By Anne Leader
Roman Emperor Vespasian died 23 June 79 CE after ruling the empire for a decade. Serving as the emperor of Rome, Vespasian founded the short-lived Flavian dynasty, which continued through his sons Titus (r. 79-81) and Domitian (r. 81-96). While Vespasian had a typical political career, following the cursus honorum, or sequence of public offices held by officials in the Republic and early empire, he was best known for his military successes, including the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE and the conquest of Judea after the Jewish rebellion of 66 CE.
Vespasian was also responsible for commissioning what has become one of the best known monuments of ancient Rome, the large Flavian Amphitheater known today as the Colosseum. After the disastrous reign of Nero, Vespasian used public money to embellish and improve the city of Rome, building a new forum with its Temple of Peace, public baths, and the public entertainment venue of the Colosseum. It could hold about 50,000 spectators who enjoyed a variety of spectacles, including gladiator matches, mock sea battles, dramas, and animal hunts. More nefariously, the colosseum also became the site of public executions. Vespasian did not live to see the building’s inauguration, which was celebrated by his son Titus through the minting of a celebratory coin the year after his father’s death.
Portrait head of Domitian. body added 18th century. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Formerly in the Albani Collection in Rome.
Vespasian sestertius, struck in 71 to celebrate the victory in the first Jewish-Roman war. The legend on the reverse says: IVDEA CAPTA, “Judaea conquered”.
A map of the Roman Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors (69 CE).
Portrait of Vespasian, ca. 70 CE, Marble. New Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
Colossal head of Titus. Glyptothek, Munich
Flavian Amphitheater (Colosseum), Rome. Photo credit: Diliff.
Sestertius of Titus celebrating inauguration of Colosseum, minted 80 CE. Photo credit: Rc13
Marble head of Vespasian, from North Africa, 70-80 CE. British Museum, London