1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Valens

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VALENS, East Roman emperor from 364 to 378, owed his elevation in the thirty-sixth year of his age to his brother Valentinian, who chose him to be his associate in the empire, of which a formal division into East and West was now once for all definitively arranged (see Valentinian I.). Valens had been attached to Julian’s bodyguard, but he did not inherit the military ability of his father, Gratian of Pannonia, who had risen from the ranks to a high position. A revolt headed by Procopius in the second year of his reign, and backed up by the public opinion of Constantinople and the sympathy of the Gothic princes and chiefs on the Danube, seemed so alarming to him that he thought of negotiation; but in the following year the revolt collapsed before the firmness of his ministers and generals. In the year 366 Valens at one stroke reduced the taxes of the empire by one-fourth, a very popular measure, though one of questionable policy in the face of the threatening attitude of the Goths on the lower Danube. Before venturing on a campaign against them, Valens received baptism from Eudoxus, the bishop of Constantinople and the leader of the Arian party. After some small successes over the Goths, won by his generals (367–9), Valens concluded a peace with them, which lasted six years, on a general understanding that the Danube was to be the boundary between Goths and Romans. On his return to Constantinople in 369–70 Valens began to persecute his orthodox and Catholic subjects, but he lacked the energy to carry out his edicts rigorously.

In the years 371 to 377 Valens was in Asia Minor, most of the time at the Syrian Antioch. Though anxious to avoid an Eastern war, because of danger nearer home from the restless- ness of the Goths, he was compelled to take the field against Shapur II. who had invaded and occupied Armenia. It seems that Valens[1] crossed the Euphrates in 373, and in Mesopotamia his troops drove back the king of Persia to the farther bank of the Tigris. But the Roman success was by no means decisive, and no definite understanding as to boundaries was come to with Persia. Valens returned to Antioch, where in the winter of 373–4 he instituted a persecution of magicians and other people whom he foolishly believed to imperil his life. Between 374 and 377 we read of grievous complaints of injustice and extortion perpetrated under legal forms, the result probably of the recent panic, and pointing to an increasing weakness and timidity at headquarters. Although preparations were made for following up the war with Persia and securing the frontier, a truce was patched up, rather to the disadvantage of the empire, Armenia and the adjacent country being half conquered and annexed by Shapur. The armies of Rome, in fact, were wanted in another quarter. The Huns, of whom we now hear for the first time, were beginning in 376 to press the Goths from the north, and the latter asked leave of the emperor to cross the Danube into Roman territory. This they were allowed to do, on the condition that they came unarmed, and their children were transported to Asia as hostages. The conditions, however, were not observed by the imperial generals, who for their own profit forced the new settlers to buy food at famine prices. Accordingly, the enraged Goths, under their chief Fritigern, streamed across the Balkans into Thrace and the country round Adrianople, plundering, burning and slaughtering as they went. They were driven back for a time, but returned in the spring of 378 in greater force, with a contingent of Huns and Alans; and again, after some repulses, they penetrated to the neighbourhood of Adrianople. Valens, who had now returned to Constantinople, left the capital in May 378 with a strong and well-officered army. Without awaiting the arrival of his nephew Gratian, emperor of the West, who had just won a great victory over one of the barbarous tribes of Germany in Alsace, Valens attacked the enemy at once, although his troops had to go into action heated and fatigued by a long march on a sultry August day. The battle, which was fought on confined ground in a valley, was decided by a cavalry charge of the Alans and Sarmatians, which threw the Roman infantry into confusion and hemmed it in so closely that the men could scarcely draw their swords. The slaughter, which continued till the complete destruction of the Roman army, was one of the greatest recorded in antiquity. Valens either perished on the field, or, as some said, in a cottage fired by the enemy. From the battle of Adrianople the Goths permanently established themselves south of the Danube.

See Ammianus Marcellinus, bks. 26–31 ; E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ed. Bury, London, 1896), chs. 25–26; W. Judeich in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (1891), pp. 1–21.

  1. Amm. Marc. xxix. 1 ; the narrative is brief and not very clear.