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Aureus Valerians, on the reverse the goddess Felicitas .

Publius Licinius Valerianus (German for short Valerian ; † after 260 in Gundischapur ) was Roman emperor from 253 to 260 .

As emperor he tried to stabilize the borders. Inside, he initiated a persecution of Christians . His co-emperor was his son Gallienus , who assumed sole rule after the capture of Valerian in 260 by the Sāsānids .


Rise to the emperor

Almost nothing is known about Valerian's childhood and youth. He was probably born in the 190s; whether he came from a respected senatorial family, as the sources suggest, is not entirely certain. He was married to Egnatia Mariniana and had two sons, one of whom Gallienus would later support Valerian as co-emperor. Valerian can be found for the first time in the sources in the six-emperor year 238 as consular and princeps senatus . Apparently he led the negotiations on the recognition of Gordian I as emperor for the Senate . From this it can be concluded that Valerian must have enjoyed a high reputation in the Senate - if the note from the (often unreliable) Historia Augusta is correct.

Valerian witnessed the fall of the Severan imperial family and also the subsequent period, in which the Roman Empire plunged into a deep crisis, which is known as the Imperial Crisis of the 3rd Century . However, in modern research, the extent of the symptoms of crisis and their evaluation is controversial. Even if the judgment of the older ancient historical research was probably exaggerated, it cannot be denied that the foreign policy situation in the 1950s was extremely problematic. In addition to the threat from Germanic tribes on the Rhine and Danube, the neo-Persian Sāsānid Empire had formed on the eastern border of Rome , which enclosed Iran and parts of Mesopotamia. The armored Persian riders in particular had proven to be on a par with the Romans. Meanwhile, there were repeated usurpations within the empire , carried out by the large army units. The fact that the emperors of this time are summarized under the term soldier emperor is in part simplistic, but in essence it is entirely correct.

The year 253 became a fateful year for Valerian: Valerian administered the provinces of Raetia and Noricum at that time . Then Aemilianus rose against the incumbent Emperor Trebonianus Gallus in Italy . This then asked Valerian to lead troops to his support in Italy. When Valerian arrived in Italy, however, Aemilianus had already won. Valerian's soldiers then made their general emperor. The two armies faced each other in the Spoleto area in September / October 253, but Aemilianus was murdered by his own soldiers before fighting could start. These ran over to Valerian, whom they apparently considered the more suitable candidate. After the rival Silbannacus had also been eliminated, Valerian was able to take control of the empire unhindered; he was confirmed as emperor by the senate in Rome.

Domestic measures

Sesterz Valerians
Antoninian of Valerianus
Back of the Antoninian: Sol with whip and the inscription ORIENS AVGG stand for the common rule of Valerian and Gallienus over the east

Little is known about Valerian's relationship with the Roman Senate. But by this time senators had long since ceased to play an important role in government practice. In Rome itself, however, the withdrawal of the Praetorian Guard and the absence of the Emperor, who spent almost all of the time on campaigns, most likely disturbed the balance between Senate, people, Emperor and Guard. Valerian tried to form a good relationship, and he also promoted the knighthood. The economic, especially financial problems obviously forced Valerian to reduce the silver content of the coins. The image of the god Sol appears more on coins , otherwise Valerian seems to have worshiped the god Apollo and the goddess Diana.

The foreign policy situation (see the following section) also prompted the emperor to appoint co-emperors in order to ensure a more efficient exercise of rule. Valerian and Gallienus therefore divided their area of ​​responsibility regionally, Gallienus was probably raised as co-emperor with equal rights in the summer of 253. He was assigned the west, while Valerian took care of the east. In the autumn of 256 Valerian junior , the eldest son of Gallienus and a grandson of Valerian, was raised to the rank of lower emperor (Caesar) . After his early death, Saloninus , another son of Gallienus, succeeded him in 258 . On January 1, 257, Valerian and Gallienus took over the consulate in Rome.

