Otho

Otho

Overview
Otho was Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He was the second emperor of the Year of the four emperors
Year of the Four Emperors
The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in a remarkable succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian....

.

Otho belonged to an ancient and noble Etruscan
Etruscan civilization
Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci...

 family, descended from the princes of Etruria and settled at Ferentinum (modern Ferento, near Viterbo
Viterbo
See also Viterbo, Texas and Viterbo UniversityViterbo is an ancient city and comune in the Lazio region of central Italy, the capital of the province of Viterbo. It is approximately 80 driving / 80 walking kilometers north of GRA on the Via Cassia, and it is surrounded by the Monti Cimini and...

) in Etruria. His paternal grandfather, Marcus Salvius Otho, whose father was a Roman knight but whose mother was of lowly origin and perhaps not even free-born, was raised in Livia
Livia
Livia Drusilla, , after her formal adoption into the Julian family in AD 14 also known as Julia Augusta, was a Roman empress as the third wife of the Emperor Augustus and his adviser...

's household and rose to senatorial rank through her influence, although he did not advance beyond the rank of praetor.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Otho'
Start a new discussion about 'Otho'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Otho was Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He was the second emperor of the Year of the four emperors
Year of the Four Emperors
The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in a remarkable succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian....

.

Birth and lineage


Otho belonged to an ancient and noble Etruscan
Etruscan civilization
Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci...

 family, descended from the princes of Etruria and settled at Ferentinum (modern Ferento, near Viterbo
Viterbo
See also Viterbo, Texas and Viterbo UniversityViterbo is an ancient city and comune in the Lazio region of central Italy, the capital of the province of Viterbo. It is approximately 80 driving / 80 walking kilometers north of GRA on the Via Cassia, and it is surrounded by the Monti Cimini and...

) in Etruria. His paternal grandfather, Marcus Salvius Otho, whose father was a Roman knight but whose mother was of lowly origin and perhaps not even free-born, was raised in Livia
Livia
Livia Drusilla, , after her formal adoption into the Julian family in AD 14 also known as Julia Augusta, was a Roman empress as the third wife of the Emperor Augustus and his adviser...

's household and rose to senatorial rank through her influence, although he did not advance beyond the rank of praetor. His father was Lucius Otho
Lucius Otho
Lucius Salvias Otho was father of the Roman emperor Otho, he was born of a distinguished and well-connected family on his mother's side. His close friendship with Tiberius, and physical similarity to him, led to rumours that he was that emperor's son....

.

Early life



The future Emperor appears first as one of the most reckless and extravagant of the young nobles who surrounded Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

. This friendship was brought to an end in 58 because of his wife, the noblewoman Poppaea Sabina
Poppaea Sabina
Poppaea Sabina and sometimes referred to as Poppaea Sabina the Younger to differentiate her from her mother of the same name, was a Roman Empress as the second wife of the Emperor Nero. Prior to this she was the wife of the future Emperor Otho...

. Otho introduced his beautiful wife to the Emperor upon Poppaea's insistence, who then began an affair that would eventually lead to her premature death. After securely establishing this position as his mistress, she divorced Otho and had the Emperor send him away to the remote province of Lusitania
Lusitania
Lusitania or Hispania Lusitania was an ancient Roman province including approximately all of modern Portugal south of the Douro river and part of modern Spain . It was named after the Lusitani or Lusitanian people...

 (which is now parts of both modern Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 and Extremadura
Extremadura
Extremadura is an autonomous community of western Spain whose capital city is Mérida. Its component provinces are Cáceres and Badajoz. It is bordered by Portugal to the west...

).

Otho remained in Lusitania for the next ten years, administering the province with a moderation unusual at the time. When in 68 his neighbor the future Emperor Galba
Galba
Galba , was Roman Emperor for seven months from 68 to 69. Galba was the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, and made a bid for the throne during the rebellion of Julius Vindex...

, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis was one of three Roman provinces in Hispania. It encompassed much of the Mediterranean coast of Spain along with the central plateau. Southern Spain, the region now called Andalusia, was the province of Hispania Baetica...

, rose in revolt against Nero, Otho accompanied him to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

. Resentment at the treatment he had received from Nero may have impelled him to this course, but to this motive was added before long that of personal ambition. Galba was childless and far advanced in years, and Otho, encouraged by the predictions of astrologer
Astrologer
An astrologer practices one or more forms of astrology. Typically an astrologer draws a horoscope for the time of an event, such as a person's birth, and interprets celestial points and their placements at the time of the event to better understand someone, determine the auspiciousness of an...

s, aspired to succeed him. He came to a secret agreement with Galba's favourite
Favourite
A favourite , or favorite , was the intimate companion of a ruler or other important person. In medieval and Early Modern Europe, among other times and places, the term is used of individuals delegated significant political power by a ruler...

, Titus Vinius
Titus Vinius
Titus Vinius was a Roman general who was one of the most powerful men in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Galba.-Stories:Plutarch has a number of stories of Vinius' early life, all to his discredit...

, agreeing to marry Vinius' daughter in exchange for his support. However, in January 69, his hopes were dashed by Galba's formal adoption of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus
Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus
Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus was a Roman nobleman who lived in the 1st century. Licinianus was one among the sons of consul of 27 Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi and Scribonia....

, whom Galba had previously named a recipient in his will.

After this, Otho decided to strike a bold blow. Desperate as was the state of his finances, thanks to his previous extravagance, he found the money needed to purchase the services of some twenty-three soldiers of the Praetorian Guard
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

. On the morning of January 15, only five days after Galba adopted Piso, Otho attended as usual to pay his respects to Galba
Galba
Galba , was Roman Emperor for seven months from 68 to 69. Galba was the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, and made a bid for the throne during the rebellion of Julius Vindex...

, and then hastily excused himself on the score of private business hurried from the Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city...

 to meet his accomplices. He was then escorted to the Praetorian camp, where, after a few moments of surprise and indecision, he was saluted as Imperator.

With an imposing force he returned to the Roman Forum
Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum...

, and at the foot of the Capitoline Hill
Capitoline Hill
The Capitoline Hill , between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel of the earliest Romans. By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, with the alternative Campidoglio stemming from Capitolium. The English word capitol...

 encountered Galba, who, alarmed by rather vague rumors of treachery, was making his way through a dense crowd of wondering citizens towards the barracks
Barracks
Barracks are specialised buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called...

 of the guard. The cohort
Cohort (military unit)
A cohort was the basic tactical unit of a Roman legion following the reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC.-Legionary cohort:...

 that was on duty at the Palatine, which had accompanied the Emperor, instantly deserted him. Galba, his newly adopted son Piso and others were brutally murdered by the Praetorians. The brief struggle over, Otho returned in triumph to the camp, and on the same day was duly invested by the senators
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 with the name of Augustus
Augustus (honorific)
Augustus , Latin for "majestic," "the increaser," or "venerable", was an Ancient Roman title, which was first held by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus , and subsequently came to be considered one of the titles of what are now known as the Roman Emperors...

, the tribunician power and the other dignities belonging to the principate. Otho had owed his own success to the resentment felt by the Praetorian guards and the rest of the army at Galba's refusal to pay the promised gold to the ones who supported his accession to the throne. The population of the city was also unhappy with Galba and cherished the memory of Nero. Otho's first acts as Emperor showed that he was not unmindful of these facts.

Decline and fall


He accepted, or appeared to accept, the cognomen
Cognomen
The cognomen nōmen "name") was the third name of a citizen of Ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. The cognomen started as a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary cognomina were used to augment the second name in order to identify a particular branch within...

 of Nero conferred upon him by the shouts of the populace, whom his comparative youth and the effeminacy of his appearance reminded of their lost favourite. Nero's statues were again set up, his freedmen and household officers reinstalled, and the intended completion of the Golden House
Domus Aurea
The Domus Aurea was a large landscaped portico villa, designed to take advantage of artificially created landscapes built in the heart of Ancient Rome by the Emperor Nero after the Great Fire of Rome had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine...

 announced. At the same time the fears of the more sober and respectable citizens were allayed by Otho's liberal professions of his intention to govern equitably, and by his judicious clemency towards Marius Celsus, consul-designate, a devoted adherent of Galba. Otho soon realized that it was much easier to overthrow an Emperor than rule as one: according to Suetonius
Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius , was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era....

