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Gratian

(18 April or 23 May 359 - 25 August 383 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Gratian
Name

Flavius Gratianus

Ruled as

Flavius Gratianus Augustus

Reign

25 February 364 – 18 November 375 CE

Born

18 August or 23 May 359 CE

Died

25 August 383 CE

Coin of Gratian

Gratian (Flavius ​​Gratianus) was born on April 18 or May 23, 359 CE in Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia). Gratian was a Roman emperor from 367 until his death in 383 CE. He was the eldest son of Valentinian I and Marina Severus.

Gratian’s main teacher was Auzonius, who appreciated his charge especially for the tolerance that he instilled in him from an early age. Gratian, despite his young age, also accompanied his militant father in military campaigns on the Rhine and Danube.

His first wife was Flavia Maxima Constantia, daughter of Constantius II. His second wife was Laeta. He had no children from both relationships.

Reign

On August 24, 367 CE, Gratian received the title Augustus from his father. After his unexpected death, he seized power over the western part of the Empire on November 17, 375 CE. Unexpectedly, six days later, his stepbrother, Valentinian II, was declared emperor at the age of 4 by the ambitious ministers of Valentinian I. 16-year-old Gratian generously recognized his rights to power, granting him Africa, Illyria and Italy, and leaving Gaul and Britain to himself, where there were fierce battles against the barbarians. Although there were officially 3 rulers in the empire (in the east, Valens – brother of Valentinian I, and in the west the aforementioned brothers), de facto power and control were exercised only by Valens and Gratian.

In making his decisions, Gratian was based mainly on the experience of his father’s former associates, including King of the Franks Mallobaudes. Thanks to their military knowledge, he defeated one of the invading Alaman tribes in May 378 at the Battle of Argentovaria, and then set off up the Rhine to the lands of the enemy. The success of Gratian’s campaign was complete. The Roman army blocked the Alaman army and forced a truce; many young barbarians ended up in Roman captivity and the army.

On August 9, 378 CE, Roman troops, under the command of Valens, were crushed by the Goths at Adrianople. Valens, despite Gratian’s promise to support him, decided to deal with the enemy alone. It ended in a catastrophe, at the time comparable to the disaster at Cannae. 40,000 people died, and the emperor himself among them. Gratian, realizing the hopelessness of the situation when the Goths were prowling the territory of the Empire far from the Danube, and Gaul was exposed to another German invasion, was forced to withdraw and appoint a co-governor who would stabilize the situation in the east with his strong character. To this end, on January 19, 379 CE, he appointed Theodosius, the son of a former and famous commander of the same name, as ruler in the Eastern Empire. As it turned out, this decision was salutary, because in less than four years, Emperor Theodosius I, using the divisions among the Goths, led to their subjugation and consolidation of the alliance.

Gratian stood out for his vigour and effectiveness in his rule. He was respected by the army and the Roman people. However, with the death or removal of more trusted people from power, Gratian began to lose his good opinion, and his decisions were incomprehensible. Ausonius, in particular, lost his influence on his decisions; displaced by the orthodox, Christian sermons of Archbishop Ambrose. It was at his instigation that the ancient Roman beliefs were limited, and the Nicene Christianity became the state religion (the so-called Thessalonian Edict of 380 CE); it was also forbidden to make claims of Arianism and other Christian sects that were considered heresy. Gratian was also the first ruler of Rome to refuse to accept the office of high priest Pontifex Maximus and to have the Victoria altar removed from the Senate again, despite protests from senators.

On top of everything, the young emperor ceased to be interested in the affairs of the state, in favour of hunting and the military art of the Scythians. Gratian even established a Scythian detachment of archers with his Imperial Guard, which was unacceptable even to Germanic troops.

Death

The flashpoint was the appearance of the emperor in the Scythian dress. One of the Roman leaders in Britain, Magnus Maximus, decided to take advantage of the situation and seize power. He set out with a large army for Gaul, where, however, he met no resistance; the soldiers and the command left Gratian, who had to flee from Lutetia (Paris) to Lugdunum (Lyon). For a bribe, he was handed over to one of Maximus’ chieftains – Adragantius – and killed on August 25, 383 CE.

Sources
  • GIbbon Edward, Upadek cesarstwa rzymskiego na zachodzie, Warszawa 2020
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Photo of sculpture: SJuergen | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
  • Photo of coin: Rasiel Suarez | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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