Jovian – Roman emperor
The Roman emperor Julian‘s bodyguards assassinated him in 361 AD. He was the last surviving male relative of Constantine, so it wasn’t clear who should become the next emperor after he was killed.
Who was Constantine?
More about Julian the Apostate
All the Ancient Rome articles
The generals in the East got together in 363 AD and chose one of themselves, a Christian named Jovian. Jovian gave in to the Sassanids, and retreated, but he didn’t last very long: he died in 364 AD.
Who were the Sassanids?
Valentinian and Valens
Jovian was succeeded by another Eastern general, Valentinian, who was a Catholic. Valentinian soon decided that he would take control of the western part of the Roman Empire and leave the eastern part to his brother Valens. Valentinian’s capital was at Milan, while Valens, an Arian, lived in Constantinople. Donatist rebellions in Africa made the religious situation even more complicated.
What are Arians and Catholics?
Who were the Donatists?
Valentinian’s young son Gratian was engaged to Constantius II‘s daughter Constantia, to make the new emperors part of the old family, and in 367 AD he was made emperor as well, though he was only eight years old! Gratian’s teacher was the Christian Ausonius, but we know more about these people from Ammianus Marcellinus.
More about Roman historians
The Battle of Adrianople
All this time, the Roman army kept on fighting both the Germans and the Sassanids. In 378 AD the Romans lost an important battle at Adrianople (the city of Hadrian) in the Balkans, where Valens was killed fighting the Visigoths. The Visigoths pushed their way into the Roman Empire and settled down, and the Romans gave them refugee status and let them stay.
Who are the Visigoths?
Theodosius, a young Catholic general of Spanish origin, and the son of another general, was chosen to succeed Valens. He ruled along with Gratian and his younger brother Valentinian II, the sons of Valentinian I.
Theodosius was able to regain the upper hand militarily, though mostly by making treaties with both the Visigoths and the Sassanids. In 383, a rebellious general named Maximus killed Gratian (who was 24). To make sure of his power, Theodosius married Gratian’s sister Galla, Valentinian’s daughter, in 387 (She was about 17). Then Maximus attacked Galla’s brother, Valentinian II, so Theodosius killed Maximus.
In 391 AD, under the influence of Bishop Ambrose (now St. Ambrose) of Milan, Theodosius made it illegal to practice traditional religious rituals even in your own house.
Bishop Ambrose of Milan
The end of animal sacrifice
Only Christianity (and to some extent Judaism) were now legal in the Roman Empire.
Jews in the Roman Empire
A non-Roman general named Arbogast rebelled at this news, killed Valentinian II in 392, and put a Roman friend of his, Eugenius, on the throne, but Theodosius defeated and killed them. Galla died in childbirth when she was about 24, in 394. By the time he died in 395 AD, Theodosius left a firmly Christian empire.
The Fall of Rome
Bibliography and further reading about Theodosius and his time:
The Ancient Roman World, by Ronald Mellor (2004). Straight political history, For teens.
Classical Rome, by John Clare (1993). For kids, the whole political history from beginning to end.
The Romans: From Village to Empire, by Mary Boatwright, Daniel Gargola, and Richard Talbert (2004). Okay, it’s a little dry, but it is up to date and has all the facts you could want.
Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, by Stephen Williams and Gerard Friell (1998).
Dear Professor Carr,
I would like to call your attention to a potential typo or oversight for correction. As far as I could recall Gratianus was the son of Valentinianus I and not of Valens.
Oh, you’re quite right! Thank you for catching my error. I’ve corrected it now.