As Galba struggled to secure order and support in the west, the governors in the east, including Vespasian, at first offered loyalty to the successive Neronian replacements, but soon began to formulate their own imperial dreams. As Galba fell to Otho, and then Otho to Vitellius, over a period of little more than a year, it became readily apparent that there was a unique opportunity for an enterprising and ambitious politician/general. If someone could succeed where Nero's successors had failed, ultimately shoring up the decadence of the last few decadent years of Nero's reign and a year's worth of debilitating civil war, that individual stood to be readily welcomed by the legions and the masses.
While Vitellius bumbled in Rome, an eastern plot began to take firm hold. Despite having pledged allegiance to Vitellius after his victory over Otho in April of AD 69, the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus (bitter over his subordinate status during Nero's reign) and Vespasian began formulating their own plans. After a series of meetings between the two, and the inclusion of the Prefect of Egypt Tiberius Julius Alexander, the plans began to shape into a viable alternative to Vitellian rule. Though there may have been a rivalry over who held the prominent position, Vespasian advanced into the lead role for a few reasons.
He already had two male heirs, Titus and Domitian, signifying the potential for a lengthy and stable dynastic rule while Mucianus had no sons. Vespasian, a pro-consular Senator, also held a prominent family name (the Flavii Vespasiani were originally of Plebeian stock but had advanced greatly under Claudius and Nero), while Alexander was both an Equestrian and a Jew. With the 2 lesser partners understanding their positions under Vespasian's lead, the trio was ready to make its move. On July 1, AD 69 Alexander ordered his Egyptian legions, III Cyrenaica and XXII Deiotariana to swear loyalty to Vespasian, while the Syrian Legions under Mucianus (IIII Scythica, VI Ferrata, XII Fulminata) did the same shortly after. Vespasian's forces (V Macedonica, X Fretensis and XV Apollinaris) readily supported their commander while the large contingent of legions bordering the Danube fell in line for him as well.
With a considerable army sworn to Vespasian's cause, Mucianus was dispatched to march on Rome with his 20,000 men, while Vespasian moved to Egypt with Alexander to control the vital grain supply. The siege of Jerusalem, and the yet uncompleted subjugation of Judaea, was left in the very capable hands of Vespasian's son Titus, while Domitian, in Rome at 18 years old, likely did what he could to garner support in the capital. Meanwhile, before Mucianus' arrival in the west, the Danubian legions in Pannonia and Illyricum under Antonius Primus and Cornelius Fuscus took matters into their own hands, marching into Italy against Vitellius.
With as many as 30,000 men (perhaps half as much as Vitellius commanded) the Danubian legions met Vitellius at Cremona in October of AD 69. Primus and Fuscus won a crushing victory, sending Vitellius' short reign hurtling into history. In December, another Vitellian force sent to waylay Vespasian's legates defected, essentially bringing the Year of the Four Emperors to a close. Vitellius tried to abdicate, understanding that the cause was lost, but enough loyal men remained to thwart any attempt to save his own skin. Vespasian's brother, Titus Flavius Sabinus tried to take control of the city but Vitellius' men killed him and his supporters.
On December 20, the legions of Primus and Fuscus entered Rome, ending the life of Vitellius and taking control for Vespasian until Mucianus arrived shortly after. The combined and turbulent reigns of Otho, Galba and Vitellius lasted a scant 20 months in total. It's little wonder, considering the tired psyche of the masses, that a strong and competent man such as Vespasian was able to establish firm control and the foundation of a dynasty. On December 22, AD 69 Vespasian was afforded full imperial honors, matching those of the predeceasing Julio-Claudians. He would work vigorously in the early days of his takeover to not only legitimize his power, but to re-stabilize the legions, social conditions, the treasury, and the public perception of the Imperial office itself. Vespasian, while establishing a rather short lived 'Flavian Dynasty' that in itself would only last about 30 years, proved to be a vital historical figure, propping up a flailing Roman state at a time of intense need.
Did you know...?
The Flavian era, lasting for 27 years was born in an era of violent turmoil after the death of Nero, established stability and peace, and ended violenty with the assassination of Domitian.