An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
C. Nymphidius Sabinus (68 A.D.)
David J. Coffta Canisius College
Upon his discovery of the Pisonian conspiracy in 65 A.D., Nero ordered executions which had the secondary effect of creating for the opportunistic a series of "vacancies" at Rome in positions of power. Among those to advance was Nymphidius, who became a colleague of Tigellinus in the praetorian prefecture after the latter's partner was put to death.
Nymphidius was the son of an imperial freedwoman, Nymphidia, and some speculate that his father was a gladiator named Martianus. Nymphidius gradually consolidated his own authority over the praetorians, and his promise of material reward increased their willingness to declare for Galba during the provincial revolts of 68 A.D. which led to the senatorial rejection of Nero and to his suicide that same year.
Between Nero's death and Galba's arrival at Rome, Nymphidius wasted no time: he orchestrated the "resignation" of Tigellinus and stood as sole commander of the praetorian guard. Galba, however, appointed a replacement for Tigellinus, Cornelius Laco, and took several further steps to eliminate potential rivals (e.g., the murder of Clodius Macer in Africa), all of which must have made Nymphidius uneasy.
No longer content to help others to the throne, Nymphidius declared that he himself was a legitimate successor to Nero-- a claim which he supported with the dubious assertion that he was the illegitimate son of the former emperor Caligula. The praetorians recognized that Galba's approach counted for more than Nymphidius' presence, and killed the would-be usurper before their new emperor even arrived at. Rome.
Nymphidius is significant not only because he played an instrumental part in the downfall of Nero, but also because he illustrates the heights to which even men of low birth could rise on their own initiative, as well as the tremendous importance of praetorian loyalty for imperial succession in the turbulent year which followed the death of Nero.
Cary, M., A History of Rome down to the Reign of Constantine, London ,1962, 596-599.
Grant, M., History of Rome, New York, 1978, 285-6.
Hanslick, R. "Nymphidius 3." K. Pl. 4: 216.
Stein, A. "Nymphidius 5." RE 17: 1605ff.
Tacitus, Histories, 1.5; Suetonius, Galba 9.
Kienast, Dietmar. Römische Kaisertabelle: Grundzüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie. Darmstadt, 1990.
Comments to: David J. Coffta
Updated: 12 September 1996
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