Valerian (emperor)

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Aureus Valerian-RIC 0034-transparent.png
Aureus of emperor Valerian
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign22 October 253 – spring 260 (with Gallienus)
Predecessor Aemilianus
Successor Gallienus (alone)
Co-emperor Gallienus
Bornc. 193 200 AD
DiedAfter 260 or 264 AD (aged 60)
Bishapur or Gundishapur
Spouse Mariniana
Cornelia Gallonia
Issue Gallienus
Valerianus Minor
Full name
Publius Licinius Valerianus (from birth to accession);
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Publius Licinius Valerianus Augustus (as emperor)
Dynasty Licinii

Valerian ( /vəˈlɪəriən/ ; Latin : Publius Licinius Valerianus Augustus; [1] 193/195/200 260 or 264), also known as Valerian the Elder, was Roman Emperor from 22 October 253 AD to spring 260 AD. He was taken captive by the Persian Emperor, Shapur I, after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the first Roman emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war, causing shock and instability throughout the Roman Empire.

Shapur I King of Kings of Iranians and non-Iranians"`UNIQ--ref-00000006-QINU`"

Shapur I, also known as Shapur the Great, was the second Sasanian King of Kings of Iran. The dating of his reign is disputed, but it is generally agreed that he ruled from 240 to 270, with his father Ardashir I as co-regent till the death of the latter in 242. Shapur consolidated and expanded the empire of Ardashir I, waging war against the Roman Empire, whom he seized the cities of Nisibis and Carrhae from, whilst advancing as far as Roman Syria. He was defeated at the Battle of Resaena in 243, but was able to conclude a favorable peace treaty the following year with the Roman emperor Philip the Arab, which was regarded by the Romans as "a most shameful treaty".

Battle of Edessa 260 battle at which Shapur I of Persia defeats and captures the entire Roman army, including Augustus Valerian

The Battle of Edessa took place between the armies of the Roman Empire under the command of Emperor Valerian and Sasanian forces under Shahanshah Shapur I in 260. The Roman army was defeated and captured in its entirety by the Persian forces; for the first time a Roman emperor was taken prisoner. As such, the battle is generally viewed as one of the worst disasters in Roman military history.

Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1610.



Origins and rise to power

Unlike many of the would-be emperors and rebels who vied for imperial power during the Crisis of the Third Century of the Roman Empire, Valerian was of a noble and traditional senatorial family. Details of his early life are sparse, except for his marriage to Egnatia Mariniana, with whom he had two sons: later emperor Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus and Valerianus Minor. [2]

Crisis of the Third Century period when the Roman Empire nearly collapsed due to multiple major simultaneous crises, beginning with the assassination of Severus Alexander, during which there were ≥26 claimants to the throne

The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of barbarian invasions and migrations into the Roman territory, civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability, Roman reliance on barbarian mercenaries known as foederati and commanders nominally working for Rome, plague, debasement of currency, and economic depression.

Roman Senate A political institution in ancient Rome

The Roman Senate was a political institution in ancient Rome. It was one of the most enduring institutions in Roman history, being established in the first days of the city of Rome. It survived the overthrow of the kings in 509 BC, the fall of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC, the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and the barbarian rule of Rome in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries.

Gallienus Augustus

Gallienus, also known as Gallien, was Roman Emperor with his father Valerian from 22 October 253 to spring 260 and alone from spring 260 to September 268. He ruled during the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly caused the collapse of the empire. While he won a number of military victories, he was unable to prevent the secession of important provinces. His 15-year reign was the longest since the 19-year rule of Caracalla.

