A Historie of Great Britaine: Emperor Galba

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A Historie of Great Britaine: Emperor Galba

Katherine Hoe-Richardson, 2020

This exhibit is a collaboration of Tisch Library Special Collections, Tufts Technology Services, and students in History 96: History of the Book, taught by Professor Alisha Rankin at Tufts University, Fall 2018.

The historie of Great Britaine under the conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans by John Speed, a well-known British cartographer, is a historical survey of Great Britain.  It was published in 1632 and printed by John Dawson as noted on the frontispiece.  John Speed dedicated the work to King James, though his son Charles I had taken the throne by the time the work was published, possibly indicating it was written through the reign of James.  This specific volume, found in Tisch Library Special Collections, contains information on Roman emperors and early British kings.  By examining specific passages in The historie, information on how historical fact was understood and presented to a wider audience can be gathered.  Speed’s account of Emperor Galba, the immediate successor of Nero, sheds light on a turbulent period of Roman history, marked by the “Year of the Four Emperors” that began with Galba’s ascension.  A closer reading of Speed’s text also shows the lingering influence of Roman politicians and writers in historical memory in the following generations.     

Speed begins all chapters on Roman emperors with a woodcut of a coin minted during their reign. Coins were minted and distributed across the entire Roman empire, and would have served to assert the identity and power of the sitting emperor. Though Galba's reign was brief, he had several coin designs minted. The beginning of the chapter is marked with a woodcut letter followed by a brief overview of the empire when Galba assumed power. Speed briefly diverts from his narrative to explain his focus on Roman succession rather than British history. In the proceeding chapters on the Julio-Claudian emperors, this is not mentioned. Given Galba's brief reign, Speed likely had little to record in his text. The majority of the chapter on Galba is the transcription of a speech following his ascension. Though the chapter is meant to document the reign of Galba, there are frequent mentions of his predecessor. The infamy of Emperor Nero bleeds into Speed's account of Galba, as additional descriptions of his scandals.

Further Reading:

Speed, John.  The historie of Great Britaine under the conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, 
and Normans
.  London: John Dawson, 1632.

Suetonius, Graves, Robert, and Grant, Michael. The Twelve Caesars: Revised with an 
Introduction by Michael Grant.
Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin, 1979.

Tacitus, Cornelius, and Fyfe, W. Hamilton. The Histories. Clarendon Press, 1912.

Cassius Dio, Roman History. Loeb Classical Library edition, vol. VIII. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.