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Portrait of Valentinian I on a Gold Solidus
Portrait of Valentinian I on a Gold Solidus
Valentinian Standing Holding Labarum & Victory
Valentinian Standing Holding Labarum & Victory
Valentinian I
Flavius Valentinianus
AD 364 - 375

Valentinian I was one of Rome's last great warrior emperors. His major challenge was to hold together an empire that had experienced sixty years of internal unrest. His provincial origins and specialised interpretation of Christianity alienated him from senatorial nobility in Rome. Furthermore, he had to deal with the increasing fragmentation of the Empire, especially in Gaul, Britain and Africa.

Early Life
Valentinian was born in AD321 at Cibalis (modern Vinkovci) in southern Pannonia. His father Gratian was a soldier, a giant of a man known for his wrestling skills. He may have been in league with potential usurpers for the throne but this did not keep Valentinian or his younger brother Valens from being able to enter the military. In AD357 he was tribune of the cavalry under Julian, Constantius II's Caesar in the west. During the political intrigues surrounding Julian and Constantius, Valentinian and a colleague were accused of undermining operations and Constantius dismissed them from the army. Valentinian married twice. His first wife called Severa, died just after giving birth to Valentinian's first son Gratian in AD359. His second wife, Justina, gave birth to Valentinian II and two daughters, Galla and Justa.

Imperial Accession
When the Emperor Jovian died on 17 February AD364 in Asia Minor, the army marched to Nicaea and held a meeting of civil and military officials to elect a new emperor. After discussing several other candidates, the assembly finally agreed upon Valentinian. He accepted the office on 26 February AD364 and told the soldiers in his acceptance speech that the army was his greatest priority. On March 1, Valentinian made a bold and strategic move by choosing his brother, Valens, as co-emperor on 28 March AD364. Valentinian gave his brother authority over the eastern half of the Empire while Valentinian took the west.

Valentinian and the Western Provinces
Valentinian spent most of his reign fighting the Alamanni, a loose confederation of Germanic-speaking peoples living beyond the Rhine. They invaded Gaul repeatedly, causing great destruction and destabilising the western frontiers. Valentinian wished to help his brother on the eastern frontiers but he had to remain in the west when many of the Gallic cities begged him for help. There was no better way to win the support of the Gallic nobility than by performing the traditional imperial duty of preserving peace by defeating barbarians. This ideology is clearly illustrated by the coinage issued from Gaul during this period. Valentinian issued such series as RESTITVTOR REIPVBLICAE, GLORIA ROMANORVM, and TRIVMFATOR GENT BARB from the mints at Trier, Lyon and Arles.
After pushing the barbarians back across the Rhine, Valentinian constructed many new forts along the river to keep watch on the Germans. However, the Alamannic invasions were not the only problem for Valentinian. In AD367, Valentinian received reports that a combined force of Picts, Attacotti and Scots had invaded Britain and killed the Roman commanders Nectaridus and Fullofaudes. Hadrian's Wall was badly damaged and Britain was in a state of anarchy. At the same time, Frankish and Saxon forces were attacking the coastal areas of northern Gaul. Valentinian sent Count Theodosius to Britain in AD368 to recover the province. By the end of the following year, Britain had been restored to imperial control but the heyday of fourth-century Britain was over. Within forty years Rome was to withdraw its troops from Britain for good.

Further Problems...
In AD373 trouble erupted with the Quadi, a group of Germanic-speaking people living on the Danube. Like the Alamanni, the Quadi were furious that Valentinian was building fortifications in their territory. The Quadi and their allies, the Sarmatians, went to war when their king was treacherously murdered by the Romans at a banquet. They ravaged the provinces of Valeria and Moesia and defeated two legions. Valentinian did not receive news of these disasters until mid-to-late AD374. In the spring of AD375 he set out from Trier and prepared to punish the Quadi. The emperor crossed into Quadic territory and ravaged the countryside in reprisals. On November 17 AD365 he received a deputation of Quadi envoys who had agreed to make peace and supply recruits to the Roman army. However, the attitude of the envoys so enraged Valentinian that he had an apoplectic fit and died.

Valentinian's Legacy
Valentinian's reign offers a valuable insight into the changing Roman society of the late fourth century. Firstly, there was a growing split between the eastern and western portions of the empire. Valentinian was the last emperor to really concentrate his resources on the military crises in the west. Valens, his brother and co-emperor was clearly in an inferior position in the partnership. Secondly, there were increasing fractures within society itself, both Christian versus pagan and civil versus military. Finally there was a growing isolationism in the west, driven by heavy taxation and the inability of the army to fully exercise military authority in all areas of the west. All of these trends would continue over the next century, deeply affecting the Roman empire and western Europe.

Featured Coin
We show a gold solidus of Valentinian. The obverse shows his draped and laureate bust facing right, with the legend DN VALENTINIANUS PF AUG.
The reverse also shows the emperor himself, standing facing, with head right, holding a labarum on his right hand, and Victory in his left hand, with the legend RESTITUTOR REIPUBLICAE, and SMNE in the exergue, denoting the Nicomedia mint.

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