During Valerian's reign there was also persecution of Christians , although the emperor was tolerant at the beginning. In 257, however, Valerian tightened his religious policy with a general ban on gathering for Christians and calling on the Christian clergy to take an oath of allegiance to the gods. The following year, in a second edict, denial of the oath of allegiance was punished with the death penalty, and there were arrests and executions of bishops, whereby Valerian followed the policy of Emperor Decius . Apparently Valerian's measures were aimed at the top leadership of the church: Among others, Cyprian of Carthage , the bishop of Rome Sixtus II and Laurentius of Rome were martyred. The reasons for the so-called Valerian persecution have been discussed many times in research. Sometimes one suspected anti-Christian advisers of the emperor, sometimes financial interests. However, the emperor's actions were probably based on religious motives, such as the idea that Rome had to satisfy the traditional gods in order to guarantee the welfare of the empire. In addition, there was possibly also an anti-Christian atmosphere at court and / or in the population. But already Valerian's son Gallienus ended the persecution of Christians, which was probably carried out with varying degrees of intensity in the provinces. The persecution also revealed the relatively wide spread of Christianity as a result of missionary work.

In her account of Valerian's reign, Toni Glas was able to plausibly show that the emperor's two Christian edicts (the first measures of the Roman state that were specifically directed against the Christians as a group) were a result of the relatively strong spread of the Christian faith during this time . The size of the number of Christians worried the emperor. For this reason, Valerian deliberately acted against them as a group and not against individuals; his goal was to destroy the internal structures of the church. Thus the emperor failed, just as the subsequent persecution of Christians under Diocletian was unsuccessful. Christianity had established itself as a fixed group, albeit a (not entirely insignificant) minority.

Valerian's foreign policy until his capture

During Valerian's reign, almost all borders of the Roman Empire were threatened by enemies. Much speaks in favor of only now speaking of a real "Reich crisis". The situation required that the emperor himself had to be present at the focal points. In the northwest, Valerian left the warfare to his son and co-emperor Gallienus; he himself concentrated on defending against the Goths on the lower Danube, which also plagued the north coast of Asia Minor , and on defending against the Persians, who were causing unrest on the eastern border of the empire. There was also a question of fate in the province of Raetia in 253/254. After Valerian had withdrawn units from the Rhaetian Limes to secure the population for the fighting in the east , Germanic tribes apparently invaded the province at least in sections via the border fortifications. According to the latest studies, even the largest cavalry fort north of the Alps, Fort Aalen , 254 could have been threatened by these attacks.

Valerian's main goal was to secure Syria , where several important cities, including Antioch , had been sacked or threatened by Persian troops during a Persian invasion under Shapur I (probably in 253). Shortly after taking over the government, Valerian already stayed in the east once; it is possible that in this context the important fortress Dura-Europos came under Roman control one last time.

One of his first official acts was the suppression of the uprising under Uranius Antoninus , the priest-king of Emesa , who had repulsed the Persian attack on his city and, under the impression of this success, had made himself emperor. 256 the Goths again undertook raids on the north-west coast of Asia Minor, which is why Valerian was forced to gather troops in Cappadocia, while at the same time the Persians were advancing into Roman territory in the east. In 257 Valerian moved back to Syria. In the following years Valerian led various campaigns against the Persians, about the exact course of which little is known.

On the coins of the year 257, a victory was commemorated that was enough to earn him the title of innovator of the world . Shortly afterwards, the emperor lost his fortune in war: his army was defeated by the Persians at the Battle of Edessa in the early summer of 260. The report on the capture of Valerian - a unique event in Roman history - is passed on to us through the report of Shapur's deeds, the so-called res gestae divi Saporis ; The event was also recorded on several rock inscriptions:

In the third campaign, when we advanced against Karrhai and Edessa and besieged Karrhai and Edessa, Emperor Valerian marched against us, and with him there was an army of 70,000 men. And on the other side of Karrhai and Edessa, a great battle for Us took place with Emperor Valerian, and We captured Emperor Valerian with our own hands and the rest of them, the Praetorian prefects and senators and officers, all whoever were leaders of that army, all of them We took these with our hands and deported them to Persis.
Triumph of Schapur over Valerian, rock relief

