Servius Sulpicius Galba was born in 3 B.C. in Italy into a wealthy patrician family. His parents were Gaius Sulpicius Galba and Mummia Achaica. Meanwhile, his older brother, Gaius, committed suicide at age 36 because of financial ruin. 

Augustus and Tiberius had a fondness for the young Galba, and this good fortune, along with his background in law, helped him later in his political life. At the age of 17, he became a praetor and, at 30, was designated as a consul. He took charge of the military in Germania in the years 40 to 42 and served afterward as proconsul in Africa. Galba used harsh methods of toughening his soldiers and soon became known as a ruthless and authoritative leader.

Versus Nero

In the year 68, while he was governor of Hispania, Galba discovered that Nero was planning to assassinate him. At that time, a governor of Gaul named Julius Vindex was rising against Nero, so Galba allied himself with the revolt. However, a loyal general of Nero named Lucius Verginius Rufus crushed Vindex’s army in a battle in eastern France. Because of this defeat, Vindex committed suicide. Galba was at first reluctant to continue the insurrection, but military support poured in. Terrified of being captured and executed, Nero plunged a dagger into his throat. 


Considerate of the empire’s finances, Galba stopped the gladiatorial events and all other forms of entertainment for the public. Wasting state funds on merry-making was not part of the severe emperor’s agenda. Perhaps owing to his cruel disposition, he had many enemies killed without trial. In the words of the Roman historian, Suetonius, “He sentenced men of all ranks to death without a trial or the scantiest of evidence‚Ķ”

Galba imposed tributes on the towns he had subjugated but kept the money to himself instead of piling it into the state treasury. He also recovered the money from Nero’s friends, but his army never benefited from it, brewing discontent among his soldiers.

In his seventies, Galba became increasingly disinterested in managing the empire. Suffering from arthritis of the hands and feet, he had left his imperial duties to his co-consul, freedman, and commander of the Praetorian Guard. The military and the people soon started to hate Galba. Eventually, Germania refused to affirm its allegiance to Galba, declaring its loyalty instead to the people of Rome and the Senate.


With his children already dead and seeing no other possible heir, Galba chose the nobleman Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his successor. This angered Otho, who was one of Galba’s early allies and thus felt he was the rightful heir. Otho knew the military would not protect Galba, so he plotted with the Praetorian Guard to kill both the emperor and Piso. Afterward, Otho was declared emperor by the Praetorian Guard. Piso hid in the Temple of Vesta but was dragged out by soldiers and killed at the temple’s doorstep. Meanwhile, the deposed emperor was caught at the Roman Forum. One soldier drove his sword into Galba’s throat while others slashed his arms and legs. Both Piso and Galba were beheaded, their heads paraded on spears and presented to Otho.