He came of a noble family and was a man of great wealth, but unconnected either by birth or by adoption with the first six Caesars. In his early years he was regarded as a youth of remarkable abilities, and it is said that both Augustus and Tiberius prophesied his future eminence (Tacitus, Annals, vi. 20; Suetonius, Galba, 4).
Praetor in 20, and consul in 33, he acquired a well-merited reputation in the provinces of Gaul, Germany, Africa and Spain by his military capability, strictness and impartiality. On the death of Caligula, he refused the invitation of his friends to make a bid for empire, and loyally served Claudius. For the first half of Nero's reign he lived in retirement, till, in 61, the emperor bestowed on him the province of Hispania Tarraconensis.
In the spring of 68, Galba was informed of Nero's intention to put him to death, and of the insurrection of Julius Vindex in Gaul. He was at first inclined to follow the example of Vindex, but the defeat and suicide of the latter renewed his hesitation. The news that Nymphidius Sabinus, the praefect of the praetorians, had declared in his favour revived Galba's spirits. Hitherto, he had only dared to call himself the legate of the senate and Roman people; after the murder of Nero, he assumed the title of Caesar, and marched straight for Rome.
At first he was welcomed by the senate and the party of order, but he was never popular with the soldiers or the people. He incurred the hatred of the praetorians by scornfully refusing to pay them the reward promised in his name, and disgusted the mob by his meanness and dislike of pomp and display. His advanced age had destroyed his energy, and he was entirely in the hands of favourites.
An outbreak amongst the legions of Germany, who demanded that the senate should choose another emperor, first made him aware of his own unpopularity and of the general discontent. In order to check the rising storm, he adopted as his coadjutor and successor L. Calpurnius Piso, a man in every way worthy of the honour. His choice was wise and patriotic; but the populace regarded it as a sign of fear, and the praetorians were indignant, because the usual donative was not forthcoming.
M. Salvius Otho, formerly governor of Lusitania, and one of Galba's earliest supporters, disappointed at not being chosen instead of Piso, entered into communication with the discontented praetorians, and was adopted by them as their emperor. Galba, who at once set out to meet the rebels - he was so feeble that he had to be carried in a litter - was met by a troop of cavalry and butchered near the Lacus Curtius.
During the later period of his provincial administration he was indolent and apathetic, but this was due either to a desire not to attract the notice of Nero or to the growing infirmities of age. Tacitus rightly says that all would have pronounced him worthy of empire if he had never been emperor ("omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset").
Includes details originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Nero (54 - 68)