Flavius Iulius Valens (Latin: IMPERATOR CAESAR FLAVIVS IVLIVS VALENS AVGVSTVS; Greek ΟΥΑΛΗΣ; 328 – August 9, 378) was Roman Emperor (364-378), after he was given the Eastern part of the empire by his brother Valentinian I. Valens, sometimes known as the Last True Roman, was defeated and killed in the Battle of Adrianople, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.
Appointment to emperor
Valens and his brother Flavius Valentinianus (Valentinian) were both born 48 miles west of Sirmium, in the town of Cibalae in 328 and 321, respectively. They had grown up on estates purchased by their father, Gratian the Elder, in Africa and Britain. While Valentinian had enjoyed a successful military career prior to his appointment as emperor, Valens apparently had not. He had spent much of his youth on the family's estate and only joined the army in the 360s, participating with his brother in the Persian campaign of Emperor Julian.
In February 364, reigning Emperor Jovian, while hastening to Constantinople to secure his claim to the throne, was asphyxiated during a stop at Dadastana, 100 miles east of Ancyra. Among Jovian's agents was Valentinian, a tribunus scutariorum. He was proclaimed Augustus on February 26, 364. Valentinian felt that he needed help to govern the large and troublesome empire, and, on March 28 of the same year, appointed his brother Valens as co-emperor in the palace of Hebdomon.
Revolt of Procopius
Valens inherited the eastern portion of an empire that had recently retreated from most of its holdings in Mesopotamia and Armenia because of a treaty that his predecessor Jovian had made with Shapur II of the Sassanid Empire. Valens's first priority after the winter of 365 was to move east in hopes of shoring up the situation. By the autumn of 365 he had reached Cappadocian Caesarea when he learned that a usurper had proclaimed himself in Constantinople. When he died, Julian had left behind one surviving relative, a maternal cousin named Procopius. Procopius had been charged with overseeing a northern division of Julian's army during the Persian expedition and had not been present with the imperial elections when Julian's successor was named. Though Jovian made accommodations to appease this potential claimant, Procopius fell increasingly under suspicion in the first year of Valens' reign.
After narrowly escaping arrest, he went into hiding and reemerged at Constantinople where he was able to convince two military units passing through the capital to proclaim him emperor on 28 September, 365. Though his early reception in the city seems to have been lukewarm, Procopius won favor quickly by using propaganda to his advantage: he sealed off the city to outside reports and began spreading rumors that Valentinian had died; he began minting coinage flaunting his connections to the Constantinian dynasty; and he further exploited dynastic claims by using the widow and daughter of Constantius II to act as showpieces for his regime. This program met with some success, particularly among soldiers loyal to the Constantinians and eastern intellectuals who had already begun to feel persecuted by the Valentinians.
Valens, meanwhile, faltered. When news arrived that Procopius had revolted, Valens considered abdication and perhaps even suicide. Even after he steadied his resolve to fight, Valens's efforts to forestall Procopius were hampered by the fact that most of his troops had already crossed the Cilician gates into Syria when he learned of the revolt. Even so, Valens sent two legions to march on Procopius, who easily persuaded them to desert to him. Later that year, Valens himself was nearly captured in a scramble near Chalcedon. Troubles were exacerbated by the refusal of Valentinian to do any more than protect his own territory from encroachment. The failure of imperial resistance in 365 allowed Procopius to gain control of the dioceses of Thracia and Asiana by year's end.
Only in the spring of 366 had Valens assembled enough troops to deal with Procopius effectively. Marching out from Ancyra through Pessinus, Valens proceeded into Phrygia where he defeated Procopius's general Gomoarius at the Battle of Thyatira. He then met Procopius himself at Nacoleia and convinced his troops to desert him. Procopius was executed on May 27 and his head sent to Valentinian in Trier for inspection.
War against the Goths
The Gothic people in the northern region had supported Procopius in his revolt against Valens, and Valens had learned the Goths were planning an uprising of their own. These Goths, more specifically the Tervingi, were at the time under the leadership of Athanaric and had apparently remained peaceful since their defeat under Constantine in 332. In the spring of 367, Valens crossed the Danube and marched on Athanaric's Goths. These fled into the Carpathian Mountains, and eluded Valens' advance, forcing him to return later that summer. The following spring, a Danube flood prevented Valens from crossing; instead the emperor occupied his troops with the construction of fortifications. In 369, Valens crossed again, from Noviodunum, and attacked the north-easterly Gothic tribe of Greuthungi before facing Athanaric's Tervingi and defeating them. Athanaric pled for treaty terms and Valens gladly obliged. The treaty seems to have largely cut off relations between Goths and Romans, including free trade and the exchange of troops for tribute. Valens would feel this loss of military manpower in the following years.
