“I am a little shit but I am Roman little shit”
Shortness and ability are not mutually exclusive - unless your name happened to be Valens (Valens Semiarse Tiddlerus) (323 A.D. Six inches - 378 A.D). Roman Emperor in the East whilst his brother Valentinian I ran the imperial business in the West, Valens was just basically not very good. He would have irritated his friends if had any and had problems forming lasting relations with women or Nicene Creed flavoured Christianity. Valens as writers of the time said ‘just got in the bloody way’ so when he was slain at the wrong end of a battle with the Goths, no one cried but plenty died.
Valens grew up with two handicaps. One was he didn’t really grow up and secondly, he had to live with second hand toga of a name ‘Valens’ rather than anything long and imperial sounding like Valentinian. He was aware of his Roman history. Emperor Constantine the Great’s youngest son Constans had likewise a sawn-off Roman handle of a name and he had been a shit when emperor so Valens saw that he had been fated to be bad one. He wasn’t to disappoint.
Imperial glory did seem a remote honour when Valens was growing up. His father Gratian had set up a greeting card company in Rome and had become friends of Constantine and Constantius II. From the latter, Valens picked up his Arian Christian views, the theological idea that Jesus was human and therefore ate with the disciples, flirted with Mary Magedelene and felt personal pain every week when his numbers failed to become the winning line in the Rome Lottery. It wasn’t a view of Christianity he shared with Valentinian but for the latter blood was thicker than theology as he was shortly to show. And it was also a classic way of ‘hedging your bets’ with the official brand of Christian worship switching from Arian to Nicene Catholic with each new imperial ruler.
Valens only known talent at this time was to play a guitar and croon out some songs. It was about his only redeemable habit and he could dance a bit but none of this gave Valens any satisfaction. Things were about to change.
Smoke a Bong:The Joint Emperors
If things had remained thus, Valens would have spent his day writing messages inside greetings cards but an opportunity for travel arose when a desperate emperor Julian the Apostate dragooned any Romans occupied in useless jobs to join the army or get busted down to slavery. Valentinian and Valens signed on and befriended a jolly fat general called Jovian.
Barely literate but a Christian, Jovian was proclaimed emperor when Julian died with a spear in his guts. Valentinian and Valens attempted to improve Jovian's image from a joker to a statesman but perhaps the stress was too much because he was dead in a year. The Roman army now chose Valentinian as emperor but seeing the size of his in-tray, Valentinian chose Valens as his imperial co-emperor. They unfurled a map and drew a red line through it. Valentinian took the Western half with Rome in the belief it had a glorious future. Valens got the East and Constantinople which meant he had to deal with the Sassanid Persian empire. The brothers parted and never saw each other again. So the Roman world was divided like a huge multi-national company, headquarters in different cities but on the surface still one political entity. At least for now.
Valens arrived in Constantinople, still a Latino at heart and unhappy he had to swop a guitar for a bouziki. Nor was the city then much a place to look compared to Rome, it was still a bit of a building site and had foul water to drink. Valens ordered an aqueduct to be built and though some complained about it 'spoiling the view', houses closest to it saw their property prices shoot up. But Valens got no thanks for that.
The emperor’s unwillingness to be personally likeable led to a rebellion led by a general called Procopius a cousin of Julian the Apostate. Since the memory of Constantius II was still cherished by some in the city, Procopius located the dowager empress Faustina and daughter Flavia Maxima Constantia living on food stamps. Procopius married Faustina and announced the restoration of the Constantinian dynasty.
Valens learnt of the rebellion whilst out on the Eastern frontier playing military hide and seek with the Persians. Not wishing to show he was panicking (or picnicking), Valens sent out an army to put down the rebels but they deserted to the other side. Now Valens sent an urgent messenger to his brother Valentinian to point out the threat of Procopius to both of their imperial authority. However, Valentinian was in one of his odd moods and bizarrely suggested Valens humour the rebels with some awful punned cards and chocolates. Anyway he was going to be away on the Rhine chasing dirty Franks so Valens had to sort his half of the Roman empire on his own.
Valens’ friends (ones he paid to keep him company in the palace) suggested that he drop his Arianism and become a Catholic to get the church on side. Valens refused. It seemed only a matter of time before ‘the short one’ would be hunted down but Valens got a welcome break. The Persians had their own problems and handed over a forfeit in gold to Valens. The little Emperor had won against Rome’s most formidable military foe, a victory that eluded Jovian and Julian earlier.
