Valerian (Publius Licinius Valerianus), d. after 260, Roman emperor (25360). He held important posts, both civil and military,
under the emperors Decius and Gallus. After the short reign of the former
general Aemilianus, Valerian was proclaimed emperor. In 257 he organized
a general persecution of the Christians. Although not an incapable man,
he was nevertheless unsuited to rule in such a critical time, for N
Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor were falling to the barbarians and to
the Persians. Appointing his son, Gallienus, as coregent, Valerian undertook
a campaign in the East against Shapur I of Persia, who destroyed the Roman army and took (260) the emperor prisoner.
Valerian died in captivity and was succeeded by Gallienus
Publius Licinius Valerianus was born around 193 AD, a
member of the old plebian clan Licinia. In his late teens or early twenties
he married Egnatia Marciniana and together they had 2 sons, Publis Licinius
Egnatius Gallienus in 213 AD and Publius Licinius Valerianus (about
whom, little is known).
Little is known about his early life, he served as Consul under Severus
Alexander and was a Senator for a significant number of years. It is
interesting to note that during his 60+ years of life he saw no less
that 23 emperors (and usurpers) come and go. The fact that he managed
to survive the reigns of Caracalla, Elagabalus and the crisis of the
Gordiani says a lot for his ability to survive.
It was in 250 that he really came into his own when Trajan Decius appointed
him as Censor of Rome. A position of almost unlimited power to keep
the peace and uphold the law of the emperor in his absence. Decius died
in June or July of 251 in one of the greatest defeats of the roman army
since Varus and the Teutoburg forest. He has the dubious distinction
of being the first emperor to be killed by a foreign enemy.
After the death of Trajan Decius events moved quickly. The new emperor
Trebonius Gallus sent Valerian to the frontier to recruit soldiers,
but had to recall him to meet a new threat. The general Aemilian, fresh
from his victory against the Goths, had been declared emperor by his
legions and was advancing on Rome.
Valerian was still enroute when the news reached him that Gallus was
dead, killed by his own soldiers before the battle, and Aemilian had
been confirmed as emperor. With this news, Valerian's legions declared
him emperor to oppose Aemilian. Valerian accepted the role and marched
his own army towards Rome to do battle. A seemingly minor battle took
place between the two forces near Spoleto during the fall of 253 and
soon after Aemilian was murdered by his soldiers. A curious repeat of
the fate of Gallus.
Meanwhile, Gallienus waited in Rome for word of his father...... When
word of Aemilian's demise reached an anxious Senate, they quickly appointed
Gallienus as Caesar. Upon Valerians arrival, his elevation to Augustus
was confirmed and a new emperor ascended the throne.
Valerian became Augustus in 253 AD and one of his first acts was to
raise Gallienus to equal status as his co-emperor. It is said that Gallienus
played an active role as co-emperor. Valerian also proceeded to deify
his deceased wife Mariniana. A pity she did not live to see her husband's
rise to power.
All was not well within the empire. To the north, German tribes were
on the move and a serious threat to many provincial cities. In the east,
the Goths had taken to the sea to raid and pillage coastal towns. Nicomedia
and Nicaea were put to the torch and the grain supply from the area
seriously threatened. Further east, Shapur I was once again on the march,
for the third time in 2 decades. In this incursion, he overran Armenia
and Cappadocia and boasted of capturing 37 cities (including poor, often
plundered Antioch). However, after looting and pillaging, Shapur retired
back to Persia and relative peace returned to the area.
With external threats on opposing sides of the empire, in 256 AD, Valerian
decided to divide the responsibility of the empire into 2 spheres, the
European frontier for Gallienus and the east for Valerian. A smart move
since no single emperor could have dealt with simultaneous problems
so far apart.
Valerian's first move was to head east to deal with the barbarian pirates.
The expedition was less than successful due to the arrival of a new
enemy, the plague. His army was hit and temporarily rendered ineffective.
But the greater threat of Shapur again on the march, now materialized.
In 259 he was forced to move his army to Mesopotamia to deal with Shapur
and try relieve the beseiged city of Edessa.
Valerian apparently won the battle of Edessa, but his losses in battle
and to the plague forced him to take shelter in the city. At this point
the unfortunate emperor was between a rock and a hard place. On one
hand he could not withdraw his army, to do so would have given Shapur
the free run of Mespotamia nd beyond. Nor could he afford to bring Shapur
to a decisive battle, his sick and depleted army was in no shape for
a battle. The final alternative, to remain in Edessa, was also unpalatable
for fear of being beseiged. With no other alternative, he decided to
attempt a negotiated peace. Envoys were sent in April or May of 260
and soon returned with a request for a personal meeting. Valerian set
out with a small staff for the meeting. But if he was depending on Shapur
having a 'Roman' sense of honor and honoring his temporary truce, he
was badly mistaken. Valerian was captured and sent back to Persia, the
first Roman emperor to ever be captured alive by a foreign enemy.
Accounts of what happened after his capture vary somewhat. One recurring
theme is that Shapur kept Valerian around for use as a footstool when
mounting his horse. The thought of continually placing his foot on his
former enemies neck must have been appealing to him. We do not know
how long Valerian lasted in captivity. On his death (at least we hope
he was dead first) his corpse was skinned, the skin preserved and by
some accounts dyed vermillion. It was then stuffed with straw to look
approximately human and hung in either the Persian palace or a major
temple. It was kept on display for years and shown to roman envoys as
a reminder of Persian superiority.
And so ends the promising reign of Valerian I. His son went on to reign
for another 8 years before meeting his own end. But that is another
With Phillp the Arab on his knees and Valerian the Roman
Emperor captured, Shahpour I recorded his Triumph over the Romans, (AD
259 at Edessa defeating a force of 70,000) here at Nagsh-i Rostam