Valens (/ˈvlənz/; Latin: Flavius Julius Valens Augustus;[2] Greek: Οὐάλης; 328 – 9 August 378) was Eastern Roman Emperor from 364 to 378. He was given the eastern half of the empire by his brother Valentinian I after the latter's accession to the throne. Valens was defeated and killed in the Battle of Adrianople, which marked the beginning of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Augustus of the Eastern Roman Empire
A marble bust possibly representing Valens or Honorius
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign28 March 364 – 17 November 375 (emperor of the east, with his brother Valentinian I in the west;
17 November 375 – 9 August 378 (emperor in the east, with his nephews Gratian and Valentinian II as emperors of the west)
PredecessorValentinian I (alone, whole empire)
SuccessorTheodosius I
Co-emperorsValentinian I (Western Emperor, 364–375)
Gratian (Western Emperor, 375–378)
Valentinian II (Western Emperor, 375–378)
Cibalae, near Sirmium, recent town of Vinkovci in Croatia
Died(378-08-09)9 August 378 (aged 50)
Adrianople (burned alive by the Visigoths)
SpouseAlbia Dominica[1]
IssueValentinianus Galates,
Full name
Flavius Iulius Valens
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Iulius Valens Augustus
FatherGratian the Elder


Appointment as emperor

Valens and his brother Valentinian were both born in Cibalae in southern Pannonia (now Vinkovci in Croatia) into an Illyrian family in 328 and 321 respectively.[3] They had grown up on estates purchased by their father Gratian the Elder in Africa and Britain. While Valentinian had been distinguished in an active military career prior to his election, Valens, though already 35 years old, had not participated in either the civil or military affairs of the empire previous to his selection as Augustus by his brother.[4]

In February 364, reigning Emperor Jovian, while hastening to Constantinople to secure his claim to the throne, died in his sleep during a stop at Dadastana, 100 miles east of Ankara. Valentinian, a tribunus scutariorum, who owed his advancement to the deceased, was elected by the legions to succeed Jovian.[5] He was proclaimed Augustus on 26 February, 364. It was the general opinion that Valentinian needed help to handle the cumbersome administration, civil and military, of the large and unwieldy empire, and, on 28 March of the same year, at the express demand of the soldiers for a second Augustus, he selected his brother Valens as co-emperor in the palace of Hebdomon.[6][7] Both emperors were briefly ill, delaying them in Constantinople, but as soon as they recovered, the two Augusti travelled together through Adrianople and Naissus to Mediana, where they divided their territories. Valentinian then went on to the West, where the Alemannic wars required his immediate attention.[8][9]

Valens obtained the eastern half of the Empire: Greece, Egypt, Syria and Anatolia as far east as Persia. Valens was back in his capital of Constantinople by December 364.

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, Julian's maternal cousin, named Procopius, had proclaimed himself in Constantinople. Procopius had commanded an auxiliary northern contingent of his relative's army during the Persian expedition and had not been present when Jovian was named his successor in the camp beyond the Tigris. Though Jovian, aside from depriving him of his command, took no further measures against this potential rival, Procopius fell immediately under the suspicion of Valentinian upon the latter's election.[10]

After narrowly escaping arrest, he went into hiding but reemerged some time later at Constantinople where he was able to convince two Gallic legions 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' dismissal shortly before of Julian's popular minister Sallustius contributed to the general disaffection and to the acceptability of a revolution.[11]

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. Procopius quickly gained control of the provinces of Asia and Bithynia, winning increasing support for the insurrection. However, Valens recovered, reappointed Sallustius, and dispatched the available legions under veteran generals, Arinthaeus and Arbetio, to march on Procopius.[12]

In the spring of 366 Valens' lieutenants encountered and routed Procopius at the battle of Thyatira, and again shortly after at Nacoleia. On both occasions, Procopius was deserted by his own following in fear of their Imperial adversaries' formidable commanders. Procopius was delivered to justice by members of his own escort, and executed on 27 May.[13] His head was sent to Valentinian in Trier for inspection.

