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Valerian I - Roman Emperor 253-260 A.D. Biography & Certified Authentic Ancient Roman Coins for Sale
Origins and rise to power
Unlike the majority of the pretenders during the Crisis of the Third Centuryy, Valerian was of a noble and traditional senatorial family. Details of his early life are elusive, but for his marriage to Egnatia Mariniana, who gave him two sons: later emperor Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus and Valerianus Minor.
In 238 he was princeps senatus, and Gordian I negotiated through him for Senatorial acknowledgement for his claim as emperor. In 251, when Decius revived the censorship with legislative and executive powers so extensive that it practically embraced the civil authority of the emperor, Valerian was chosen censor by the Senate, though he declined to accept the post. Under Decius he was nominated governor of the Rhine provinces of Noricum and Raetia and retained the confidence of his successor, Trebonianus Gallus, who asked him for reinforcements to quell the rebellion of Aemilianus
Rule and fall
Valerian's first act as emperor was to make his son Gallienus his colleague. In the beginning of his reign the affairs in Europe went from bad to worse and the whole West fell into disorder. In the East, Antioch had fallen into the hands of a Sassanid vassal, Armenia was occupied by Shapur I (Sapor). Valerian and Gallienus split the problems of the empire between the two, with the son taking the West and the father heading East to face the Persian threat.
By 257, Valerian had already recovered Antioch and returned the province of Syria to Roman control but in the following year, the Goths ravaged Asia Minor. Later in 259, he moved to Edessa, but an outbreak of plague killed a critical number of legionaries, weakening the Roman position in Edessa which was then besieged by the Persians. At the beginning of 260, Valerian was defeated in the Battle of Edessa and he arranged a meeting with Shapur to negotiate a peace settlement. The ceasefire was betrayed by Shapur who seized him and held him prisoner for the remainder of his life. Valerian's capture was a humiliating defeat for the Romans.
Gibbon, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire describes Valerian's fate:
Valerian's massacre of 258
Death in captivity
An early Christian source, Lactantius, maintained that for some time prior to his death Valerian was subjected to the greatest insults by his captors, such as being used as a human footstool by Shapur when mounting his horse. According to this version of events, after a long period of such treatment Valerian offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, according to one version, Shapur was said to have forced Valerian to swallow molten gold (the other version of his death is almost the same but it says that Valerian was killed by being flayed alive) and then had the unfortunate Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. It was further alleged by Lactantius that it was only after a later Persian defeat against Rome that his skin was given a cremation and burial. The role of a Chinese prince held hostage by Shapur I, in the events following the death of Valerian has been frequently debated by historians, without reaching any definitive conclusion.
Some modern scholars believe that, contrary to Lactantius' account, Shapur I sent Valerian and some of his army to the city of Bishapur where they lived in relatively good condition. Shapur used the remaining soldiers in engineering and development plans. Band-e Kaisar (Caesar's dam) is one of the remnants of Roman engineering located near the ancient city of Susa. In all the stone carvings on Naghshe-Rostam, in Iran, Valerian is respected by holding hands with Shapur I, in sign of submission.
It is generally supposed that some of Lactantius' account is motivated by his desire to establish that persecutors of the Christians died fitting deaths; the story was repeated then and later by authors in the Roman Near East "fiercely hostile" to Persia.
Other modern scholars tend to give at least some credence to Lactantius' account.
Valerian and Gallienus' joint rule was threatened several times by usurpers. Despite several usurpation attempts, Gallienus secured the throne until his own assassination in 268.
Owing to imperfect and often contradictory sources, the chronology and details of this reign are very uncertain..
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