The Info List - Vitellius

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Petronia Galeria Fundania

Issue Aulus Vitellius
Petronianus Aulus Vitellius
Germanicus Vitellia

Full name

Aulus Vitellius
(from birth to accession) Aulus Vitellius
Germanicus Augustus
(as emperor)

Dynasty Year of the Four Emperors

Father Lucius Vitellius

Mother Sextilia

Roman imperial dynasties

Year of the Four Emperors


Galba 68–69

Otho 69

Vitellius 69

Vespasian 69–79


Preceded by Julio-Claudian dynasty

Followed by Flavian dynasty

v t e

Vitellius' denarius, minted in 69 AD during the Year of the Four Emperors.

(/vɪˈtɛliəs/; Latin: Aulus Vitellius
Germanicus Augustus;[1] 24 September 15 – 22 December 69 AD) was Roman Emperor for eight months, from 16 April to 22 December AD 69. Vitellius
was proclaimed emperor following the quick succession of the previous emperors Galba
and Otho, in a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Vitellius
was the first to add the honorific cognomen Germanicus to his name instead of Caesar upon his accession; the latter name had fallen into disrepute in many quarters because of the actions of Nero. His claim to the throne was soon challenged by legions stationed in the eastern provinces, who proclaimed their commander Vespasian emperor instead. War ensued, leading to a crushing defeat for Vitellius
at the Second Battle of Bedriacum
Second Battle of Bedriacum
in northern Italy. Once he realised his support was wavering, Vitellius
prepared to abdicate in favor of Vespasian
but was executed in Rome by Vespasian's soldiers on 22 December 69.


1 Family 2 Public service

2.1 Political and military career 2.2 Bid for power

3 Emperor

3.1 Administration 3.2 Challenges 3.3 Resignation and death

4 Portrayals in art 5 Fictional portrayals 6 References 7 External links

7.1 Primary sources 7.2 Secondary sources

Family[edit] He was the son of Lucius Vitellius
Lucius Vitellius
Veteris and his wife Sextilia, and had one brother, Lucius Vitellius
Lucius Vitellius
the Younger. Suetonius
recorded two different accounts of the origins of the gens Vitellia, one making them descendants of past rulers of Latium, the other describing their origins as lowly. Suetonius
makes the sensible remark that both accounts might have been made by either flatterers or enemies of Vitellius—except that both were in circulation before Vitellius became emperor.[2] Suetonius
also recorded that when Vitellius
was born his horoscope so horrified his parents that his father tried to prevent Aulus from becoming a consul.[3] In his youth he was one of the noble companions of Tiberius' retirement on Capri
and there befriended Caligula, whose favour he won, according to Suetonius, by sharing in his passion for chariot racing and games of dice.[4] He married firstly before the year 40 a woman named Petronia, daughter of Publius Petronius or Gaius Petronius Pontius Nigrinus, by whom he had a son Aulus Vitellius
Petronianus, the universal heir of his mother and grandfather, whom Vitellius
had killed in 69 in order to inherit his fortune. He married secondly, around the year 50, a woman named Galeria Fundana, perhaps the granddaughter of Gaius Galerius, Prefect of Egypt in 23. They had two children, a son called Aulus Vitellius
Germanicus or Novis, the Younger, and a daughter, Vitellia, who married the Legatus Decimus Valerius Asiaticus. Public service[edit]

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Political and military career[edit] He was Consul in 48, and assumed Proconsul
of Africa in either 60 or 61, in which capacity he is said to have acquitted himself with credit. At the end of 68, Galba, to the general astonishment, selected him to command the army of Germania Inferior, and here Vitellius
made himself popular with his subalterns and with the soldiers by outrageous prodigality and excessive good nature, which soon proved fatal to order and discipline. Bid for power[edit] He owed his elevation to the throne to Caecina and Fabius Valens, commanders of two legions on the Rhine. Through these two men a military revolution was speedily accomplished; they refused to renew their vows of allegiance to Emperor Galba
on 1 January 69, and early in 69 Vitellius
was proclaimed emperor at Cologne. More accurately, he was proclaimed Emperor of the armies of Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior
and Superior. The armies of Gaul, Brittania and Raetia sided with them shortly afterwards. By the time that they marched on Rome, however, it was Otho, and not Galba, whom they had to confront. In fact, he was never acknowledged as Emperor by the entire Roman world, though at Rome the Senate accepted him and decreed to him the usual Imperial honours. He advanced into Italy
at the head of a licentious and rough soldiery, and Rome became the scene of riot and massacre, gladiatorial shows and extravagant feasting. To reward his victorious legionaries, Vitellius
disbanded the existing Praetorian Guard and installed his own men instead. Emperor[edit] Administration[edit]

on a coin.

