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Solidus minted by Valens in ca. 376. On reverse, Valens and his brother Valentinian I hold together the Globus cruciger, symbol of power.

Arian Valens (328August 9, 378) was Roman emperor from 364 until his death, after he was given the Eastern part of the empire by his brother Valentinian I. His father was the general Gratian the Elder. Valens was known as the Last True Roman.


War on two fronts

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 (363–364) had made with Shapur II of the Persian Empire. Meanwhile the northern borders of his jurisdiction were assailed by the Gothic tribes who also beset the Western Roman Empire ruled by his brother Valentinian I (364–375). It fell to Valens to defend against the Persians to the east and the Goths and other Germanic tribes to the north. George Ostrogorsky maintains that this was the first time a Byzantine Emperor was forced to fight on two fronts, a struggle that lasted the duration of the Byzantine Empire.

Struggles with the Religious Nature of the Empire

During his reign, Valens had to confront the theological diversity that was beginning to create divisiveness in the Empire. Julian, the last so-called pagan emperor (361–363), had tried to revive the pagan religions. His reactionary attempt took advantage of the dissensions between the different factions among the Christians 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.

Like the brothers Constantius II and Constans, Valens and Valentinian I held divergent theological views. Valens was an Arian and Valentinian upheld the Nicene Creed. When Valens died however, the cause of Arianism in the Roman East was to come to an end. His successor Theodosius I would endorse the Nicene Creed.

Barbaric unrest

Valens also faced a rebellion from Procopius, a maternal cousin of Julian , who believed himself to have a better claim to the throne. Following months of army units and cities in Thrace and Asia Minor switching sides, Valens managed to defeat Procopius' army at Thyatira in Lydia in 366, and Procopius was executed on May 27 of the same year.

This revolt embroiled Valens in the first of two wars against the Goths. The Goths had supported Procopius against Valens and after defeating Procopius’s army he sent his army against the Goths and defeated them. Later he would face them again in events leading up to the Battle of Adrianople, a city now known as Edirne in Turkey.

In 372, the Huns had fallen upon the Alans, an eastern Germanic people having settled north of the Caucasus Mountains and south of the river Don. Those who escaped the Huns were absorbed by the tribes to the west swelling their numbers in turn. The Huns eventually displaced the entire Eastern-Germanic world (first the Ostrogoths, then the Visigoths) who fled toward Valens' jurisdiction.

In 376, the Visigoths advanced to the far shores of the lower Danube and sent an ambassador to Valens who had set up his capitol in Antioch. The Goths requested shelter and land in the Balkan Peninsula. During this period some of these Germanic contingents did cross the Danube and were routed, even massacred by the Romans guarding the shores.

Edward Gibbon maintains that those Roman officers who acted under orders to prevent the Goths crossing were harshly disciplined however and after much trepidation among Valens' ministers and councillors, the Visigoths were allowed to cross the Danube. An epic tale, the river was reportedly swollen and many drowned while the Roman soldiers worked tirelessly to ferry them across.

An estimated 80,000 of them proceeded to Lower Moesia in the ancient land of Dacia (now Bulgaria). (J. B. Bury asserts the figure of 80,000. Gibbon placed it at 200,000 men and with the women and children, about one million total. However, his figures have been widely criticised for inaccuracy.)

Valens problems were possibly insurmountable: how to feed so many, how to control a vast warlike people, and how to find them adequate habitation—all the while the Huns were continuing to press the barbarian tribes north of the Danube. His situation was hugely complicated by the earlier revolt within his own family that had involved the Goths, his own arrogance and the hostility and arrogance of members of his government toward the Gothic people after the great migration in 376.

Wars with the Goths

Another war was inevitable. Edward Gibbon describes the turning point after the migration as a series of confrontations, abuses and insults that provoked the Visigoths who eventually turned on the Romans at Adrianople. Joined by the Ostrogoths, with whom their feuding habits were laid aside, they accepted as their war leader Fritigern, the Visigoths’ judge. Fritigern led them from that point on till the battle of Adrianople.

A subsequent siege of city of Adrianople failed. (Fritigern, realising the futility of attacking the fortification desisted saying he “was at peace with stone walls.”) Meanwhile the numbers of the Goths were swelled by freed and escaping slaves of the Romans, many who were their own people, often taken as hostages as a condition of allowing migration, many of them children. The slaves enlightened their liberators as to the abuses and atrocities they has suffered at the hands of the Romans and the stories of their plight enraged the Goths.

With their anger, their warlike nature and the advantages of in-depth intelligence as to fortifications and resources, the result was devastating: the Goths depredations laid waste to the country.

Valens’ war with the Goths lasted nearly two years. He enlisted the support of his nephew Gratian, Western Roman Emperor, left the defence of the Armenian border in the hands of his generals Trajan and Profuturus, and marched westward. He was joined in Thrace by Count Richomer and western auxiliaries of the Gallic legions (who apparently were less than enthused since there may have been considerable desertions prior to the encounter with the Goths).

