Vitellius - full name Aulus Vitellius Germanicus - was born in 24 AD and ruled before eight months of 69 AD, the end of his short reign coinciding with his violent demise. This was a highly significant year in Roman history, the "Year of the Four Emperors" Galba, Otho and Vespasian also came to grief either politically or literally. While remembered with mixed sentiments by history, he has been rather harshly treated by his biographers, all of whom were linked to with his enemies. Vitellius was the son of Lucius Vitellius, who had been consul and governor of Syria under Tiberius. Vitellius Jr was consul in 48 and proconsul of Africa, in which capacity he is said to have acquitted himself with credit. He was elevated to command the army of Germania Inferior, where Vitellius made himself popular with his inferiors by outrageous prodigality and excessive good nature, followed by an inevitable slide in terms of order and discipline. This, perhaps, is the aspect of demeanour for which he is best remembered, being lazy, debauched and self-indulgent. However, his supporters Caecina and Valens guaranteed his elevation to emperor when they refused to renew their vows of allegiance to Emperor Galba on January 1 69, leading to his proclamation as emperor at Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne). Technically, he was only emperor of the armies of Germania Inferior and Superior, followed by the armies of Gaul, Brittania and Raetia. However, this essential usurpation of power was a serious problem for Rome, for as was ever the case he who controlled the Roman army controlled the world. Inevitably, this led to a debauch of spectacular proportions. He advanced to Rome with an enormous rabble of inebriated and rough soldiery, whose loyalty he rewarded with a series of gladiatorial combats and theatrical shows. In order to reward his victorious legionaries, he disbanded the Praetorian guard and installed his own men instead. This and other flamboyant behaviour led to civil unrest, and widespread administrative concern. There are indications that he intended to govern wisely, but he was powerless to escape the grip of Caecina and Valens, who exploited the fact that they had helped him to line their own pockets and thus obscured any genuine efforts he might have had to rule either wisely or temperately. His good intentions unrecognised, he was to discover the fickle nature of Roman administrative loyalties. The armies of the east proclaimed their own emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian) in July of 69, bringing the revels in Rome to an abrupt end. Despite his efforts to resign, he was forced through political intrigue (primarily by a disgruntled Praetorian group) to return to the palace and await his grisly end at the hands of Vespasians troops. His body was thrown into the Tiber; his final words are said to have been: "Yet I was once your emperor, a tragically apt epitaph which is perhaps demonstrative of the crumbling Late Roman Empire". This monumental sculpture is very evocative of the person and his time. Depicting Vitellius as a well-nourished middle-aged man, the work captures a contradiction between fleshly excess and political ideal. His fleshy jowls and hooded eyes seem to demonstrate an excessively strong attachment to sensual pleasures. His hair is carefully combed forward in the style of the day, doubtless to conceal an increasingly glabrous state. Yet there is a definite poignancy to this figure: while doubtless something of a lost cause as an administrative power, his gaze would seem to embody a higher purpose that was to remain unrealised. Equally, he seems almost aware of the tragic end that lamentably awaited him. Despite the passage of time the sculpture has survived in remarkable condition, the only damage being a chip to the end of the nose. The head is preserved down to the neck, with the top edge of the toga and ceremonial sash. It is a beautiful reminder of a lost age, a life cut short and an opportunity wasted. This is a hauntingly beautiful and mature statue, carved by a real master craftsman and artist.