He was Consul for the first time either before 238 AD as a Suffectus or in 238 as an Ordinarius. In 238 he was princeps senatus , and Gordian I negotiated through him for senatorial acknowledgement for his claim as emperor. In 251 AD, when Decius revived the censorship with legislative and executive powers so extensive that it practically embraced the civil authority of the emperor, Valerian was chosen censor by the Senate, [3] though he declined to accept the post. During the reign of Decius he was left in charge of affairs in Rome when that prince left for his ill-fated last campaign in Illyricum. [4] Under Trebonianus Gallus he was appointed dux of an army probably drawn from the garrisons of the German provinces which seems to have been ultimately intended for use in a war against the Persians. [5] However, when Trebonianus Gallus had to deal with the rebellion of Aemilianus in 253 AD it was to Valerian he turned for assistance in crushing the attempted usurpation. Valerian headed south but was too late: Gallus was killed by his own troops, who joined Aemilianus before Valerian arrived. The Raetian soldiers then proclaimed Valerian emperor and continued their march towards Rome. Upon his arrival in late September, Aemilianus's legions defected, killing Aemilianus and proclaiming Valerian emperor. In Rome, the Senate quickly acknowledged Valerian, not only for fear of reprisals but also because he was one of their own.

A consul held the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic, and ancient Romans considered the consulship the highest level of the cursus honorum.

<i>Princeps senatus</i>

The princeps senatus was the first member by precedence of the Roman Senate. Although officially out of the cursus honorum and owning no imperium, this office brought conferred prestige on the senator holding it.

Gordian I Augustus

Gordian I was Roman Emperor for 21 days with his son Gordian II in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Caught up in a rebellion against the Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he was defeated by forces loyal to Maximinus, and he committed suicide after the death of his son.

Radiate of Valerian Radiate of Valerian (YORYM 2001 787) obverse.jpg
Radiate of Valerian

Rule and fall

A bas relief of Emperor Valerian standing at the background and held captive by Shapur I found at Naqsh-e Rustam, Shiraz, Iran. The kneeling man is probably Philip the Arab. Shapur victory.JPG
A bas relief of Emperor Valerian standing at the background and held captive by Shapur I found at Naqsh-e Rustam, Shiraz, Iran. The kneeling man is probably Philip the Arab.

Valerian's first act as emperor on October 22, 253, was to appoint his son Gallienus as a caesar. Early in his reign, affairs in Europe went from bad to worse, and the whole West fell into disorder. In the East, Antioch had fallen into the hands of a Sassanid vassal and Armenia was occupied by Shapur I (Sapor). [3] Valerian and Gallienus split the problems of the empire between them, with the son taking the West, and the father heading East to face the Persian threat.

Antioch ancient city in Turkey

Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient Greek city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. Its ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey, and lends the modern city its name.

Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity) ancient state of Armenia

The Kingdom of Armenia, also the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, or simply Greater Armenia, sometimes referred to as the Armenian Empire, was a monarchy in the Ancient Near East which existed from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into successive reigns by three royal dynasties: Orontid, Artaxiad and Arsacid (52–428).

In 254, 255, and 257, Valerian again became Consul Ordinarius. By 257, he had recovered Antioch and returned the province of Syria to Roman control. The following year, the Goths ravaged Asia Minor. In 259, Valerian moved on to Edessa, but an outbreak of plague killed a critical number of legionaries, weakening the Roman position, and the town was besieged by the Persians. At the beginning of 260, Valerian was decisively defeated in the Battle of Edessa, and he arranged a meeting with Shapur to negotiate a peace settlement. The truce was betrayed by Shapur, who seized Valerian and held him prisoner for the remainder of his life. Valerian's capture was a tremendous defeat for the Romans. [9]

Goths East Germanic ethnolinguistic group

The Goths were an early Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe.

The Plague of Cyprian is the name given to a pandemic that afflicted the Roman Empire from about AD 249 to 262. The plague is thought to have caused widespread manpower shortages for food production and the Roman army, severely weakening the empire during the Crisis of the Third Century. Its modern name commemorates St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, an early Christian writer who witnessed and described the plague. The agent of the plague is highly speculative due to sparse sourcing, but suspects include smallpox, pandemic influenza and viral hemorrhagic fever (filoviruses) like the Ebola virus.

