Emperor Valens

Life: AD c. 328 – 378

Flavius Julius Valens
  • Name: Flavius Julius Valens
  • Born in AD ca. 328 at Cibalae, Pannonia.
  • Became emperor early in AD 364.
  • Wife; Albia Domnica (three children).
  • Died near Hadrianopolis on 9 August AD 378.

Early Life

Valens was born around AD 328 as the second son of a native of Cibalae in Pannonia called Gratianus. Like his brother Valentinian, he made a military career. He eventually came to serve under Julian and Jovian as the household guard.

When Valentinian became ruler in AD 364, he was chosen to rule alongside his brother as co-Augustus. While Valentinian chose the less prosperous and more endangered West, he appeared to leave the easier part of the rule to his brother in the East.

Eastern and Western Realm

Had there been previous divisions of the empire into eastern and western parts, then it had always been eventually unified again. This division, though, between Valentinian and Valens proved to be final. For a short time, the empires should run in harmony. And indeed, under Theodosius, they would even be briefly reunited again. It was this division that is looked upon as the defining moment when East and West established themselves as separate realms.

Procopius Revolt

However much easier the task in the East seemed at first, serious problems soon arose. Was Valens married to Albia Domnica, then her father was Petronius, a man widely despised in Constantinople for his greed, cruelty, and ruthlessness. So deep-seated was the loathing that in AD 365, it even came to a revolt against the emperor and his hated father-in-law.

Emperor Valens

It was a retired military commander named Procopius who led the revolt and the one who was even hailed emperor and enjoyed widespread support. In AD 366, the forces of Procopius and Valens met at Nacolea in Phrygia. Procopius was betrayed by his generals, who deserted him, and once he fled, he was betrayed yet again and executed.

Troubles in the North and East

His position as emperor of the East alas secured, he now turned to the threats facing his empire from the north. The Visigoths, who had already lent Procopius their assistance, were becoming an ever greater threat to the Danubian provinces. Valens countered this threat by crossing the Danube with his troops and devastating much of their territory in AD 367 and then in AD 369 once more.

Afterward, Valens was occupied by troubles arising in the east. Among all other things, there was a conspiracy surrounding a certain Theodorus, which needed to be dealt with in Antioch during AD 371/2. In AD 375, at the death of his brother Valentinian, Valens assumed the rank of senior Augustus over his nephew Gratian in the west.

Valens Arian Christianity

Valens was not to show the religious tolerance of his brother in the West. He was a vehement follower of the Arian branch of Christianity and actively persecuted the Catholic church. Some bishops were banished, while other members of the church met their death.

Emperor Valens

War with Persians and Visigoths

Next, Valens attacked the Persians, though despite achieving one victory in Mesopotamia, hostilities soon ended in another peace treaty in AD 376, neither of the two sides being able to make much of an impression on the other by force of arms. But then events begin unfolding, which should lead to disaster. In the same year as the peace treaty with the Persians, AD 376, the Visigoths came flooding across the Danube in unbelievable numbers.

The cause of this unprecedented invasion was the arrival of the Huns hundreds of miles to the east. The realms of the Ostrogoths (the ‘bright Goths’) and the Visigoths (the ‘wise’ Goths) were being smashed by the arrival of the notorious horsemen, pushing a first wave of terrified Visigothic refugees across the Danube.

What followed was a disaster from which the Roman Empire would never recover. Valens permitted the Visigoths to settle in the Danubian provinces in their hundreds of thousands. This introduced a barbarian nation into the territory of the empire. Had the Danube provided a protective bulwark against the barbarians for centuries, then now the barbarians suddenly were within.

The Rebellion

More so, the new settlers were treated deplorably by their Roman governors. They were desperately exploited and forced to live in cramped starvation conditions. It was no wonder that they rebelled. With no frontier troops to stop them from crossing into Roman territory, the Visigoths, under their leader Fritigern, could now ravage the Balkans with ease. To make matters worse, the mayhem created by the Visigoths caused such large-scale disruption that hordes of further German tribes could pour across the Danube behind them.

Emperor Valens

Valens rushed back from Asia to deal with this terrible crisis. He called upon Gratian to come to his support, yet the Western emperor had trouble of his own dealing with the Alemanni. Though once Gratian had freed himself from the immediate menace of the Alemanni, he sent word to Valens that he was coming to his aid, and he indeed did mobilize a force and begin marching east.

Battle of Adrianople

But Valens decided to move without the help of his co-emperor. Perhaps he was overconfident, his general Sebastianus already having fought a successful engagement at Beroe Augusta Trajana in Thrace against the enemy. Perhaps the situation became impossible, and he saw himself forced to act. Perhaps he simply did not want to share the glory with his nephew, Gratian. Whatever Valens’ reasons, he acted alone and engaged a massive Gothic force of an estimated 200’000 warriors near Hadrianopolis (also Hadrianople and Adrianople). The result was a catastrophe. Valen’s army was completely annihilated.

Valens himself perished in the Battle of Adrianople (9 August AD 378). His body was never found.

People Also Ask:

What is Emperor Valens best known for?

Valens was an Arian Christian who persecuted Catholics while interfering little with the pagans. Bishops, who had been restored by the emperor Julian, were banished, although near the end of his reign, Valens relented somewhat and allowed these exiles to return.

Who defeated Valens?

In one of the most decisive battles in history, a large Roman army under Valens, the Roman emperor of the East, is defeated by the Visigoths at the Battle of Adrianople in present-day Turkey. Two-thirds of the Roman army, including Emperor Valens himself, were overrun and slaughtered by the mounted barbarians.

What happened to Emperor Valens?

In 378, Valens was defeated and killed at the Battle of Adrianople against the invading Goths, which astonished contemporaries and marked the beginning of barbarian encroachment into Roman territory. As emperor, Valens continually faced threats, both internal and external.

Why did Rome lose the Battle of Adrianople?

At Adrianople, the outcome of the battle was decisively influenced by the actions of the Gothic commander, Fritigern, and by the inability of the Roman commanders to react effectively. The blame for the Roman disaster can thus be placed jointly on Valens himself and on his generals.

Who succeeded Emperor Valens?

Not long after Valens died, the cause of Arianism in the Roman East was to come to an end. His successor, Theodosius I, made Nicene Christianity the state religion of Rome and suppressed the Arians.