Marcus Salvius Otho (32 – 69) was a Roman Emperor for only three months, from January 15 to April 16, 69 AD. He succeeded Galba on the throne of Rome after having him killed in the streets of Rome. Otho was the second emperor of the Year of the Four Emperors.
Marcus Salvius Otho was born on April 28, 32 AD, in Ferentinum, Italy, to Lucius Otho, and belonged to an ancient Etruscan family. His paternal grandfather had been raised in Livia’s household and had been promoted from equestrian rank to senator by Augustus.
Extravagant and reckless, Otho was a companion of Nero. This friendship ended in 58 AD because of Otho´s wife, Poppea Sabina. After she was introduced to the Emperor, Poppea began an affair with Nero. Then, she divorced Otho and convinced the Emperor to send him away to the remote province of Lusitania (Portugal).
Otho stayed in Lusitania as a governor, ruling the province for ten years, until the neighbor Roman governor of Hispania Tarraconensis rose in revolt against Nero in 68. Otho followed him to Rome. As Galba was childless and old, Otho aspired to succeed him. Otho made a secret agreement with Galba’s favourite, Titus Vinius, agreeing to marry Vinius’ daughter in exchange for his support. Nevertheless, Otho’s hopes were shattered by Galba’s formal adoption of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus, in January 69 AD, as his successor instead of him.
Deeply disappointed by Galba’s decision, Otho bought the services of several soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. The cohort on duty at the Palatine instantly deserted Galba, who was murdered, along with his newly adopted son Piso and others, by the Praetorians. Then, Otho returned in triumph to the Praetorian Guard camp, and on the same day was duly invested by the senators with the name of Augustus.
In order to win the favor of Nero’s supporter, Otho ordered that the statues of Nero be restored, reinstating some of Nero’s officials. As an Emperor, he put off his pleasures and concealed his extravagances, as he tried to rule with equity and sobriety, surprising everybody. But Otho had one weak point; Although he was popular with the Praetorians and with some of the troops that had followed him from Lusitania on his way back to Rome, Otho had no contacts with the army at all. In his role as governor of Lusitania he had not even had control of a legion.
The Roman legions stationed in Germania had never recognized Otho as their Emperor. Commanded by Vitellius, these legions revolted against the Emperor by the end of March and began marching on Rome. To avoid a civil war Otho offered Vitellius to share power with him as a join emperor. Nevertheless, Vitellius refused it. Otho´s army was defeated at Cremona on April 14, 69 AD, at the Battle of Bedriacum. On hearing the news, the Emperor Marcus Salvius Otho committed suicide by stabbing himself to death on April 16, 69 AD.