Conflict with the Sassanids
Among Valens' reasons for contracting a hasty and not entirely favorable peace in 369 was the deteriorating state of affairs in the East. Jovian had surrendered Rome's much disputed claim to control over Armenia in 363, and Shapur II was eager to make good on this new opportunity. The Sassanid ruler began enticing Armenian lords over to his camp and eventually forced the defection of the Arsacid Armenian king, Arsakes II, whom he quickly arrested and incarcerated. Shapur then sent an invasion force to seize Caucasian Iberia and a second to besiege Arsaces' son, Pap, in the fortress of Artogerassa, probably in 367. By the following spring, Pap had engineered his escape from the fortress and flight to Valens, whom he seems to have met at Marcianople while campaigning against the Goths.
Already in the summer following his Gothic settlement, Valens sent his general Arinthaeus to re-impose Pap on the Armenian throne. This provoked Shapur himself to invade and lay waste to Armenia. Pap, however, once again escaped and was restored a second time under escort of a much larger force in 370. The following spring, larger forces were sent under Terentius to regain Iberia and to garrison Armenia near Mount Npat. When Shapur counterattacked into Armenia in 371, his forces were bested by Valens' generals Traianus and Vadomarius at Bagavan. Valens had overstepped the 363 treaty and then successfully defended his transgression. A truce settled after the 371 victory held as a quasi-peace for the next five years while Shapur was forced to deal with a Kushan invasion on his eastern frontier.
Meanwhile, troubles broke out with the boy-king Pap, who began acting in high-handed fashion, even executing the Armenian bishop Narses and demanding control of a number of Roman cities, including Edessa. Pressed by his generals and fearing that Pap would defect to the Persians, Valens made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the prince and later had him executed inside Armenia. In his stead, Valens imposed another Arsacid, Varazdat, who ruled under the regency of the sparapet Musel Mamikonean, a friend of Rome.
In 375, Valens' older brother Valentinian suffered a burst blood vessel in his skull, which resulted in his death on November 17, 375. Valentinian's two sons and Valens' nephews, Gratian and Valentinian II, were evelated to Augusti by the imperial troops in Pannonia upon his death.
None of this sat well with the Persians, who began agitating again for compliance with the 363 treaty. As the eastern frontier heated up in 375, Valens began preparations for a major expedition. Meanwhile, trouble was brewing elsewhere. In Isauria, the mountainous region of western Cilicia, a major revolt had broken out in 375 which diverted troops formerly stationed in the east. Furthermore, by 377, the Saracens under Queen Mavia had broken into revolt and devastated a swath of territory stretching from Phoenicia and Palestine as far as the Sinai. Though Valens successfully brought both uprisings under control, the opportunities for action on the eastern frontier were limited by these skirmishes closer to home.
Valens' plans for an eastern campaign were never realized. A transfer of troops to the western empire in 374 had left gaps in Valens' mobile forces. In preparation for an eastern war, Valens initiated an ambitious recruitment program designed to fill those gaps. It was thus not unwelcome news when Valens learned that the Gothic tribes had been displaced from their homeland by an invasion of Huns in 375 and were seeking asylum from him. In 376, the Visigoths advanced to the far shores of the lower Danube and sent an ambassador to Valens who had set up his capitol in Antioch. The Goths requested shelter and land in the Balkan peninsula. An estimated 200,000 Goths were along the Danube in Moesia and the ancient land of Dacia.
As Valens' advisers were quick to point out, these Goths could supply troops who would at once swell Valens' ranks and decrease his dependence on provincial troop levies — thereby increasing revenues from the recruitment tax. Among the Goths seeking asylum was a group led by the chieftain Fritigern. Fritigern had enjoyed contact with Valens in the 370s when Valens supported him in a struggle against Athanaric stemming from Athanaric's persecution of Gothic Christians. Though a number of Gothic groups apparently requested entry, Valens granted admission only to Fritigern and his followers. This did not, however, prevent others from following.
When Fritigern and his Goths undertook the crossing, Valens's mobile forces were tied down in the east, on the Persian frontier and in Isauria. This meant that only riparian units were present to oversee the Goths' settlement. The small number of imperial troops present prevented the Romans from stopping a Danube crossing by a group of Goths and later by Huns and Alans. What started out as a controlled resettlement mushroomed into a massive influx. And the situation grew worse. When the riparian commanders began abusing the Visigoths under their charge, they revolted in early 377 and defeated the Roman units in Thrace outside of Marcianople.
After joining forces with the Ostrogoths and eventually the Huns and Alans, the combined barbarian group marched widely before facing an advance force of imperial soldiers sent from both east and west. In a battle at Ad Salices, the Goths were once again victorious, winning free run of Thrace south of the Haemus. By 378, Valens himself was able to march west from his eastern base in Antioch. He withdrew all but a skeletal force — some of them Goths — from the east and moved west, reaching Constantinople by May 30, 378. Meanwhile, Valens' councilors, Comes Richomeres, and his generals Frigerid, Sebastian, and Victor cautioned Valens and tried to persuade him to wait for Gratian's arrival with his victorious legionaries from Gaul, something that Gratian himself strenuously advocated. What happened next is an example of hubris, the impact of which was to be felt for a years to come. Valens, jealous of his nephew Gratian's success, decided he wanted this victory for himself.