Suetonius, whose father had fought for Otho
at Bedriacum, gives an unfavourable account of Vitellius' brief administration: he describes him as unambitious and notes that Vitellius
showed indications of a desire to govern wisely, but that Valens
and Caecina encouraged him in a course of vicious excesses which threw his better qualities into the background. Vitellius
is described as lazy and self-indulgent, fond of eating and drinking, and an obese glutton, eating banquets four times a day and feasting on rare foods he would send the Roman navy to procure. For these banquets, he had himself invited over to a different noble's house for each one. He is even reported to have starved his own mother to death—to fulfill a prophecy that he would rule longer if his mother died first; alternatively there is a report that his mother asked for poison to commit suicide-a request he granted.[5] Other writers, namely Tacitus
and Cassius Dio, disagree with some of Suetonius' assertions, even though their own accounts of Vitellius
are scarcely positive ones. Despite his short reign he made two important contributions to Roman government which outlasted him. Tacitus
describes them both in his Histories:

ended the practice of Centurions selling furloughs and exemptions of duty to their men, a change Tacitus
describes as being adopted by 'all good emperors'. He also expanded the offices of the Imperial Administration beyond the imperial pool of Freedmen allowing those of the Equites
to take up positions in the Imperial Civil Service.

also banned astrologers from Rome and Italy
on 1 October, 69. Some astrologers responded to his decree by anonymously publishing a decree of their own: "Decreed by all astrologers in blessing on our State Vitellius
will be no more on the appointed date." In response, Vitellius
executed any astrologers he came across.[6] Challenges[edit] In July 69, Vitellius
learned that the armies of the eastern provinces had proclaimed a rival emperor; their commander, Titus
Flavius Vespasianus. As soon as it was known that the armies of the East, Dalmatia, and Illyricum had declared for Vespasianus, Vitellius, deserted by many of his adherents, would have resigned the title of emperor. Resignation and death[edit]

dragged through the streets of Rome by the populace, Georges Rochegrosse (1883)

Tacitus' Histories state that Vitellius
awaited Vespasian's army at Mevania. The terms of resignation had actually been agreed upon with Marcus Antonius Primus, the commander of the sixth legion serving in Pannonia
and one of Vespasian’s chief supporters. The Praetorian Guard refused to allow him to carry out the agreement, and forced him to return to the palace, when he was on his way to deposit the insignia of empire in the Temple of Concord. On the entrance of Vespasian's troops into Rome he was dragged out of a hiding-place (according to Tacitus
a door-keeper's lodge), driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, and there struck down. "Yet I was once your emperor," were his last words. His body was thrown into the Tiber according to Suetonius; Cassius Dio's account is that Vitellius
was beheaded and his head paraded around Rome, and his wife attended to his burial. His brother and son were also killed. Suetonius, in writing of Vitellius' execution, offers his physical description: "...He was in fact abnormally tall, with a face usually flushed from hard drinking, a huge belly, and one thigh crippled from being struck once by a four-horse chariot, when he was in attendance on Gaius as he was driving..."[7] Years before there was a prediction that he would fall into the power of a man from Gaul; the man who slew him was Antonius Primus of Tolosa and whose surname was Becco which means "Rooster's beak" (Gallus means both "a cock" and "a Gaul").[8] Portrayals in art[edit] Vitellius
is also shown in the painting Decadence of the Romans by Thomas Couture.

Decadence of the Romans.