War against the Goths

During Procopius's insurrection, the Gothic king Ermanaric, who ruled a powerful kingdom north of the Danube from the Euxine to the Baltic Sea,[14] had engaged to supply him with troops for the struggle against Valens. The Gothic army, reportedly numbering 30,000 men, arrived too late to help Procopius, but nevertheless invaded Thrace and began plundering the farms and vineyards of the province.[15] Valens, marching north after defeating Procopius, surrounded them with a superior force and forced them to surrender. Ermanaric protested, and when Valens, encouraged by Valentinian, refused to make atonement to the Goths for his conduct, war was declared.[16] In the spring of 367, Valens crossed the Danube and attacked the Visigoths under Athanaric, Ermanaric's tributary. The Goths fled into the Carpathian Mountains, and the campaign ended with no decisive conclusion. 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 by devastating the country forced Athanaric to attack him. Valens was victorious, and Athanaric received Ermanaric's permission to conclude a truce. Athanaric pleaded for treaty terms and Valens gladly obliged. The treaty seems to have largely cut off relations between Goths and Romans, confining trade and the exchange of troops for tribute.[17]

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, Arsaces II (Arshak II), whom he quickly arrested and incarcerated. Shapur then sent an invasion force to seize Caucasian Iberia and a second to besiege Arsaces II's son, Papas (Pap), in the fortress of Artogerassa, probably in 367. By the following spring, Papas 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 Papas on the Armenian throne. This provoked Shapur himself to invade and lay waste to Armenia. Papas, 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 Trajanus 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 Papas, 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 Papas 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, Varasdates (Varazdat), who ruled under the regency of the sparapet Mushegh I Mamikonian, a friend of Rome.

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.

On 17 November 375, Valens' older brother Valentinian died of a burst blood vessel in his skull in Pannonia. Gratian, Valentinian's son and Valens' nephew, had already been associated with his father in the imperial dignity and was joined by his half-brother Valentinian II who was elevated, on their father's death, to Augustus by the imperial troops in Pannonia.

Gothic War

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 entirely unwelcome news when Valens heard of Ermanaric's death and the disintegration of his kingdom before an invasion of hordes of barbaric Huns from the far east. After failing to hold the Dniester or the Pruth against the Huns, the Goths retreated southward in a massive emigration, seeking new settlements and shelter south of the Danube, which they thought could be held against the enemy. In 376, the Visigoths under their leader Fritigern advanced to the far shores of the lower Danube and sent an ambassador to Valens who had set up his capital in Antioch, and requested asylum. [18]

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. However, it would mean hiring them and paying in gold or silver for their services. 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. Others would soon follow, however.[19]

When Fritigern and his Goths, to the number of 200,000 warriors and almost a million all told, undertook the crossing, Valens's mobile forces were tied down in the east, on the Persian frontier (Valens was attempting to withdraw from the harsh terms imposed by Shapur and was meeting some resistance on the latter's part). This meant that only limitanei 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 Ostrogoths and yet later on by Huns and Alans. What started out as a controlled resettlement might any moment turn into a major invasion. But the situation was worsened by corruption in the Roman administration, as Valens' generals accepted bribes rather than depriving the Goths of their weapons as Valens had stipulated and then proceeded to enrage them by such exorbitant prices for food that they were soon driven to the last extremity.[20] Meanwhile the Romans failed to prevent the crossing of other barbarians who were not included in the treaty.[21] In early 377 the Goths revolted after a commotion with the people of Marcianople, and defeated the corrupt Roman governor Lupicinus near the city.[22]

After joining forces with the Ostrogoths under Alatheus and Saphrax who had crossed without Valens' consent, the combined barbarian group spread out to devastate the country before combining to meet Roman advance forces under counts Traianus and Richomer. In a sanguinary battle at Ad Salices, the Goths were momentarily checked,[23] and Saturninus, now Valens' lieutenant in the province, undertook a strategy of hemming them in between the lower Danube and the Euxine, hoping to starve them into surrender. However, Fritigern forced him to retreat by inviting some of the Huns to cross the river in the rear of Saturninus's ranged defenses. The Romans then fell back, incapable of containing the irruption, though with an elite force of his best soldiers the general Sebastian was able to fall upon and destroy several of the smaller predatory bands.[24] By 378, Valens himself was ready 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 30 May, 378. Valens' councilors, Comes Richomeres, and his generals Frigerid, and Victor cautioned Valens to wait for the arrival of Gratian with his troops from Gaul, fresh from defeating the Alemanni, and Gratian himself strenuously urged this prudent course in his letters. But meanwhile the citizens of Constantinople were clamoring for the emperor to march against the enemy whom he had himself introduced into the Empire, and jeering the contrast between himself and his co-Augustus.[25] The result became an example of hubris, the impact of which was to be felt for years to come. Valens, jealous of his nephew, and encouraged by Sebastian's minor successes, decided to advance at once and win the victory on his own.[26]

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 9 August 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.[27] Valens had left a sizeable guard with his baggage and treasures depleting his force. His right cavalry wing 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.

Returning from foraging to find the battle in full swing, Gothic cavalry under the command of Althaeus and Saphrax now struck and, in what was probably the most decisive event of the battle, the Roman cavalry fled. From here, Ammianus gives two accounts of Valens' 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). A third, apocryphal, account states that Valens was struck in the face by a Gothic dart and then perished while leading a charge. He wore no helmet, in order to encourage his men. This action turned the tide of the battle which resulted in a tactical victory but a strategic loss.