Legionary professional soldier

The Roman 'legionary' was a professional heavy infantryman of the Roman army after the Marian reforms. These soldiers would conquer and defend the territories of the Roman Empire during the late Republic and Principate eras, alongside auxiliary and cavalry detachments. At its height, Roman legionaries were viewed as the foremost fighting force in the Roman world, with commentators such as Vegetius praising their fighting effectiveness centuries after the classical Roman legionary disappeared.

Persecution of Christians

While fighting the Persians, Valerian sent two letters to the Senate ordering that firm steps be taken against Christians. The first, sent in 257, commanded Christian clergy to perform sacrifices to the Roman gods or face banishment. The second, the following year, ordered the execution of Christian leaders. It also required Christian senators and equites to perform acts of worship to the Roman gods or lose their titles and property, and directed that they be executed if they continued to refuse. It also decreed that Roman matrons who would not apostatize should lose their property and be banished, and that civil servants and members of the Imperial household who would not worship the Roman gods should be reduced to slavery and sent to work on the Imperial estates. [10] This indicates that Christians were well-established at that time, some in very high positions. [11]

Christians people who adhere to Christianity

Christians are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The words Christ and Christian derive from the Koine Greek title Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ).

The equites constituted the second of the property-based classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the senatorial class. A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques.

Apostasy Formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion

Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from, abandonment of, or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion that is contrary to one's previous religious beliefs. One who undertakes apostasy is known as an apostate. Undertaking apostasy is called apostatizing. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean the renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person's former religion, in a technical sense, with no pejorative connotation.

The execution of Saint Prudent at Narbonne is taken to have occurred in 257. [12] Prominent Christians executed in 258 included Pope Sixtus II (6 August), Saint Romanus Ostiarius (9 August) and Saint Lawrence (10 August). Others executed in 258 included the saints Denis in Paris, Pontius in Cimiez, Cyprian in Carthage and Eugenia in Rome. In 259 Saint Patroclus was executed at Troyes and Saint Fructuosus at Tarragona. [12] When Valerian's son Gallienus became Emperor in 260, the decree was rescinded. [11]

Death in captivity

Eutropius, writing between 364 and 378 AD, stated that Valerian "was overthrown by Shapur king of Persia, and being soon after made prisoner, grew old in ignominious slavery among the Parthians." [13] An early Christian source, Lactantius, thought to be virulently anti-Persian, thanks to the occasional persecution of Christians by some Sasanian monarchs, [14] maintained that, for some time prior to his death, Valerian was subjected to the greatest insults by his captors, such as being used as a human footstool by Shapur when mounting his horse. According to this version of events, after a long period of such treatment, Valerian offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, according to one version, Shapur was said to have forced Valerian to swallow molten gold (the other version of his death is almost the same but it says that Valerian was killed by being flayed alive) and then had Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. [3] It was further alleged that it was only after a later Persian defeat against Rome that his skin was given a cremation and burial. [15] The captivity and death of Valerian has been frequently debated by historians without any definitive conclusion. [14]

The Humiliation of Emperor Valerian by Shapur I, pen and ink, Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1521 HumiliationValerianusHolbein.jpg
The Humiliation of Emperor Valerian by Shapur I , pen and ink, Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1521

According to the modern scholar Touraj Daryaee, [14] contrary to the account of Lactantius, Shapur I sent Valerian and some of his army to the city of Bishapur or Gundishapur where they lived in relatively good conditions. Shapur used the remaining soldiers in engineering and development plans. Band-e Kaisar (Caesar's dam) is one of the remnants of Roman engineering located near the ancient city of Susa. [16] In all the stone carvings on Naghshe-Rostam, in Iran, Valerian is represented holding hands with Shapur I, a sign of submission.[ citation needed ] According to the early Persian Muslim scholar Abu Hanifa Dinawari, Shapur settled the prisoners of war in Gundishapur and released Valerian, as promised, after the construction of Band-e Kaisar. [17]

