Galba Biography

Servius Sulpicius Galba, a distinguished nobleman from a locality near Terracina, rose to become the Emperor of Rome for a brief but eventful period of seven months. Despite his priggishly upright administration, Galba’s reign was marred by corrupt advisers and apathetic orders. Serving as praetor, consul, and governor of various provinces, Galba’s political career was marked by his dedication to public service. However, his lack of popularity among his subjects and the loss of support from the Praetorian Guard ultimately led to his downfall, as he was eventually killed by his successor, Otho.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Servius Sulpicius Galba
  • Died At Age: 71
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Aemilia Lepida
    • Father: Gaius Sulpicius Galba
    • Mother: Mummia Achaica
    • Children: Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus
  • Born Country: Roman Empire
  • Died on: January 15, 69
  • Cause of Death: Assassination

Childhood & Early Life

Galba was born on December 24, 3 BC, in a locality near the city of Terracina. He was the son of Gaius Sulpicius Galba and Mummia Achaica. Although he was not related to any of the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he came from a renowned noble family. His father and brother both served as senators, and his paternal grandfather was a historian. His mother also came from a highly distinguished family, with her grandfather being politician Quintus Lutatius Catulus and her great-grandfather being the statesman and general Lucius Mummius Achaicus. The origin of the cognomen Galba is uncertain, but it is speculated to have come from the term “galba,” a Roman word for Gauls, or from an insect called “galbae.” Galba was proud of his maternal great-grandfather Catulus and claimed descent from Jupiter and the legendary Pasiphaë through his parents.

Early Career

In 30, Galba became a praetor and later served as the governor of Aquitania before becoming a consul in 33. In 39, he was appointed as the replacement for Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, the general of the Upper German legions, by Emperor Caligula. Galba gained a reputation for his disciplinary methods in this position. After Caligula’s assassination in 41, Galba served under Claudius but declined the opportunity to take the throne. He became the governor of Africa in 44 or 45 and temporarily quit public service during the political turmoil in Rome in 49. Emperor Nero requested his return in 59 or 60 and made him the governor of Hispania.

Rebellion Against Nero

In 68, Galba joined the rebellion against Emperor Nero led by Gaius Julius Vindex. He declared himself the emperor in opposition to Nero and gained support from Tigellinus, a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard. Vindex’s rebellion was ultimately put down, but Galba’s influence and power continued to grow. Nero declared Galba a public enemy, and his lavish lifestyle and expensive projects were disliked by the upper classes who had to pay for them. Galba, being a member of the upper class, also had to pay his share of taxes.

Accession & Reign

On June 8, 68, Nymphidius Sabinus declared that Nero had escaped to Egypt, and the senate appointed Galba as the emperor the next day. Nero committed suicide on June 9, marking the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Galba faced rebellion from Nymphidius, who wanted to become emperor himself, but Nymphidius was murdered by the Praetorians. During his journey back to Rome, Galba’s men had to fight a loyal legion of Nero, resulting in many casualties. Galba’s reign was marked by his chronic gout and the influence of corrupt officials. He faced criticism for his unpopular policies, including confiscating properties, dissolving German legions, and not paying the Praetorians and soldiers who fought against Vindex. The legions of Upper Germany and Lower Germany declared their loyalty to other potential emperors, and Galba attempted to appease the military by adopting Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his successor. However, this angered Otho, who had expected to be chosen, and he had Galba murdered on January 15, 69. Otho became the next emperor but would only reign for three months before committing suicide.

Family & Personal Life

Galba had a preference for older males as his sexual partners, but he married a woman named Aemilia Lepida. They had two sons, but his wife and children passed away between 41 and 54. Galba spent the rest of his life as a widower.

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