The reason as to why there were four emperors is because the last Julio-Claudian emperor, Nero, died and there was no apparent person to take over the position of the principate. This led to a series of violent competitions among emperors who wanted to succeed to power. Nero’s reign came to an end because of his paranoid arrests and extravagances (Tacitus 102). This contrasted with the fierce end of Caligula’s reign in that there wasn’t a well laid method of succession. While Claudius was undoubtedly unwanted option by the senate to take up Caligula place, he did not fill the part or role in a whole transition that, in fact, turned into a soberly successful reign. After Nero’s killing, military revolts of his generals and legions were irrevocable and thus the principate of Rome faced its first dangerous challenge of civil wars (Tacitus 123). This led to the four emperors succeeding one another.
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Impact of the Instability on Rome and its People
The involuntary suicide of Emperor Nero in A.D 68 resulted to a brief period of instability or civil wars. Tacitus says that the majority of Rome’s citizens celebrated Nero’s passing away. He says that Nero’s demise was well accepted by the nobility, province’s senators and the upper class (Morgan 64). The lower class or poor people who included slaves, those who frequently visited the theater and arena were saddened by the death of their emperor Nero. People who were also sustained by excesses of Nero have also been disappointed by passing away of their leader. Tacitus says that there was some mixed reaction and feelings in the military (Morgan 93). There were those in the military who had considerable allegiance to Nero, and there were those who had been bribed to overthrow him from the principate.
The instability caused by the demise of Nero has been described as the most troubling period in Rome. Tacitus remarks that this instability was embedded in the fact that most emperors could no longer depend on the professed legitimacy of the imperial bloodline. They had learnt from mistakes of Nero and those emperors who had ruled even before Nero (Morgan 130). New emperors did not take the risk of having their enemies alive. There was an increase of the political executions. This is evident from actions of Emperor Galba, who began his short-lived reign with the executions of many associates of Nero. This included even those he considered as his future enemies. Examples of some enemies that Galba executed include people like Nymphidius Sabinus, who claimed himself as a son of Emperor Caligula (Kenneth 112).
The instability also led to many Nero imposters coming out. The first imposter came during the reign of Vitellius. The imposter has played the cithara and sang. His face was remarkably similar to that of Nero. Vitellius ordered the imposter to be captured and executed. Another imposter came during the reign Titus. Just like the previous one, he was apprehended and executed (Kenneth 128).
Another effect of the instability on the people of Rome is that it led to what was known as the Nero Redivivus Legend. People from the eastern part of Rome did not believe that their loved Nero was dead. They believed that Nero would one day come back. In the western side of Rome, the impacts of this instability as a result of Nero’s suicide also had some effects (Kenneth 145). People here mourned him because he was known to restore the liberties of Hellas with moderation and wisdom.
There were some more serious impacts on Rome and people. This instability took place because the death of the emperor was not accepted by all provinces. Every legion acclaimed or commended their preferred leader as the new Roman emperor (Grant 24). This has led to civil wars that left many people dead. This had also an impact on the leader who rose to power because it left him in a fragile economic and political position.
Can Tacitus Analysis be Trusted?
Tacitus is categorized as a traditional historiographer. Although many people tend to take Histories of Tacitus as true and accurate, we cannot fully trust his written history work. This is because he uses invective and rhetoric questions to express some of the issues he has raised in his analysis. This shows we cannot full trust or believe in Tacitus (Tacitus 21). On the other hand, we can give his analysis some credit because he was born around AD 55, in a period known as Narbonese Gaul. He also studied political science in Rome and thus we can say he was able to document and analyze most of the events that occurred in Rome.
Something else that makes Tacitus analysis not trustworthy is that there are traces of biases and overcritical evaluation. This is common to many history writers. Just like in the works of any other authors’, there is always some impartiality (Grant 182). They give more of their perception rather than giving the facts; questions may be raised as to why he portrayed some emperors the way he did. Tacitus at times portrayed some leaders in a way that, he knew, would not cause any personal problems with them. He made an attempt to increase the prestige of some of the emperors so that his analysis or published works would be given approval (Morgan 165).
Finally, Tacitus’s analysis may have had some political influences. Regardless of how much Tacitus tries to convince us in his analysis, he must have been inclined to one or more emperors from the province he belonged to.
Other helpful sources of the four emperors may include works of Charlene Sand, Gwyn Morgan, Max Cary and Michael Grant (Tacitus 220).
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