It was a foregone conclusion that Nero had to go; but once he was gone, too many candidates for his office were willing to risk everything to take his place. So when the aged Servius Sulpicius Galba ascended to the imperium in A.D. 68, almost immediately two schemers went to work bent on overthrowing him.
In Rome, there was Marcus Salvius Otho, who was not only a good friend to the deposed Nero, but either husband or lover of Poppeia before she became empress. According to author Kenneth Wellesley, "He wore a wig, put scent on his feet and on the march to Rome it was suspected that he studied his appearance in a mirror, like an actor in his dressing room. No, it was little use having inherited power from Nero if this were to pass to Otho." Farther north along the Rhine was Aulus Vitellius, commander of the legions of Lower Germany, described as "a lethargic but noble nonentity."
Otho cozied up to the Pretorian Guard regiments and offered them a bonus if thy helped him assassinate Galba, which they did. Around the same time, Vitellius send two armies under Caecina and Valens to make his claim to the throne. That gave Otho a few months to cobble together an army from the Pretorians and other nearby legions.
The armies met at the First Battle of Cremona in Northern Italy on April 13, A.D. 69. When the result went against him, Otho committed suicide; and Vitellius began his march to Rome from his safe position in Gaul.
In July of the same year, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (usually referred to as Vespasian) -- being none too happy at Otho's usurpation -- declared himself emperor from Alexandria, Egypt, not knowing that Otho was already history. An able soldier in his sixtieth year, Vespasian had had an illustrious career and was a natural for the job.
Once Vespasian put out the word, Antonius Primus, commander of the VII Galbiana Legion on the Danube, jumped into the fray by invading Veneto with several other legions from the Balkans. He fought his way through Northern Italy to, of all places, Cremona, where he met the army of Vitellius and defeated it handily at the Second Battle of Cremona in October of the same year This time, hoever, Vitellius was not quite so obliging as Otho and continued to try drumming up support as Antonius moved south. Note that, at this time, the main body of Vespasian's army from Asia under Mucianus had not yet arrived in Italy.
Eventually, Antonius Primus wore Vitellius' forces down, and he was forced to abdicate. What happened next is one of history's little ironies: His Pretorian Guards wouldn't accept Vitellius's abdication. So in the resulting confusion, some of Vespasian's troops hunted him down and killed him.
Years ago, I had read Cornelius Tacitus' THE HISTORIES, which covers the events of this year very adequately, with the slight prejudice of one who was an adherent of the Flavian dynasty founded by Vespasian. Wellesley improves on Tacitus by his occasional flashes of wit, such as this comment on Verginius Rufus: "For the rest of a long life he dined out on the glory acquired by doing nothing and calling it patriotism." More substantively, he does an excellent job of describing the Barbarian incursions occasioned by so many of the Roman frontier forces involved in fighting two civil wars in the space of a single year.
On the negative side, this book needed not only more maps, including at least one each of the City of Rome and the full extent of the empire, but better maps. For example, the two illustrating the Battles of Cremona are all but useless.
I recommend Wellesley's THE YEAR OF THE FOUR EMPERORS to aficionados of Roman history. Neophytes beware, as the book does require some previous background in the subject.