Common Errors (19): Vespasian

Head of a statue of Vespasian from Narona (Museum of Vid)

After their death, good Roman emperors were venerated as gods. The judgment whether the ruler had been sufficiently good to receive divine honors, was dependent on one factor: did he have a son who would succeed him and force the Senate to recognize the apotheosis? The emperor Vespasian (69-79) had two sons, Titus and Domitian, and could reasonably expect that people would make sacrifices to him after his death. Many modern books tell us that he died with the last words Vae, puto deus fio – “Dammit, I fear I’m turning into a god.”

The Roman biographer Suetonius tells us that Vespasian indeed made this joke shortly before he died (Life of Vespasian, 23.4), but he does not say that these were the emperor’s last words. Those were in fact far more impressive: “An emperor ought to die standing” (24.1).

<Overview of Common Errors>

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One Response to Common Errors (19): Vespasian

  1. robstroud says:

    This is the most concise–and accurate–definition of apotheosis I’ve ever seen!

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