Born in AD 9, near the end of the reign of Augustus, Titus Flavius Vespasianus was raised an equestrian in the turbulent political environment of Tiberius' reign. Perhaps his youthful exposure to the Senatorial purges of both Sejanus and Tiberius would help make Vespasian into the great stabilizer that he would become. Though much of the details of Vespasian's youth are unknown, it is widely accepted that his path followed the cursus honorum, and therefore a direct line into the Senate. By the reign of Caligula Vespasian had been a military tribune, a quaestor, an aedile and a praetor, in which capacity he impressed Caligula by calling for games to honor his 'victories' in Germania. He was married to the rather obscure Flavia Domitilla, but it produced three children, two of whom, Titus and Domitian, would continue their father's dynasty. It was a mistress, however, who seemingly led the way for Vespasian political growth. Caenis, secretary to Antonia (Claudius' mother), allowed the future emperor a way into the imperial inner circle, and under the reign of Claudius, his star began to rise dramatically.
When Claudius looked to Britain for imperial expansion, Vespasian with his imperial ties, became a natural choice as a Legate in the campaign. He was first sent to Argentoratum along the Rhine to take command of Legio II Augusta, which was to be one of 4 legions making the crossing to Britain. When the arrangements were made and the crossing made in AD 43, Vespasian served Aulus Plautius with distinction. According to Suetonius, he fought thirty battles with the enemy, subjugated two powerful tribes, took more than twenty towns, and the island of Vectis (Isle of Wight). His reputation as a master of siege warfare would eventually become a major factor in securing later positions of prominence. For his successes in the conquest of Britain, he received the triumphal regalia from Claudius, 2 priesthoods and eventually the honorable position of Consul.
However, Vespasian fades from political and military importance in the 50's AD. The power of Agrippina (Claudius wife and mother of Nero) was growing, and Vespasian's status as a friend to her enemies (Claudius freedman Narcissus) put him in a tenuous position. He would not be kept from prominence with the imperial court for too long though. By AD 63 he was appointed the proconsular governorship of Africa (a province with a legion certainly, indicating imperial trust) where Vespasian won a reputation for meticulous administrative skills, tempered by severity that made him unpopular with the people. Still, upon his return to Rome, the future emperor found himself a highly respected and influential member of the aristocracy. He earned entry into Nero's inner circle, accompanying the emperor on his trip to Greece where Nero pursued his own escapades into the performance arts and athletic competition. Despite his rise, Vespasian seemingly offended Nero so greatly, either by walking out on or falling asleep at one of the emperors many performances, that Vespasian was forced into a state of hiding.
At this stage, while Nero was becoming ever more dangerous to his legates and members of the aristocracy, fate seemingly intervened to bring Vespasian back into the political limelight. A revolt in Judaea, where the Jews were particularly troublesome for being able to hole up behind walled cities and resist sieges, led this experienced general in siege warfare to be called back into service. In AD 67, Vespasian went east where we was to take command of 3 legions and reduce Jewish resistance wherever found. Under his leadership the Romans enjoyed much success, though the capital of Jerusalem would continue to hold out. As he prepared for the siege of the important city events back in Rome, and throughout the western provinces would alter the course of the empire, and with it, Vespasian's career. The revolt of Vindex in Gaul, while proving itself a disaster to the man who started it (he was crushed by Rufus), would eventually lead to the fall of the Julio-Claudians and the suicide of Nero. Though Vespasian maintained an eerie silence in the east, even declaring himself loyal to Nero's first replacement, Galba, the unfolding drama would lead to greater personal glory for the 60 year old general.
Did you know...?
The Roman Colosseum, originally commissioned by Vespasian was named for the Emperors family name... The Flavian Ampitheatre. It took its nickname from Nero's statue of Colossus that was located nearby.