 Otho once remarked that "Playing the Long Pipes is hardly my trade" (i.e. undertaking something beyond one's ability to do so).

But any further development of Otho's policy was checked once Otho had read through Galba's private correspondence and realized the extent of the revolution in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, where several legions had declared for Vitellius
Vitellius
Vitellius , was Roman Emperor for eight months, from 16 April to 22 December 69. Vitellius was acclaimed 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...

, the commander of the legions on the lower Rhine River, and were already advancing upon Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. After a vain attempt to conciliate Vitellius by the offer of a share in the Empire, Otho, with unexpected vigor, prepared for war. From the much more remote provinces, which had acquiesced in his accession, little help was to be expected; but the legions of Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

, Pannonia
Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

 and Moesia
Moesia
Moesia was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans, along the south bank of the Danube River. It included territories of modern-day Southern Serbia , Northern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Bulgaria, Romanian Dobrudja, Southern Moldova, and Budjak .-History:In ancient...

 were eager in his cause, the Praetorian cohorts were in themselves a formidable force and an efficient fleet
Roman Navy
The Roman Navy comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. Although the navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions...

 gave him the mastery of the Italian seas.

The fleet was at once dispatched to secure Liguria
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

, and on March 14 Otho, undismayed by omens and prophecies, started northwards at the head of his troops in the hopes of preventing the entry of Vitellius' troops into Italy. But for this he was too late, and all that could be done was to throw troops into Placentia
Placentia
Placentia may refer to:* Palace of Placentia, an English Royal Palace* Placentia, California, United States* Placentia, Italy* Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada* Battle of Placentia* Placentia Bay, the name of two ships of the Royal Navy...

 and hold the line of the Po
Po River
The Po |Ligurian]]: Bodincus or Bodencus) is a river that flows either or – considering the length of the Maira, a right bank tributary – eastward across northern Italy, from a spring seeping from a stony hillside at Pian del Re, a flat place at the head of the Val Po under the northwest face...

. Otho's advanced guard successfully defended Placentia against Aulus Caecina Alienus
Aulus Caecina Alienus
Aulus Caecina Alienus, Roman general, was born in Vicetia .He was quaestor of Hispania Baetica in AD 68. On the death of Nero, he attached himself to Galba, who appointed him to the command of Legio IV Macedonica at Mogontiacum in Germania Superior...

, and compelled that general to fall back on Cremona
Cremona
Cremona is a city and comune in northern Italy, situated in Lombardy, on the left bank of the Po River in the middle of the Pianura Padana . It is the capital of the province of Cremona and the seat of the local City and Province governments...

. But the arrival of Fabius Valens
Fabius Valens
Fabius Valens of Anagnia was a Roman commander favoured by Nero. In 69 he was commander of Legio I Germanica based in Germania Inferior...

 altered the aspect of affairs.

Vitellius' commanders now resolved to bring on a decisive battle, the Battle of Bedriacum
Battle of Bedriacum
The Battle of Bedriacum refers to two battles fought during the Year of the Four Emperors near the village of Bedriacum , about from the town of Cremona in northern Italy...