Fictional portrayals[edit]

is a character in Kate Quinn's novel Daughters of Rome (2011), set in AD 68–79.[9] He is also a prominent character in Simon Scarrow's Eagle series, where he is introduced as a rival to Vespasian
and an adversary to the main characters, Macro and Cato, during the invasion of Britain. Vitellius
is a character in M.C. Scott's novel Rome, The Art of War (2013). Although emperor in the novel, his brother Lucius is portrayed as being the more powerful and skilled in intrigue and ruthlessness.[citation needed] He is also introduced in chapter XX of Henry Venmore-Rowland's novel The Last Caesar (2012),[10] as the newly appointed Governor of Lower Germania at the beginning of AD 69. Lindsey Davis' historically accurate crime novel set in Ancient Rome, The Silver Pigs, notes a recipe for mushy peas was named after him. (Chapter XX, p. 3)[11] Steven Saylor, in his novel "Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome" devotes a chapter to Vitellius.


^ Classical Latin spelling and reconstructed Classical Latin pronunciation:

AVLVS VITELLIVS GERMANICVS AVGVSTVS IPA: [ˈau̯.lʊs wɪˈtɛl.li.ʊs gɛr'maː.nɪ.kʊs au̯ˈgʊs.tʊs]

^ Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: The Life of Vitellius.  Chapter 1 ^ Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: The Life of Vitellius.  Chapter 3, part 2 ^ Suetonius, Vitellius, 3.2; 4.1 ^ Suetonius
"Vitellius" Chapter 14 ^ Tamsyn Barton, Ancient Astrology, p. 47-48. ^ Suetonius
"Vitellius" Chapter 17 ^ Suetonius
"Vitellius" Chapter 18 ^ Quinn, Kate (2011). Daughters of Rome. Headline Review.  ^ Venmore-Rowland, Henry (2012). The Last Caesar. Bantam Press (an imprint of Transworld Publishers).  ^ "Vitellian Peas". Big Oven. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Vitellius, Aulus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 147. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vitellius.

Primary sources[edit]

Life of Vitellius
(Suetonius; English translation and Latin original) Cassius Dio, Book 64 Continuité gentilice et continuité sénatoriale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale, 2000

Secondary sources[edit]

Biography at livius.org Biography at De Imperatoribus Romanis Aulus Vitellius
entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith

Political offices

Preceded by Gnaeus Hosidius Geta, and Gaius Volasenna Severus as Suffect consuls Consul of the Roman Empire 48 with Lucius Vipstanus Publicola Messalla Succeeded by Quintus Veranius Nepos, and Gaius Pompeius Longus Gallus as Suffect consuls

Preceded by Otho Roman Emperor 69 Succeeded by Vespasian

v t e

Roman and Byzantine emperors

Principate 27 BC – 235 AD

Augustus Tiberius Caligula Claudius Nero Galba Otho Vitellius Vespasian Titus Domitian Nerva Trajan Hadrian Antoninus Pius Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius
and Lucius Verus Commodus Pertinax Didius Julianus (Pescennius Niger) (Clodius Albinus) Septimius Severus Caracalla
with Geta Macrinus
with Diadumenian Elagabalus Severus Alexander

Crisis 235–284

Maximinus Thrax Gordian I
Gordian I
and Gordian II Pupienus
and Balbinus Gordian III Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab
with Philip II Decius
with Herennius Etruscus Hostilian Trebonianus Gallus
Trebonianus Gallus
with Volusianus Aemilianus Valerian Gallienus
with Saloninus and Valerian II Claudius
Gothicus Quintillus Aurelian Tacitus Florian Probus Carus Carinus
and Numerian

Gallic Emperors: Postumus (Laelianus) Marius Victorinus (Domitianus II) Tetricus I
Tetricus I
with Tetricus II
Tetricus II
as Caesar

Dominate 284–395

(whole empire) Diocletian
(East) and Maximian
(West) Diocletian
(East) and Maximian
(West) with Galerius
(East) and Constantius Chlorus
Constantius Chlorus
(West) as Caesares Galerius
(East) and Constantius Chlorus
Constantius Chlorus
(West) with Severus (West) and Maximinus II (East) as Caesares Galerius
(East) and Severus (West) with Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great
(West) and Maximinus II (East) as Caesares Galerius
(East) and Maxentius
(West) with Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great
(West) and Maximinus II (East) as Caesares Galerius
(East) and Licinius
I (West) with Constantine the Great (West) and Maximinus II (East) as Caesares Maxentius
(alone) Licinius
I (West) and Maximinus II (East) with Constantine the Great (Self-proclaimed Augustus) and Valerius Valens Licinius
I (East) and Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great
(West) with Licinius
II, Constantine II, and Crispus
as Caesares (Martinian) Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great
(whole empire) with son Crispus
as Caesar Constantine II Constans
I Magnentius
with Decentius as Caesar Constantius II
Constantius II
with Vetranio Julian Jovian Valentinian the Great Valens Gratian Valentinian II Magnus Maximus
Magnus Maximus
with Victor Theodosius the Great (Eugenius)

