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Correct spelling of his name:
Flavius Placidius Valentinianus
Other names:
Valentinian III
Latin: Flavius Placidius Valentinianus Augustus
(Augustus was both a name and a title at this level)
Caesar in the west: 423–425.[1]
Emperor in the West: 23 October 425 – 16 March 455


Valentinian was born on July 2, 419 in the western capital of Ravenna, Italy.[2][3][4] He was the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius (who ruled as Constantius III).[5] His mother was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, while his father was a patrician and the power behind that throne.[6]

After Valentinian's father died in 421 his mother fell out of favor with her step-brother Honorius. She was exiled and the 2 year old Valentinian went with her to live in Constantinople in the court of his cousin Theodosius II.[7][8] After Honorius’ death, power was seized by a high-ranking member of the western bureaucracy, the eastern emperor Theodosius II. He eventually made the decision to back Valentinian. To create imperial unity Theodosius II betrothed his 3 year old daughter Licinia Eudoxia to then 6 year old Valentinian.[9][10] She was the second cousin of Valentinian.[11] The same year, on October 23, 424[12] Theodosius nominated Valentinian Caesar of the West.[13] It was exactly one year later in 425,[14] that 6 year old Valentinian was proclaimed Augustus by the patricius et magister officiorum Helion, acting for the ruler of the eastern Roman empire.[15][16]

As a minor Valentinian's mother Galla Placidia was Regent and placed two generals, Aetius and Boniface, as Magister militum (master of the soldiers) of Gaul and Africa respectively. Felix had maintained his position as senior Magister militum.[17] Their struggle for power caused much infighting between their armies resulting in Boniface's army killing Felix. This led Aetius to send his army after the rebel. Boniface went so far as to garner the support of the Vandals, a large East Germanic tribe that had migrated from Hispania to Africa. This alliance would have led to the loss of Africa so a reconciliation with Boniface was reached.[18] His defaulting on his agreement with the Vandals led to his defeat in Africa and return to Italy. By this time Galla Placidia was concerned about the amount of power held by Aetius so she had him stripped of his command and gave it to Boniface. This resulted in a civil war that Boniface won but ended up dying from his wounds. Aetius fled to the Huns and with their help was reinstated to his former position of Magister militum in 434.[19] As a result, Valentinian was forced in 435 to make peace with the Vandals allowing them to keep all their possessions in North Africa in return for a tribute payment of tribute to the empire,[20] while the Huns were granted new territory in Pannonia Savia to occupy.[21]

Valentinian's marriage to Licinia Eudoxia took place on October 29, 437 in Constantinople[22] officially putting an end to his mother's regency. Though he was considered the Emperor at this time, it was Aetius who ended up controlling the government while Valentinian spent his time in pursuit of pleasure. [3]

Because Aetius was singularly focused on the situation in Gaul the Vandals ran unchecked throughout the territory. This led to the fall of Carthage in 439,[23] and the ravaging Sicily. Though Valentinian had planned a large attack against the Vandal leader the plans were abandoned to repel an invasion by the Huns at the Danube.[24]

These military losses were a financial blow to the country not allowing for the funds needed to supply the military. In 444 he issued a law stripping the bureaucrats of their exemptions from the recruitment tax.[25][26] Senators, based on their class ranking, were required to contribute the money for maintaining the soldiers. Even Valentinian was forced to give part of his income to help the State in its financial trouble.[27]

The Western Empire broke down during the reign of Valentinian. Britain was abandoned in 446, Aetius failed to hold Gaul against the Franks, Burgundians, and Huns, while Africa was lost in 439 by Boniface, who was defeated by the Vandals under Gaiseric.[28] Towards the end of Valentinian's reign, the Huns invaded Gaul in 451 and northern Italy in 452.[3] In 454 when Aetius determined that he could not stop the Vandal's plundering convinced Valentinian to secure a marriage between his daughter Eudocia,[29] and Huneric, the son of Gaiseric.[30]

In 452 Attila invaded Italy. He plundered and destroyed Aquileia, Verona, and Vincentia.[31] Aetius was following the Huns but did not have enough troops to attack so the road to Rome was unguarded. Although Ravenna was Valentinian's usual residence, he and the court had moved to Rome in 450 which is where he was as Attila approached.[32] Atilla was murdered by one of his bodyguards, which Aetius had bribed, forever ending the threat from the Huns.[33]

In Rome, on March 16, 455[3][34] at the age of 37,[35] Valentinian was assassinated by his bodyguards Optelas and Thraustelas. They had been followers and bodyguards for Aetius and were avenging his murder.[36][37] False rumors had caused Valentinian to doubt the loyalty of his long time patrician and he murdered him just the year before.[38] By murdering Aetius he thought he had slain his master, but found that he had slain his protector and he fell victim to the first conspiracy hatched against his throne.[39] His youngest daughter, Placidia, had just recently married the son of Aetius.[40][41]

Valentinian has been described as spoiled, pleasure-loving, and influenced by sorcerers and astrologers. This is interesting considering he made a law in 373 which says: teaching or learning astrology is a crime worthy of death.[42]

Valentinian was devoted to religion contributing to churches of St. Laurence in both Rome and Ravenna. He also oversaw the rise of Church authority in the hands of the bishop of Rome as he granted ever greater authority and prestige to pope Leo the Great.[43] He was credited with passing numerous laws in favor of the Catholic faith.[44] These are his most notable;[42]

378 - Altars and other secret worship places of all non-catholic religions shall be confiscated, even if gatherings there have taken place with the permission of a local judge.

