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Raised to Augustus at only four years old, Valentinian spent much of his early reign on the defensive particularly by the revolt of Magnus Maximus, who was eventually dispossessed in 388 by Theodosius who reinstated Valentinian. His general Arbogastes enjoyed too much power, and when Valentinian attempted to reassert his authority, had him strangled.
Four year old Flavius Valentinianus II was acclaimed as emperor on the death of his father, Valentinian I, in November AD375. His seventeen year reign was unremarkable except for the fact that the western half of the Empire began its steady decline and fragmentation under usurpers and incompetent generals, never to recover. Valentinian II was the victim of late fourth century politics as the centre of power shifted from Rome to Constantinople. The western empire survived for another eighty years after Valentinian II but it was neglected more and more by the imperial court at Constantinople in the fifth century.
Valentinian II was born in AD371, the son of Valentinian I and his second wife Justina. When Valentinian I died at Bregetio on November 17, AD375, the younger Valentinian was proclaimed Augustus by the army on November 22. This did cause a problem as his half-brother, Gratian, was already the legitimate Augustus in the west. However, the army and its generals were not very happy with Gratian as he was not an effective military leader. There are conflicting reports as to how Gratian (who was at Trier at the time) took the news. It is believed that he put a brave face on the decision and publicly accepted the army's choice with enthusiasm.
An Imperial Pawn...
Valentinian II was consul in AD376 and again in AD378 with his uncle Valens who was killed later that year fighting the Goths at Adrianople. As he was a minor, Valentinian was strongly influenced by his imperial court but even more so by his mother, Justina. Furthermore, the new emperor in the east, Theodosius, used Valentinian's youth as justification to act as the senior Augustus of the Empire. This is clearly seen in the numismatic evidence where Theodosius consistently used the unbroken legend VALENTINIANUS on coinage issued in Valentinian II's name. This type of legend was generally used to mark the junior Augustus in the imperial hierarchy.
Valentinian's power was further undermined in AD383 by Magnus Maximus, the Count of Britain (comes Britanniae). Maximus stripped Britain of a large part of its garrison and crossed into Gaul where he killed Gratian and claimed a share of the imperial power. A humiliating deal was made where Maximus was given large parts of the western Empire in return for leaving the young Valentinian in power. This shameful arrangement lasted until broken by Maximus when he invaded Italy in AD387. Valentinian and his mother were forced to flee to Theodosius' court at Constantinople where they asked him for help to restore Valentinian's throne. Theodosius agreed and he marched west in AD388, defeating Maximus and restoring Valentinian to power. Theodosius was now clearly in charge of the whole Empire and he stayed in the west until AD391. During this time he filled many key western posts with his friends and supporters. When Theodosius returned to Constantinople he left the German Arbogast as Valentinian's chief general to watch over the young emperor and his court. The sources tell us that Arbogast was in complete control of Valentinian II who frequently complained about the situation to Theodosius. Theodosius chose to ignore his young imperial colleague and Valentinian fell into despair and depression. The young emperor died on 15 May AD392 under suspicious circumstances at his court in Vienne in Gaul. Natural causes, a suicide or a victim of assassination? The sources fall silent...
The coin we show, a gold solidus, was probably minted in or after 387 while Valentinian was under the protection of Theodosius.
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