Roman Emperors Dir Otho

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Otho (69 A.D.)

David J. Coffta

Canisius College

Coin with the image of the Emperor Otho

Marcus Salvius Otho, a former friend of Nero (whom his wife, Poppaea Sabina, married after her divorce from Otho), had, in his capacity as governor of Lusitania, originally supported the bid of Galba to be emperor, and only after it became apparent that Galba had an alternate successor in mind did Otho take decisive action against him. He organized the assassination of Galba by the praetorian guard in January 69 and assumed control at Rome. In the provinces, however, loyalties remained uncertain. The legions of Egypt, North Africa, the Euphrates, and the Danube declared their allegiance to him, but those in Upper and Lower Germany had already declared Vitellius emperor while Galba was still alive, and Galba's replacement by Otho made no appreciable difference to them.

Vitellius sent ahead his generals, Fabius Valens and Aulus Caecina Alienus, in an advance on Rome. By March their respective armies had crossed the Alps, united, and reached the Po. In opposition Otho sent his generals, Annius Gallus and Vestricius Spurinna, to fight a delaying action until reinforcements could arrive. Otho himself waited in Rome for several weeks and finally joined his generals but, before the additional troops arrived, forced the issue with a crossing of the Po and an engagement of the Vitellian forces. This episode, known as the First Battle of Bedriacum, fought approximately 20 miles east of Cremona, ended in the defeat of Otho's men, their retreat cut off by the river behind them. The survivors surrendered and, on 16 April 69, Otho committed suicide in despair and in spite of the continued support of the praetorian guard. At Otho's death the Senate declared Vitellius emperor, and awaited his arrival at Rome.


Sources for this Entry:

Cary, M., A History of Rome down to the Reign of Constantine, London ,1962, 599-601.

Grant, M., History of Rome, New York, 1978, 286-288.

Momigliano, A. "Otho."OCD,2 630.

Ancient Sources:

Tacitus, Histories; Suetonius, Otho; Plutarch, Otho.

Recent Bibliography:

Bowman, Alan K., Edward Champlin, Andrew Lintott.The Cambridge Ancient History X; The Augustan Empire.2 Cambridge, 1996.

Murison, C.L. Galla, Otho, and Vitellius: Careers and Controversies. New York, 1993.

Sherk, R.K. The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian. Cambridge, 1988.

Shotter, D. Suetonius: The Lives of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius with Translation and Commentary. Warminster, 1993.

Sutherland, C.H.V. Roman Imperial Coinage. vol. 1 London, 1984.

Copyright (C), David J. Coffta. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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