Valentinian III, Roman Emperor

views updated


Reigned 424 to 455; Caesar, Oct. 23, 424; Augustus, Oct. 23, 425; b. son of Constantius III in Ravenna, July 2, 419; assassinated, Rome, March 16, 455. His mother and regent, Galla Placidia (d. November 450), successfully played off the Roman generals Felix, Boniface, and Aetius against one another. In 437 Valentinian went to Constantinople to marry Eudoxia, daughter of theodosius ii. When he returned with his bride in 438, he brought the Theodosian Code to the West.

In 439 the Visigoths under Theodoric I defeated a Roman army near Toulouse and became sovereign. The Arian vandals, who with Donatist help (see donatism) sought to destroy Catholicism and Roman rule in Africa, captured Carthage and Mediterranean naval power in 439 and were recognized as sovereign in 442.

Despite the efforts of Valentinian's generals, the Romans withdrew from Britain in 442 and ties between Rome and the Church of St. patrick in Ireland were broken. Discontented coloni and slaves in Spain and Gaul rose against their masters c. 436 and again in 446. In 451 the huns under Attila invaded Gaul but were defeated by Aetius and the Visigoths, who returned to the status of foederati. When Attila died in 453 and Germanic troops again became available to the Empire, the value of Aetius declined and Valentinian assassinated him in the royal palace in Rome in September 454. The Emperor's campaign against Aetius's allies, the senatorial aristocracy, came to naught. He was killed on the Campus Martii by Aetius's cohorts.

Valentinian and his mother were probably influenced by Augustine's City of God, completed in 426, but their support of Pope leo i's claims of primacy favored also the survival of a Roman tradition and a Roman administration, in the person of bishops, in an empire coming under barbarian rule. The unfavorable picture of Valentinian derives from writings of senatorial aristocrats. The laws he issued were part of a conscientious but futile struggle against the corruption, described by salvian in 440, that was causing an enormous decline in imperial revenue. Valentinian was the last of the 91-year-old Theodosian dynasty, and after him no Western emperor reigned more than a few years or resided in Rome at any length.

Bibliography: w. ensslin, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der lkassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al (Stuttgart 1893) 7a.2 (1948) 223259. e. stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire, tr. j. r. palanque, 2 v. in 3 (Paris 194959) 1:472519. c. d. gordon, The Age of Attila (Ann Arbor 1961). v. a. sirago, Galla Placidia e la trasformazione politica dell'Occidente (Louvain 1961).

[e. p. colbert]

About this article

Valentinian III, Roman Emperor

Updated About content Print Article