Procopius had presented himself as the Eastern Empire’s saviour but it turned out that he had been involved in some sharp financial dealings earlier like fixing chariot races and selling off redundant pagan temples to his friends. As Procopius’s popularity began to evaporate, Faustina headed west with her daughter to avoid Valens' revenge. Without his trophy wife, Procopius’s soldiers decided that perhaps Valens wasn’t that bad after all and handed over the usurper to Valens. Considering all the inconvenience Procopius had caused Valens, it was a swift execution. Valens sent the head to Valentinian with a note placed in the mouth that read ‘Done This All By My Big Self’. For the first time, Valens had solved a crisis without his brother’s help.
Valen’s success in regaining his throne naturally increased his own self regard. Nor had he forgotten the church’s prompt support of his rival. So Valens like Constantius II before made Arianism the official christian theology. It got him a sheaf of stinky reviews in the West but Valens didn’t care. He wanted to prove his military skills again and now that East was pacified, he would take on the Barbarians north of the Danube frontier. It would be also a way of proving to his brother that he could duff up the Germanic tribes too.
Valens move West was cautiously welcomed by his brother Valentinian but the plan for a family re-union were ended when Valentinian dropped down dead in a game of puns and doggerel with barbarians. This could have meant a reunion of the Roman empire but Valentinian had already decided to hand over his half of the business to his sons Gratian and Valentinian II Valens was left out, receiving no extra rewards. It was another bitter pill Valens would add to his brimming bottle.
It was around about this time that Valens received a delegation of Goths asking if they could park their caravans in the Roman Empire whilst they recovered from a thorough hiding from The Huns. This was first time the empire had seen the Goths for over a century. To Valens they looked pathetic, arrow fodder. All were skinny, dressed in black with red toenails and faces powdered white. Valens offered a harsh deal. Join the Roman army or piss off back across the Danube. The Goths chose instead to spread their social awkwardness further alone the Roman frontier, endangering both Valens’ lands and those of his two nephews.
Battle of Adrianople
Leaving his 10 year old brother Valentinian II behind in Rome, Gratian suggested a joint venture with his grouchy uncle to go on a Goth skull crushing expedition. But Valens was impatient and unconvinced that the Goths would actually face up to a fully mobilsed Roman army. So he changed the date of the rendevous with Gratian and marched out against the Goths alone.
It didn’t take long for Valens to find the Goths, their general gloomy demeanour left an air of depression that was easy to follow. In a large field near Adrianople, the Romans came across the Goths encamped and listening to their music with dull disinterest. It would be massacre thought Valens but his guides had underestimated the numbers of Goths mooching around in the woods. Valens and his army had were surrounded.
The battle was long but there was no escape for the Romans. Barely a few got past the closing net, the rest were cut down with Valens. He was one of the last to die, his short stature escaping everyone’s notice until nearly the end when a large fat Goth girl, weighed down by her make-up and hair extensions sat on Valens and squashed him like a tomato.
Following the battle, The Goths headed south to Greece and celebrate by looting it. They took their trophies with them (clean clothing and toiletries) and as much armour they could carry. A few days later Gratian’s army arrived to witness the scene. Valens’s body was eventually discovered, stuffed into a tiny bucket. Gratian said a few words and buried his uncle in that state on the battlefield. Since there were no other suitable family members to take over from Valens, Gratian eventually selected one of his generals, Theodosius as the CEO of the Roman Empire (Eastern HQ) until he could up with a better candidate.
The defeat of a Roman army by mob of Goths was later considered to be so shameful to the reputation of the Roman Empire that subsequent historians blamed Valens alone for the misfortune. This now seems a bit strange now as Roman armies had been beaten before and emperors killed or captured (as what happened to Emperors Decius and Valerian) but that was ‘’before’’ Rome had embraced Christianity. In other words losing a battle or a war wasn’t an accident but an example of God taking umbrage at impiety or being the 'wrong type of Christian'. And from now on it would be the 'right type' of Christians who would be recording events. Valens' reputation therefore got a mighty rubbishing but on balance, he did deserve it.
- How short Valens really was remains a hot topic in Roman historical discussion groups. Some say he was really a dwarf but this is unlikely.
- Valentinian II was shorter than Valens. Not too hard to do when he was only five years old when he became emperor.
Theodosius the Great (in the East)