Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Vitellius the Glutton

The Roman Emperor Vitellius (69 A.D.) was best known for his gluttony. His reign was incredibly short-lived as it lasted for little over a year.

He was born Aulus Vitellius, in 15 A.D, to Lucius Vitellius, one of the most succesful public figures of the time, and Sestilia. According to Suetonius, his horoscope was omminus and this terrified his parents, who said they would do their best to keep their son away from public office. However, they did not succeed in their intent.
Young Vitellius spent his early youth in Capri, in the company of Tiberius's homosexual prostitutes and it is said that he got his father a big promotion by being very "nice" to the Emperor. Through flattery, cunning and manipulation, Vitellius managed to work his way up the Imperial ladder and held a variety of positions in public office.

His first wife was a woman called Petroniana, and he had a son with her, who was allegedly born blind in one eye. It is said that Vitellius killed the boy shortly after he was emancipated. Not suprisingly his marriage ended in divorce, pretty quickly.

Vitellius was an extraordinary glutton. He would eat anything in sight and even at altars he would not be able to resist consuming the offerings to the Gods, to the utter amazement of those around him. He once had a banquet in which thousands of birds of various kinds were served. One wonders if this man's stomach was a bottomless pit or not.

In little more than a year, Vitellius was overthrown by the popular general Vespasian. He was practically hunted down like an animal. Having nowhere to go he disguised himself in dirty clothes and hid in the rooms of the Imperial door-keeper. He naively put a matress and couch against the door so nobody could get in. Of course he was found and was dragged half-naked to the Forum, where he was tortured, killed and thrown into the river Tiber.


gettinggrip said...

Hi. After reading your blog, I got interested on how Vitellius looked like.so I searched the net. All images of him I saw indeed looked "chubby" ;)
Also, I read this description of one dish that was made especially for him in one of their feasts:
"In this dish were tossed together the livers of charfish, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, with the tongues of flamingoes and the entrails of lampreys, which had been brought in ships of war as far as from the Carpathian Sea [between Crete and Rhodes] and the Spanish Straits." (www.fordham.edu)
The dish by the way was named "The Shield of Minerva" and it was "extraordinary in size".
I think I will not have my usual Japanese sushi this weekend. ;)

Alterior said...

Heh heh, yes, he was chubby! I have to say that when I read details of his eating habits in Suetonius I was put off my food. :-)))

If this guy had not been killed I am sure he would have died of either a heart attack or gallbladder.

ResoluteReader said...

"...he was found and was dragged half-naked to the Forum, where he was tortured, killed and thrown into the river Tiber."

One can only imagine that if torture, death and being thrown in the Thames was a punishment for bad governance today some of our politicians might be a little more accountable than they actually are.

Light said...

Wasn't Vitellius the arsehole who said that there was no smell sweeter than that of a dead fellow citizen? Or was that Otho?

It was an odd year that one; 4 emperors in quick succession. I'd feel sorry for Galba were it not for his total ineptitude. But Otho and Vitellius...well, the former was a better man than the latter, but not by much...

gettinggrip said...

I agree with resolute reader. I am actually thinking of proposing in my public policy thesis that kind of treatment for abusive public officials. However, I read somewhere (cant remeber where) that that treatment to Vitellius (plus the killing of his family and relatives) was a bit harsh considering he was said to have spared the lives of the relatives of Nero, Galba and Otho.

lenin said...

If you're going to leap across that dark divide, why not advocate the general use of violence against those who use unfair power against the rest of us? By which I mean, why not have Digby Jones of the CBI swinging gently to and fro from a lamp post? And that idiot 'Dr' Gillian McKeith? I'd say a few 'demonstrations' of this kind would give the rest of them a profound lesson.

ResoluteReader said...

Well a policy of "decimation" against the metropolitan police every time they killed someone in police custody, would probably prevent it happening again to many times.

Light said...

If we're going to decimate ANY organisation, I insist that we start with Jehovahs Witnesses.