It has been alleged that the account of Lactantius is coloured by his desire to establish that persecutors of the Christians died fitting deaths; [18] the story was repeated then and later by authors in the Roman Near East fiercely hostile to Persia. [19]

The joint rule of Valerian and Gallienus was threatened several times by usurpers. Nevertheless, Gallienus held the throne until his own assassination in 268 AD.[ citation needed ]


Family tree of Licinia gens

Aulus Egnatius Priscillianus
Quintus Egnatius Proculus
consul suffectus
Lucius Egnatius Victor
Egnatius Victor Marinianus
consul suffectus
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg
Roman Emperor
2.Cornelia Gallonia
Roman Emperor
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg
(1) Gallienus
Roman Emperor
Cornelia Salonina
(2) Valerianus Minor
consul suffectus
Claudius Gothicus
Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
Ulpia Severina
Valerian II
Publius Licinius Egnatius Marinianus
consul 268

Valerian appears in Harry Sidebottom's historical fiction series of novels Warrior of Rome.

He also appears in Anthony Hecht's poem "Behold the Lilies of the Field" in the collection The Hard Hours.

He is referenced in Evelyn Waugh's Helena: "Do you know what has happened to the Immortal Valerian?...They have him on show in Persia, stuffed."

See also

Related Research Articles

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The 250s decade ran from January 1, 250, to December 31, 259.

The 260s decade ran from January 1, 260, to December 31, 269.

260 Year

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Trebonianus Gallus Augustus

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Aemilianus Augustus

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Postumus Augustus of gaul, hispania and britannia

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Ingenuus Usurper of the Roman Empire

Ingenuus was a Roman military commander, the imperial legate in Pannonia, who became a usurper to the throne of the emperor Gallienus when he led a brief and unsuccessful revolt in the year 260. Appointed by Gallienus himself, Ingenuus served him well by repulsing a Sarmatian invasion and securing the Pannonian border, at least temporarily. Ingenuus had also been charged with the military education of Caesar Cornelius Licinius Valerianus, the young son of Emperor Gallienus, but after the boy's death in 258, his position became perilous.

Macrianus Major Usurper of the roman empire

Fulvius Macrianus, also called Macrianus Major, was a Roman usurper. He was one of Valerian's fiscal officers. More precisely, sources refer to him as being in charge of the whole state accounts or, in the language of a later age, as Count of the Treasury and the person in charge of markets and provisions. It seems almost certain that he was an Equestrian. The Historia Augusta claims that he was the foremost of Valerian's military commanders, but that is most likely a gross exaggeration, if not entirely fictitious.

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Titus Fulvius Junius Quietus was a Roman usurper against Roman Emperor Gallienus.

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Lucius Mussius Aemilianus was a Roman usurper.

Valerian II Caesar of the Roman Empire

Publius Licinius Cornelius Valerianus, also known as Valerian II, was the eldest son of Roman Emperor Gallienus and Augusta Cornelia Salonina who was of Greek origin and grandson of the Emperor Valerian who was of a noble and traditional senatorial family.

Publius may refer to:

Saloninus Augustus

Publius Licinius Cornelius Saloninus Valerianus was Roman Emperor in 260.

Licinius Valerianus was the son of the Roman Emperor Valerian and his second wife Cornelia Gallonia; his half-brother was Gallienus, whose mother Mariniana was the first wife of their father. Sometime between 253 and 264 AD he was made suffect consul, and was appointed ordinary consul in 265 AD. He died in the wake of his brother's assassination in 268; Joannes Zonaras reported that he was killed at Rome, whereas Eutropius and the Historia Augusta state that he was murdered at Mediolanum.

Publius Licinius Egnatius Marinianus was the third and youngest son of Roman Emperor Gallienus and Augusta Cornelia Salonina.

