Roman emperor, A. D. 253-260. P. Licinius
Valerianus, whose father's name was Valerius, traced his descent from an ancient and noble stock.
After passing through various grades in the service of the state, he had risen to the highest honours at least as early as A. D. 237, for we find him styled a consular when despatched a year later by the Gordians to Rome. Decius having determined to revive the censorship, and having called upon the senate to name the individual most worthy of such an office, demanding the union of the most spotless integrity with the most sound discretion, the whole assembly with one voice fixed upon Valerian eagerly, extolling his accomplishments and worth.
This singular unanimity, and the tone of hyperbolical compliment in which the choice was announced, must be received either as a proof of the surpassing merit of the personage thus distinguished, or as an indication that the emperor, although he ostensibly left the election open, had contrived beforehand to make known his own sentiments and wishes.
The untimely fate of Decius saved the regulator of public morals from the embarrassment which must have attended the discharge of difficult and invidious duties, while at the same time he was admitted to the full confidence of Gallus, by whom he was employed to quell the rebellion of Aemilianus, and recall the legions of Pannonia and Moesia to their allegiance. While an army was forming in Noricum and Rhaetia, the rapid movements of the usurper and the murder of the prince completely changed the aspect of affairs, and Valerian, who had taken up arms to support the interests of another, now employed them to advance his own.
The sudden death, whether caused by disease or treachery, of his rival, whom he found encamped near Spoleto, prevented a hostile encounter. Valerian was chosen (A. D. 254) to fill the vacant throne, not, says the Augustan historians, by the rude clamours of a camp, nor by the disorderly shouts of a popular assembly, but in right of his merits, and, as it were, by the unanimous voice of the whole world.
The new sovereign having assumed his eldest son Gallienus as an associate in the purple, prepared to repel, as best he might, the barbarian hosts which, gathering confidence from the increasing weakness of the Roman dominion, were pressing forwards more and more fiercely on the various frontiers.
But although the Franks were ravaging Gaul and Spain, although the Alemanni were making repeated descents upon the provinces of the Upper Danube, and threatening Italy itself, although the Goths were loading their boat fleets with the plunder of Asia and of Greece, yet the dismemberment of the empire seemed most imminent in Syria. Scarcely had Ardeschir Babegan, by his crowning victory in Khorasan, overthrown the dynasty of the Arsacidae, and revived the ancient supremacy of Persia, when he vowed that he would drive the Western usurpers from the regions once swayed by his ancestors. His schemes were baffled by the energy and valour of Severus, but the haughty and ambitious Sapor having at length succeeded in subjugating Armenia, the ally and great outwork of the Roman power, thought that the time had now arrived for realising the mighty projects of his sire. Having driven the garrisons from the strongholds on the left bank of the Tigris, he overran Mesopotamia, then crossing the Euphrates, rushed like a torrent upon Syria, and bearing down all resistance, stormed Antioch, the metropolis of the East.
At this juncture Valerian assumed the command of the legions in person, and for a time his measures were both vigorous and successful. Antioch was recovered, the usurper Cyriades [CYRIADES] was slain, and Sapor was compelled to fall back behind the Euphrates ; but the emperor, flushed by his good fortune, while his faculties were perhaps impaired by age, followed too rashly.
He found himself, like a second Crassus, surrounded, in the vicinity of Edessa, by the countless horsemen of his active foe ; he was entrapped into a conference, taken prisoner, and passed the remainder of his life in captivity subjected to every insult which Oriental cruelty could devise.
After death his skin was stuffed and long preserved as a trophy in the chief temple of the nation.
Although no doubts exist with regard to the leading facts connected with the career of Valerian and his miserable fate, yet so imperfect, confused, and contradictory are the records of this period, that it is impossible to arrange the events in regular order, or to speak with any certainty of the details. We should have imagined that little difficulty could have been found in fixing the precise date of the capture and sack of Antioch, the destruction of its edifices, and the massacre of its population, a catastrophe which must have caused a profound sensation throughout the civilised world, yet we cannot decide whether these things happened during the reign of Gallus, of Valerian, or of Gallienus.
In like manner it is hard to decide in what year Valerian was made prisoner, although the weight of evidence is in favour of A. D. 260. (Trebell. Poll. Frag. Vit. Valerian. ;
Aurel. Vict. de Caes.
xxxii.; Eutrop. 9.6
; Amm. Marc. 23.5
; Zosim. 1.27, foll. 3.32; Zonar. 12.23
; Eckhel, vol. vii. p. 387.)