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Galba : First of Four Emperors in 69 AD


Dionysos leading the Horae (Seasons), marble, Roman 1st century AD (image public domain)


My coin of interest today is a tetradrachm of Galba from Roman Egypt. The coin is a window into stories of clashes between armies and men to control the Empire of Rome. Nero vacillated as Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, rose up not against Rome but against Nero. He declared allegiance to Galba. Gallia Lugdunensis was a sizable region of today's France, with Capital of Lugdunum or Lyon. Galba was in his early seventies, an experienced governor from a noble family, who had served under four emperors as governor of Aquitania, Upper Germany, Africa, and Hispania, with a reputation (at least among some) for avarice, gluttony and cruelty. Seutonius presents a rather grotesque description of Galba:


"He was of average height, very bald, with blue eyes and a hooked nose. His hands and feet were so distorted by gout that he could not endure a shoe for long, unroll a book, or even hold one. The flesh on his right side too had grown out and hung down to such an extent, that it could with difficulty be held in place by a bandage."

-Seutonius, Life of Galba, 21.1


It is interesting to compare the Galba of Suetonius with the Galba of Plutarch:


"But to Galba the imperial title was offered and by him it was accepted; and by simply lending his name to the bold measures of Vindex, he gave to his revolt (as his rebellious agitation was called) the character of a civil war, because it had acquired a man who was worthy to rule."

-Plutarch, Life of Galba, 29.1


By his inaction, Nero sealed his fate, public pressure grew, and he was soon to declared a public enemy by the senate and commit suicide. His last words : qualis artifex pereo—“what an artist perishes in me!” - generally taken as the final evidence of his self-delusion, but a kinder portrait of Nero is described in this recent Smithsonian Magazine article.

Egypt, Alexandria, Galba, AD 68-69, BI Tetradrachm (24mm, 13.28g, 12h), dated RY 2 (AD 68/69)

Obv: ΣEP OVI ΓAΛBA AVTO KAIΣ ΣEBA, laureate head right; L B (date) below chin

Rev: EIPH-NH, laureate, draped, and veiled bust right of Eirene, caduceus behind right shoulder; simpulum before

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 305


Although Galba only reigned for 7 months (June 8, 68 to January 15, 69 CE), the Egyptian year began on August 29th (or 30th for leap years), so this coin was issued between the end of August and the end of January. That there are coins with the first regnal year from Egypt is to me surprising to think that the news could travel so fast and coins start minting so quickly from Gaul to Rome to Egypt.


Eirene was the goddess of Peace and one of the Horae, the daughter of Zeus and Themis. Perhaps not surprising that she would be invoked on a coin during this period of transition post-Nero. I found this particular coin to be better than average style of portrait for both Galba and Eirene. Galba looking quite young for a 70+ year old emperor. The simpulum on the reverse as a control device often is shown as a sacrificial implement (a ladle) but would be a common utensil for serving wine as well. Interesting to note that Romans and Greeks would dilute wine with water, sometimes the Romans even used hot water to warm their wine.


Galba was murdered by Otho who was emperor for only 3 months 28 April 32 – 16 April 69. Vitellius was emperor for 8 months, 16 April to 22 December 69. Before Vespasian finally took lasting hold of the empire. While I don't yet have a coin of Otho, I do have one of Vitellius:

Vitellius (AD 69), AR denarius, Rome, May-December AD 69

Obv: A VITELLIVS GERM IMP AVG TR P, laureate head of Vitellius right

Rev: PONT MAXIM, veiled Vesta enthroned right, holding scepter and patera

Ref: RIC 107


and several of Vespasian. In this early portrait of Vespasian he looks a bit like Otho:

Vespasian, AD 69-79, AR Denarius, Rome, January-June AD 70

Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right

Rev: COS ITER FORT RED, Fortuna standing left, resting right hand on prow and holding cornucopiae in left

Ref: RIC 19

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