The church historian Socrates likewise gives two accounts for the death of Valens.

Some have asserted that he was burnt to death in a village whither he had retired, which the barbarians assaulted and set on fire. But others affirm that having put off his imperial robe he ran into the midst of the main body of infantry; and that when the cavalry revolted and refused to engage, the infantry were surrounded by the barbarians, and completely destroyed in a body. Among these it is said the Emperor fell, but could not be distinguished, in consequence of his not having on his imperial habit.[28]

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 a specific interpretation on the significance of the battle: it was "a disaster and disgrace that need not have occurred."[29]

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.


"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 earnest Christian."[30] He diminished the oppressive burden of the taxes which had been instituted by Constantine and his sons, and was humbly deferential to his brother in the latter's edicts of reform, as the institution of Defensors (a sort of substitute for the ancient Tribunes, guardians of the lower classes).[31] His moderation and chastity in his private life were everywhere celebrated.[32] At the same time, continuous proscriptions and executions, originating in his weak and fearful disposition, disgraced the dozen years of his reign. "An anxious regard to his personal safety was the ruling principle of the administration of Valens", writes Gibbon.[33] 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 Edessa, 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 by 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.[34]

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 among the different Christian factions, 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.

Valens was baptised by the Arian bishop of Constantinople before he set out on his first war against the Goths.[35] While the Nicene Christian writers of his time identified Valens with the Arian faction and accused him of persecuting Nicene Christians, modern historians have described both Valens and Valentinian I as primarily interested in maintaining social order and have minimized their theological concerns.[36] Although Athanasius was impelled, under his reign, to briefly go into hiding, Valens maintained a close dependency on his brother Valentinian and treated St. Basil mildly, both of whom supported the Nicene position.[37] Not long after Valens died the cause of Arianism in the Roman East was to come to an end. His successor Theodosius I would favor the Nicene Creed and suppress the Arians.

See also


  1. Lendering, Jona, "Valens",
  2. In Classical Latin, Valens's name would be inscribed as FLAVIVS IVLIVS VALENS AVGVSTVS.
  3. Lenski, Noel Emmanuel (2002). Failure of empire: Valens and the Roman state in the fourth century A.D. University of California Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-520-23332-4. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  4. Edward Gibbon, The History of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), chap. XXV., p. 848
  5. Gibbon, pp. 844–847
  6. Gibbon, p. 847, 848
  7. An Encyclopedia Of World History, (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1952), chap. II., Ancient History, p. 120
  8. Gibbon, Ibid. 849
  9. Noel Emmanuel Lenski, Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D., University of California Press, 2002
  10. Gibbon, p. 850
  11. Gibbon, pp. 850–852
  12. Gibbon, p. 852, 853
  13. Gibbon, p. 853, 854
  14. Gibbon, p. 890, 891
  15. Gibbon, p. 892
  16. Gibbon, Ibid. p. 892, 893
  17. Gibbon, p. 893, 894
  18. Gibbon, chap. XXVI., pp. 920–923
  19. Gibbon, p. 925
  20. Gibbon, p. 925
  21. Gibbon, Ibid.. p. 926
  22. Gibbon, p. 927, 928
  23. Gibbon, p. 931, 932
  24. Gibbon, p. 935
  25. Gibbon, p. 934, 935
  26. Gibbon, p. 935, 936
  27. Historiae, 31.12–13.
  28. The Ecclesiastical History, VI.38,
  30. Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin, The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1986), p. 139.
  31. Gibbon, chap. XXV., p. 859
  32. Gibbon, p. 858
  33. Gibbon, p. 857
  34. Eutropius, Breviarium, ed. H. W. Bird, Liverpool University Press, 1993, p. xix.
  35. Gibbon, Chapter 25.
  36. Day et al. 2016, p. 28f.
  37. Gibbon, pp. 861–864


Born: 328 Died: 9 August 378
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
with Valentinian I, Gratian, and Valentinian II
Succeeded by
Theodosius I
Political offices
Preceded by
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian I
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Flavius Lupicinus,
Flavius Iovinus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian I
Succeeded by
Valentinianus Galates,
Flavius Victor
Preceded by
Valentinianus Galates,
Flavius Victor
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian I
Succeeded by
Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus
Preceded by
Domitius Modestus,
Flavius Arinthaeus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian I
Succeeded by
Flavius Equitius
Preceded by
Flavius Equitius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian II
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Valentinian II
Succeeded by
Quintus Clodius Hermogenianus Olybrius
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