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Augustus of the Western Roman Empire
Gratian Solidus.jpg
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign24 August 367 – 17 November 375 (junior Augustus of the west under his father);
17 November 375 – 9 August 378 (senior Augustus of the west, with his brother as junior);
9 August 378 – 19 January 379 (senior Augustus of the whole empire, with his brother);
19 January 379 – 25 August 383 (senior Augustus in the west with his brother)
PredecessorValentinian I
SuccessorMagnus Maximus
Theodosius I
Valentinian II
Co-emperorsValens (Eastern Emperor, 375-378)
Valentinian II
Theodosius I (Eastern Emperor, 379-383)
Born18 April/23 May 359
Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia)
Died(383-08-25)25 August 383 (aged 24)
SpouseFlavia Maxima Constantia
Full name
Flavius Gratianus Augustus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Gratianus Augustus
FatherValentinian I
MotherMarina Severa

Gratian (/ˈɡrʃən/; Latin: Flavius Gratianus Augustus;[1] Greek: Γρατιανός; 18 April/23 May 359 – 25 August 383) was Roman emperor from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied, during his youth, his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers. In 378, Gratian's generals won a decisive victory over the Lentienses, a branch of the Alamanni, at the Battle of Argentovaria. Gratian subsequently led a campaign across the Rhine, the last emperor to do so, and attacked the Lentienses, forcing the tribe to surrender. That same year, his uncle Valens was killed in the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths. He favoured Christianity over traditional Roman religion, refusing the office of Pontifex maximus and removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate.


Gratian was the son of Emperor Valentinian I[2] by Marina Severa, and was born at Sirmium[3] (now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) in Pannonia. He was named after his grandfather Gratian the Elder. Gratian was first married to Flavia Maxima Constantia, daughter of Constantius II. His second wife was Laeta. Both marriages remained childless. His stepmother was Empress Justina and his paternal half siblings were Valentinian II, Galla and Justa. Gratian was educated by Ausonius who had praised his pupil for his tolerance.

On 24 August 367 he received from his father the title of Augustus. When his father died on 17 November 375, Gratian began his actual reign at the age of sixteen. Six days later, Gratian's half brother Valentinian II, Valentinian's four-year old son by his second wife Justina, was also proclaimed Emperor by troops in Pannonia, impelled by the generals Aequitius and Maximinus, two of Valentinian's more unscrupulous ministers.[4][5]

Gratian prudently acquiesced in their choice; reserving for himself the administration of the Gallic provinces, to command the forces responsible for the frontier, while handing over the peaceful Italy, Illyricum and Africa to Valentinian and his mother, who fixed their residence at Mediolanum. The division, however, was merely nominal, and the real authority even in those provinces remained in the hands of Gratian.[6]

Gratian, with the aid of his capable generals Mallobaudes, a king of the Franks, and Naniemus, completely defeated the Lentienses, the southernmost branch of the Alamanni, in May 378 at the Battle of Argentovaria. Next, Gratian personally led a campaign across the Upper Rhine into the territory of the Lentienses. After initial trouble facing the Lentienses on high ground, Gratian blockaded the enemy instead and received their surrender. The Lentienses were forced to supply young men to be levied into the Roman army, while the remainder were allowed to return home.

Later that year, Gratian's uncle Valens met his death in the Battle of Adrianople against a coalition of hostile Gothic and Hunnic tribes who had rebelled after being settled in Thrace by the eastern emperor. Valens refused to wait for Gratian, who had promised to march to his aid as soon as the Alemanni threat was contained; as a result, two-thirds of Valens men, to the number of 40,000 dead, fell in the battle along with the emperor and some of his top staff.[7] By the time Gratian arrived in the east, the Gothic war had spiraled out of control; the provinces south of the Danube were daily being devastated by barbarians, and Roman authority as well as military prestige was all but annihilated.[8] Hearing that the Germans were planning a new invasion in Gaul now that Gratian had departed from the province, and convinced that one emperor alone was incapable of repelling the inundation of foes on several different fronts, Gratian appointed the Spaniard Theodosius I Augustus on 19 January 379 to govern the east.[9] During the ensuing four years Theodosius would take advantage of the internal discord and disorder of the Goths to destroy the more intractable of the barbarians and settle the rest by a peaceful treaty in the provinces of Thrace and Asia Minor.[10]

For some years Gratian governed the Empire with energy and success, earning the esteem of the army and people by his personal courage and justice,[11] but at length, being deprived by death of some of his abler counselors, the promising young emperor neglected public affairs, and occupied himself chiefly with the hunting.[12] He alienated the army and German auxiliaries by his favoritism towards his Frankish general Merobaudes and a body of Scythian archers whom he made his body-guard and companions in the hunt.[13] On other side his tutor Ausonius which has worked toward religious tolerance, has lost influence with time as bishop Ambrose' influence over Gratian grew. This has resulted with Roman Senate protests and fall of emperor popularity. [14]

