Vespasian was a moon-faced man who rose to become Roman Emperor although not, as far as we know, on account of his moon face. He founded a dynasty known as the Flava-Flavian Emperors that was to last a good couple of decades; quite an achievement for Roman imperial dynasties of the time. Although he is probably best known now for building the Colosseum in Rome he was better known at the time for taxing Roman's wee. Really.
Origins and Rise to Power
Vespasian had humble origins being the son of a dung-eater in southern Italy. Determined to rise above his meagre station he managed to get seats in the senate for himself and his brother during the reign of Tiberius thanks to the emperor killing most of the people who had been sitting in them. He became an army commander under Caligula at which time he was noted for "being a shameless arse-licker". This sycophancy made him rise through the military ranks, however, and he became part of the imperial court under Nero, once even falling-asleep during one of Nero's plays which is perfectly understandable. It was during Nero's reign that Vespasian and his son Titus were sent to the province of Judea to put-down the Jewish Revolt during which the Temple of Solomon was destroyed; a day remembered to this day with sadness by Jews and a regular celebration by Mel Gibson. During the civil wars of 69AD Vespasian decided to join in the fun by declaring himself Augustus and marching on Rome. Despite expecting to be killed "but having fun with it" during the ensuing melee he instead managed to beat all his opponents and promptly found the senate grovelling before him asking permission to vote him imperial powers. "Now", he said in his first words as emperor "it is time for someone else to lick my arse!" Indeed, the historian Pliny the Vulgar notes "after his first session with the senate the emperor's daisy was shiny and clean but at the expense of many senators whose mouths were filled with a most unsavoury flavour."
"Where's All The Money Gone?!"
The new emperor had always been a frugal man and he decided to take stock of the empire's cash situation. However, on popping down to the imperial treasury he found that all that remained were a couple of sisterti coins that were a bit bent and the mummified cock of a defeated barbarian king from the days of Julius Caesar. Having rushed off to the senate house in a rage he demanded of the assembled senators (who were busy discussing what indignities to visit on the giant statue of Nero that had been recently pulled down) the fate of Rome's wealth. The senators immediately threw themselves at his feet and apologised, saying that the wicked Nero damn his memory had spent it all on stupid gay plays and that horrible fucking golden house thing. Having managed to retrieve his feet from under the piles of grovelling senators, Vespasian announced new policies to re-stock the treasury. After the senators turned white he told them that, no, he wouldn't be executing them and stealing their money in the traditional way but instead intended to tighten public spending and create new taxes.
The Flavian Taxes
Vespasian subsequently increased taxes on most goods and services in Rome and invented some new ones in order to fill up the treasury again. The most notorious of these were his tax on arse-size (which made considerable money out of the senators) and his tax on piss. His son, Titus, complained about this latter tax claiming that it was all a bit filthy. Vespasian grabbed a handful of gold coins and thrust them under his son's nose asking "do they have any smell?" Little did he know, though, that one of his freedmen had spent the previous day shoving them up his backside for kicks and so Titus responded in the positive adding "why not a tax on turds whilst you're at it?" This "splendid idea!" subsequently became known as "Titus' jobby tax". There's no real avoiding the fact that these sort of taxes were a bit unpleasant; we wouldn't stand for taxes on our poo these days after all (not even the French). They did work, though, that's the crazy thing. Maybe it's time to telephone Gordon Brown on my secret hotline and suggest a tax on wanking. Or maybe not.
Can He Fix It?
One of the first orders Vespasian gave to Rome's unemployed layabout builders (who had had nothing to do during the civil wars of 69) was to pull down Nero's golden house; unfortunately the emperor should have thought more about what the house was built from since a few days into the demolition the builders noted that "unsurprisingly, when we pulled a brick away and threw it in the skip it was gone as soon as our backs were turned". One of Vespasian's freedmen pointed out that perhaps the golden house should have been melted down instead of an increase in taxation and was immediately executed before the emperor had a brainwave and declared to the senate that "the remaining parts of the golden house should be melted down and used to increase the city's wealth. Well I know that some have taken some of the gold from the house and this was, of course, my intention and a gift to the people of Rome. Hail me!" The gold from what was left of the golden house meant the treasury was now stuffed to bursting and Titus, ever the know-all, suggested to his father that an elaborate building programme might free-up some treasury space whilst creating a legacy.
The emperor agreed and got out his sketch slab. Whilst the senate admired his plans for "a huge structure over the city that transports paying senators and knights on a rail-bound trolly rolling and coasting them over dips and troughs" and "a splendid and gigantic canvas dome beside the Tiber filled with the wonders of the history of Rome" they feared that no engineers could be found who could implement the first and the second might best be left to a time when the public were more willing to see public money spent on government frivolity. In a huff, Vespasian considered ordering a few executions but calmed down and instead sacrificed a goat to Jupiter. The spilled blood suddenly gave him an idea - why not an arena for games, a really really big one? The shape of the new arena was inspired by Vespasian's fondness for doughnuts, a delicacy he was said to gorge on daily.
So it was that the Flavian Amphitheatre was laid down and work began putting it together. If the emperor had know that, for some reason, we'd all end up calling it the Colosseum then he might not have bothered.
Vespasian died in 79AD in the middle of an extremely violent bout of diarrhea. Unfortunately, he decided in his last words that "an emperor should die on his feet", which frankly just left even more of a mess for his attendants to mop up. Power passed to his son Titus, who had inherited his father's moon-face. His other son Domitian, was a bit bitter about not inheriting power although he didn't have that long to wait.
- It was eventually decided to paint "rosy cheeks and eyes most googly upon the face and the words "Fun Sized" with an arrow pointing towards the tyrant's loins upon the stomach"
- Don't laugh it's not funny!