A 4th Century Tragedy,Part II

Before we set the stage for our story, here’s a $12.00 purchase¬† I made a year ago that illustrates the central figure of the western Roman Empire from 375 to 392 A.D.

This bronze follis of Valentinian II was struck sometime between 383 and 392 A.D. The bust of Valentinian appears on the obverse wearing a pearl diadem, imperial drapery, and a military cuirass. The legend around translates to “Our Lord Valentinian, Dutiful Emperor”. The reverse portrays the emperor dragging a captive to the right while holding a labarum inscribed with the christian “chi-rho” symbol. The surrounding inscription celebrates the “Glory of the Romans” with the mintmark for the 1st officina (workshop) of Siscia, a town in what was once Yugoslavia, below.

Until 383, Valentinian ruled the western empire jointly with his older brother Gratian. Because of Valentinian’s age, his mother Justina ruled in his name. Back in 379 a huge uprising of Visigoths in the east, along with the ever present threat of the Persian empire, prompted Gratian to elevate Theodosius, a successful general, to emperor of the eastern empire. Theodosius was replacing the former eastern emperor, Valens, who had caused the Gothic unrest and lost his life in an attempt to restore order.

Unfortunately, Gratian would institute a very unpopular military policy that would contribute to Valentinian’s fate. Theodosius would perpetuate that policy while cleaning up the mess created by Valens, inadvertently putting into motion the events that would lead to the sack of Rome in 408 A.D. and the downfall of the empire. Justina would provide the final excuse an usurper would need to get the ball rolling: religion.

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