Valerianus is a Roman cognomen derived from Valerius.


  1. Valerian's full title at his death was IMPERATOR CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS VALERIANVS PIVS FELIX INVICTVS AVGVSTVS GERMANICVS MAXIMVS PONTIFEX MAXIMVS TRIBUNICIAE POTESTATIS VII IMPERATOR I CONSUL IV PATER PATRIAE, "Emperor Caesar Publius Licinus Valerianus, Patriotic, Favored, Unconquered Augustus, Conqueror of the Germans, Chief Priest, seven times Tribune, once Emperor, four times Consul, Father of the Fatherland".
  2. Bray, J. (1997). Gallienus: A study in reformist and sexual politics. Kent Town, S. Australia: Wakefield press. p. 20.
  3. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911.
  4. Zonaras, Ioannes. Epitome Historiarum. p. XII, 20.
  5. Christol, M. (1980). "A propos de la politique exterieure de Trebonien Galle". Revue Numismatique (6): 63–74.
  6. Overlaet, Bruno (2017). "ŠĀPUR I: ROCK RELIEFS". Encyclopaedia Iranica. The two emperors who are named are shown in the way they are described: Philip the Arab is kneeling, asking for peace, and Valerian is physically taken prisoner by Šāpur. Consequently, the relief must be made after 260 CE.
  7. Kia, Mehrdad (2016). The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 274. ISBN   978-1610693912. (...) while another figure, probably Philip the Arab, kneels, and the Sasanian king holds the ill-fated Emperor Valerian by his wrist.
  8. Corcoran, Simon (2006). "Before Constantine". In Lenski, Noel (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine. Cambridge University Press. p. 35. ISBN   978-0521521574. He recorded these deeds for posterity in both words and images at Naqsh-i Rustam and on the Ka'aba-i Zardušt near the ancient Achaemenid capital of Persepolis, preserving for us a vivid image of two Roman emperors, one kneeling (probably Philip the Arab, also defeated by Shapur) and the second (Valerian), uncrowned and held captive at the wrist by a gloriously mounted Persian king.
  9. Valerian
  10. W. H. C. Frend (1984). The Rise of Christianity. Fortress Press, Philadelphia. p. 326. ISBN   978-0800619312.
  11. 1 2 Moss 2013, p. 153.
  12. 1 2 Baudoin 2006, p. 19.
  13. Eutropius. Abridgement of Roman History. Translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853. (Book 9.7)
  14. 1 2 3 Touraj Daryaee "Sasanian Iran"
  15. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, v; Wickert, L., "Licinius (Egnatius) 84" in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie 13.1 (1926), 488–495; Parker, H., A History of the Roman World A.D. 138 to 337 (London, 1958), 170. From .
  16. Abdolhossein Zarinkoob "Ruzgaran: tarikh-i Iran az aghz ta saqut saltnat Pahlvi" pp. 195
  17. Abū Ḥanīfah Aḥmad ibn Dāvud Dīnavarī; Mahdavī Dāmghānī, Maḥmūd (2002). Akhbār al-ṭivāl (5th ed.). Tihrān: Nashr-i Nay. p. 73. ISBN   9789643120009 . Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  18. Meijer, Fik (2004). Emperors don't die in bed. New York: Routledge. ISBN   0-415-31202-7.
  19. Isaacs, Benjamin. The Near East under Roman Rule. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers. p. 440. ISBN   90-04-09989-1.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Gallienus
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Valerius Poplicola Balbinus Maximus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Gallienus
Succeeded by
Lucius Valerius Claudius Acilius Priscillianus Maximus,
Marcus Acilius Glabrio
Preceded by
Lucius Valerius Claudius Acilius Priscillianus Maximus,
Marcus Acilius Glabrio
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Gallienus
Succeeded by
Marcus Nummius Tuscus,
Mummius Bassus