|The "Colossus of Barletta" which may |
be a likeness of Valentinian I.
Jovian had died suddenly after a reign of merely eight months, having successfully extricated the beleaguered army of Julian the Apostate from Persia. Jovian's death was somewhat mysterious--some attributed it to over-eating, others to sleeping a damp room recently plastered with "unslaked lime."
Valentinian was proclaimed emperor by the army. A brief portrait of his life before ascending to the throne may be found in Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History, as follows:
He was a good man and capable of holding the reins of the empire. He had not long returned from banishment, for it is said that Julian, immediately on his accession to the empire, erased the name of Valentinian from the Jovian legions, as they were called, and condemned him to perpetual banishment, under the pretext that he had failed in his duty of leading out the soldiers under his command against the enemy.
The true reason of his condemnation, however, was the following: When Julian was in Gaul, he went one day to a temple to offer incense. Valentinian accompanied him, according to an ancient Roman law, which still prevails, and which enacted that the leader of the Jovians and the Herculeans (that is to say, the legions of soldiers who have received this appellation in honor of Jupiter and of Hercules) should always attend the emperor as his bodyguard. When they were about to enter the temple, the priest, in accordance with the pagan custom, sprinkled water upon them with the branch of a tree. A drop fell upon the robe of Valentinian. He scarcely could restrain himself, for he was a Christian, and he rebuked his asperser. It is even said that he cut off, in view of the emperor, the portion of the garment on which the water had fallen, and flung it from him.
From that moment Julian entertained inimical feelings against him, and soon after banished him to Melitine in Armenia, under the plea of misconduct in military affairs, for he would not have religion regarded as the cause of the decree, lest Valentinian should be accounted a martyr or a confessor....
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As soon as Jovian succeeded to the throne, Valentinian was recalled from banishment to Nicæa, but the death of the emperor in the meantime took place, and Valentinian, by the unanimous consent of the troops and those who held the chief positions in the government, was appointed his successor. When he was invested with the symbols of imperial power, the soldiers cried out that it was necessary to elect some one to share the burden of government. To this proposition, Valentinian made the following reply:
"It depended on you alone, O soldiers, to proclaim me emperor; but now that you have elected me, it depends not upon you, but upon me, to perform what you demand. Remain quiet, as subjects ought to do, and leave me to act as an emperor in attending to the public affairs."
[Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 6.]Valentinian would go on to have a successful reign, stabilizing the frontiers in the West, while devolving power in the East upon his brother, Valens. With Valentinian's death in AD 375, things began falling apart very rapidly for both halves of the empire.