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Flavius Valens

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Emperor of the East, b. in Pannonia (now Hungary) c. 328; d. near Adrianople, in Thrace, August, 378. Little is known of his origin, which, in spite of the Roman gentile name adopted by him in common with his brother, Valentinian, the Emperor of the West, was most probably barbarian. His elevation to the throne in 364 was due to Valentinian's favour. Valens, however, soon displayed some degree of warlike ability, as well as a barbarous cruelty, in dealing with Procopius, who, alleging as his title a bequest of the Emperor Julian, seized the throne. Having defeated and captured Procopius, Valens caused his rival's legs to be bound to two bent saplings, which were then released, so that the victim's body was torn asunder. A pagan at the time of his elevation, this emperor was baptized, about the year 367, by Eudoxius, the Arian Patriarch of Constantinople. His necessary ignorance of the fundamentals of Christianity, while, in the circumstances, not blameworthy, does not excuse his persecution of the Eastern Catholics from about the year 369 until the end of his reign. The most infamous example of this was in the case of Sts. Urbanus, Theodorus, and other ecclesiastics, to the number of eighty, whose martyrdom is commemorated on 5 September. This company of bishops and priests, having come to Constantinople, in 370, to plead for freedom of Catholic worship, were, by the emperor's orders, embarked on a vessel which then sailed for the coast of Bithynia; on nearing that coast, the crew, still acting upon the imperial instructions, set fire to the ship and abandoned it, leaving St. Urbanus and his companions to perish.

With this ferocity, Valens also evinced the crudely superstitious instincts of the savage. On a journey through Cappadocia, he visited, at Caesarea, St. Basil the Great, whom he intended to drive into exile as a conspicuous foe of Arianism; but, the emperor's son falling sick, the bishop was called upon to restore him to health. This Basil agreed to attempt, on condition that the child should be baptized as a Catholic. In the event, an Arian performed the rite, the child died, and the saint escaped the threatened exile. In 347, at Antioch, there was a curious anticipation of modern "spirit rapping": a spirit, asked to spell the name of him who should succeed Valens, was supposed to have rapped out the Greek letters THETA-ETA-OMICRON-DELTA which begin the name Theodorus. The lives of Theodorus, an official of the imperial Court, and of those who had prepared this manifestation were forfeited, though the spirit may have meant to indicate Theodosius.

Throughout his reign, Valens had to defend his frontiers against formidable enemies. From 367 to 369 the Goths battled with the imperial forces, until an agreement was reached, fixing the Danube as the southern boundary of their settlements. Frequent incursions of the Isaurians demanded attention. In 373 Sapor (Shapur) II, King of Persia, having invaded Armenia, was driven back beyond the Tigris. The Huns and Alans were meanwhile pressing upon the rear of the Goths north of the Danube. In 376 the latter obtained permission to settle south of the river as peaceable colonists, unarmed; but when the imperial commissioners abused their authority to plunder the strangers, these turned in exasperation to make common cause with their fellow-barbarians from whom they had but recently fled. Huns, Alans, and Goths under Fridigern were surprised and defeated in 378 by Sebastian, the imperial general, and Valens himself hastened from his capital to complete the conquest before his nephew Gratian, who had succeeded Valentinian, could reach the enemy. As the emperor was leaving Constantinople, a monk openly prophesied his speedy death. Valens caused the prophet of evil to be imprisoned pending his return from Thrace. But the emperor never returned. Defeated by the barbarians near Adrianople, he took refuge in a country house and there perished in the conflagration with which the Goths or their allies unwittingly avenged the death of St. Urbanus and his companions.



ST. BASIL, Epistolae in P.G., XXII; DE BROGLIE, L'Église et l'Empire Romain; GIBSON, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London, 1896); NEWMAN, The Arians of the Fourth Century.

About this page

APA citation. Macpherson, E. (1912). Flavius Valens. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Macpherson, Ewan. "Flavius Valens." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the martyrs of the fourth century.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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