After the death of the infamous Nero in AD 68, the Romans might have hoped that AD 69 would usher in a new era of peace and stability. It was not to be. Before January was out, the new emperor, Galba, had been brutally assassinated, and the next two successors to the imperial throne, Otho and Vitellius, were to meet with equally violent ends. This period of turmoil also saw two desperate battles at Cremona, the capture of Rome for Vespasian - fourth and final emperor of the year - and a civil war in Italy which shook the farthest reaches of the Empire. Yet AD 69 was notable for its historical importance as well as its compelling drama. It marked the watershed between the first and second imperial dynasties and the passing of an old order. The Senate, which had long been resting on past republican glories, was shown to be petty and ineffectual in the hour of crisis, while, ironically, the battles between rival Roman armies only enhanced their endurance. The military efficiency of the empire was not impaired by the civil war, and its political structure was reaffirmed.
Kenneth Wellesley's gripping account, The Year of the Four Emperors combines an elegant and exciting narrative with sound, meticulous scholarship based on his intimate knowledge of the Histories of Tacitus. Now with a new introduction and bibliographical material by Barbara Levick, the book will once more be welcomed as the standard work on this turbulent period in Rome's imperial past.
Kenneth Wellesley taught in the Department of Humanity (Latin) at the University of Edinburgh from 1949 until his retirement in 1981. A contributor to many classical periodicals, he is best known as a Tacitean scholar: he translated the Histories for the Penguin Classics series and edited both the Histories and part of the Annales for the Teubner Library. Barbara Levick was Fellow and Tutor in Ancient History at St. Hilda's College, Oxford. Her published works include biographies of Tiberius (Routledge Pb 1999), Vespasian (Routledge 1999) and Claudius (1993) , as well as a sourcebook on The Government of the Roman Empire (Routledge 2000)