Lucius Vitellius the Elder

Lucius Vitellius Veteris or the Elder (before 7 BC – 51) was the youngest of four sons of procurator Publius Vitellius and the only one who did not die through politics. He was consul three times, which was unusual during the Roman empire for someone who was not a member of the Imperial family. The first time was in the year 34 as the colleague of Paullus Fabius Persicus; the second was in 43 as the colleague of the emperor Claudius;[1] the third was in 47 again as the colleague of the emperor Claudius.[2]


Under Emperor Tiberius, he was consul and in the following year governor of Syria in 35. He deposed Pontius Pilate in 36 after complaints from the people in Samaria. He supported Emperor Caligula, and was a favorite of Emperor Claudius' wife Valeria Messalina. During Claudius' reign, he was Consul again twice, and governed Rome while the Emperor was absent on his invasion of Britain. Around the time that Claudius married Agrippina the Younger in 47, 48 or 49, Vitellius served as a Censor. Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews,[3] records that he wrote Tiberius to request that the Jewish high priestly robe be allowed back under Jewish control and this request was granted.

He wielded great influence and was known for his outstanding character, though, at one time, a Senator accused him of treason. He died of paralysis in 51. Lucius received a state funeral and had a statue on the rostra bearing the inscription ‘steadfast loyal to the Emperor’.


Lucius married Sextilia, a reputable woman from a distinguished family, who gave birth to two sons, Aulus Vitellius Germanicus (the ephemeral Emperor in 69), and Lucius Vitellius.

In fiction

Vitellius is a prominent character in Robert Graves's novel Claudius the God, an intimate friend of Claudius.


  1. Paul Gallivan, "The Fasti for the Reign of Claudius", Classical Quarterly, 28 (1978), pp. 408, 424
  2. Gallivan, "Fasti for the Reign of Claudius", pp. 409, 425
  3. Antiquities of the Jews Chapter 15, Ant. 15.405 (15.11.4)
Political offices
Preceded by
and Gaius Octavius Laenas

as Suffect consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Paullus Fabius Persicus
Succeeded by
Quintus Marcius Barea Soranus,
and Titus Rustius Nummius Gallus

as Suffect consuls
Preceded by
Cornelius Lupus,
and Gaius Caecina Largus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Claudius III
Succeeded by
Sextus Palpellius Hister,
and Lucius Pedanius Secundus

as Suffect consuls
Preceded by
Gaius Terentius Tullius Geminus,
and Marcus Junius Silanus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Claudius IV
Succeeded by
Gaius Calpetanus Rantius Sedatus, and
Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus

as Suffect consuls
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