Solidus of Gratian

By appearing in public in the dress of a Scythian warrior, after the disaster of the Battle of Adrianople, he finally exasperated his army. One of his generals, Magnus Maximus, took advantage of this feeling to raise the standard of revolt in Britain and invaded Gaul with a large army. From Paris, Gratian, having been deserted by his troops, fled to Lyon. There, through the treachery of the governor, Gratian was delivered over to one of the rebel generals, Andragathius, and assassinated on 25 August 383.[15][16]

Empire and Christianity[edit]

The reign of Gratian forms an important epoch in church history, since during that period Nicene Christianity for the first time became dominant throughout the empire. In his reign, his co-Emperor Theodosius I also published an edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Nicene faith). The move was mainly thrust at the various beliefs that had arisen out of Arianism, but smaller dissident sects, such as the Macedonians, were also prohibited.

Gratian, under the influence of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan,[17][18] took active steps against pagan worship.[19][20] This brought to an end a period of widespread religious tolerance that had existed since the death of Julian.[21][22][23]

In 382, Gratian appropriated the income of the pagan priests and Vestal Virgins, forbade legacies of real property to them and abolished other privileges belonging to the Vestals and to the pontiffs. He confiscated the personal possessions of the colleges of pagan priests, which also lost all their privileges and immunities. Gratian declared that all of the pagan temples and shrines were to be confiscated by the government and that their revenues were to be joined to the property of the royal treasury.[24] According to Zosimus, Gratian was the first Emperor to reject the insignia of the Pontifex Maximus in 381.[25] He ordered another removal of the Altar of Victory from the Senate House at Rome, despite protests of the pagan members of the Senate, and confiscated its revenues.[26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Gratian's name would be inscribed as FLAVIVS GRATIANVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rose, Hugh James (1853). A New General Biographical Dictionary. p. 90.
  4. ^ An Encyclopedia of World History, (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1952), ch. II., Ancient History, p. 120
  5. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932, ch. XXV., p. 898
  6. ^ Gibbon, p. 899
  7. ^ Edward Gibbon, chap. XXVI., pp. 937-938, 947
  8. ^ Gibbon, pp. 939-943
  9. ^ Gibbon, pp. 943, 944
  10. ^ Gibbon, pp. 949-953
  11. ^ Gibbon, p. 934; chap. XXVII., p. 956
  12. ^ Gibbon, p. 957
  13. ^ Gibbon, p. 958
  14. ^ Flavius Gratianus
  15. ^ An Encyclopedia of World History, Ibid
  16. ^ Gibbon, p. 960
  17. ^ "Gratian", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909
  18. ^ "Letter of Gratian to Ambrose", The Letters of Ambrose Bishop of Milan, 379 AD.[1]
  19. ^ R. MacMullen, "Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D.100–400, Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-300-03642-6
  20. ^ Theodosian Code 2.8.18–2.8.25, 16.7.1–16.7.5
  21. ^ Zosimus (4.35) indicated that change occurred in Gratian's character when he fell under the influence of evil courtiers.
  22. ^ R. Kirsch, God Against the Gods, Viking Compass, 2004.
  23. ^ Samuel Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, 2d rev ed., Meridian New York, 1958, p. 26.
  24. ^ Theodosian Code 16.10.20; Symmachus Relationes 1–3; Ambrose Epistles 17–18.
  25. ^ Zosimus, New History 4.36.3.; Pontifex Maximus article by Jona Lendering retrieved August 21, 2011
  26. ^ Sheridan, J.J., "The Altar of Victory – Paganism's Last Battle." L'Antiquite Classique 35 (1966): 187.
  27. ^ Ambrose Epistles 17–18; Symmachus Relationes 1–3.


External links[edit]

Born: 18 April or 23 May 359 Died: 25 August 383
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Valentinian I and Valens
Roman Emperor
with Valens (375–378)
Valentinian II (375–383)
Theodosius I (379–383)
Succeeded by
Valentinian II and Theodosius I
Political offices
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Dagalaifus
Succeeded by
Flavius Lupicinus,
Flavius Iovinus
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus III,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus III
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus
Succeeded by
Domitius Modestus,
Flavius Arinthaeus
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus IV,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus IV
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Equitius
Succeeded by
Post consulatum Gratiani Augusti III et Equiti
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus V,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Merobaudes
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus VI,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus II
Preceded by
Decimius Magnus Ausonius,
Quintus Clodius Hermogenianus Olybrius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus
Succeeded by
Flavius Syagrius,
Flavius Eucherius