, and their designs were assisted by the divided and irresolute counsels which prevailed in Otho's camp. The more experienced officers urged the importance of avoiding a battle, until at least the legions from Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

 had arrived. But the rashness of the Emperor's brother Titianus
Titianus
Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus was the elder brother of the Roman Emperor Otho , and consul of Rome in 52 AD. He was married to Cocceia, the sister of the future Roman Emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva , with whom he had a son, Lucius Salvius Otho Cocceianus...

 and of Proculus, prefect of the Praetorian Guards, added to Otho's feverish impatience, overruled all opposition, and an immediate advance was decided upon, Otho himself remaining behind with a considerable reserve force at Brixellum, on the southern bank of the Po. When this decision was taken, Otho's army had already crossed the Po and were encamped at Bedriacum (or Betriacum), a small village on the Via Postumia, and on the route by which the legions from Dalmatia would naturally arrive.

Leaving a strong detachment to hold the camp at Bedriacum, the Othonian forces advanced along the Via Postumia in the direction of Cremona. At a short distance from that city they unexpectedly encountered the Vitellian troops. The Othonians, though taken at a disadvantage, fought desperately, but were finally forced to fall back in disorder upon their camp at Bedriacum. There on the next day the victorious Vitellians followed them, but only to come to terms at once with their disheartened enemy, and to be welcomed into the camp as friends.

More unexpected still was the effect produced at Brixellum by the news of the battle. Otho was still in command of a formidable force: the Dalmatian legions had already reached Aquileia
Aquileia
Aquileia is an ancient Roman city in what is now Italy, at the head of the Adriatic at the edge of the lagoons, about 10 km from the sea, on the river Natiso , the course of which has changed somewhat since Roman times...

 and the spirit of his soldiers and their officers was unbroken. But he was resolved to accept the verdict of the battle that his own impatience had hastened. In a dignified speech he bade farewell to those about him, declaring: "It is far more just to perish one for all, than many for one", and then retiring to rest soundly for some hours. Early in the morning he stabbed himself in the heart with a dagger, which he had concealed under his pillow, and died as his attendants entered the tent.

Otho's ashes were placed within a modest monument. He had reigned only three months, but in this short time had shown more wisdom and grace than anyone had expected. His funeral was celebrated at once, as he had wished. A plain tomb was erected in his honour at Brixellum, with the simple inscription Diis Manibus Marci Othonis.

Reasons for suicide


It has been thought that Otho's suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 was committed in order to steer his country from the path to civil war. Just as he had come to power, many Romans learned to respect Otho in his death. Few could believe that a renowned former companion of Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

 had chosen such an honourable end. The soldiers were so moved and impressed that some even threw themselves on the funeral pyre to die with their Emperor.

Writing during the reign of the Emperor Domitian
Domitian
Domitian was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96. Domitian was the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.Domitian's youth and early career were largely spent in the shadow of his brother Titus, who gained military renown during the First Jewish-Roman War...

 (AD 81–96), the Roman poet Martial
Martial
Marcus Valerius Martialis , was a Latin poet from Hispania best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan...

 expressed his admiration for Otho's choice to spare the Empire from civil war through sacrificing himself:
"Although the goddess of civil warfare was still in doubt,
And soft Otho had perhaps still a chance of winning,
He renounced fighting that would have cost much blood,
And with sure hand pierced right through his breast.
By all means let Cato
Cato the Younger
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis , commonly known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather , was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy...

 in his life be greater than Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 himself;
In his death was he greater than Otho?"

Physical appearance


Suetonius, in The Lives of the Caesars, comments on Otho's appearance and personal hygiene.
Juvenal, in a passage in the Satire II dealing with homosexuality, specifically mentions Otho as being vain, looking at himself in the mirror prior to going into battle, and "plaster[ing] his face with dough" in order to look good.

Primary sources

  • Life of Otho (Suetonius; English translation and Latin original)
  • Life of Otho (Plutarch; English translation)
  • Cassius Dio, Book 63
  • Tacitus
    Tacitus
    Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

    , Histories
    Histories (Tacitus)
    Histories is a book by Tacitus, written c. 100–110, which covers the Year of Four Emperors following the downfall of Nero, the rise of Vespasian, and the rule of the Flavian Dynasty up to the death of Domitian.thumb|180px|Tacitus...

    (esp. 1.12, 1.2190)

Secondary material