According to Schapur's account, the army was defeated, Valerian himself and several high-ranking officers were taken prisoner. This representation is also confirmed by Western sources such as Eutropius and later historians such as the Byzantine Johannes Zonaras . In Zosimos , who wrote a pagan history of Rome around 500, a different version has been handed down: According to this, Valerian Schapur had asked for negotiations; Schapur had agreed to this if the Kaiser would appear in person. During the negotiations, the Persians would have captured the emperor. Zosimos, however, is often not very reliable, the difference between Eutropius and Aurelius Victor is more remarkable , since both otherwise followed a common model for the 3rd century, the so-called Enmann Imperial History , but apparently used different sources here. In any case, Valerian was never released from captivity, and neither were the captured Roman soldiers who were deported to Persia.

For Rome the capture of the emperor represented an immense humiliation, the Roman defense of the Orient practically collapsed; however, the Persians evidently could hardly profit from their victory. Valerian's son Gallienus now assumed sole rule , but could not prevent the Gallic Empire from forming in the west and the oasis and trading city of Palmyra from becoming politically stronger in the east . Apparently no attempt was made to free Valerian from captivity. According to the later Persian tradition, the Roman prisoners of war were used to erect a number of important engineering structures, including the Band-e Kaisar , which is also supported by the construction technology used there.


When Valerian finally died in Gundischapur (the exact date of death is unknown), his skin was reportedly peeled off . The Persians are said to have colored these with vermilion and hung them up in a temple as a blatant warning to Rome. The truth of this message in the case of Laktanz is controversial, as is the claim that Valerian previously served the Persian king as a kind of "living ladder" to mount his horse. On the one hand, early Christian authors saw the emperor's shameful end as an exemplary punishment from God for Valerian's crimes against Christians, which he had persecuted in the years 257 and 258. His fate was therefore painted in the darkest of colors. On the other hand, some researchers consider the reports of Valerian's end to be entirely accurate, since pagan authors also report on the Persian punishment of molting; in this respect the description can be correct.


In general, the sources regarding Valerian are not very favorable. Often the chronology of his reign can only be reconstructed from the coins and is accordingly problematic. The Historia Augusta is generally very unreliable and often enough contains pure inventions. Apart from that, various (very brief) breviaries are primarily available for narrative sources . In addition, there are notes in other late antique or Byzantine works, whereby Byzantine historians such as Georgios Synkellos and Johannes Zonaras were able to fall back on sources that have not survived to us. The representations by church historians like Laktanz are not objective due to Valerian's persecution of Christians for obvious reasons, but also contain relevant material. The works of Nicostratos of Trebizond and Philostratos of Athens , which dealt with this period, have not survived.


  • Andreas Goltz, Udo Hartmann : Valerianus and Gallienus . In: Klaus-Peter Johne (Ed.): The time of the soldiers' emperors. Crisis and transformation of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD (235–284) . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-05-004529-0 , pp. 223-295.
  • Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire . Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn u. a. 2014, ISBN 978-3-506-77888-8 ( review by H-Soz-Kult ; review by sehepunkte ).
  • Erich Kettenhofen : The year 7 of Emperor Valerian . In: Nāme-ye Irān-e Bāstān 1, 2001, ZDB -ID 2491207-4 , pp. 17-22.
  • Wolfgang Kuhoff : Rule and Imperial Crisis. The reign of the Roman emperors Valerianus and Gallienus (253–268 AD) . Studienverlag Brockmeyer, Bochum 1979, ISBN 3-88339-061-5 ( small notebooks of the coin collection at the Ruhr University Bochum 4/5).
  • David S. Potter: The Roman Empire at Bay. AD 180-395 . Routledge, London et al. 2004, ISBN 0-415-10058-5 ( Routledge history of the ancient world ).
  • Reinhard Selinger: The Mid-Third Century Persecutions of Decius and Valerian . 2nd revised edition. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2004, ISBN 3-631-52377-7 .
  • Karl Strobel : The Roman Empire in the 3rd Century. Model of a historical crisis? On the question of mental structures of broader strata of the population in the time from Marcus Aurelius to the end of the 3rd century AD . Steiner, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-515-05662-9 ( Historia Einzelschriften 75), (At the same time: Heidelberg, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1988–1989: Mundus ecce mutat et labitur? ).

