Vespasian was a good emperor

Antiquity: How Emperor Vespasian restored ailing Rome

There are two Latin words that sum up one of the most important financial policy innovations of all time: "Non olet" (It doesn't smell). That was gold. The Emperor Vespasian reprimanded his son Titus, who was furious that the use of public latrines or the urine collected in them was taxed. Posterity made the bon mot "Money doesn't stink" out of this and invented the term "vespasiennes" for Parisian toilets.

If the political leaders of the planet are now looking for solutions to the financial crisis, they shouldn't feel like mockery at this example. Seldom has a historical exhibition been more fitting: In the Colosseum in Rome, an exhibition was opened about the Roman emperor Titus Flavius ​​Vespasianus (9-79), the man who rehabilitated the bankrupt world power within ten years and who is therefore one of the great leaders in the story has gone down.

Not just because of his talent for inventing fancy taxes. But also because Vespasian used a clever, balanced concept to pay off the huge mountain of debt that predecessors and civil wars had left him.

The budget gap that Vespasian reported to the Senate comprised the then exorbitant sum of 40 billion sesterces (the average annual income of a worker was 1,000 sesterces). But instead of filling the gaps with the makeshift executions of opponents whose assets were confiscated, like Caligula or Nero, the emperor first organized the financial administration and immediately abolished the special fiscal role for some areas, such as that Nero had ordered for Achaia.

He also moved in some client kingdoms such as Cilicia and Komagene and increased the tax payments of the provinces. In his restructuring policy, he was guided above all by the idea of ​​carefully fulfilling the existing obligations. Tax evaders were consistently prosecuted, arrears were collected.

In addition, the emperor developed a vivid imagination in the creation of further sources of income, which also affected the Roman heartland, Italy. He was not afraid to sell honorary positions. And when his already privileged sailors demanded a "shoe allowance" for going to Rome, "he not only sent them away again without an answer, but even ordered them to march barefoot from now on".

As the court secretary Suetonius also reports, the emperor submitted to strict work discipline. Already in the early hours of the morning he dealt with his correspondence, even the time he was dressed was used for audiences, close to the citizen, humorous and simple, he ruled the empire. When he died in AD 79, it is said to have been debt free.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the great renovator had little in common with the highly aristocratic rulers from the Julio-Claudian dynasty, who traced back to Caesar and thus to the goddess of love Venus. Vespasian's father had been a tax collector before his financial prowess had knighted him.