Oh, he was a swell guy. You often hear of these Roman tragedies about territories that have been split between brothers who would then fight and kill one another in order to accumulate as much wealth and power for themselves, but Valentinian loved his dear brother Valens so much that he made him co-emperor. He did a few other things too, but his reign only lasted about eleven years. Yes, he died in power after a somewhat short reign. You have to love it when that happens.
And that’s always what happens.
He was born in 321 A.D. in what you might know as Croatia, and he lived during the same period as when Constantine I and Constans I ruled the empire. His father was Gratianus Major, a commander in the Roman Empire. Valentinian probably didn’t grow up predicting he would become emperor. When Constans was assassinated in 350, a war began that would decide the future ruler of Rome. A long way into the conflict, the man who ousted Constans finally committed suicide when he realized he was a real bugger and chaos wasn’t getting anyone anywhere.
During a period of further unrest that lasted nearly fifteen years and another assassination or two, Valentinian had risen in the ranks of military service and was now a Tribune in command of an elite regiment of infantry called a Scutarii. When the last ruler in line was perhaps poisoned or perhaps died by accident (yeah right, this is Rome), there was an assembly called to propose candidates for a new emperor. After a couple rejections, Valentinian was chosen. There wasn’t really a great reason for this choice; it was mainly because he was hanging around in the right place at the right time when the other options were either jerks or too far away.
He ascended to the station of Emperor on February 26, 354 A.D.
As any great Roman emperor does, Valentinian fought to keep the empire’s borders as strong as possible for as long as possible. He is noted for sending men to venture across his own borders in order to build outposts in territories occupied his enemies, and also for successful military endeavors against the Sarmatians, Qadi, and Alamanni. In the midst of these conflicts, he also managed to leave the borders with improved fortifications.
During his reign, there was also an African revolt and a strong attack on Britain that he successfully repelled. Because of these acts, many historians believe that Valentinian is one of the last great Roman emperors to have lived. His sons went on to succeed his reign in the western parts of the empire, but the state of the Roman Empire after Valentinian passed away on November 17, 375 A.D. diminished quickly. He died of a burst blood vessel after getting angry with foreign envoys. He was a swell guy–just not very patient.