Western Empire 395–480

Honorius Constantine III with son Constans
II) Constantius III Joannes Valentinian III Petronius Maximus
Petronius Maximus
with Palladius Avitus Majorian Libius Severus Anthemius Olybrius Glycerius Julius Nepos Romulus Augustulus

Eastern/ Byzantine Empire 395–1204

Arcadius Theodosius II Pulcheria Marcian Leo I the Thracian Leo II Zeno (first reign) Basiliscus
with son Marcus as co-emperor Zeno (second reign) Anastasius I Dicorus Justin I Justinian the Great Justin II Tiberius
II Constantine Maurice with son Theodosius as co-emperor Phocas Heraclius Constantine III Heraklonas Constans
II Constantine IV
Constantine IV
with brothers Heraclius
and Tiberius
and then Justinian II as co-emperors Justinian II
Justinian II
(first reign) Leontios Tiberios III Justinian II
Justinian II
(second reign) with son Tiberius
as co-emperor Philippikos Anastasios II Theodosius III Leo III the Isaurian Constantine V Artabasdos Leo IV the Khazar Constantine VI Irene Nikephoros I Staurakios Michael I Rangabe
Michael I Rangabe
with son Theophylact as co-emperor Leo V the Armenian
Leo V the Armenian
with Symbatios-Constantine as junior emperor Michael II
Michael II
the Amorian Theophilos Michael III Basil I
Basil I
the Macedonian Leo VI the Wise Alexander Constantine VII
Constantine VII
Porphyrogennetos Romanos I Lekapenos
Romanos I Lekapenos
with sons Christopher, Stephen and Constantine as junior co-emperors Romanos II Nikephoros II Phokas John I Tzimiskes Basil II Constantine VIII Zoë (first reign) and Romanos III Argyros Zoë (first reign) and Michael IV the Paphlagonian Michael V Kalaphates Zoë (second reign) with Theodora Zoë (second reign) and Constantine IX Monomachos Constantine IX Monomachos
Constantine IX Monomachos
(sole emperor) Theodora Michael VI Bringas Isaac I Komnenos Constantine X Doukas Romanos IV Diogenes Michael VII Doukas
Michael VII Doukas
with brothers Andronikos and Konstantios and son Constantine Nikephoros III Botaneiates Alexios I Komnenos John II Komnenos
John II Komnenos
with Alexios Komnenos as co-emperor Manuel I Komnenos Alexios II Komnenos Andronikos I Komnenos Isaac II Angelos Alexios III Angelos Alexios IV Angelos Nicholas Kanabos (chosen by the Senate) Alexios V Doukas

Empire of Nicaea 1204–1261

Constantine Laskaris Theodore I Laskaris John III Doukas Vatatzes Theodore II Laskaris John IV Laskaris

Eastern/ Byzantine Empire 1261–1453

Michael VIII Palaiologos Andronikos II Palaiologos
Andronikos II Palaiologos
with Michael IX Palaiologos
Michael IX Palaiologos
as co-emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos John V Palaiologos John VI Kantakouzenos
John VI Kantakouzenos
with John V Palaiologos
John V Palaiologos
and Matthew Kantakouzenos as co-emperors John V Palaiologos Andronikos IV Palaiologos John VII Palaiologos Andronikos V Palaiologos Manuel II Palaiologos John VIII Palaiologos Constantine XI Palaiologos

Italics indicates a co-emperor, while underlining indicates an usurper.

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 16012563 LCCN: n50013486 ISNI: 0000 0000 9043 9543 GND: 118805495 SELIBR: 291056 SUDOC: 033390371 BNF: cb12426081t (data) ULAN: 50