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    Vitellius: Imperial Gourmand

    Vitellius (AD 69). AR denarius (3.44 gm). Rome, 19 April-20 December AD 69. [A VI]TELLIVS GERMAN IMP T R, laureate head of Vitellius right / SACR FAC XV VIR, tripod-lebes with dolphin right above, raven right below. RIC 86. RSC 112. BMCRE 17. Crisply struck from fresh dies in exceptional metal, decidedly rare thus. Choice mint state.

    From the Rubicon Collection.

    As the ultimate loser in the Year of the Four Emperors free-for-all, Aulus Vitellius gets terrible press from historians ancient and modern. In truth, he is less of a villain than a lazy hedonist who was thrust into a role he never sought for himself. The son of the influential senator Lucius Vitellius, he was born in AD 15 and raised in the luxury befitting a wealthy consular's son. While his father played the sycophant and won the favor of Caligula, Claudius and Nero in succession, the younger Vitellius developed a penchant for gambling along with a gourmand's appetites and corpulent physique. He served as Consul in AD 48, where he acquitted himself well, but resumed his disreputable habits in later years. This served to land him heavily in debt by the time Nero's regime collapsed in AD 68. The new emperor, Galba, appointed Vitellius governor of Germania Inferior, believing him to utterly without ambition or talent, and therefor a safe choice. But two officers in the Rhine legions, Caecina and Valens, grew disenchanted with Galba's parsimony and persuaded Vitellius to make a try for the throne, convincing him the best way to escape debt was to seize the public purse. On January 1, AD 69, the Rhine legions smashed their images and statues of Galba and proclaimed Vitellius emperor at the city of Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne). His promise of lavish bonuses and easy discipline quickly won the legions of Gaul, Britain and Raetia over to his cause. His march on Rome took on the appearance of a Bacchic procession, with his soldiers drinking heavily and pillaging the countryside at will. In the meantime, Galba had been overthrown at Rome by Otho, who marched with the Praetorian Guard into Northern Italy. The hard-fought First Battle of Bedriacum in mid-April went to Vitellius' larger force, and Otho opened his veins. Arriving in Rome, Vitellius was confirmed as emperor by a reluctant Senate. He treated his elevation as an excuse for one long banquet, reportedly spending the equivalent of $2 billion on delicacies from all over the Empire. While he indulged his appetites, the armies of the East proclaimed the general Vespasian as emperor on July 1, launching a new round of civil war. The legions of the Danube joined in the revolt and invaded Italy on Vespasian's behalf, defeating the forces of Vitellius at the Second Battle of Bedriacum in November of AD 69. Vitellius offered to abdicate the throne, but his German troops rioted and refused to let him step down. Within days, soldiers loyal to Vespasian forced their way into Rome and swept aside all opposition. They found Vitellius dressed in rags and hiding in the imperial doorkeeper's quarters. The Flavians hauled him half-naked to the Forum, where the onetime emperor was mocked, tortured, and slain. His outraged corpse was dumped unceremoniously in the Tiber.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2011
    7th-12th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 355

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