previous next



The eldest son of Valentinian I., succeeding, after his father's death, A.D. 375, to a share of the Western Empire, having for his portion Gaul, Spain, and Britain. His brother, Valentinian II., then an infant under five years of age, had Italy, Illyricum, and Africa, under the guardianship, however, of Gratianus, who was therefore, in reality, ruler of all the West. His uncle Valens had the Empire of the East. Gratianus began his reign by punishing severely various prefects and other officers who had committed acts of oppression and cruelty during his father's reign. At the same time, through some insidious charges, Count Theodosius, father of Theodosius the Great, and one of the most illustrious men of his age, was beheaded at Carthage. In the year 378, Valens perished in the battle of Adrianople against the Goths, and Gratianus, who was hastening to his assistance, was hardly able to save Constantinople from falling into the hands of the enemy. In consequence of the death of his uncle, Gratianus, finding himself ruler of the whole Roman Empire during the minority of his brother Valentinian, called to him young Theodosius, who had distinguished himself in the Roman armies. Gratianus appointed him his colleague, a choice equally creditable to both and fortunate for the Empire, and gave him the provinces of the East. Gratianus now returned to Italy, but was obliged soon after to hasten to Illyricum to the assistance of Theodosius, and repelled the Goths, who were threatening Thrace. Thence he was forced to march to the banks of the Rhine, to fight the Alemanni and other barbarians. Having returned to Mediolanum in the year 381, he had to defend the frontiers of Italy from other tribes, who were advancing on the side of Rhaetia. Gratianus showed himself stern and unyielding towards the remains of the heathen worship. At Rome he overthrew the altar of Victory and confiscated the property attached to it, as well as all that which belonged to the other priests and the vestals. He also refused to assume the title and insignia of Pontifex Maximus, a dignity till then considered as annexed to that of emperor. These measures gave a final blow to the old worship of the Empire; and although the senators, who, for the most part, were still attached to it, sent him a deputation, at the head of which was Symmachus, they could not obtain any mitigation of his decrees. In the year 383, a certain Maximus revolted in Britain, and was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers, to whom he promised to re-establish the temples and the old religion of the Empire. He invaded Gaul, where he found numerous partisans. Gratianus advanced to meet him, but was forsaken by most of his troops, and obliged to hasten towards Italy. He was seized at Lugdunum, and put to death by the partisans of Maximus. He was little more than twenty-four years of age, and had reigned about eight years.


A usurper who assumed the imperial purple in Britain (A.D. 407), but was murdered by his troops in a few months. He was succeeded by Constantine. See Constantinus


, p. 405.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: