, however, adopted a waiting attitude. Antonius Primus, commander of the seventh legion, had been ordered to remain at Aquileia, but of his own accord he marched into Italy. The Adriatic and Tyrrhenian fleets deserted to Vespasian. Antonius Primus, in the night battle at Cremona already mentioned, defeated the Vitellians utterly. Three legions in Spain and one in Britain now came over to Vespasian. In Rome his party, led by his brother, did not fare so well; for on 19th December Sabinus was captured and put to death. Domitian, however, escaped with his life. On 21st December Antonius came to Rome and captured it, the capture being followed by the death of Vitellius. Domitian was welcomed by the army as Caesar, and the next day the senate recognized Vespasian as Emperor. At the same time the Flavian generals received honours. Early in 70 the interests of Vespasian were in the hands of Mucian, who meantime enjoyed all the prestige of the princeps . There were serious disturbances in Germany and Gaul, in which Julius Civilis, a man of noble descent among the Batavi, played a prominent part. At first he allowed the troops to declare for Vespasian, but afterwards he explained that he wanted to fight for freedom from the yoke of Rome. Defection spread widely. Mucian, accompanied by Domitian, had been preparing a counterblow. It is not necessary to give the details of the campaign. Suffice it to say that the Roman dominion was speedily restored. In the first half of the year disturbances in Africa had been quelled, and the Sarmatians, who had invaded Mœsia, were defeated.

Vespasian received the news of his recognition by the senate early in January, while he was still in Alexandria, where his financial arrangements were mocked at by the people. He postponed his departure till the summer, and travelled by Rhodes and Greece to Corcyra and Calabria. The exact date of his arrival in Rome is unknown. The restoration of the city, which had suffered seriously in the recent disturbances, early engaged his attention. In particular, the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus was rebuilt, and the documents which had perished in the Record Office were, as far as possible, replaced. A road was built in Sardinia. In this year also a consular legate was sent to govern the province Cappadocia, instead of a procurator as hitherto. In 71, probably in the middle of June, Titus arrived in Rome, and about 1st July the joint triumph over Judaea took place (see articleTitus). As a sign of universal peace the temple of Janus was closed, and the building of a Temple of Peace begun. Aqueducts and streets in the city were restored at the cost of the Emperor. Lucilius Bassus completed the work of the subjugation of Judaea .

Palestine was now made the private property of the Emperor, like Egypt; 800 veterans were settled at Ammaus, about 3 or 4 miles from Jerusalem, and the old Temple tax ( Matthew 17:24) had to be paid to Jupiter Capitolinus. Important changes were made in the constitution of the legions at this time, especially by the discharge of those that had proved disloyal. Loyal discharged soldiers were settled in coloniae . In Britain the gentle Vettius Bolanus was replaced by the more vigorous Petilius Cerialis. About this time the worship of the Emperor was established in Africa. In 72 Sardinia and Corsica, previously a senatorial province, became Imperial. In the same year Antiochus IV. of Commagene revolted from Rome, but was defeated and captured by the governor of Syria, Caesennius Paetus. Antiochus was ordered to live at Lacedaemon, and his sons were allowed to come to Rome, where they obtained the citizenship. Commagene was taken over and added to the province Syria.

The year 73 was marked by the exercise of the censorship on the part of Vespasian and Titus. The activities of this office, which had for the most part fallen into disuse, were manifold. For example, these colleagues planned anew, or refounded, the city of Rome. The constant problem of the overflowing of the Tiber also engaged their attention. The permanent camps at Vindonissa and Carnuntum were enlarged. Thus the Danube line was strengthened against the troublesome Danube peoples, and the towns Scarbantia and Savaria on the road to Aquileia were protected. Vespasian took away the liberty Nero had restored to Greece, and made it again a province Achaia, on the perfectly good ground that the Greeks had ceased to understand how to use liberty. As a senatorial province it was governed by an ex-praetor with the title proconsul, as it had been previously in St. Paul’s time. A rising of the Jews was subdued in this year, and the town Masada, the last stronghold of the Sicarii in Palestine, was destroyed. They, however, aroused the Alexandrian Jews against the Empire. As a punishment the secondary temple at Heiopolis was destroyed, by order of the Emperor. A further disturbance in Cyrene needs mention only. In 74 the regulation of the Tiber was continued, and the censorship came to an end. In recognition of the support which Spain had given to Vespasian, the whole free population of the province was given the partial Roman citizenship known as ius Latii . Another aspect of censorial duty was the purging of the orders. Many unworthy members of the senatorial and equestrian orders were ejected. The patrician families were (in 73) increased from 200 to 1000, among the many men thus promoted being Cn. Julius Agricola, later the governor of Britain. About this time a number of Stoic and Cynic philosophers, who were of anti-monarchical tendencies, were expelled from Rome. From inscriptions only do we learn of important military operations in Germany ( e.g. the Black Forest) at this time, accompanied by the building of a new road with fortresses, perhaps to keep the way open between the Rhine and the Danube. The repair of a road in Sardinia is also recorded for this year. In 75 the Temple of Peace, begun in 71, was completed and opened. Of this richly adorned temple, which included a library, not a trace remains. In the same year a colossal statue of Nero (100-120 ft. high), which had stood in his Golden House, was converted into a statue of Apollo as the Sun-god, the protector of the Flavian house. It was afterwards removed by Hadrian, but the base is preserved. Many pieces of public land in Rome, Italy, and the provinces which had been illegally taken possession of by private persons were taken back by the State. The boundary of Rome was also extended. Rutilius Gallicus (Statius, Siluae , I. iv. 83) collected taxes, re-imposed by Vespasian, in the province of Africa, the boundary line of which was at this time definitely fixed. About this period Vespasian seems to have given help to Vologaesus, king of the Parthians, against the Alani, a northern tribe which invaded Parthia. It was in this connexion probably that a road was built in Little Armenia. We hear also of important repairs to roads in the province Asia. In 76 the authorities mention repairs to the Via Appia, and great works on the roads, etc., in Africa. In the same year Vologaesus adopted a hostile attitude to Rome, but was compelled to ask for peace. In this war the father of the Emperor Trajan, as legate of Syria, took part. Sextus Iulius Frontinus, as legate in Britain, gained a victory over the Silures. By a statute of the same year certain officers and men of the household troops were given the right to enter on legal marriage. In 77 Vespasian erected in Rome, south of the Templum Pacis, a building, which after successive alterations and restorations became the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. In the same year important work was done on roads in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. For 78 there are records of road-building in Dalmatia and Bithynia. In the same year there was a successful campaign, conducted by Rutilius Gallicus, against a German tribe, the Bructeri. One of their leading women, a prophetess Veleda, was brought captive to Rome. It was probably in the same year that Agricola’s period as governor of Britain began; before its end he had almost destroyed the Ordovices and recovered the island Mona (probably Anglesey) for the Romans.

The year 79 was the last of Vespasian’s rule. There were great road and bridge-building operations carried out in Hispania Baetica (modern Andalucia). The rebel Iulius Sabinus, of the Gaulish tribe of the Lingones, had for nine years been in hiding, but was in this year discovered, brought to Rome, and condemned, with his wife. In this year also there was a conspiracy against Vespasian, fomented by two men whom he had regarded as friends, Aulus Caecina Alienus and Titus Clodius Eprius Marcellus. Titus, Vespasian’s son, had obtained knowledge of the guilt of the first, invited him to his table, and had him struck down, before Vespasian had an inkling of the plot. Eprius, after being tried and condemned by the senate, took his own life. While on a visit to Campania, Vespasian had a slight attack of fever. He returned to Rome, and from there went to his usual summer residence, Aquae Cutiliae, in the Sabine land, near Reate. There he fought the disease manfully, giving unbroken attention to business. Certain symptoms led to the report that Titus had given him poison. He died on 24th June in his sixty-ninth year, after a reign of almost ten years.

After his death he was, like most of the Emperors, deified by the senate. He had been a worthy Emperor, with the solid qualities characteristic of the best of the Italians. After the folly and waste of the Neronian period, such a rule as his was at once a necessity and a blessing to Italy. His chief services to the State were his care for finance and at the same time for the roads of the Empire, as the details enumerated above will have shown. He deliberately founded a dynasty, and, to secure it, made his sons Titus and Domitian joint-rulers with himself during his own life-time. He was on the best of terms with the senate, to which he showed great respect. The doctrinaire Stoics, especially Helvidius Priscus, constituted an element hostile to the Emperor. By habitually making one or other of his sons his colleague in the consulship, he retained the presidency of the senate in the hands of his family. The senate itself he strengthened by the introduction of worthy Italians and provincials, and he also made promotions of suitable persons to the equestrian order. Knights and freedmen found in this reign greater scope for their activities, in official positions under the Emperor himself. He took a very great interest in the provinces, a number of which he had personally visited. As one who owed his elevation to the army, he busied himself with its organization. He lived simply and thriftily, and encouraged teachers of rhetoric, poets, and artists, but banished philosophers and astrologers.

Of his attitude to Christianity nothing is known for certain, but it has been plausibly conjectured that, since in Nero’s time Christians were condemned only for crimes punishable in any case, while in Trajan’s time it is clearly established that confession of Christianity was in itself a crime, the changed attitude is due to an administrative principle settled under Vespasian (W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire before a.d. 170 , pp. 242, 252-319).

Literature.-The ancient authorities are: Josephus, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) , bks. iii-vii., in the composition of which memoirs of Vespasian himself were used; Tacitus, Histories , bks. i-v. (reaching only to autumn 70); Dio Cassius, bk. lxvi., existing now only in the abridgment of Xiphilinus; Suetonius, Vespasian , and later authorities; the rich collection of inscriptions is put together by H. C. Newton, The Epigraphical Evidence far the Reigns of Vespasian and Titus (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, xvi.), Ithaca, N.Y., 1901. Modern works are V. Duruy, History of Rome , Eng. translation, 6 vols., London, 1883-86; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit , i. [Gotha, 1883] 390-400, 499-518; J. B. Bury, A History of the Roman Empire 2, London, 1896, pp. 368-381, etc.; A. von Domaszewski, Geschichte der römischen Kaiser , ii. [Leipzig, 1909] 145-154; K. Weynand in Pauly-Wissowa[Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.], vi. 2623-2695 (an admirable detailed monograph). On Vespasian’s connexion with Christianity, W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire before a.d. 170 , London, 1893.

A. Souter.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]