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Marcus Salvius Otho

(28 April 32 - 16 April 69 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Marcus Salvius Otho

Marcus Salvius Otho

Ruled as

Imperator Marcus Otho Caesar Augustus


15 January 69 – 16 April 69 CE


28 April 32 CE


16 April 69 CE

Coin of Marcus Salvius Otho

Marcus Salvius Othon (Oton) was born on April 28, 32 CE in Ferentium as Marcus Salvius Otho. Also called Oton.
He came from an old Etruscan family. His family was from Etruria and was one of the most influential in the area. His mother was Albia Terencja, coming from a significant family, and his father Ot(h)o, was proconsul of Africa and legate of Dalmatia. The Roman Senate erected his statue on the Palatine as a reward for discovering the treason against the emperor Claudius, which was planned by one of the Roman equites. And the emperor himself included him among the patricians. Otho had an older brother, Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus, who held the consulship in 52 CE and as proconsul, he ruled the province of Asia in 63/64 CE. His father had betrothed his sister to Drusus, the son of Germanicus, at an early age.

Othon himself was reportedly unruly from an early age, for which he was often reprimanded by his father with a whip. In 55 CE, when his father died, thanks to a mock love for an aged but influential liberator (Poppea Sabina) in the imperial court, he “fell into the favours of Nero. He easily won first place among his friends by the similarity of morals; as some say, also by mutual physical contact with him. ” His friendship with Caesar Nero, however, ended in 58 CE, when his wife, Poppaea Sabina, became the ruler’s mistress and later wife.

Otho in 58/59 CE he became governor of Lusitania (present-day Portugal and western Spain) for about 10 years and thus had to leave Rome. Although he had no administrative experience, he proved to be a good manager. From the beginning, he supported the governor of Tarraconian Spain Galba when he rebelled against Nero. Oton returned to Rome with Galba after the fall of Nero. He counted on the fact that the already elderly Galba, as a token of gratitude for supporting him against Nero, would appoint him as his successor. However, Galba appointed his successor to Lucius Calpurnius Piso. The embittered Otho formed a plot and with the help of the praetorians he carried out a coup d’état. The dissatisfaction of the people of Rome with the strict rule of Galba also helped him. On January 15, 69 CE Galba and Piso were murdered, and of the same Otho was elected emperor by the praetorians.


When Otho learned about the allegiance of the Germanic army to Vitellius (governor of Lower Germania), he tried to seek an agreement with him and sent letters and messages to the Senate. He wanted to make him his son-in-law, but over time he realized that a confrontation was inevitable. However, when Vitellius, at the head of his subordinate Rhenish legions, began their march towards Italy, Otho left the power over the city in the hands of his brother, Salvius Titianus, and himself left Rome on the Ides of March to replace the invaders the road under the village of Bedriacum (present-day Cremona) in the Po river valley.

Year of the Four Emperors
Power struggle after Nero’s death.

Otho’s army effectively resisted the first Vitellius troops, led by Alienus Caecina. In the first three battles, Otho’s faithful armies won victories, although he himself took no part in any of them. Ultimately, the greatest battle took place, in which Vitellius’s army defeated their rival. The reason for the defeat was the use of deception by the opponents. As the battle was about to begin, a rumour spread among the troops of Otto that Caecina and his army would depart from Vitellius and stand against him at Otto’s side. It came to a situation where the Vitellius’ army was being waved in a friendly manner when they started the attack on the enemy.


As a result of the battle, the troops loyal to Otho suffered heavy losses but were not broken up. Then Othon, to save the country from further shedding of fratricidal blood, decided to commit suicide. And although his case was not yet lost, and his soldiers showed a willingness to continue the fight, the emperor remained adamant in his intentions and stabbed himself with a dagger on April 16, 69 CE.

Before his suicide, Otho said goodbye to his relatives and wrote letters to his sister and Messalina, Nero’s widow whom he wanted to marry. In grief for him, many of his soldiers also took their own lives.
The victorious Vitellius gave Otho a solemn funeral and set off with the legions on the way to Rome to make the triumphal entry and officially proclaim himself emperor.

  • Cary M., Scullard H. H., Dzieje Rzymu. Od czasów najdawniejszych do Konstantyna t. I, Warszawa 1992
  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzowych Rzymu, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Suetonius, Otho
  • Tacitus, Historiae

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