Gaius Julius Vindex

Gaius Julius Vindex (37-69): Roman senator, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, first to revolt against the emperor Nero.

Portrait of a man, third quarter of the first century CE (the so-called "Vitellius")
Portrait of a man, third quarter of the first century CE (the so-called "Vitellius")

Gaius Julius Vindex was a member of the former royal family of Aquitania, which had lost its throne when Julius Caesar had subdued their country. However, it was still an influential family, and the father of Julius Vindex became a Roman senator after the emperor Claudius had permitted noblemen from Gaul to enter the august college (48).

His son was a senator too, and after his praetorship, he was appointed governor of Gallia Lugdunensis (Central France). Since senator's sons usually held the praetorship at the age of thirty, we may assume that Vindex was 31 years old when he arrived in his new capital Lyon (68). According to the great historian Cassius Dio, he "was powerful in body and of shrewd intelligence, was skilled in warfare and full of daring for any great enterprise; and he had a passionate love of freedom and a vast ambition".note

He had been in Rome for several years, and had seen how the emperor Nero had indulged in his cultural passions and odd love for the Greek way of life. Like many other senators, he thought that it would be better to overthrow the ruler, and he invited representatives of the communities of Gaul to discuss the subject.

Vindex called together the Gauls, who had suffered much by the numerous forced levies of money and were still suffering at Nero's hands. And ascending a tribunal he delivered a long and detailed speech against Nero, saying that they ought to revolt from the emperor and join the speaker in an attack upon him, "because," as he said, "he has despoiled the while Roman world, because he has destroyed all the flower of the senate, because he debauched and then killed his mother, and does not preserve even the semblance of sovereignty. Many murders, robberies and outrages, it is true, have often been committed by others; but as for the other deeds committed by Nero, how could one find words fittingly to describe them? I have seen him, my friends and allies -believe me- I have seen that man [...] in the circle of the theater, that is, in the orchestra, sometimes holding the lyre and dressed in loose tunic and buskins, and again wearing in general-soled shoes and mask. I have often heard him sing, play the herald, and act in tragedies. I have seen him in chains, hustled about as a miscreant, heavy with child, aye, in the travail of childbirth - in short, imitating all the situations of mythology by what he said and what was said to him, by what he submitted to and by what he did. Will anyone, then, style such a person Caesar and emperor and Augustus? Never! Let no one abuse those sacred titles. They were held by Augustus and by Claudius, whereas this fellow might most properly be termed Thyestes, Oedipus, Alcmeon, or Orestes; for these are the characters that he represents on the stage and it is these titles that he has assumed in place of the others. Therefore rise now at length against him; succour yourselves and succour the Romans; liberate the entire world!"note

Vindex was a Roman senator and a nobleman, and behaved according to the principle that nobility obliges. He did not fight to get the empire for himself, but started to search for a distinguished and decent man. In April 68, he found Servius Sulpicius Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, an honest man who was skilled in warfare, and by common consent possessed the makings of a ruler.


Now, Vindex revolted. He recruited soldiers and announced that he no longer obeyed the orders of Nero. We don't know what he said to inspire his people, but a late source that sometimes contains reliable information, the Life of Apollonius by Philostratus, says:

He declared in it that Nero was anything rather than a harpist, and a harpist rather than a sovereign. And he taxed him with madness and avarice and cruelty and wantonness of every kind, though he omitted to tax him with the cruelest of crimes; for he said that he had quite rightly put to death his mother, because she had borne such a monster.note

The emperor responded by sending the First Legion Italica, which had recently been constituted, to Lyon. When it arrived, however, the revolt had already been suppressed by another force: the legions XXI Rapax, IIII Macedonica and XXII Primigenia of the army of the Upper Rhine, commanded by Lucius Verginius Rufus.

Rufus, the governor of Germania Superior, set out to make war on Vindex; but when he reached Besan├žon, he proceeded to besiege the city, for the alleged reason that it had not received him. But Vindex came to the aid of the city against him and encamped not far off, whereupon they sent messages back and forth to each other and finally held a conference by themselves at which no one else was present and came to a mutual agreement against Nero, as was conjectured. After this Vindex set out with his army ostensibly to occupy the town; and the soldiers of Rufus, becoming aware of their approach and thinking the force was marching straight against them, marched out in their turn, on their own initiative, and falling upon them while they were off their guard and in disarray, cut down great numbers of them.

As the revolt continued, Vindex slew himself; for he felt exceedingly grieved because of the peril of his soldiers and was vexed at Fate because he had not been able to attain his goal in an undertaking of so great magnitude, namely the overthrow of Nero and the liberation of the Romans. This is the truth of the matter; but many afterwards inflicted wounds on his body, and so gave rise to the false impression that they themselves had killed him.note

This was the end of Vindex' rebellion and life. Galba, who was marching on Rome, now feared for his life and retreated. However, Nero panicked and lost the support of the Senate, which recognized the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis as emperor of the Roman world. Nero committed suicide (8 June), so that, in the end, Vindex had been successful. Galba struck coins to commemorate the man to whom he owed the throne.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 4 August 2020.