Roman Emperor
In Power Jan 15 – Apr 16, 69
Born Apr 28, 32 Ferentium, Italy
Died Apr 16, 69 (aged 36) Brescello
Wife Poppaea Sabina
Father Lucius Salvius Otho
Mother Albia Terentia

Marcus Otho was the second Roman Emperor to rule during the Year of the Four Emperors, reigning for only three months in 69, from January 15 until his suicide on April 16. He was born Marcus Salvius Otho on April 28, 32.

Family Background

Marcus Otho’s ancestors came from a distinguished clan in the town of Ferentiuma with a lineage from the princes of Etruria. His parents were Lucius Otho and Albia Terentia and his brother was Lucius Titianus. His grandfather, Marcus Salvius Otho, was a senator under the guidance of Livia Augusta but only remained in the grade of praetor. 

Otho’s father, Lucius Otho, had high-status relationships due to his mother’s connections. He was held in high regard by Tiberius, the second Roman emperor after Augustus, and Claudius, the fourth Roman emperor. Claudius himself spoke highly of Lucius, having enrolled him among the patricians. 

Connection with Nero

After the death of his father, Otho gained favor with Emperor Nero. Otho did this by charming a freedwoman of the court. Otho and Nero had similar personalities, and the latter had immense trust in Otho as to include him in his plans to murder his mother. Otho held an extravagant banquet for Nero and his mother, Agrippina, in order to put the plot into place and avoid any suspicion. 

Otho was later on involved with Poppaea Sabina, Nero’s mistress, eventually marrying and then divorcing her due to Nero’s demands. Nero married Poppaea himself and banished Otho to govern Lusitania in AD 58. His effective leadership in the remote province proved his ability to rule. 

Alliance with Galba

Because Otho still held a grudge against Nero for taking his wife, he formed a connection with Galba, the governor of a nearby province, Hispania Tarraconensis. Otho supported him during his revolt against Nero in 68. Afterwhich, Nero killed himself, and Galba was announced as the new Roman emperor by the Senate, the first emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors. 

On the first day of 69, Galba took his place as the consul beside Titus Vinius; however, the 4th and 22nd legends of Upper Germany denied him as their emperor. The next day the legions of Lower Germany rejected Galba as well. In hopes of establishing his position as the emperor, Galba chose Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his preferred successor. Otho was slighted by the decision and conspired to overthrow Galba. The Praetorian guard murdered Galba on January 15 in the Roman Forum. Thus, the Senate proclaimed Otho as the new emperor. 


Once Otho was named the emperor, he honored the soldiers and officials who helped him defeat Galba. He reinstalled Nero’s and Poppaea’s statues and brought back Nero’s freedmen and household officers. He had Nero’s Golden House or the Domus Aurea completed. 

Even before Galba was killed, there was already unrest among the armies in Germany who followed the lead of Aulus Vitellius. The Rhine legions’ Roman general Aulus Caecina Alienus or Caecina, and Roman commander Fabius Valens led the rebellion under his name. They were already moving towards Italy when Otho read Galba’s personal correspondence detailing the severity of the situation in Germany. He offered Vitellius a share in the Empire in the hopes of appeasing him and his legions, but Vitellius refused, forcing Otho to prepare for war. 

The remote provinces who had approved of Otho’s rise into power could not offer too much help in the battle ahead, but the legions in Dalmatia, Moesia, and Pannonia were steadfast in their loyalty to Otho. The Pretorians were also a massive fleet effective in holding power over the seas of Italy. On March 14, Otho and his army started marching north in order to stabilize his superiority over Rome. He was hoping Vitellius would not reach Italy, but the winter was not cold enough to hinder Vitellius’ legions. The Alps passageways were easy to cross, and Caecina and his men were able to pass through Great St Bernard Pass into the Alps. They attacked Placentia, but the guard, loyal to Otho, defended it successfully. Caecina and his men retreated to Cremona to wait for the remaining members of the army. 

Since Otho was unable to prevent Vitellius’ forces from reaching Italy, he established a base in Brixellum. He had 9,000 men with him and was in need of reinforcements from Dalmatia. Meanwhile, Vitellius’ army was 70,000 strong. 

Vitellius’ army aimed to win a glorious victory in the Battle of Bedriacum, only made more decisive due to the ununited counsel among Otho’s troops. The veterans of his camp planned to wait for the Dalmantian legions, who were to arrive in a few days while Titianus, Otho’s brother, and Proculus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guards, wanted to advance straight away. Otho himself encouraged the hasty decisions and stayed in Brixellum to wait out the outcome of the battle. 

On their way to Cremona, the Othonian forces engaged in a surprise attack by the Vitellian troops. They fell back on their camp in Bedriacum, followed by the Vitellians who had emerged victorious after their ambush attack. Upon reaching Otho’s camp, Vitellius’ troops met only demoralized Othonian troops. The soldiers decided to welcome Vitellius’ soldiers as friends, submitting to defeat. The Dalmatian legions were still on their way after this event, but Otho had already decided to end his life by then.


After the Vitellian victory, Otho slept peacefully for hours and woke in the early morning of April 16 to stab himself with a dagger that he secretly kept as a weapon under his pillow. Historians revealed that his decision to kill himself must have stemmed from his desire to reduce the number of deaths that would be inevitable in a civil war. 

Otho’s funeral took place soon after, and his ashes were laid to rest in a simple monument at Brixellum. His reign lasted for 91 days and was the shortest of that time, until the year 193, the Year of the Five Emperors, Pertinax reigned for only 87 days.