VESPASIAN Vĕs pā’ zhĭ ən (T. Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus), emperor of Rome (a.d. 69-79).

Vespasian was called from the siege of Jerusalem to assume the imperial power in Rome, leaving his son Titus in charge of the Jewish war. His main task was one of reconstruction after the mis-rule of Nero and the year of anarchy which followed it. His blunt, straightforward, honest character coupled with simplicity of life and common sense fitted him perfectly for his task. The successful completion of the war in Pal. by Titus, the suppression of a revolt in Gaul, and the estabishment of peace on all frontiers by the end of the year 80, caused a revival of public confidence. In celebration of the new era Vespasian began the rebuilding of the Capitoline temple in that year.

One of the most pressing problems faced by Vespasian was that of Imperial finance. He met this by retrenchment at home, and by raising the provincial tribute while at the same time enforcing strict collection. He also took over for the State public lands which had been unlawfully occupied by private individuals. These methods, accompanied by the imposition of new taxes in Rome, gave him a reputation for parsimony. Yet he did benefit the entire empire by his forward-looking policies. He began construction of the famous Colosseum in the capital city, and throughout the provinces built roads and public buildings where these were needed. He also sponsored the production of works of art, and encouraged educational activity in every way.

In his political attitude Vespasian was quite liberal. To fill up the depleted ranks of the Senate, he appointed Italians and provincials; he conferred Lat. rights on all the towns in Spain; and encouraged Romanization by establishing colonies in backward provinces. He encouraged and fostered municipal life throughout the realm, appointing governors and other officials over whom he exercised strict control, and who were liable to severe punishments for maladministration. His foreign policy was more conservative: strengthen the existing frontiers rather than seek expansion.

Although Vespasian made little change in the constitution, and showed his respect for the Senate by formally consulting it on all occasions, his tendency was toward autocracy. For example, he made it abundantly clear that his sons, first Titus, then Domitian, were to be his successors. This kind of high-handed disposition of imperial power produced strong opposition on the part of the Stoic aristocracy, which resulted in the execution of their leader Helvidius Priscus. However, the general esteem in which he was held is indicated by the fact that upon his death in 79 he was deified by the Senate.


Oxford Classical Dictionary.