Valentinian and Valens

Sun Dec 23 14:09:56 2007

“Si tuos amas, imperator optime, habes fratrem, si rem publicam, quaere quem vestias.”

“If you care more for your family promote your brother, if you care more for the people of the empire look carefully for the man who would make the best emperor.”

That was the response of Dagalaifus, commander of the cavalry, when Valentinian I consulted his military advisors on whom to chose as the co-emperor. Yet he still chose to promote his brother Valens.

Valentinian I had extensive military experience under three previous emperors. He was chosen by the military after the death of Jovian. Valentinian knew the empire needed a strong and skillful military commander to hold together the western frontier from many enemies. The Alamanni were threatening Gaul and Raetia, the Sarmatians and Quadi in Pannonia and the Picts, Saxons, Scots and Attacotti were on the move in Britain. Valentinian had the experience to defend the western half of the empire until his death in 375.

His brother Valens on the other hand was seven years younger and had only served in the protector domesticus, the household guard. Valens, with fewer threats and greater resources, still had great difficulty in the East. Procopius led a revolt against the emperor and had great success until he was betrayed by Agilo, who lead large defections of the army to Valens at Nacolia and brought an end to the rebellion. Valens’ war against the Persians was inconclusive and he led the Roman army to a disastrous defeat against the Goths at Adrianople in 378. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus described Valens as having “little skill in arts of either war or peace.”

Valentinian went against the wise consul of his advisor Dagalaifus when he chose nepotism over meritocracy. Knowing his younger and inexperienced brother was not up the challenges that faced the west; Valentinian chose to rule in the more challenging territory himself, which was better suited to his skills and abilities.


~ by severalfourmany on December 23, 2007.

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