Gratian, Roman Emperor
GRATIAN, ROMAN EMPEROR
367 to 383; b. Sirmium, 359; d. (assassinated) Lyons, Aug. 25, 383. Flavius Gratianus, to use his Latin name, son of valentinian i, was proclaimed Augustus at Amiens in 367 and, on the sudden death of his father in 375, became emperor in the western half of the empire in his 16th year. His uncle Valens continued to rule in the East. He had to share his own rule, in theory, with his four-year-old half brother Valentinian II, who had been proclaimed Augustus at Aquincum a few days after his father's death. However, during Gratian's reign, Valentinian II continued to occupy a subordinate position. From 369 the famous rhetor Ausonius served as Gratian's tutor and advisor. As a boy and as emperor, Gratian spent most of his life at Treves. Under the influence of Ausonius he adopted a policy of mildness, as compared with the harsh government of his father, and in his first years as emperor he issued a series of laws that in part remedied abuses and in part annulled or mitigated the actions that had been taken by Valentinian against his opponents. In 377 he won an important victory over the Alamanni. He was on his way to Sirmium when he heard the news of the disastrous defeat and the death of Emperor valens at Adrianople (Aug. 9, 378). Unable to rule both East and West, Gratian made General Theodosius—whose father had been executed by Valentinian—Augustus and emperor of the East (Jan. 19, 379). In the domestic sphere, Theodosius I adopted a rigorous policy of suppression against pagans and heretics, making Christianity the official religion of the state. It is precisely from this time that Gratian also adopted a similar policy under the influence of new advisors, namely, Theodosius, Pope damasus, and especially St. Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan. In 379 (rather than in 375 or 382) he was the first emperor to reject the title of Pontifex Maximus, and in 382 he abolished public support for the pagan priesthoods, confiscated temple properties, and had the altar of victory removed from the Senate house in Rome, a decision that he refused to change despite the formal protest made by symmachus, the leader of the pagan party. In 379 and 380 he issued strong laws against heresy. Early in 383, Magnus Maximus was proclaimed Augustus by his troops in Britain and crossed into Gaul. Gratian hastened from Italy to suppress the revolt, but most of his own troops abandoned him and he was assassinated at Lyons as he was fleeing southward from Paris. Gratian was a young man of high moral character, but he lacked the qualities of leadership, above all, the power of independent, firm, and prompt decision, that were required of an emperor in that turbulent age.
See Also: ambrose, st.; theodosius i.
Bibliography: o. seeck, Paulys Realencyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart 1893) 7.2 (1912) 1831–39. j. wordsworth, A Dictionary of Christian Biography (London 1877–87) 2:721–727, old but still valuable. e. stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire (Paris 1949–59) 1:172–202, and "Notes" 507–526. g. bardy and j. r. palanque, in Histoire de ľéglise depuis les origines jusqu'á nos jours (Paris 1935–) 3:276–296, 513–524. m. fortina, L'imperatore Graziano (Turin 1955).
[m. r. p. mc guire]