392 - Anyone who “should disturb the catholic faith” is to be deported.

In 380 he did write an edict which is sometimes referred to as “Cunctos Populos.” It states that everyone in the empire shall be part of the religion that believes in God as a single Deity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity, as taught by St. Peter to the Romans, and now taught by Damasus of Rome and Peter of Alexandria. Only those following this rule shall be called “catholic Christians.” Meeting places of those who follow another religion (including heretics of a Christian variety) shall not be given the status of churches, and such people may be subject to both divine and earthly retribution.

Some of the more interesting laws relating to Christianity in general included;

364 - The wealthy shall not be allowed to become clergy (literally “shall not be received by the church”).

365 - No one may leave the bread-making profession to become a Christian clergyman. Anyone found to have done such must return to his profession.

386 - All court actions, legal disputes, and debt collection is suspended on Sunday. Those who skip the holy ritual on Sunday are to be regarded as sacrilegious.

388 - Jews and Christians are forbidden to intermarry. If they break this law, the crime will be considered adultery.

388 - No public discussions or debates about religion may be held.

In 375 Valentinian wrote to the bishops of the eastern provinces, informing them that the Council in Illyricum ruled in favor of homoousios and the Nicene Creed. He commands that this be preached and its preachers be protected from harm (though Arians are not required to unite with or submit to its preachers). He rebukes the Arians for their behavior and treatment of the Nicenes. He appends the Creed of the recent council.

In 455 he decreed that all western bishops must obey the Pope. [45]

Valentinian is interred at the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Provincia di Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.[46] He left no male heir to succeed him.[47]

Research Notes


  1. Martindale, p. 1139.
  2. Heather, Page 1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. last updated: Jun 28, 2019. Valentinian III - Roman Emperor
  4. Bury, Page 151.
  5. Martindale, Page 1138.
  6. Martindale, Page 323.
  7. Blockley, Page 136.
  8. Mathisen, Page 1.
  9. Heather, Page 1.
  10. Priscus of Panium, Page 20.
  11. Bury, Page 131.
  12. Heather, Page 1.
  13. Martindale, p. 1139.
  14. Priscus of Panium, Page 28.
  15. Blockley, Page 136.
  16. "The whole sequence of events was recorded in considerable detail by the historian Olympiodorus, who brought his story of a twenty-year period of crisis and reconstruction in the western empire to a happy conclusion with Valentinian’s installation." Heather, Page 1.
  17. Heather, Page 5.
  18. Bury, Pages 245, 247.
  19. Bury, Page 168.
  20. Bury, Page 249.
  21. Bury, Page 272.
  22. Martindale, Page 411.
  23. Bury, Page 254.
  24. Heather, Page 11.
  25. Heather, Page 14.
  26. Bury, Page 253.
  27. Bury, Page 253.
  28. Knight, Kevin. New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia. 2017. Valentinian III
  29. Priscus of Panium, Page 32.
  30. Martindale, Page 28.
  31. Bury, Pages 294, 295.
  32. Gillett, Page 118.
  33. Martindale, Page 28.
  34. Bury, Page234.
  35. Bury, Pages 181, 182.
  36. Priscus of Panium, Pages 128, 129.
  37. Martindale, Page 28.
  38. Martindale, Page 810.
  39. Bury, J. B. (1924). The Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. I. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pages 418, 419.
  40. Heather Page 18.
  41. Priscus of Panium, Pages 130, 131.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Laws passed by Valentinian III relating to Christianity
  43. Mathisen, Page 1.
  44. See reference note 1 at Bury, Page 191.
  45. Scaruffi, Piero. 2014, A timeline of Christianity and Judaism
  46. Find A Grave, database and images : accessed 23 July 2019, memorial page for Valentinian III (2 Jul–16 Mar), Find A Grave: Memorial #40143328 citing Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Provincia di Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy; Maintained by Find A Grave.
  47. Bury, Page 234.

See also:

  • Blockley, R. C., The Dynasty of Theodosius in The Cambridge Ancient History: The Late Empire, A.D. 337–425 (ed. Averil Cameron and Peter Garnsey), New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pgs. 111–138.
  • Bury, J. B., A History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene, Vol. I (1889) Online at
  • Gillett, Andrew. "Rome, Ravenna and the Last Western Emperors". Papers of the British School at Rome. Leiden, NL: Brill Publishing, 2001. Pages 131–167.
  • Heather, Peter, The Western Empire 425–76 in The Cambridge Ancient History: Late antiquity : empire and successors, A.D. 425–600 (ed. Averil Cameron and Bryan Ward-Perkins) (2000), pgs. 1–32. Available at
  • Martindale, J. R., The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. II, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1980. PDFAvailable Online
  • Mathisen, Ralph. De Imperatoribus Romanis, Valentinian III. 1999. Valentinian III
  • Priscus of Panium, The Fragmentary History of Priscus: Attila, the Huns and the Roman Empire, AD 430–476. Volume 11 of Christian Roman Empire. Translated by John P. Given. Pennsauken, NJ: Arx Publishing, 2015. 252 pages.



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