Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History's Notorious and Victorious
Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious

Khalid Elhassan - August 12, 2021

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Vespasian. Wikimedia

3. From Humble Origins to the Heights of Power

The Roman Emperor Vespasian (9 – 79 AD), was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus in an unremarkable village named Falacrinae, northeast of Rome. He hailed from a relatively comfortable but otherwise undistinguished family without pedigree, of the equestrian class – the second of the property based classes of ancient Rome, that ranked below the senatorial class. His ancestors included a common legionary who went on to become a centurion, a debt collector, and a small scale money lender with a clientele of barbarians.

Vespasian rose from his humble origins to become emperor of Rome and found the Flavian Dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire for three decades. A self made man, he entered the cursus honorum (the career ladder of Roman officialdom) as a military tribune, and steadily rose through its military and civilian positions. His first big break came during the invasion of Britain in 43 AD, when he displayed exceptional brilliance in command of a Roman legion, and won the esteem of Emperor Claudius. That led to a consulship, but he displeased Claudius’ wife, and was forced to retire soon thereafter.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Roman capture of Jerusalem in the final stages of the Great Jewish Revolt. Pintrest

2. Vespasian Transformed the Year of the Three Emperors Into the Year of the Four Emperors

Vespasian reemerged from retirement after Emperor Claudius’ death, and won favor with his successor, Nero. His restored career was derailed, however, when he fell asleep while Nero was giving a lyre recital. Things got so bad for Vespasian that he was forced to become a muleteer to make ends meet. His fortunes revived when he was appointed to suppress the Jewish Rebellion in 67 AD, and he was busily engaged in that when Nero was forced from power and driven to suicide in 68.

In the subsequent scramble for power, rival governors and generals mounted the throne in quick succession. By April of 69, the year was already known as “The Year of the Three Emperors”. Vespasian reasoned why not four? He secured support in the Roman east, then declared himself emperor and sent his forces to Rome. By year’s end, his armies had triumphed, and won a final victory that secured the Empire for Vespasian. His rule was successful, as he restored stability and good governance, and launched a massive building and public works program.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Bust at the Capitoline Museum of Vespasian, who kept his humor until his final breath. Bible History

1. This Emperor’s Final Words Were Wholly in Character

Vespasian had a reputation for wit and amiability. As emperor, he seldom stood on ceremony, but cultivated a blunt and even coarse mannerism, and was given to forthright speech. He never forgot his origins, and resisted the temptation to put on airs to which most Roman emperors succumbed. One of his revenue raising schemes involved a tax on public urinals, which was widely ridiculed. His son and designated heir took him to task for that, and argued that it was beneath imperial dignity to collect revenue from bodily excreta.

In response, Vespasian held a coin beneath his son’s nose, and asked whether he could smell any urine. He concluded the lesson with the statement: “money does not smell” – which became a Latin proverb. Vespasian’s final words were in line with his character. Starting with Julius Caesar, who was declared a god after his assassination, Roman emperors who died in good repute were deified after death. When he felt the end nearing in 79 AD, Vespasian, in a final illustration of a lifelong penchant for not taking himself too seriously, joked just before he drew his last breath: “dear me, I think I am becoming a god“.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Battlefield Trust – The Death of John Sedgwick

Biography – Gary Gilmore

Cassius Dio – Roman History

Defoe, Daniel – A General History of the Pirates (2017 Reprint)

Dodwell, Henry – The Founder of Modern Egypt: A Study of Muhammad Ali (1931)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hugh Latimer

First Things, a Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, No. 284, 2018, p. 33+ – Latimer and Ridley are Forgotten: Peter Hitchens Recovers a Protestant Understanding of England’s Martyrs

Gabriel, Richard – Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General (2004)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance (2002)

History Collection – The Fart That Killed 10,000 People

International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Feb., 1995) – The Military Household in Ottoman Egypt

Jackson, Peter – The Mongols and the West (2005)

Morgan, Gwyn – 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors (2006)

Muslu, Cihan Yuksel – The Ottomans and the Mamluks: Imperial Diplomacy and Warfare in the Islamic World (2014)

Nicolaus of Damascus – Life of Augustus

Rawi, Egypt’s Heritage Review – Coffee With the Pasha: The Story of Egypt’s Most Famous Massacre

Suetonius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Top Tenz – Gallows Grub: Final Feasts

Wheen, Francis – Karl Marx: A Life (1999)

Wikipedia – Calico Jack

Wikipedia – Muhammad Ali’s Seizure of Power

Wikipedia – Stjepan Filipovic

Williams, John Alden, ed. – The History of Al-Tabari, Volume XXVII: The Abbasid Revolution, AD 743-750 (1985)

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