When Fritigern realised the Romans meant to attack his encampment at the mouth of the Danube, he mustered his widespread forces in the act of raiding and laying waste the surrounding country (over a space of three hundred miles, from the Danube to the Hellespont, a sign of things to come).

In Valens’ first encounter with the Goths, at Salices, (reported by Ammianus Marcellinus, the authority on these events), the result was a bloody draw. The masses of dead were left unburied on the field, a feast for the predatory birds. The Romans, inferior in size but superior in arms had proportionately suffered the highest losses. (Actual numbers have never been determined. Ammianus did not record the size of the two armies.) The Goths reportedly stunned by the efficiency of the smaller Roman army, withdrew into their encampment for the better part of week or more.

With this setback—Valens’ arrogance had not prepared him for his failure to finish them off in one set battle—the Roman strategy was then reformed to confine and wear the Goths down rather than to confront them in one great battle. Meanwhile Alan, Scythian and Hunnic auxillaries joined the Goths for plunder and the promise of more. Elsewhere the Sarmatians provided more diversion for the Romans, and the Alamanni in Gaul, taking advantage of the conflict, diverted Gratian from coming to Valens’ aid. As the barbaric tribes crossed the Danube, the completion of the Roman’s task became even more difficult.

The Visigoths leader, Fritigern, was too clever by half. He dispatched an ecclesiastic as a “holy” ambassador to Valens’ camp under the walls of Hadrianople. Ostensibly, the ecclesiastic came to plead the Gothic case, resplendent with tales of Roman abuse and betrayal, insisting that the Goths were still willing to lay down their arms if treated with respect. Evidently, however, this same ambassador was directed to contradict this open offer of peace by leading Valens to believe that it may not in fact be possible for Fritigern to enforce any treaty with the Goths unless the Romans presented themselves as a formidable consequence of continued war. This contradictory message served to merely confuse the issue. Fritigern had succeeded in sowing seeds of confusion.

Meanwhile, Valens’ councillors, Count Richomer (just returned from the west with news of Gratian’s defeat of the Alemanni), and his generals Frigerid (who had defeated the Taiflalae), Sebastian (master general who had selected and trained a special group that had made spectacularly successful raids on the Goths) and Victor (who had quelled the Sarmatians) cautioned Valens and tried to persuade him to wait for Gratian’s arrival with his victorious legionnaires from Gaul, something that Gratian himself strenuously advocated.

What happened next is an example of hubris, the impact of which was to be felt for a long time. Valens, jealous of his nephew Gratian's success, decided he wanted the victory all for himself. On August 9, A.D. 378, he marched on the Gothic camp, which was then about twelve miles from the city of Hadrianople.

It was a battle of Roman debacles and Gothic intrigue.

Battle of Adrianople

Main article: Battle of Adrianople

Valens had left a sizeable guard with his baggage and treasures depleting his force. His right wing, cavalry, 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, Count Richomer. The archers were beaten and retreated in humiliation. Gothic cavalry under the command of Althaeus and Saphrax then struck and, with what was probably the most decisive event of the battle, the Roman cavalry fled.

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. This is how Valens perished.

What was left of the army of Valens was lead from the field under the cover of night by Count Richomer and General Victor.

In the aftermath, the Goths were again unable to breach the walls of Hadrianople. They were to content themselves with continued depredations upon a vast territory, from the very walls of Constantinople to the borders of Italy itself. The Romans for their part, gathered all the Gothic hostages in the eastern provinces and slaughtered them.

Gibbon maintained that the loss of many of their great military leaders, two-thirds of the Roman army and the psychological impact of the defeat was more devastating than the massacre at Cannae.

For Rome, the battle incapacitated the government. Emperor Gratian, nineteen years old, was overcome by the debacle, and until he appointed Theodosius, unable to deal with the catastrophe which spread out of control.

The Battle of Adrianople was significant for yet another reason—the evolution of warfare. Until that time, the Roman infantry was considered invincible and the evidence for this was considerable. However, the Gothic cavalry completely changed all that. Although J.B. Bury states that records are incomplete for the 5th century, all during the 4th century and the 6th century, history shows that the cavalry took over as the principle Roman weapon of war on land. Even much later, during the Medieval Era, the cavalry retained its overwhelming advantage until the Swiss pikemen and the English archers rendered the cavalry vulnerable in the warfare of first the 14th century and then the 15th century.

Preceded by:
Roman Emperor

with Valentinian I, Gratian and Valentinian II
Succeeded by:
Gratian and Valentinian II

Template:End boxde:Valens fr:Valens it:Valente ja:ウァレンス pl:Walens sv:Valens


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