Battle of Adrianople and death of Valens
After a brief stay aimed at building his troop strength and gaining a toehold in Thrace, Valens moved out to Adrianople. From there, he marched against the confederated barbarian army on August 9, 378 in what would become known as the Battle of Adrianople. Although negotiations were attempted, these broke down when a Roman unit sallied forth and carried both sides into battle. The Romans held their own early on but were crushed by the surprise arrival of Visigoth cavalry which split their ranks.
The primary source for the battle is Ammianus Marcellinus. Valens had left a sizeable guard with his baggage and treasures depleting his force. His right wing, cavalry, arrived at the Gothic camp sometime before the left wing arrived. It was a very hot day and the Roman cavalry was engaged without strategic support, wasting its efforts while they suffered in the heat.
Meanwhile Fritigern once again sent an emissary of peace in his continued manipulation of the situation. The resultant delay meant that the Romans present on the field began to succumb to the heat. The army's resources were further diminished when an ill timed attack by the Roman archers made it necessary to recall Valens' emissary, Comes Richomeres. The archers were beaten and retreated in humiliation.
Gothic cavalry under the command of Althaeus and Saphrax then struck and, with what was probably the most decisive event of the battle, the Roman cavalry fled. From here, Ammianus gives two accounts of Valen's demise. In the first account, Ammianus states that Valens was "mortally wounded by an arrow, and presently breathed his last breath," (XXXI.12) His body was never found or given a proper burial. In the second account, Ammianus states the Roman infantry was abandoned, surrounded and cut to pieces. Valens was wounded and carried to a small wooden hut. The hut was surrounded by the Goths who put it to the torch, evidently unaware of the prize within. According to Ammianus, this is how Valens perished (XXXI.13.14-6).
When the battle was over, two-thirds of the eastern army lay dead. Many of their best officers had also perished. What was left of the army of Valens was led from the field under the cover of night by Comes Richomer and General Victor.
J.B. Bury, a noted historian of the period, provides specific interpretation on the significance the battle: it was "a disaster and disgrace that need not have occurred."
For Rome, the battle incapacitated the government. Emperor Gratian, nineteen years old, was overcome by the debacle, and until he appointed Theodosius I, unable to deal with the catastrophe which spread out of control.
Adrianople was the most significant event in Valens' career. The battle of Adrianople was significant for yet another reason: the evolution of warfare. Until that time, the Roman infantry was considered invincible, and the evidence for this was considerable. However, the Gothic cavalry completely changed all that. Although J.B. Bury states that records are incomplete for the 5th century, all during the 4th and 6th centuries, history shows that the cavalry took over as the principal Roman weapon of war on land.
"Valens was utterly undistinguished, still only a protector, and possessed no military ability: he betrayed his consciousness of inferiority by his nervous suspicion of plots and savage punishment of alleged traitors," writes A.H.M. Jones. But Jones admits that "he was a conscientious administrator, careful of the interests of the humble. Like his brother, he was an ernest Christian." To have died in so inglorious a battle has thus come to be regarded as the nadir of an unfortunate career. This is especially true because of the profound consequences of Valens' defeat. Adrianople spelled the beginning of the end for Roman territorial integrity in the late empire and this fact was recognized even by contemporaries. Ammianus understood that it was the worst defeat in Roman history since the Battle of Cannae (31.13.19), and Rufinus called it "the beginning of evils for the Roman empire then and thereafter."
Valens is also credited with the commission of a short history of the Roman State. This work, produced by Valens' secretary Eutropius, and known with the name Breviarium ab Urbe condita, tells the story of Rome from its founding. According to some historians, Valens was motivated by the necessity of learning Roman history, that he, the royal family and their appointees might better mix with the Roman Senatorial class.
Struggles with the religious nature of the empire
During his reign, Valens had to confront the theological diversity that was beginning to create division in the Empire. Julian (361–363), had tried to revive the pagan religions. His reactionary attempt took advantage of the dissensions between the different factions among the Christians and a largely Pagan rank and file military. However, in spite of broad support, his actions were often viewed as excessive, and before he died in a campaign against the Persians, he was often treated with disdain. His death was considered a sign from God.
Like the brothers Constantius II and Constans, Valens and Valentinian I held divergent theological views. Valens was an Arian and Valentinian I upheld the Nicene Creed. When Valens died however, the cause of Arianism in the Roman East was to come to an end. His successor Theodosius I would endorse the Nicene Creed.
- Historiae, 31.12-13.
- Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1986), p. 139.
- Eutropius, Breviarium, ed. H. W. Bird, Liverpool University Press, 1993, p. xix.
with Valentinian I, Gratian, and Valentinian II