Corbulo was born in Italy into a senatorial family. His father, who shared the same name, entered the senate as a formal praetor under Tiberius. His mother Vistilia came from a family which held the praetorship.
After Caligula’s assassination, Corbulo’s career came to a halt until, in 47 AD, the new Emperor Claudius made him commander of the armies in Germania Inferior, with base camp in Colonia (Cologne).
The new assignment was a difficult one and Corbulo had to deal with major rebellions by the Germanic Cherusci and Chauci. During his stay in Germania, the general ordered the construction of a canal between the rivers Rhine and Meuse. Parts of this engineering work, known as Fossa Corbulonis or Corbulo’s Canal, have been found at archeological digs. Its course is about identical to the Vliet, which connects the modern towns of Leiden (ancient Matilo) and Voorburg (Forum Hadriani).
After two failed plots by noblemen and senators, including Corbulo’s son-in-law, Senator Lucius Annius Vinicianus, to overthrow Nero in 62, he became suspicious of Corbulo and his support among the Roman masses. In 67 disturbances broke out in Judaea and Nero, ordering Vespasian to take command of the Roman forces, summoned Corbulo, as well as two brothers who were the governors of Upper and Lower Germany, to Greece. On his arrival at Cenchreae, the port of Corinth, messengers from Nero met Corbulo, and ordered him to commit suicide, which he loyally obeyed by falling on his own sword, saying, “Axios!”.