Web links

Commons : Publius Licinius Valerianus  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. See Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, p. 63f.
  2. Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, p. 64.
  3. Historia Augusta, The Life of the Three Gordians 9.7f.
  4. Cf. alternatively the influential study by Andreas Alföldi : Studies on the history of the world crisis of the 3rd century AD . Darmstadt 1967. On the other hand, on Strobel, Imperium Romanum and KP Johne, Th. Gerhardt, U. Hartmann (eds.): Deleto paene imperio Romano. Transformation processes of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century and their reception in modern times . Stuttgart 2006, pointed out.
  5. On the events cf. among others Eutropius 9.7; Aurelius Victor 32; Zosimos 1.28f.
  6. Reg. for the relationship between Valerian and the Senate and the knighthood, see Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, p. 306ff.
  7. See Potter, Roman Empire , p. 254.
  8. Stephan Berrens: sun cult and empire of the Severans to Constantin I . Stuttgart 2004, pp. 74-76.
  9. This may have been preceded by a previous elevation to Caesar by the Senate, but this is not certain. The suggestive statement in several literary sources is very likely based on Enmann's imperial story , cf. general Michael Peachin: Gallienus Caesar (?) . In: ZPE 74 (1988), p. 219ff .; online (PDF; 117 kB).
  10. On Gallienus cf. general Michael Geiger: Gallienus. Frankfurt a. M. 2013; Lukas de Blois: The Policy of the Emperor Gallienus . Leiden 1976 (now partly out of date; he also assumes a survey on Augustus for the year 254: ibid., P. 23).
  11. ↑ In summary: Luce Piétri (ed.): The history of Christianity . Vol. 2, Freiburg i. Br. 1996, p. 168ff.
  12. See Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, p. 268ff.
  13. Markus Scholz : Two commercial buildings in the Limes fort Aalen . In: Andreas Thiel (Ed.): Research on the function of the Limes , volume 2. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-2117-6 , p. 119.
  14. On the fighting cf. summarizing Michael H. Dodgeon, Samuel NC Lieu: The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363) . Routledge, London and New York 1991, pp. 49ff.
  15. Ursula Kampmann: The coins of the Roman Empire. Regenstauf 2004, p. 299 (No. 88.57).
  16. On the date: Kettenhofen, Das Jahr 7 Kaiser Valerians , with information on the research discussion.
  17. SKZ, §§ 18–22, Greek version; Translation taken from: Engelbert Winter, Beate Dignas, Rome and the Persian Empire. Berlin 2001, p. 98. In order to ensure better readability, the supplementary and omission marks have been omitted.
  18. Eutropius 9.7.
  19. Zonaras 12:23.
  20. Zosimos 1,36,2; see. also Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus 32.5.
  21. ↑ In summary: Andreas Luther : Rome's Mesopotamian provinces after the capture of Valerian (260) . In: Josef Wiesehöfer , Philip Huyse (Ed.): Eran ud Aneran. Studies on the relations between the Sasanian Empire and the Mediterranean world. Stuttgart 2006, pp. 203-219, especially pp. 205-209; Strobel, Imperium Romanum , pp. 246f.
  22. ↑ In summary, see Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 257ff.
  23. Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum fifth
  24. See in detail on the fate of the emperor Robert Rollinger , Josef Wiesehöfer : Emperor Valerian and Ilu-bi'di von Hamat. About the fate of defeated enemies, Persian cruelty and the persistence of ancient oriental traditions . In: Heather Baker, Kai Kaniuth, Adelheid Otto (Eds.): Stories of long ago. Festschrift for Michael D. Roaf. Munich 2012, p. 497ff.
  25. ^ Lastly, see Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, pp. 185f.
  26. ^ Overview at Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn 2014, p. 19ff.
predecessor Office successor
Aemilianus Roman emperor