Lucius Vitellius was born in AD 15, the son of the influential senator. He enjoyed the many benefits deserving a wealthy consular’s son. He grew up with a lust for gambling and a big appetite for food. This led to a very large physique and image. As he grew older and started to serve as Consul himself, he straightened up his act somewhat. Vitellius even managed to gain some respect, but his bad habits would surface again in his later years.
Young Vitellius managed to get appointed by Emporer Galba as governor of Germania Inferior. Galba believed it would be a safe bet and didn’t think he’d have any problem with his appointment. Little did he know that someone he thought would have no ambition or talent would eventually end up taking his throne.
By early 69 AD, Vitellius worked his way up to Emporer of Cologne in what today is the northern part of Germany. He had an easy-going style, which included bribing his legions with huge bonuses and lackadaisical discipline. By doing this Vitellius managed to win over other legions to spread his influence in Gaul, Britain, and Raetia. The lack of structure allowed his soldiers to be drunk and have fun most of the time. Their lack of discipline led them to pillaged the countryside like marauders.
How Vitellius Became Emperor of Rome
On his way to Rome Vitellius didn’t even have to confront Emperor Galba. By January 15, 60 AD Glaba ended up being overthrown by Otho who had marched up from the south with the Praetorian Guard. So, now it was Emperor Otho that Vitellius had to overthrow. They met up in April in the Battle of Bedriacum where Vitellius had the upper hand due to a much larger force. Otho ended up being defeated and killed. Vitellius reluctantly was finally confirmed as emperor by the Roman Senate. His reign wouldn’t last very much longer than Otho’s short reign, and his horrific demise ended up being a very sad tale.
Vitellius’s Quick Dethroning
Vitellius’s reign only lasted from April 17, 69 AD to December 20, 69 AD. Instead of concentrating on governing Emperor Vitellius spent most of his time indulging his appetite. He demanded expensive delicacies from all over the empire. He resumed his self-indulgent behaviour and was drunk most of the time. This caused much discontent within the empire. One of the Roman generals, Vespasian, had had enough. With Vespasian’s armies of the East, he launched the empire into civil war. By December he had convinced the legions of the Danube to join the revolt and within weeks they easily over-took Rome with not much opposition.
Vitellius was actually found hiding for his life. As soon as he was captured he was humiliated and beaten. Vespasian’s soldiers stripped and tortured Vitellius as they mocked his lavish lifestyle. They had no mercy in punishing his grotesque fat body. He was slain and what was left of his remains was savagely dumped into the Tiber river. Treated like a common dog instead of an Emperor, Vitellius 8-month reign ended as sudden and brutal as it began.